BECKLEY, W.Va - (WVVA) Pandemic restrictions in West Virginia put a lot of activities on hiatus to diminish the spread of COVID-19. Sandy Stewart has been teaching belly dancing classes in Raleigh County for decades, but for the first time, her small group of students were disbanded.
Now that the restrictions that kept them off the floor of their rehearsal space are lifted, the dancers are back together for the first time since March, "It's hurt us all, we've missed the laughter, the gossip, the dancing, the exercise, we missed it all," Stewart said.
The exercise is one of the things that keeps Melissa Petrey of Flat top coming back. Petrey says belly dancing has reversed a back issue that plagued her for years, threatening her ability to get around.
Petrey says the doctors prognosis in 2009 was grim, "(The doctor) told me I had two blown discs and that it was beyond surgery and that my back would become fused together and I would become basically paralyzed. Then a few years ago, my house burned down and I met her and she convinced me to come to class. Two or three years in the class, they re-did all the tests and my back had not only got better, it had improved by fifty-percent. Now I don't need surgery," Petrey said.
The small group of dancers represent a wide age range, from early teens to 88 year old great-grandma, Isabel Keadle of Beckley, who shares the health benefits she's experienced after decades of lessons in belly dancing.
"It's really good. this arm," she said referring to her right arm, "It's hard to raise and I can do everything now. I can't quite get it over my head good, but it makes a big difference," Keadle said.
Stewart says getting the class back together fills a void all of them were feeling, but she wants to set the record straight about a big misconception about this ancient performing art, "We're not strippers!" Stewart says with a laugh... Most people think it's really risque' and I've got preachers' wives I've had in class. I've got teachers, professionals, doctors, lawyers, We're not sleazy. We're classy," said Stewart.
She says anyone interested in her next session can reach her on Facebook messenger. The next session is set to begin in September.