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Steps in a confident and exotic direction

BELLY dancing is an art form that embraces all body types and creates self-confidence through artistic self-expression. Fei Lai discovers more from a world-famous visitor Belly dancing offers women a special group of friends who share and celebrate a joy in music. It is an art form that embraces all body types and creates self-confidence through artistic self-expression.

And one of the world's specialists, Karim Nagi, an Arabic musician, drummer and dancer, has just spent 10 days in Shanghai celebrating the opening of Yarose's new studio in Puxi.

At the opening visitors were entranced by the exotic Oriental atmosphere and glamorous flowing costumes. They were also delighted by Nagi and his Turbo Tabla, a music and dance show using Arabian folk dance and rhythms. Nagi is a crossover artist who effortlessly links East and West, traditional and modern music.

"It's a soul dance, more than physical movement," Nagi says. "Toning and shaping your body, it works for anyone of any age."

With an Egyptian background and an upbringing in America, Nagi fuses traditional Arabic music with modern techno and other musical genres. He understands music and dance, and is famous for his innovative, energetic and inspired teaching methods as well as his vivid stage presence.

Karim has taught at nearly all the major belly dance festivals in the United States and Cairo, as well as the major Arab culture festivals in America.

However this was his first trip to China and that had a lot to do with Jenny Yao, the founder of Yarose.

The two met each other last year in Cairo, Egypt.

Having taught belly dancing professionally in New York and Shanghai for over five years, Yao felt it was essential to present and promote the Arab performance art not just as belly dancing, but as a combination of rhythms, music and dance.

"Belly dancing is booming in China, but it is not just a fitness dance, rather, it is a state of heart and soul," she says. "I want to keep its cultural roots alive, and Nagi is a great example of a bridge between dance and music, East and West. So I invited him here to show us the genuine art form."

During his 10 days in Shanghai, Nagi offered workshops and performances at the Yarose studios. He taught rhythm with movement workshops for experienced dancers and beginners.

In the classes, Nagi explained the historical background of each rhythm and had students sing along to the rhythmic pattern. Then students would learn to memorize rhythms by clapping and singing and eventually with body movements - when the rhythms connect with the body physically, they naturally become part of the body.

"Asking students to copy movements is not a good way for them to learn. It's just memorizing," the master says. "Teachers should have the energy to inspire them, be willing to help and be friendly and creative."

As a musician himself, he composes for his own dances. Although there were many musicians in his family, most of them gave up music when they became 18 years old. That age was supposed to be when they were old enough to start a career, Nagi says. But he continued and his efforts have led him to what he is now.

"A dancer should respond to music, a universal thing," he says. "Music doesn't require dance, but dance requires music."

With a focus on belly dance, Yarose also offers classes in flamenco, pole dancing, salsa, hip-hop and the Argentina tango. Yao, the founder of Yarose, believes belly dancing is a way to express feminine beauty.

"It is more than being sexy," she says. "Belly dancing is actually an enjoyable experience which gets us closer to our souls."


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