This article is from the April 2019 Grand Rapids Magazine. Available on newsstands now or via subscription.
Sarah Mayne’s childhood passion has undulated into something sacred. From sisterhood circles in the neighborhood to international dance troupes, Mayne embodies the essence of shimmy in everything she does — which is mainly dance.
Hence, Shimmy is a fitting rebrand of her well-known dance company Bellydance Grand Rapids.
“I want to do right by this art form and give it the respect that it deserves,” Mayne said, explaining that the term “belly dance” was contrived by people in the West. “Because we saw undulations and moving bellies.”
This dance style is referred to in the East as raqs sharqi, or oriental dance. Additionally, her studio classes include hula, Tahitian and Bollywood dance — all of which incorporate a shimmy of some sort.
ShimmyUSA, Mayne’s dance studio in the East Hills neighborhood at 959 Lake Drive SE, Suite 200, has been transformed into a 2,000-square-foot black box theater for tantalizing performances (a far cry from Mayne’s early dancing days). Like many Grand Rapids kids, her parents enrolled her in a ballet class at 5 years old.
“I remember my first performance,” Mayne said. “I had a little white tutu — every little girl’s dream. There was this sweet little boy and his job was to lift me up, but he dropped me. I ran off stage crying. I was traumatized.”
Nonetheless — and even though that was the only formal dance training she received in her youth — Mayne insisted she has always loved dance. She danced at school events, dance parties, concerts and at a swing dance class at Grand Rapids Civic Theatre. After high school, she traveled west and, in a Volkswagen van no less, wound up in Humboldt County, California. It was there she attended a Saturday market and saw a group of women dancing outside, in the grass, barefoot, to a drummer.
“I remember watching their movements, their fluidity, their hips,” Mayne said. “I thought, ‘Woah, what is that? I want to do that!’”
And she did do that … until a call from home came. Mayne’s mother was diagnosed with cancer. Mayne moved back to Grand Rapids at once.
She found a salsa dance class she liked but learned she was a terrible partner. “I just struggle with people leading me,” she said.
Mayne, who used to teach tribal style belly dance to her sister’s friends at weekly potluck gatherings, “for fun and love, not for money,” eventually began performing at UICA events, Grand Rapids Festival of the Arts, and Mezze Cafe and Cabaret. Her first troupe was called The Sacred Dances of the Garbha-Grha.
Now, Mayne and her troupe are part of an international circuit, and they offer a variety of dance classes for all levels nearly every night of the week at the Shimmy studio.
“With life’s difficulties, and especially with losing my mom, I lost my ability to express myself through words,” Mayne said. “And I found a much deeper, more meaningful well for me to draw from with dance. I didn’t have to explain myself, I didn’t have to open my mouth or express my emotions through tears, I could just move through it.”
For more information about upcoming classes and performances, visit shimmyusa.com.
— Emily Clingman
Photo: Sarah Mayne and belly dancers at the ShimmyUSA dance studio. By Johnny Quirin.