Posts Tagged ‘MIddle East’

©Ianthe Butt 2012

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Chubby is the new chic. Rounded tummies are in. Toned is so last season. 

Sadly it’s unlikely these headlines will be gracing the front pages anytime soon. Now in my mid-to-late twenties I’ve kissed goodbye to having a flat stomach , if I’m brutally honest I’m not sure I ever had one. When faced with the hungry vs vanity conundrum my appetite  always triumphs.

I like cake. And I don’t like sit ups. 

Instead of beating said midriff into submission it was high time to indulge in an activity which embraces, pays homage even, to the belly.

Down a rabbit warren of shabby corridors a crowd of sLeNdEr-lEgGed girls with BalLet BuNs, trendy students and a handful of older women in bAgGy t-shirts and tracksuits are congregated outside one of Dance Attic’s studio rooms.

Three sparse walls plus one lined ceiling to floor with mirrors, this room is all about you.

Until, that is, instructor Isa Randle sashays into the room and puts on a CD of Arabian music.

With hips in sync to the rapid drum beat, undulating as her arms spiral upwards, she is captivating.

The atmosphere feeling more like a heady Moroccan market than faded Fulham, the warm up begins.  Gentle head rolling and toe touches are followed by floor exercises where backs are aRcHed in cobra-like positions.

Feeling suitably stretched first come hip drops, which involve placing one foot on tiptoe and bending the leg before moving the hip up and down. Fluidity of movement is important as otherwise it can look  jErkY and uNnaTuRal. 

One of the skills necessary to master belly dancing is the art of subtlety.

“Less is sometimes more” says Isa, “you can make a big impact with just a small measured movement.”

Accessories also help: if you are wearing a coin belt or tassled skirt it follows your body creating the illusion of a bigger sway.

Whilst staring intently at my reflection in the mirror a twentysomething year old Australian who is here with a friend smiles reassuringly.

“Don’t worry,” she says, “this is only our third week. Even if you can’t do it properly it’s great for a giggle.”

Isa moves on to arm placement making sure they are held in a y-shaped candelabra position away from the body (think Lumiere from Beauty and the Beast). Faces must not be blocked as “visible sultry glances and a confident smile are as alluring to your audience as the body.”

Seen by most people in the West as a purely seductive dance, belly dancing in fact started out as a fertility dance in praise of Mother Earth. 

Thousands of years ago across the Middle East women used to dance to each other in the hope of increasing their childbearing abilities, hence the revered status of the rounded tummy. Some of the gyrations are said to mimic having sex, and others childbirth contractions.

In spite of never having been pregnant Isa  tells me to feign morning sickness.

“Imagine you’re vomiting, really vomiting. You’re hunched over and a wave of sickness goes through the top half of your chest and then let it fall down.”

Apparently this bizarre instruction allowed a previous student to understand the next move: a roll and drop. Flummoxed, I tuck my bum in and attempt to send a wave of nausea through my upper torso. Clearly I don’t vomit elegantly and about thirty tries later with aching chest muscles I accept cannot master this move.

Piecing together the sultry hip drops with footsteps across the room, followed by a twirl and the roll and drop a mini-routine takes shape. Praise is poured on us if we get things right and Isa gives individual attention to those who are struggling. While feeling I monopolise her time, the other girls say she always focuses on new starters to make sure they don’t get left behind.

Personal touches such as winking are recommended and we’re shown extra details like cupping a hand round an ear before extending the arm out and repeating on the opposite side

Apparently in ancient times, before amplifiers existed, this gesture signified that the dancers were enjoying the song and wanted it played louder.

One by one we demonstrate the short sequence in front of the mirrors.

Despite not getting the moves exactly right, the atmosphere is relaxed enough for it not to be awkward and I feel I’ve done a fair amount of exercise when the hour is up.

The fact that 50 per cent of any muscle toning achieved has definitely occurred thanks to giggling at the back with the Australian girls doesn’t bother me a bit.

A laughter workout with people who want to grab a slice of cake with you afterwards suits me just fine, after all, chubby is the new chic…


Article ©Ianthe Butt 2012

Get involved: Beginners’ belly dance classes with Isa Randle run on Monday nights 7.30-8.30 pm at Dance Attic Studios SW6 1LY 
Cost: £6 class fee + £2 extra to Dance Attic for non-members
Contact: 020 7610 2055 / Dance Attic Website

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