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August 19, 2011

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Belly dance - Gyrating for fitness

Belly dancing is a trendy way for young women to shape up, and an increasing number of Shanghai studios teach them how to shimmy, undulate and gyrate their way to fitness. Nie Xin lifts the veil.

Belly dancing is catching on fast outside the Middle East, and even modest young Chinese women are shaking their stuff to stay fit or really get in touch with their sensuality.

A number of studios specialize in belly dance courses - it's not just a class in the gym - including iPi Studio, Lotus Belly Dance Studio and Isis Belly Dance Club, among others.

Last Friday, noted belly dancer Molly Mao and students from her iPi Studio performed in a belly dance extravagance inside the Shanghai Dance School on Hongqiao Road. They were joined by Shereen from the Czech Republic, Sherlyn from Malaysia and Brancy Teo, founder of Malaysia's Belly Fusion.

"The show was wonderful, it was a precious opportunity to see the live belly dance show of so many professionals," says 30-year-old Nie Xixia, a 30-year-old bank employee.

Nie has been belly dancing for almost two years, since she had a baby and put on a lot of weight that she wanted to shed.

"Initially I learned belly dance to stay fit," says Nie, who enjoys all kinds of dance. "The Middle Eastern music and sexy dance steps all attracted me."

Thanks to belly dance - and change of her eating habits - she did lose weight and says it helps her stay fit.

Middle Eastern dance is famous for developing the core muscles, including abs and back, considered essential for good health.

Belly dance involves undulating movements of the belly and rapid gyration of the hips; skilled dancers are able to isolate and rapidly move muscle groups.

The dancing began thousands of years ago in the Middle East and is associated with tribal fertility dances.

Some theorize that it was developed by women and performed for women's entertainment; some say it appears similar to dances of figures in hieroglyphics from pharaonic times.

Though its essence has always been sexual and feminine, there's a lot more to it than Akon's "Shake Ya Body like a Belly Dancer" and Kelis' "Milkshake."

Learning the dance also opens a window on rich Middle Eastern culture, says 28-year-old Cherry Sun, who sells pharmaceuticals.

She has been learning belly dance for more than one year and has switched from classes at a gym to more professional classes at a studio.

Founded in 2008 by Shanghai native Mao, iPi Studio has been staging performances and offering classes and workshops at various levels in traditional Egyptian dance. It attracts both beginners and professional teachers.

"In recent years more beginners are joining, especially young white-collar professionals," says Mao, a 24-year-old Shanghai native. "Staying fit and presenting the beauty of the body is the aim of many belly dance lovers."

After the show last Friday, Mao is teaching an eight-day workshop for as many as 40 professional belly dance teachers from around China. She is joined by her Malaysian and Czech colleagues.

Mao is considered one of the best young belly dancers in China. She was born into a musical family and started to play the piano and learn dance when she was only three years old.

She took up belly dancing when she was 19 and saw a show at a Middle Eastern restaurant on Hengshan Road. "I was fascinated by this amazing dance at first sight and am still passionate about it," she says.

When Mao started out, there weren't many places to learn. In addition to classes, she learned from videos. Last year she won first prize at the Macau International Belly Dance Festival.

In May she and her Chinese group from nine provinces performed in Malaysia for World Belly Dance Day. Mao has also performed in the United States, Egypt and South Korea.

Now she's six-month pregnant, but she's still dancing and feels great. Some researchers say belly dance's pelvic movements make childbirth easier.

"Belly dance is a dance for women, presenting the beauty of the female body. Being pregnant doesn't have any negative effect on dancing. On the contrary, I have more energy and feeling for it," she says.

Mao has a busy schedule and plans to tour Israel and Russia after getting back into shape after childbirth.

"The skill of belly dance is not very difficult to learn, but catching the spirit of this art and presenting its true beauty requires a good attitude - tolerance, love and kindness," says Mao.

Basics can be learned in half a year and beginners' classes are open to everyone, no dance experience needed. Simple comfortable clothes are all that's needed. Costumes, bangles and veils come later.

For a sneak preview, you can check under "mollystudio" or "mollymao." If you can access YouTube, find more videos on the channel "iPiBellydanceStudio."

Belly dance schools in Shanghai

iPi Studio

Address: Rm 606, 1310 Dingxi Rd

B1, 506 Huangpi Rd S.

Lotus Belly Dance Studio

Address: 341 Shangcheng Rd, Pudong

Tel: 5811-3651

Newlook Studio

Address: 300 Yuyuan Rd

Tel: 158 0072 6072

Isis Belly Dance Club

Address: 353 Fengyang Rd

Tel: 5375-1250, 5382-7238

City Dance Club

Address: 400 Huichuan Rd

Tel: 5272-5881


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