Richmond Review

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Belly dancer bowls into new frontier

January 09, 2008

Steveston’s Martina Crowe-Hewett is a belly dance instructor whose obsession for the dance grew in her 20s.

by Matthew Hoekstra

Staff Reporter

Bowlers are accustomed to lining up the angles, knocking down pins and racking up strikes.

Martina Crowe-Hewett knows the moves well. She was, after all, a champion national five-pin bowler—her matches televised on TSN. But today, she’s more known for her belly rolls, walking shimmies and hip bumps.

Crowe-Hewett is a belly dancer and a Steveston resident, who left her bowling trophies with her parents in her hometown of Winnipeg. While scoring points on wooden lanes hasn’t seen much of a resurgence, belly dancing is growing in popularity.

Mainstream mega-shows of Miles Copeland’s Bellydance Superstars is helping belly dancing to move beyond the Greek restaurant.

Growing up, when Crowe-Hewett wasn’t at the lanes, she was at the dance studio, studying classical dance of ballet, jazz and tap through the Royal Winnipeg Ballet program. But in her late teens, she gave up dance and moved to Vancouver at age 19.

Five years later, she was looking for a fun way to get in shape. A belly dancing class at Steveston Community Centre caught her eye and whirled her life like a dervish.

“I just took it up and I loved it, and now I’m completely obsessed with it,” says the 31-year-old. “You just sort of immerse yourself into it and you start really loving it, and it becomes like this really addictive hobby. But then it turns into your life. As my husband likes to say, he’s a belly dance widow.”

The moves presented her a new challenge, and the culture surrounding it was intriguing. Within a few years, she was teaching belly dance.

Crowe-Hewett teaches women from all walks of life and of all ability levels. Some come for fitness, some for fun and some for their husbands. Some take the class on a whim, but soon realize they can actually dance. Others are striving to overcome an unsettling personal history.

“I’m not just dealing with professional dancers. I’m dealing with everyday housewives and moms and women who can come in and start learning how to dance—and actually enjoy it,” she says. “It’s like a big estrogen pool.”

After several weeks of going over basic movements and giving her students the confidence that their bodies can do it, she teaches them how to put movements together for a dance.

Classes tend to fill up when the marketing machine for Bellydance Superstars revs up before a local performance. The troupe, which plays Richmond’s River Rock Show Theatre on March 21 and 22, has been criticized for its image of exclusively thin and beautiful dancers who aren’t necessarily representative of a Middle Eastern culture. But Crowe-Hewett says North America has the greatest population of belly dancers, and the show is helping drive the belly dancing’s popularity.

She has great respect for the dancers, but it’s not a troupe she longs to be in. Her goal is to open her own dance studio, and continue being mom to her five- and three-year-old sons.

Both boys are “pretty indifferent” to mom’s dancing, but each has had a taste of it. Crowe-Hewett danced through both her pregnancies.

“Definitely there was some rockin’ and rollin’ for them. I don’t know if they liked it or not,” she laughs.

They’re not belly dancers or bowlers—yet. But mom wants to give her boys the same opportunities to explore activities that she had as a child.

“Next weekend I’m going to be on the Seymour slopes with my five-year-old, seeing if tossing him down a mountain on a pair of skis is going to be OK.”

Part of belly dance is the spectacle and personality of a show. Much of that comes from costumes. And that, says Crowe-Hewett, is part of the addiction. She makes her own costumes, and much to her husband’s dismay, they take up two closets.

“It’s all part of it. You don’t want everybody to look like you. If you want to look different, you have to create your own style and your own way of looking, and how you belly dance as well, to make yourself unique.”

The skinny on belly dancing

•Martina Crowe-Hewett leads belly dancing classes at local community centres and at Richmond’s Urban Dance Co.

•For more information, see the City of Richmond’s latest Recreation and Culture Guide ( or visit Martina’s website at

•Crowe-Hewett’s tribal fusion troupe Turquoise (her most advanced students) performs Jan. 20 at the Norman Rothstein Theatre (950 W. 41st Ave., Vancouver) in a group show featuring belly dance Superstar Bozenka.

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