The People: Eva Cernik

For alumna Eva Cernik, belly dancing is meditation in motion.

By Brett McPherson

Publish Date: January 30, 2014

Eva Cernik

Eva Cernik has made a lifelong pursuit of discovering and sharing the
folkloric roots of raqs sharqi (Belly dancing). Photo: Keith Darkchilde.

Belly dancing is more than just a workout to alumna Eva Cernik (B.S. biology ’76). “It’s a meditation,” she says, and the benefits go way beyond entertaining an audience.

Before attending MSU Denver, Cernik studied ballet at Metropolitan Opera Ballet School in New York until a skiing injury forced her to put the ballet shoes away. But Cernik wasn’t done dancing. Inspired by a poster in an Armenian spice shop that pictured a woman spinning around in a long, flowing skirt with cymbals on her fingers, Cernik turned her passion toward raqs sharqi, also known as belly dancing.

The woman in that poster became Cernik’s first belly dancing instructor, and she still teaches in her Manhattan studio.

Cernik later moved to Denver and danced at nightclubs to practice her art and to help pay her tuition at MSU Denver. “Every time I would dance,” she says, “the Arab students would say, ‘You should see how it’s done in our country.’ ”

So she did. Cernik has traveled to Egypt more than 23 times, as well as to 13 other countries, to study the folkloric roots and cultural nuances of raqs sharqi. She has made a lifelong career of teaching and accompanying students overseas and performs locally at the Mercury Cafe, Mataam Fez and other Denver venues.

The breathing required of a belly dancer and the core undulations make what Cernik calls “The Dance” more than just an artistic exercise. Multiple parts of the body move independently while still in concert with each other, igniting energy centers known as chakras, she says.

“It’s like yoga done to music,” she explains. “The aspect of following the music adds the dimension of something from the outside that you’re responding to internally,” referring to the communion between the dancer and the musician.

“The Dance” also creates a bond with the audience.

Cernik recalls a performance years ago at Ridge Home, a state-run mental hospital in Arvada, Colo., that closed in the early 1990s. She brushed her fine silk veil on the face of a nearly immobile patient, who reacted with a wide smile — an expression the patient hadn’t made for more than two years.

This is an example of what Cernik calls “veil therapy.”

And, in her view, world and corporate leaders could use a bit of veil therapy. “It would all work out,” she says half jokingly, “if they would seriously take on the study of belly dance.”