Thursday | September 21, 2017
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Program empowers teen girls through belly dance, art

When Malia Elmer first saw a belly dancing performance at the annual mango festival, she was captivated. The 15-year-old Konawaena High School sophomore said she fell in love with the movements, but also the grace, confidence and attitude exhibited by the women dancing.

“I love dance, but have never been a kind of ballet or hula type girl,” Elmer said. “I was intrigued by this tribal style of dancing at first because it looked like a fun way to become fit, coordinated and more confident. Through my participation, I learned it was more than just a fun exercise. I learned more about myself.”

Stephanie Bolton, the leader of the Nouveau Gypsy BellyDance troupe, invited Elmer to check out her newly created after-school mentoring program for teen girls known as Incense at her studio located at The Castle at Mauna Lea Manor in Holualoa.

Over eight months, this self-esteem, empowerment and education through dance, or SEED, program promotes active living, healthy choices and positive thinking to young women, ages 13 to 18, while preparing them for independence and helping them become productive members of their community, Bolton said.

The participants meet three days a week for two hours. An hour each session is devoted to tribal-style belly dance, which “uses ethnic tribal movement from several cultures, spanning from India, North Africa, the Middle East, the Mediterranean to Spain, into a dance language that girls learn to speak so they can improvise as a group.” This melting pot, highly improvisational style is great for teens because there’s no authoritative leader, and it’s noncompetitive. The dancers are able to cue to one another without using verbal communication. These non-verbal cues empower the group to improvise together while giving the appearance of a choreographed dance piece, Bolton said.

Dance allows the teens to come together, work and perform together, as well as build a community that teaches them trust and support each other. During last year’s program, the five participating girls adopted the motto: “If one falls, all fall,” Bolton said. At the end of the program, the participants showcase what they have learned during a recital. If invited, they will also perform during parades and community events, she added.

Through journaling and talking circles, the teens learn how to access their innermost potential; listen to their own voice; respect other voices and engage with people; formulate, share and articulate ideas; as well as figure out, plan and accomplish their goals. They also explore art techniques in their journals, which are allowed to remain personal and private if chosen. For some, art can be a safer, nicer route to express themselves when words are unsure, Bolton said.

Weekly, a guest speaker is invited to share information on topics, such as nutrition, health, fitness, financial responsibility, body image, goal setting, vocational planning and careers that the girls are interested in. Special activities, including sewing, henna and self defense, are also offered. Volunteer mentors are always being sought, and those interested should contact Bolton.

More than a decade ago, SEED was created by Myra Krien, a renowned international performer, choreographer and teacher of belly dance. In the summer of 2010, Bolton visited Krien’s Pomegranate Studios in Santa Fe, New Mexico, with one mission: to become a certified SEED instructor.

Bolton is a mixed media artist, belly dance instructor and Makua Lani Christian School 1998 graduate. She has been studying dance since age 17 and teaching professionally since 2009. She is “endlessly fascinated” by the music, history, culture and evolution of this ancient art form.

Bolton first heard about SEED while writing for a dance magazine and initially tried to support the award-winning program by making it the charity that benefited from sales of a book she was illustrating. When the author chose a different charity, Bolton remained dedicated about supporting SEED. Instead of just bringing more awareness, she decided to offer it in West Hawaii.

“This program is so much more than moving to the music, listening and communicating more effectively. It’s a creative outlet. It’s about self-awareness and self-acceptance, which is important for any woman, but especially teens,” she said. “It’s knowing yourself and having the ability to share it. It’s feeling healthy — both emotionally and physically.”

Elmer called the program “an amazing experience,” adding “it makes you understand you shouldn’t let anything hinder you.” Besides confidence and getting “a really good workout,” Elmer learned she’s more social and flexible than originally thought in everyday interactions. She also developed a new way to express herself, one that makes her feel empowered.

This year’s program will begin Oct. 10 and end May 31. Participants meet from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. Mondays and Fridays, and from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m. Wednesdays. Space is limited to 25 teens. The cost is $25 a week. Registration is required, is due by Nov. 1, and can be done online at

For more information, call Bolton at 854-1270 or email her at