Belly dancing rage among Asian women

Agence France Presse

Kuala Lumpur, April 9:

Belly dancing is creating ripples among women in East Asia as enthusiasts from Malaysia to Taiwan pick up the ancient art of seductive shimmying — and get a good work-out at the same time. Students range from teenage schoolgirls to businesswomen and housewives. In a dance studio hidden in a leafy suburb of Kuala Lumpur, belly-dancing instructor Sherlyn Koh teaches her students to “shimmy” and do the “camel” to the rhythmic beat of Middle Eastern music.

Miriam Al-Arishee, 51, who runs a business in the oil and gas industry, said, “Belly dancing is good for the body. When I first started, I only gained aches and pains. But it exposed my own weaknesses, I realised how unfit I was,” said the glamorous Al-Arishee, who attends the class with her 27-year-old daughter. Writer Mavis Hooi, 26, who has been belly dancing for the past 15 months and has achieved “advanced” status, said, “I tried theatre, all sorts of dancing like the waltz, flamenco,” Hooi said. “Belly dancing made me move muscles I had never moved before,” Teacher Koh said one reason women find the centuries-old dance so attractive is that it indulges their love of wearing jewellery and make-up.

Koh was first “mesmerised” by the ancient art when she saw popular Latin pop star Shakira perform some three years ago. She began learning under instructors from Egypt, including the renowned Raqia Hassan, and then established her own school. In Taiwan, belly dancing lessons were introduced about two years ago by 32-year-old Violet Lee, who learned the dance while studying in Israel.

She has taught thousands of students, mostly female office workers and housewives in the past two years. She has six part-time instructors in her dance studio in Taipei. In Hong Kong, an Egyptian restaurant has been flying in professional belly dancers for the past three years not only to entertain diners but also give classes in the ancient art.Hosni Emam, manager of Habibi, said the last set of classes, held thrice-weekly between October and December last year, attracted over 500 applicants.