Katherine Godbey LaBrier (left) and her mother Alice Godbey are belly dance instructors.

Grapevine's Godbey family has made belly dance a family affair

Posted Monday, Aug. 13, 2012

By Tammye Nash

Special to the Star-Telegram

It was 1985, just five weeks after the birth of her first child, when Alice Godbey attended her first belly-dancing class. She swore at the time that she would never dance in public.

Now, 26 years later, Godbey doesn't just dance in public. She is a belly-dance instructor, her youngest daughter is a dancer and instructor, and her husband, Nicholas, stands behind them all, providing the support they need to keep on dancing.

Godbey and her daughter, Katherine Godbey LaBrier, are just two of the dancers who will be performing this week at the 12th annual Yaa Halla Y'All: A Gathering of the Stars in Texas, taking place Aug. 16-19 at the Grapevine Convention Center.

The event, presented each year by Colleyville-based Isis Foundation, includes four days of workshops on belly dance and Middle Eastern drumming, with shows each night featuring visiting instructors along with student dancers. The event also includes the Yellow Rose of Texas belly-dance competition on Thursday and Friday nights.

"Yaa Halla" is an Arabic phrase meaning, in English, "Welcome." And the public is welcome to attend the event's nightly shows and the Yellow Rose of Texas competition.

The Godbey family's love affair with belly dance started in Chicago, where the couple and their infant daughter, Veronica, lived while Nicholas Godbey was attending graduate school at The University of Chicago.

Alice Godbey, an engineer with a master's degree from M.I.T., and her husband had attended an event hosted by the school's International House, where they saw their first belly-dance performance a few months earlier. So, when Alice Godbey started looking for an activity to help her get back in shape after Veronica was born, the belly-dance classes offered through the school caught her attention.

The fact that the belly-dance class schedule was the most convenient -- with classes happening at a time when her husband could be home to watch the new baby -- also played a role in Godbey's decision to sign up.

"I said I was doing it strictly for the exercise, and I swore I would never dance in public," she recalled. "But I enjoyed it so much, when the next beginner class started, I signed up again."

The instructor, Godbey said, encouraged her to also take the advanced class. And before she knew it, 14 months after she started classes, she was preparing for her first public performance.

"International House was hosting another event, and they asked our class to perform," Godbey said. "It was my first public performance, and I actually got paid for it -- $10!"

In 1986, the Godbey family moved to North Texas, and Godbey eventually started taking classes at Isis Star Dancer Studio, studying with Isis Bartlett and dancing under the name LimMaya, a combination of Latin and Egyptian translating into English as "lake water."

Eventually, Veronica started taking classes at Isis' studio, dancing under the stage name Rose Maya -- a name chosen in tribute to her mother and in recognition of her own red hair.

Alice Godbey became a certified belly-dance instructor and started teaching some classes at Isis' studio, and in the meantime, she and her husband had two more children: a son named Alex and, the youngest, a daughter named Katherine.

Veronica, now an engineer with degrees from M.I.T. and Brigham Young University, now lives with her husband, Kevin Wannberg, near Seattle. They have a 2-year-old son, with another child on the way.

Alex, now a 1st lieutenant in the U.S. Marines, lives with his wife, Lesley, in North Carolina where he was stationed after returning in April from a 10-month tour of duty in Afghanistan.

Katherine LaBrier remains in Texas, intent on taking the family's connection to belly dance to the next level.

"I like to say that Katherine has been belly-dancing since before she was born," Alice Godbey said with a laugh, explaining that while she was pregnant with her youngest daughter, she would practice with her zills -- the finger cymbals that belly dancers use -- and "she would start kicking me in time to the zill rhythms."

Katherine LaBrier started taking belly-dance classes at Isis' studio in 1996, at the age of 5, and 16 years later she has already built up an impressive resume under the stage name Kata Maya.

She was a founding member of The Angels of Isis and later joined the studio's premiere professional performance troupe, The Wings of Isis. She won awards in two different years, as a member of those troupes, at the Middle Eastern Choreography Project competition in Austin.

In 2008, she won the junior category title at the Bellydancer of the Universe contest, and then went on to win the Champion of Champions prize at the competition. She also won the Yellow Rose of Texas People's Choice Award for Professional Cabaret Solo Star at Yaa Halla Y'All: A Gathering of the Stars in Texas in 2010.

When Katherine graduated from Grapevine High School and headed south to Texas A&M, she joined a group there called Brazos Raqs and eventually began teaching classes.

For Katherine, Yaa Halla this weekend will wind up what has been a very busy summer. In early June, she married her high school sweetheart, John LaBrier.

Since then, she has traveled to Canada for Aziza Dream Camp, an intensive, weeklong belly-dance workshop led by internationally known performer and instructor Aziza. Over the weekend of Aug. 10-12, she traveled to California to compete in the reality show Project Belly Dance: The Search for America's Next Top Belly Dancer.

And through it all, she worked as a marketing intern this summer at Bass Hall in Fort Worth.

After graduation, Katherine LaBrier said she and her new husband hope to return to North Texas, and her goal is to continue to teach and perform as a belly dancer, eventually opening her own studio. When she does, she said, her studio will operate on the same core principles as Isis Star Dancer Studio where she grew up., and which has meant so much to her family through the years.

As an athlete who competed in water polo, diving and swimming in high school and college, Nicholas Godbey knows a bit about competition., about constantly having to fight for your place on the team. "That culture," he said, "just is not promoted here at this studio. This is just such a welcoming and supportive place."

He said it is important to him to support the studio and the foundation not just because his wife and daughters have danced here through the years, but also because he supports the foundation's mission to promote belly dance despite the often-negative stereotypes associated with Middle Eastern culture.

"This studio and the foundation focus on the cultural aspects of the dance and separates that from the religious and social and political aspects of Middle Eastern culture," he said.

His wife agreed. "Belly dance is an art form, and art doesn't have political boundaries," she said.

For Alice Godbey, who is a member of the studio's Professional Performing Company and the foundation's Cultural Dance Team and its board of directors, belly dance is a form of creative expression for which "my only limit is my own imagination."

Belly dance, Katherine LaBrier said, is about expressing joy.

"When I got out on stage to dance, it's that moment in my life when I really feel like I have something to give," she said. "There's just such joy in seeing the looks of appreciation on the faces in the audience, knowing that I can express myself through this dance and at the same time, I can make someone else's day a little better."

Read more here: http://www.star-telegram.com/2012/08/13/4178524/grapevines-godbey-family-has-made.html#storylink=cpy

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