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Natural Awakenings Atlanta

Dance Sows Life Skills SEEDs for Girls

Local dancer and arts promoter Ziah McKinney-Taylor is teaching girls and young women to find independence, healthy body images and financial literacy through Middle Eastern dance.

“Pretty much 99 percent of any belly dance teacher’s job is undoing the images that the media has drilled into our heads, the negative aspect of being a female to where we need to tuck our breasts away and slouch so we’re not taking up much space, which is really bad for our posture, and not being confident,” says McKinney-Taylor. “Just being in any dance and allowing yourself to physically and mentally unfurl out of that is unfortunately necessary for our mental and physical health.”

McKinney-Taylor has taught and performed American Tribal Style (ATS) belly dance for years. She has expanded her programming to include Lotus Self-esteem, Empowerment and Education through Dance, or Lotus SEEDs, an after-school program for girls ages 5 through adolescence. The program was adopted from Pomegranate SEEDs, a national program created by Myra Krien in 2001, to provide education in Middle Eastern arts and to teach life skills.

“The girls learn that there is a leader and a follower,” says McKinney-Taylor. “They learn the language of dance. They learn to watch for movements and positioning to know what is coming next. Through dance, talking circles, journal writing and drumming, valuable communication skills are developed.”

McKinney-Taylor’s daughter, Alexandra McKinney-Taylor, 12, has gone through the SEEDs program three times. She said the program helps keep her fit and taught her fundraising skills, as well as helped her to be open minded toward other cultures.

“It taught me lots of useful, very, very useful, life skills that you need to go out and be an independent woman,” says Alexandra.

Alexandra has belly danced since she was 3, and started performing at age 4. She feels the body image component of ATS style is relevant for young women.

“Definitely it is very much still needed, especially now in a modern society when we have lots more social media so we have more access to seeing what types of bodies are considered okay by the rest of society,” says Alexandra. “So I think now more than ever it’s very important in supporting girls in their independence and body image.”

The Lotus SEEDs program includes guest speakers, nutrition education and practical training in financial literacy through conducting fundraising activities. The classes are an hour and a half, following the DeKalb County public school schedule.

The after-school program charges a fee, but the agreement to adopt the SEEDs program in Atlanta specifies that no girl can be turned away due to finances. Performances help raise funds to support all students.

“The performance we held last year, the girls really knocked it out of the park,” says McKinney-Taylor. “Their excitement was palpable.”

All Tribal Bellydance Center of Atlanta classes will be held at their new location, Decatur’s Sukha Artist Development Studios. SEEDs will perform July 8 at Attack of the Belly Dancers in Marietta. The next SEEDs semester starts Aug. 15. For more information, visit

Sarah Buehrle contributed to this story.


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