The meeting hall in the Schenectady Veterans Club seemed empty and cold Tuesday afternoon, until Tammy Stanzione switched on the Middle Eastern music and she and Lynn Buell began to dance.
Adorned with scarves, sequins and sparking jewelry, they transformed the space with their swaying hips and undulating abs. Fringes rippled and sequins glittered as the women shimmied, arms raised gracefully over their heads. They smiled, spun and clinked the castanet-like zills on their fingers, lost in the music.
The dance was a taste of what’s to come Saturday, when Stanzione, Buell and seven other dancers present Alibaba Night at the club. The family-friendly night of dance is a fundraiser for the club, which will use the money to maintain its historic building.
The meeting hall at the club will be transformed into an Arabian oasis for the night, complete with a 7-foot backdrop, stage lights and lots of electric candles. There will even be a magic carpet area for kids, featuring a Turkish rug and floor pillows.
“We’re very interactive performers, Lynn and I, so it’s not uncommon for us to go into the audience and maybe try to pull somebody up who looks like they want to engage,” said Stanzione, whose stage name is Ayperi-Alizarin.
When people think of belly dancers, salacious dancing often comes to mind, said Buell, who calls herself Meridya when performing. That’s not the kind of dancing that will be showcased, she stressed.
If you go
WHAT: Alibaba Night fundraiser for the Schenectady Veterans Club:
WHEN: 7 to 9 p.m. Saturday
WHERE: Schenectady Veterans Club, 718 Union St.
ADMISSION: $7 at the door
Benefits: Funds raised will go to the club’s building maintenance fund.
SNACKS: Hors d’oeuvres will be served from 7 to 7:30 p.m.
ALSO: The event will also include a silent auction, 50/50 raffle and free jingle bracelets for all women in attendance.
“A lot of it’s folk dancing, which takes place in the villages during celebrations,” she explained.
Belly dancing is a Middle Eastern art, characterized by rhythmic movement of the hips and belly.
“It’s passed down from grandmother to mother to daughter, and they have a great time with it, and we have a great time with it,” Stanzione said.
Anyone can belly dance, the women assured. Stanzione started her career in dance as a classical dancer but fell in love with belly dancing after watching a DVD about it. She now teaches belly dance classes at Hudson Valley Community College and the Fitness Coach Wellness Center in West Sand Lake.
She recalled a male dancer she once had as a student.
“He was a retired Army sergeant, and he came in with size 9 pink ballet slippers,” she recounted.
Men sometimes study the Oriental female form of belly dancing, Stanzione said. “They move just like women,” she said. “They move beautifully, but their bodies, being shaped a lot differently, it’s kind of fun to watch.”
People of any age and fitness level can belly dance, noted Buell, who has been at it for 30 years and teaches private lessons. “I always say, ‘You could dance yourself into the grave with this.’ There’s very low stress. It’s very good for your muscles,” she said.
The two dancers are expecting a standing-room-only crowd Saturday for Alibaba Night. They said their similar fundraiser at the veterans club three years ago was packed.
The women, both Schenectady residents, said they are putting on the event to help ensure future generations of veterans will be able to make use of the club. John Tesch, a Navy veteran who tends bar there, said the historic building needs a lot of upkeep.
“We just had to do the roof a year or two ago,” he said. “I think it was $140,000 because we have to replace what was there. The roof is slate with copper edging.”
Tesch said the nonprofit organization welcomes contributions toward building maintenance and is also happy to have new members. The club has about 300 members at present, a number of whom enjoy gathering at the bar in the back of the building.
“Part of our problem is, like everything and everybody, we’re getting older, and the younger people, they don’t have anything to do with us,” he said. “Every now and then we’ll get a new member from Afghanistan or whatever, and that’s good, and they find once they’re here that it’s cool.”