Tag Archives: Girl Scout

The Secret of the Shimmy

January 5, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Inhale. exhale.

The slow Middle Eastern music increases in tempo.

The ladies’ hips sway side to side in rapid repeat. All three wear black spandex pants and V-neck T-shirts. Scarves, loosely wrapped around their waists, accentuate their movements. Bells jingle in time with the rhythm of the beat.

“Don’t give away the secret,” Carol Wright warns as her hips pop. “If they want to know the secret to the shimmy, tell them to come and see Della.”

The other two women laugh as their torsos undulate. Wright closes her eyes in a losing-herself-to-the-music moment, hands on her rolling and rippling hips.

“Is this too fast?” instructor Della Bynum asks from the side of the room. She has been watching this improvisation for a while, a half-smile on her face, relishing the freedom and artistry of the belly dance.

“We will have to find out,” Wright says.

“This is where you just have fun exploring,” Bynum explains.

Anna Lewis, 22, struggles for a moment, “Which way should I go?” 

Lewis has been shaking her hips for about a year now. At 6 years old, she watched her mother and Della’s group perform for her Girl Scout troop. 

“My mom is re-inspired whenever she comes to visit and will always make sure she comes back to Della’s class,” Lewis says.

Bynum steps in to help Lewis and demonstrates a front and back roll to add to the dance. The women continue as a solid unit.

It isn’t the shimmy that is the secret, but it is this connection of women coming together to celebrate themselves and each other. Feeling that connection is one of the main reasons why Bynum stays in dance. Bynum, 67, believes belly dancing creates a bond regardless of age, ethnicity, or size.

bellydancingShe should know. She’s been dancing since she was 8 years old and aging hasn’t stopped her. It is a vivacious, beautiful, and uplifting experience.

“It makes you aware of your senses—how you see, hear,” Bynum believes.

Bynum began with traditional ballet, then shifted to modern dance. She moved from Baltimore at 19 to begin school at Creighton University. A business degree wasn’t important to Bynum. 

“Dance classes were my love,” she says. “But unless you are teaching dance, you are not assured a position to support yourself.”

She continued taking dance classes and studied ethnic forms of popular dances of the 1970s, including African, Polynesian, and belly dancing. In addition, she performed modern dance with the UNO Moving Company. In 1980, Bynum started teaching her first classes at the YWCA and continued to do so for the next 25 years. 

When Bynum retired seven years ago from her day job as a timekeeper for the Omaha Fire Department, she needed…well…something more.

“You need to move more as you age, not less. If you don’t move, you aren’t able to move as well,” Bynum believes.

“You should open up a studio,” a long-time friend and fellow dance instructor told her.

“Hmm…that’s what people do when they are young,” Bynum replied.

With some help from her friend, Bynum did the unthinkable by opening her first studio. After three years, Bynum realized the ceiling was too low for the wavy and slinky arm movements of belly dance. After searching, she discovered a spot in the Center Mall on 42nd Street. After that, it was just a matter of finding economical ways to create a studio.

Bynum teaches four days a week and her crew puts on performances for The Durham Museum, Omaha Performing Arts, Renaissance fairs, and other organizations. The women sew their own costumes for a variety of different styles including tribal, folkloric, and Oriental belly dancing. 

A six-year attendee, Michelle Widhalm, 50, says Bynum is holistic in her approach. It is emotional and spiritualistic.

Bynum’s mantra: breathe. 

“When I tell people I belly dance, it is interesting to see their reaction. Eyebrows raise,” Widhalm says. “Western culture sexualized the dance. For me, it is about the female connection.”

Widhalm was surprised the older generation seemed more open to the idea, commenting only on how it must be a good form of exercise. In fact, a 2003 study in the New England Journal of Medicine reported social dancing lowered the risk of dementia in the elderly by 76 percent—more than reading. It also reduces stress, releases serotonin, and improves overall physical health.

Bynum’s parents passed away in their 50s, which has motivated her to keep exercising. If someone likes it, he/she will keep active. Belly dancing is multi-generational. 

“It’s more of an ageless environment,” Bynum says.

Her oldest client started when she was 80 and quit at 90 due to arthritis.

When Shakira entered the scene in the 2000s, shaking those hips that don’t lie, the belly dancing industry boomed.

So what about those ripped abs?

“I had those when I was young,” Bynum says tapping her black-stockinged feet on the floor to the beat of the music. “But it isn’t about that for me anymore.”

Bynum steps in the front of the class in black leggings with a bright orange scarf tied to her waist, a dark blue shirt, and a whole lot of confidence.

Bynum works with the three women on choreographed moves based on an old saying she modified. 

Walk forward, beauty before us.

Walk backward, beauty behind us.

It continues with the side, upward, and downward until the climax.

Beauty within us.

Wright squeals at the end in time with the music, arms raised, and all of them laugh together. 

Oh, and the secret to that shimmy?

Bending the knees, breathing, and relaxing.

Visit delladancing.com for more information.

Boys & Girls Club is Served by Girl Scouts

July 25, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

A group of sixth-grade girls sit around a table in the St. James/Seton Parish Hall. They are all members of Girl Scout Troop No. 44138.  Most of them have been friends and Girl Scout members for seven years, and together they have gone camping, sold cookies, and earned patches ranging from jewelry making to geocaching. Last May they determined to do something that showed the essence of Girl Scouting.

“We were trying to figure out what we were going to do for our bronze award,” says troop leader Bev Fritz. “We originally wanted to do something with animals, but that didn’t work out well.”

Many animal projects would have involved work state-wide, so they deemed it too broad for their goals and timeframe.

The bronze award is the highest level award for Girl Scouts of junior rank. It is an award where the girls have to go on a journey in which they discover who they are and what they value. As a team, the girls created a project they cared about, and worked together to take action and help a group of people.

It’s an honor to earn the bronze award. This year, 359 girls out of 5000 junior girl scouts in Nebraska, or 15 percent, earned the bronze award.

“Each of these award projects impacts communities and the people who live there in a positive, and oftentimes significant, way,” says Fran Marshall, chief executive officer for Girl Scouts Spirit of Nebraska. “They are visible and tangible examples of how girls, through their Girl Scouting experience, develop the courage, confidence, and character to take action and make the world a better place.”

As the girls thought through their project, Bev’s friend Donna Hodges suggested Boys & Girls Club in Omaha, a nonprofit serving nearly 6000 at-risk children and youth in the area.

The troop contacted Boys & Girls Club Westside and discovered that they need several things, from school supplies to food. One project in particular ignited the girls’ fire.

Boys & Girls Club Westside has reading benches. These are seats made from milk crates and topped with mobile cushions. The crates contain books for kids to read at the Boys & Girls Club.

The ones they currently owned needed repairs, and they needed more reading benches.

It was a project meant for this team. Mention books, and everyone’s eyes light up. Several series, including Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, and Inheritance Cycle, were mentioned in unison as favorites.

They couldn’t imagine a life without books.

With the idea in mind, the girls planned a project over two or three sessions. They budgeted that it would take $120.00 for the project. Each girl either babysat or helped with yardwork, along with other duties such as running errands for mom or helping with a community cleanup.

“I enjoyed taking responsibility to make the money,” Riley Fritz, 12, says. “I found the business part of it interesting.”

The business part included creating a plan, which needed to be approved by the Girl
Scout council before the work, or even fundraising, began.

“It’s hard to get these approved,” said Bev. “You have to lay out what you’re going to do, how to prepare it, how much it’s going to cost.”

The stamp of approval came back from the Girl Scouts Spirit of Nebraska Council, who loved this idea. The girls learned about budgeting and shopping smartly through trips to the fabric store and lumberyard for supplies. They learned about woodworking as they lined crates with plywood to make them sturdy, and they created padding and seats for the benches.

“I enjoyed making the benches, because I know the kids will enjoy them,” says Anna Krupka, 13.

Shelli Henry, unit director at Boys and Girls Club, did not realize how many benches the club would receive until they were delivered.

“They exceeded my expectations,” Henry says. “I thought we would get three or four. They just kept coming.”

The girls not only made 13 new book benches, they donated books to fill the crates. Each girl cleaned out her own bookshelves at home and also asked for donations of books from their neighborhood.  When they delivered the crates to the Boys and Girls Club, they also gifted the club with about 75 books they collected.

“My favorite part was delivering them, because you got to see how they would be put to use and that they would enjoy them,” says Sam Kluthe, 12.

The girls learned the value of money, of making things, and they also learned the joy of
helping others.

“We weren’t going to buy stuff for us and break it right away,” says Emily Kriener, 12. “We were (doing) this for other people.”

It was a lesson in teamwork, and a lesson in craftsmanship. Most importantly, the project was a lesson in humanity.

“I loved it all,” says Jenny Perry, 12.