Wednesday nights, UCF students of all shapes and sizes shimmy their way to Student Union room 218A.
Some look nervous and inhibited, while others proudly flash their newest costume pieces.
With the simple start of an iPod playlist, the mood transforms; the entire room erupts into a brilliant mix of music, culture, euphoria and dance.
Shimmy Knights, UCF’s only belly dancing club, was established in 2005 and has grown in popularity and attendance ever since.
Lauren Finley, a sophomore animation major, is the main instructor of the class. With a contagious grin and a spirited personality, Finley encourages every student from the get-go to relax and enjoy the class.
Finley hasn’t always been a belly dancer, however. In fact, she only danced in musical-theater performances up until her freshman year of college when she found the Shimmy Knights table at orientation.
“I thought to myself, ‘wow these people are really brave,'" Finley said. "'I would never wear something like that in public. I could never do that.'”
Finley was intrigued. She enlisted her hesitant roommate, Madeline Davis, a sophomore physics major, to join her for a class. Eventually the two found themselves going to meetings and practices often, and both became club officers at the end of the fall 2013 semester.
Although in the world of belly dance, Finley is just getting started, her presence in the room is undeniable.
“I found an outlet for my talents," Finley, the energetic and boisterous instructor said. "I’m very loud.”
The room is anything but quiet. People are clapping, laughing and singing along to the music, but the most enchanting sound is that of the coin skirts jingling with every hip movement.
The spirit in the room is definitely infectious.
Summer Toler, a freshman psychology major and her roommate Juliana Hirn, a freshman communication sciences and disorders major, were back for their second class.
“We had to come back to learn the rest of the dance,” Toler smiled.
They had picked up on the addictive vibe of belly dancing, and dancing to Shakira’s ‘Waka Waka (This Time For Africa)’ helped a bit too.
“It’s cool," Hirn laughed. "I really like learning the dance. Everyone is really friendly. I didn’t know my hips could move like this.”
Toler said it was the cool environment and the great workout that prompted the duo to come back for seconds.
Ladies weren't the only ones shaking their hips, however. In one corner, two gentlemen were also partaking in the hip shaking.
Matthew Noble, a graduate history student, said he has been coming to classes for a while now and perhaps even hopes to perform with Shimmy Knights someday.
“I just wanted to try it. [It's] something new," Noble said. "I’ve never danced. I’ve done some martial arts before. I wanted to try some different movements.”
Alice Guan, a post-graduate student in nuclear energy arrived late to class, but shimmied right in as if she'd been born in a coin skirt. Guan competitively dances in Latin and ballroom styles, but this was her first attempt at belly dancing.
“I actually badly need a place to dance, like, any form of dance, so this great," Guan said. "I had a lot of fun.”
Catherine Ninah, a freshman biology major, is the public relations officer for Shimmy Knights and is thrilled to see new faces each week,
“I love recruiting new members and it has just been a really great experience so far," Ninah said. "I think this is a great place to get involved because everyone is so sweet and friendly. It’s also a way to learn a new skill and there is a lot of history.”
According to bellydance.org, the most common misconception about belly dancing is that it is a dance for men’s entertainment. Finley disagrees adamantly.
“This is a cultural dance," Finley said. "We are not strippers. The amount of times that people come up to us and ask us to dance for them or how much to dance for them is really not OK.”
Davis shared in Finley’s sentiments.
“Once, I was tabling for orientation and a guy came up and asked me if we did private parties. I just kind of looked at him and was like, 'we are not that kind of club.'” Davis said.
In reality, the art form is the opposite of these misconceptions to the women and men who dance each week: it's all about empowerment.
“It’s a confidence builder. A lot of people look at the outfits and think, 'I could never wear that. I’m not confident enough,'" Finley said. "It’s really the other way around. The outfit builds your confidence. You’re out here having fun, and if you know you look fabulous doing it, it’s really helpful.”
A room that was once scattered with timid faces is a distant memory as the class comes to an end with the closing circle. In this circle, each person starts a dance move that the rest of the circle must mimic. The previously introverted newcomers now mix their new-found belly-dancing moves with everything from the Sprinkler to the Running Man, beaming from ear to ear.
“It’s a great positive environment for people to explore their skills, [hone] new ones, and meet new friends,” Finley stated.
The Shimmy Knights welcome new members every Wednesday night. Classes are $3 each or $20 for the semester. The performance troupe can be seen at various events around campus and holds auditions at the end of every semester.