Trusenia Hester practices her belly dancing on Wednesday night, Oct. 1, 2008, at her home in Bridgeport, Conn. Hester, a substance abuse counselor by day, said she finds dancing therapeutic. (AP photo/The Connectiut Post, Autumn Pinette)
BRIDGEPORT, Conn. — Family parties usually involve food and games, but for Trusenia Hester’s clan, dancing was a big part of the celebration too.
The 34-year-old half Cherokee, half Indian learned the art of Indian belly dancing at family functions.
She strutted — twirled, really — her stuff in July in Baldwin Plaza for a downtown picnic organized by a former city councilman.
“I did a lot of turns, a lot of body isolations. You move one part of the body while the rest of you stays still. It’s taken me years to perfect the art of it,” said Hester, who grew up in the city with her Cherokee mother and her father, who is from Madras, India.
She started young.
“I was always an active kid. At family get-togethers, I’d see people dancing. I’d join in,” she said recently, seated on a stool at the bar of Cafe Roma downtown.
Indian dance focuses on arm movements. To demonstrate, she hopped off the stool and held her arms out to the side, her elbows bent and one leg crossed over the other.
She wouldn’t have done that in her teenage years. Her enthusiasm for dance waned in her grade and high school years, she said, because she was picked on for her appearance. Hester is 5 feet 2 inches tall, with straight, shoulder-length black hair and pale blue eyes.
Her peers didn’t appreciate her and, consequently, her self-esteem dropped. But she eventually grew comfortable in her skin and blossomed into a part-time model.
Now dancing is her serious hobby. She practices often in her city home and in her fiance’s apartment in Long Island, N.Y., on weekends. For her day job, she works at Rushford Center in Meriden, Conn., counseling substance abuse patients.
She’s been balancing her love of dance and her job since college, sometimes combining the two.
“I always tell my clients the importance of getting in touch with who they are supposed to be,” Hester said, adding, “To me, [dancing] is really therapeutic.”
Her return to dancing came after she joined the International Club at Sacred Heart University in 1993.
“During an International Festival, they asked me if I would do an Indian dance,” Hester said. “I thought I was going to fall off the stage.”
She didn’t, and her confidence built as she performed more. Her body remembered the movements despite not doing them for so many years, Hester said.
Belly dancing uses the hips, and making the arms and hips move independently of each other to a beat isn’t easy, Hester said. The counselor even enrolled for a year in a school in Milford, Conn., to perfect her skills.
She danced for a select few friends after that, and said yes when Keith Rodgerson asked her to perform at his downtown event.
Rodgerson, a musician and downtown resident, said he and Hester go back five years. He met her downtown, and struck up a conversation.
“She told me she was a classically trained belly dancer,” said Rodgerson, also a former city councilman and mayoral candidate. “It’s one very particular thing I wouldn’t come across in a lot of other places.”
Rodgerson, a Harvard graduate, was exposed to exotic dancing living in Cambridge, Mass., where there was a Middle Eastern influence.
“There’s a different rhythm, different feel,” to classical belly dancing, he said.
Hester said dancers’ appearances and different moves don’t matter.
“Belly dancers come in all forms. That’s the beauty of the dance. It’s a celebration of a woman’s body,” she said.
Hester is still friends with an SHU classmate and International Club member, Angela Gibson, who was always impressed with the counselor’s dancing.
“A lot of her moves are dynamic. It’s very eye-catching. She does it so well and so gracefully,” Gibson said. “She has a unique style. She’s very good at it. Whatever she does, she puts on a show.”
Shows may be Hester’s next goal.
Hester’s latest aspiration is to join a troupe of Middle Eastern-style belly dancers that she found at a Black Rock Art Center event. She’s nervous, but is confident she can adapt her style.
“I think it’ll fit in,” she said.
Meanwhile, she still plans to pursue dancing even after her marriage — slated for November 2009 — and any children.
“I’ll pass it along to them,” Hester said.
(The Connecticut Post)