A Change of Uniform: Military women take up belly dancing as Bellanitian Dancers

Jennie McKeon
The Bellanitian Dancers performing at HarborWalk Village.

By day, Gina Buscagan is an active duty military operating room nurse. However, when she's off-duty and the scrubs and fatigues come off you will find her letting her hair down with the Emerald Coast Bellanitian Dancers.

"At work, I have my hair up and I don't usually wear make-up," she explained. "Dancing lets me show a different side."

Buscagan started the Emerald Coast Bellanitian Dancers — a group specializing in belly and Tahitian dancing — after she took a belly dancing class with some co-workers while stationed in Italy.

"It was sad to leave Italy," Buscagan said. "But through the group, I started to get to know people and now Florida feels like home."

Mary Lou Sales just moved to Florida from Arizona in December and works with Buscagan. It wasn't long until she was recruited for the dance troupe.

"She's a great mentor and a great teacher with a big heart," Sales said of Buscagan. "It's an honor to work with her and dance."

Sales has a little background in dance from high school and college, but the 26-year-old did find that the fast-paced Tahitian dancing is quite a work-out.

"It's a lot of work, but we have fun doing it," she said. "At practice, we're all sweaty."

At 47 years old, Buscagan is the oldest of the Bellanitian Dancers, but she doesn't look it, and she has little trouble keeping up with her younger dancers.

Buscagan credits the dancing to keeping her fit and active. It's also a nice way to let loose from her demanding job.

"I actually love my job," she said. "But I usually work 10-hour days and am on-call."

When she's dancing, Buscagan can let loose and express her femininity, she said. The transformation has surprised some of Bucagan's friends.

"They said, 'Oh my God, is that you?' Some don't even recognize half of us," Buscagan said.

Even though she is the leader and choreographer for the group, Buscagan never takes the spotlight away.

"One of the girls moves her hips like a helicopter," she said laughing. "I would break my back if I tried to do that."

The dancers rarely miss an opportunity to give back and have raised money for deployed troops and organizations such as Emerald Coast Children's Advocacy Center and local hospices. They also stay active in the community by performing at any and all events they can make. Their last performance was at the Mardi Gras parade at HarborWalk.

"We love dancing for charities and big events," Buscagan said. "We're looking forward to Cinco De Mayo."

Between the practices and performances there's a strong bond between the dancers.

"We dance together, some of us work together — we're all really close," Sales said.

Buscagan said she will continue to dance and teach with the Emerald Coast Bellanitian Dancers for as long as she can.  And there will always be young members who are sure to carry the torch.

"I have an eight-month-old daughter," Sales said. "I want her to start taking lessons as soon as she can."

Buscagan invites anyone and everyone to join the dance troupe. No try-outs are required. The group ranges in size, shape and age.

"As long as I see that they're trying, they're in the group," she said.

Want to Join?

All you have to do is show up to a practice to join The Emerald Coast Bellanitian Dancers. Practice times vary depending on dancer's availability. To see when the next practice is, contact Gina Buscagan at or visit