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Martha Germanis claims she was never much of a dancer. And belly dancing? “No, indeed!” the 85-year-old Bucktown resident said.

But when Germanis’ neighbor, Karla Marie Cochran, offered to show her a few moves, she didn’t hesitate.

Cochran has taught belly-dancing for 12 years. And Germanis was cooped up in the house, self-isolating like everyone else to slow the spread of coronavirus.

In recent years, belly-dancing has caught on as a fresh new way to work out. The undulating moves flex every muscle. The feet stay in place, so there’s little impact on the joints. Although her other students are younger, “for people who are older, and definitely for people who have injuries, it’s amazing,” Cochran said.

Germanis is healthy, other than a touch of COPD. But she’d had some issues with mobility, and lately has kept a walker nearby. Two weeks before coronavirus shut down public places, she went to a fitness center and hired a personal trainer. “And we were doing so good!” she lamented.

Then Cochran suggested belly-dancing.

“I said, ‘Let’s go!,'” Germanis recalled.

The teacher put on some lilting Middle Eastern music. The pupil wrapped a red coin scarf around her hips. And when she started dancing, Cochran’s newest, oldest student lit up.

Cochran knows that feeling. She started belly-dancing when she was displaced in Miami after Hurricane Katrina. Her then-husband had left her, she was broke and she was out of shape.

A free workshop lured her in. She says she was heavier then, her joints ached, and she was hesitant to do any dance. But pretty soon, she was shimmying to Middle Eastern tunes three times a week. She’d stumbled into a top-notch studio; her teacher, Tamalyn Dallal, is internationally known. “I couldn’t get enough of it. It was the first time I connected with myself as a woman, felt the connection to my body,” she said.

Cochran has a lot to say about the empowering benefits of belly-dancing. She leads classes at the New Orleans Family Justice Center, which serves survivors of domestic violence, stalking, human trafficking and child abuse. She also teaches at a private studio Uptown. That’s all in addition to her full-time job as director of communications and development at the International School of Louisiana.

Germanis lived Uptown and ran a nursery school called Tot Haven on Upperline Street for 34 years. She and her husband Louis, an assistant comptroller for a steamship company, moved to St. Bernard Parish and then to Bucktown after Hurricane Katrina; he died in 2015, after 60 years of marriage.

She’s got two daughters, Cathy Bienvenu and Maria Davies, in town to check on her and run errands; a son, Michael, in Seattle; five grandchildren, and lots of kind neighbors.

“We have a close relationship with her,” said Cochran. Sons Gian-Carlo, 24, Stefan, 17, and Renzo, 7, and husband Charles sometimes bring in Germanis’ trash can or trim her shrubs. “We see her all the time.”

Dance class usually commences in the late afternoon.

“I have a huge patio out front,” Germanis said. The six-foot rule is strictly observed. “I brought out my measuring stick to make sure how far we were apart. We stayed our distance.”

Cochran dances on one end of the patio, calling out instructions over the music. Germanis follows along from the other end. The neighbors swivel their hips and reach gracefully upward, safely apart, connecting in an ancient art form that’s as trendy as can be.

Annette Sisco is features editor. Contact her at asisco@theadvocate.com.

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