Belly dance instructor Karen Ferroni teaches a movement during a class Dec. 4 in Augusta. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal

AUGUSTA — In the world of belly dancing, a traditional Arabic dance, dancers are only allowed to touch their head and their hearts. In Karen Ferroni’s class, she does just that for her students through the impact of her teaching.  

Ferroni — a retired physician and former chief medical officer of a Massachusetts hospital — turned 70 in October and has belly danced for nearly 25 years.

This fall, after what felt like fate, she started to teach her own class at RBF Studio in Augusta. 

“I think belly dance can change your life,” Ferroni said. “It changed mine.”  

Through dance, Ferroni was able to form life-long friendships and overcome cancer.

Ferroni was encouraged to try belly dancing with her friend in 2001 when she was told the local community college had a belly dance class on Tuesday nights. At the time, Ferroni was an obstetrician-gynecologist specializing in high-risk pregnancies at Holyoke Medical Center in western Massachusetts.   


“I said to her, ‘I think you need to be born knowing how to do that, but sure, I’ll go,’” Ferroni recalled. “I just loved it from the very first class and never stopped. My friend did, but I didn’t.”  

From there, Ferroni danced and took the stage name, “Farahan,” which means “Happy” in Arabic. Most people will take a name when they belly dance — she chose Farahan because of how she feels when she dances. She immersed herself in the culture of the dance in the best way she could where she lived, when at the time, Holyoke, Massachusetts, had a “lively” belly dancing culture with frequent performances and shows for her to be involved in.  

During that time, she also went on to become Holyoke Medical Center’s chief medical officer, where she oversaw about 400 physicians for more than a decade and continued to see patients part-time.

Belly dance originated in the Middle East, specifically in Egypt, and is a stylistic dance in which the performer only moves their hips. The outfits worn in belly dancing are typically colorful and covered in bells.

In 2018, Ferroni moved to the central Maine town of Randolph with her husband to be closer to their son in Manchester after retiring from medicine.  

Belly dance instructor Karen Ferroni, center, leads Nancy Strout, right, and Christine Parsons through a dance during a class Dec. 4 in Augusta. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal

That’s when Ferroni met next-door neighbor Nancy E. Strout, who she calls her “sister.” The two of them quickly picked up hobbies together — crocheting, painting, playing the piano — and soon, Ferroni got Strout involved in belly dancing, too.  


Strout wasn’t aware of her new friend’s background in dance — she just thought at the time that it would be something fun to do together. Strout needed some extra help with some of the moves, and that’s when she discovered Ferroni’s talent of teaching and dancing. 

“She takes you through all of the isolations and explains it until you get it down,” Strout said of Ferroni’s teaching. “She doesn’t overwhelm and takes in beginners but doesn’t let the more advanced ones be bored, she keeps it interesting at all levels.”   

Belly dance student Jessica Gordon executes a choreographed move during a class Dec. 4 in Augusta. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal

As soon as Ferroni and Strout got into the swing of things, Ferroni was diagnosed with Stage 4 breast cancer in 2019. Then in March 2020, the pandemic hit.

Most of their activities were on pause until Ferroni could pick herself back up after going through chemo and radiation to treat her cancer. They did, however, manage to continue some of their hobbies on their porches 12 feet away.

Ferroni finished treatments in the summer of 2020 and found herself wanting to move, and back to belly dancing she went.

“I thought, ‘Well, I’ll take a class, I just want to move and get out there and do something,’” Ferroni said. 


Ferroni and Strout found RBF Studio in Augusta this past spring and when their instructor took the summer off, it felt like fate to them. Ferroni said she would step in and teach the class for the rest of the summer, when studio owner Anna Masciadri offered Ferroni her own class to teach.

Belly dance instructor Karen Ferroni observes students’ moves during a class Dec. 4 in Augusta. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal

On a recent Sunday, Chris Parsons made the trip from Waldoboro and decided to take the class alongside her friend, Colleen, to try something new. The last time Parsons took a dance class was as a child she but said Ferroni taught in a way that made her feel comfortable in her own skin to take on something different like belly dancing. 

“I’m 53 and trying something new and wanted to do something fun and open my realm and move and learn,” Parsons said. “… She (Ferroni) is wonderful and is very patient and good.” 

Her classes take place each Sunday and have an average of five to seven participants from all over central Maine. Each class is either a drop-in, or can be paid for in a group of classes, but participants do not have to attend each week. If a week is missed, Ferroni will send the dance steps and music to the students. There will not be classes on Christmas or New Year’s Day, which both fall on Sundays this year.

The goal, at the end, is to have a recital and Ferroni is close to making the goal as she aims for the spring to have enough participants in her class.

“I just really enjoy sharing the joy of this art form with other people,” she said, “and watch them grow as I teach them.”

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