Mankato woman celebrates, teaches belly dancing
By Carlienne A. Frisch
Patrice Hundstad, an executive assistant in the Centennial Student Union administrative office at Minnesota State University, Mankato (MSU-M), has another, more colorful identity. She calls herself Sherazade (pronounced Sher-uh-zahd), similar to the name of the Persian queen of The Arabian Nights tales. The character Sherazade so enchanted her husband with a new story every night that he refrained from beheading her (as he had done to his previous wives). Hundstad tells her stories not with words, but in dance--an interest that began when she was a preschooler.
“I saw a belly dancer teaching on a TV show,” Hundstad explained. “The show taught figure eights. You bring your left hip forward and circle it to the back, and that puts your right hip forward, which circles back, and repeat. There are a lot of variations, but this is one I teach because it’s a fun move.”
Hundstad has always been a physically active person. As a child in New York City, she had the opportunity to take various dance lessons, including tap and ballet, some taught by well-known dancers like the Rockettes. After moving to Mankato while in elementary school, she took ballet, tap dancing, and gymnastics lessons at the Dance Conservatory of Southern Minnesota, as well as horseback riding. After spraining both feet at a gymnastics camp, Hundstad cut back on her activities, but she performed as a cheerleader during her senior year of high school, which she explained was less physically demanding.
Before she was employed at MSU-M, she was a student there. And that is where she became interested in theatrics; not in acting a written role, but in performing belly dancing at events sponsored by the university’s Society for Creative Anachronism. Hundstad and a friend attended various events where they learned belly dancing movements from other dancers, as well as medieval dances and line dancing. She commented, “There are a lot of fun, historical dances to learn at events.”
It was through the Society for Creative Anachronism that Hundstad met her husband, Jeffrey.
“He joined the group only because he knew people in it--other computer nerds. I also joined the fencing club, but he did not. At our first dance date, a ribbon on my chemise began to unravel and tangled us up. When he and I took ballroom dancing together, he was one of the men in the class,” she said.
When Hundstad and a friend attended a party on a boat about 20 years ago, she had another opportunity to learn more about belly dancing.
“One woman at the party taught belly dancing. She agreed to give us lessons, then and later,” she said. “About eight of us started a belly dancing troupe, the Sun Moon Belly Dance. We danced at a lot of places, mostly in Minnesota, and first performed at an arts center in New Ulm, where I was surprised to see people I knew. You never know how they will react. Once, after a performance, we saw some people who said negative things. Most people, though, are good about it.”
One of Hundstad’s specialties is a sword dance--something she first saw years before she began performing. She explained, “When I was in high school, I saw one of Prince’s videos and saw belly dancers with a sword. Later, our troupe danced at an event--the Rainbows of the Desert--in Iowa. One of the other ladies had a sword. I asked her if I could try it out for a moment. I put the sword on my head, balanced it, and learned that I could do it. Later, her group taught a sword class, which I took.”
When Hundstad performed at the Minnesota Renaissance Festival in Shakopee, she took part in a contest. She borrowed a sword from another group, danced a solo with the sword in a dance competition, and won a prize. She used the gift certificate to get a fringed shawl of multicolored silk and velvet, which, she said, “I tie around my head for performances. It’s really cool.” She continued, “There also are short silk veils. I wear two and can spin them. Weights in the veils help to spin them.” She sews most of her costumes but buys some at conventions or online.
One of the events at which Hundstad taught belly dancing a few years ago was TeslaCon, a steam punk convention in Wisconsin. There, she said, “I taught a sword belly dance to novice dancers. Some used swords, while those who were concerned about cutting their feet had wooden dowels on their heads. A dance with swords and silk veils can go very well--or very badly. No one has ever been hurt, but it’s pretty embarrassing to drop a sword or have a veil become attached to the sword.”
Hundstad also has done skits such as the one in which she portrays a belly dancer assassin who distracts a person while poison is being put into his drink. She said, “It’s more funny than anything. I dance to the song Killer Queen. At one show, I asked the emcee if he’d be the victim, and we practiced before the performance. In rehearsal, when the emcee ‘died,’ one person wanted to call 911, so before the show went on we would make an announcement. Because Killer Queen is a mainstream popular song, the audience sang along, especially when the music stopped unexpectedly. I received an award for getting the audience involved. I’ve also won other contests, including an award for best costume workmanship.”
There have been additional opportunities to involve others. When Hundstad forgot her music for an event, the local band, Felahim, filled in with her. This resulted in Hundstad and a friend repeating their performance with the band. The belly dancers subsequently appeared on one of the band’s CD covers.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Hundstad often participated in belly dance festivals and conferences, as well as the International Festival at MSU-M. She has performed at private celebrations, such as birthday parties, as well as at charity events. In addition to teaching the basics of belly dancing, she provides some audience members with henna “tattoos,” especially at events such as Mankato’s Historyfest. She’s a long-time member of the Guild of Middle Eastern Dance, through which she takes part in online events and videos. She has been taking online classes for sword dancing, as well as learning more about dancing with silk veils, and is working on a new, fast-paced veil dance. She looks forward to resuming attendance at haflas, which are Middle Eastern parties that include a performance, a meal and, often, open dancing. She also hopes to begin performing again in March.
Hundstad participates in the Swords and Silks troupe in Mankato, where she encourages dancers to suggest steps and become involved in choreography of the dances. She also performs a fire belly dance in which, she said, “Each of us holds a lit candlestick called a palm torch, in each hand. The candlestick is attached to the hand with elastic. Belly dancing isn’t what it was when I started. Some people do what is called musicality--movements that you ‘hear’ to the music.”
Hundstad doesn’t limit her activity to dancing. She’s involved in martial arts, earning the equivalent of a brown belt in Hsing Chen Kung Fu. Another form of exercise she practices is tai chi, a series of postures and slow, relaxed circular movements developed in China as a self-defense system and as an aid to meditation. She also has learned other Chinese martial arts, including shaolin kung fu, which she describes as her favorite because it’s quite athletic, including many cartwheels and intense tests.
Another favorite form of kung fu is the Chinese double broad sword form. Hundstad has incorporated it into some belly dances, which she said was extremely difficult to do because, she explained, “The balance is very different in the belly dancing swords.
One might expect that Hundstad studied dance as an MSU-M student. Instead, she earned a Bachelor of Science degree in history, with a minor in psychology. She also holds a certificate in non-profit leadership. Her true vocation, though, might be teaching and encouraging others to express themselves through belly dancing, as she has been doing for many years.