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Photo courtesy of Nilay Engin

Bakersfield belly dancer Nilay Engin at the recent Belly Dancer of the Universe Competition in Long Beach.

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Bakersfield dancer Nilay Engin at the recent Belly Dancer of the Universe Competition. “I have to fight for their acceptance,” Engin says of relatives who object to her hobby.

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Bakersfield belly dancer Nilay Engin at the recent Belly Dancer of the Universe Competition in Long Beach.

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Casey Christie / The Californian

Nilay Engin is a belly dancer in Bakersfield.

Nilay Engin is a rare breed. A petroleum engineer for Chevron by day, and belly dancer by ... later in the day. Try to find two of those.

She was born and raised in Ankara, Turkey, and possesses two advanced degrees, which she earned in New Mexico.

"I was 21 and started when I moved to the U.S. I took a belly dance class while I was going to grad school. I was skeptical but I got bitten by a bug that changed the course of my life."

Engin's age? Don't ask.

"I feel ageless with creativity flowing in every vein and a non-stop active lifestyle."


"I am passionate about everything I do, which gives me a strong life force."

Engin recently participated in the 14th Annual Belly Dancer of the Universe Competition -- considered the belly dance Olympics -- in Long Beach. Participants included dancers from Poland, France, Ukraine, Canada, Puerto Rico, Russia and Mexico.

Engin "medaled" in the Taksim category, a slow and sensual improvisation set to a song by a solo instrument, and in the fusion category, where contestants mix belly dancing with alternative styles of dancing.

Engin is married to Craig Corbell, who is a geophysical logging operator and the CEO of Boredata.

The dancer took a minute from her full life to answer our questions.

Is it too late for me to become a belly dancer?

Absolutely not! People of all ages, body shapes, fitness levels and genders can do this. We have several talented male belly dancers worldwide who are highly respected and loved.

Do you need to be in shape to be a belly dancer?

People at any fitness level can belly dance. However, to deliver a dynamic, challenging and entertaining professional belly dance act requires core strength and high cardio capacity.

Has anyone ever been so inspired by one of your performances that they proposed to you?

I received proposals to dance at their next celebration many times.

Yes, I do get proposed to quite a bit. I flash them the 1.75 karat on my left ring finger to help lift their inspiration to a different level.

Does belly dancing run in your family?

No, but in my culture, yes.

I am a first generation belly dancer and my family has not been that supportive. I have to fight for their acceptance.

Can you make a living doing this or is it like writing and music, where you need two or three jobs just to break even?

It's worse than writing and music because it is less common. Not many people hire a belly dancer for their next elegant or wild event as opposed to hiring a band or musician, although they should. However, there are belly dancers who make a living but they also teach classes, workshops and coach privately. Many belly dancers, including me, have second and third jobs.

How do you think I would look in belly dancing garb?

You would look so stunningly amazing that you wouldn't recognize yourself! It's choosing a flattering cut. Then you can go as feminine or manly as you'd like. Glitter, gems, jewels can make you shine like a conquistador, while minimalism can be strikingly charismatic.

What is the most famous belly dancing scene in cinema?

Nilay: The gypsy camp scene in the James Bond movie, "From Russia with Love." "Star Trek" and "Sex and the City" have belly- dancing scenes and my teacher, Mesmera, can be seen performing on episodes of "Fame," "Hill Street Blues," "Mama's Family" and "Gimme a Break."

Not to be rude, but it appears the women with amply, healthy figures have a leg up on the skinny Winnies. Does it help to carry a few more pounds?

No, and I am not insulted. Skinny Winnies work harder on their movements to make them show compared to voluptuous curved dancers because the movement has less surface area to reverb.

Size doesn't matter. The Arabic community appreciates curvy women like you do and the Turks endorse thin dancers.

Luckily with belly dancing, the skill level of the dancer shines through, no matter the body type.

How do you eat before a performance?

I don't. I sip small amounts of water to prevent dehydration from anxiety and fluid loss due to sweating. If I eat, it makes me feel weighed down. I think the adrenaline kicks in and my digestion stops.

If it is a late performance and I feel too hungry, then I eat baby food that comes in squeeze pouches like simply pureed vegetables and fruit with minimal to no additives.

How many calories do you think you could burn in an hour dancing?

My average is 490 calories, which is similar to an hour of intense strength or spinning class.

I have been told before that my belly dance fitness classes can be as tough as a spinning class!