When Kathleen Gamble and Diana Brown formed a belly-dancing troupe in Juneau in 1976, few people in the city could pronounce the name - Banat el Tanuit.
Tanuit, the ancient mother goddess worshipped in the fertile crescent of Mesopotamia 25,000 years before Christ, was still represented when they changed the group's name to Daughters of the New Moon in the mid-1980s.
"It means basically the same thing as Daughters of the Mother Goddess," Gamble said. "All women seem to be controlled by the moon."
Now, the Daughters of the New Moon will pay homage to the sun during summer solstice weekend.
The troupe headlines the weekly Concert in Marine Park at 7:30 p.m. Friday, June 20, with the Thunder Mountain Big Band and emcee Collette Costa.
"We applied to perform in early June, and the (Juneau Arts and Humanities Council) decided to put us on for summer solstice," Brown said. "It seemed kind of mystical, going with the summer solstice and the Middle Eastern dance."
Friday's show will include three choreographed dances - one each by Brown, Gamble and Morocco, a Middle Eastern dancer from New York who hosted a workshop with the Daughters last year.
The performance also will include duets and solos, as well as a few premieres from dancers who have just finished Gamble and Brown's level-3 dance course.
"What we're doing is an Americanized belly dance," Gamble said. "But we take some of it back to the basics."
Gamble and Brown have taught Middle Eastern dance in Juneau since 1981. They offer three levels of classes out of a studio in Gamble's home.
The troupe began with eight members and shrunk to five over the years. It's grown to 25 in the past three years.
"When we first started dancing in the 1970s, it was quite the craze all over the U.S.," Brown said. "There were dance classes everywhere. It diminished a little bit and there wasn't much except in the larger cities, and in nightclubs, that kind of thing."
"People watch what we do and like the colors and the costumes," she said. "They come and ask if we teach that kind of thing. So now we're outgrowing our studio."
Juneau resident Phyllis Scott has been dancing for 20 years, working with tap, ballet, jazz, folk and modern dance. She joined a Middle Eastern dance group in Kodiak in 1980. She's danced with the Daughters of the New Moon for 12 years.
"I love the music, I love the dance and I love getting together with a group of people once a week," Scott said. "It's much more individual, more self-expression than a lot of types of dancing. You choreograph your own dance, and sometimes you just improvise."
Scott's 22-year-old daughter, Pilar, joined the Daughters five years ago and her 17-year-old daughter, Adrienne, started two years ago.
"It's a dance for anybody," Pilar said. "The movement is a big part of it. I used to do ballet, and it was very rigid. This is a lot more fun, and a lot better for the body."
"It's performance art," she said. "You still have to emote and transfer feelings, but you have to be graceful."
Lori Weed joined the troupe two years ago. She had friends in the group and was looking for a dance that could double as exercise.
"The women involved are a wonderful group of women," Weed said. "It's a close-knit group, but we always like new people and try and make you feel welcome."
Weed even recruited her stepmother, Susan Oldacres, to the Daughters. Oldacres liked dance and the glitz of the troupe.
"I was surprised at how easy it was to learn," Oldacres said. "You use your belly very little. There's a lot more legs and arms and just more muscle control."
"It takes practice, but most people can probably do it if they're shown the moves and get some instruction on it," she said. "I waited until I was 49 before I tried it, so if I can do it, anyone can."
Korry Keeker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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