Getting hip with the shimmy

Getting hip with the shimmy

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Dance World Cambodia’s belly-dancing specialist, part-Egyptian Linda Asha Abdalla. Photograph: Alexander Crook/7Days

Halfway through my first belly dance class I was finally starting to feel like I had the hang of the hip circles. Then, the teacher stopped the class, and tactfully suggested I didn’t stick my behind so far out…behind. Sorry Shakira, my hips lie. They are too firmly attached to the rest of my body to move with ease on their own. Embarrassed, but still determined, I nodded and toned down the gyration.

When I heard Dance World Cambodia had added an array of different styles to this term’s curriculum I thought I’d pop along and get jiggy. Despite having trained as a classical dancer since I was four years old I have no natural rhythm so trying a new style of dance is usually a bit hit and miss for me but this sounded like a challenge.

I was waiting in the green studio, starting to talk myself out of participating. Thoughts of belly-dancing, middle-eastern beauties in full costume in my mind, I struggled to picture my pasty white, arrhythmic frame pulling it off,   when the teacher Linda Asha Abdalla, known as Ms Linda in class, walked in with a huge smile on her face, and introduced herself.

My perception of belly dancers shaking curvacerous flesh fell away when I saw her stomach: flat as a pancake.

The part-Egyptian goddess, who grew up in the Czech Republic said she felt connected to the dance form through her Egyptian heritage.

“My father comes from Egypt, and I love the music, I hear it and it makes me want to dance.”  

Ms Linda turned on the stimulating, modern Middle-Eastern soundtrack and started moving and stretching. I hesitantly followed suit.

She made everything look mysteriously beautiful, and effortlessly sensual.

If only my arms were as long as Ms Linda’s they would snake and undulate with as much ease, I thought.

By the end of the stretch I had surrendered that theory and realised that my problem went deeper: I lacked coordination, not just long limbs.

I struggled to alternate stretching my arms over my head, while moving my feet, and making the whole thing look like a dance.

After the stretch we moved onto some side-to-side hip movements, followed by hip circles, and then some faster hip isolations.

Despite my initial awkwardness, owing partly to the expansive mirrors in the dance studio, I started to get the hang of things, and Ms Linda’s suggestions about posture and weight placement really helped.

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As a ballet dancer I am used to having straight legs and spine, for belly dancing you need to have bent knees with your hips pushed forwards.

We moved onto arm work, and finished with a combination of all the movements we had learnt during the hour-long lesson.

By the end of the class I had found my groove, and my inner-belly dancer was ready to carry on for another hour.

My upper arms, shoulders, and stomach muscles were not.

I left the class with the satisfied feeling, which only comes after a successful workout, and a strong urge to return the following week.

But if I want to go back I need to practise.

Ms Linda, who has been belly dancing since 2003 and teaching for the past five years, said her key tip for students was to repeat the movements at home.

Depending on the student, it usually takes about six months to get the hang of belly dancing, and to learn to coordinate the fast hip movements, with the slow, graceful arms, she said.

To be honest, my expectations of the class were not high.

I thought it would be awkward and embarrassing, but after giving it a go I think of the class as more of a challenge.

Belly dancing is definitely something I will be trying again in the future. And with a little bit of practise, and the right music, my hips might move like Ms Linda’s, or – como se llama? Shakira Shakira.

Dance World Cambodia’s belly dance class runs every Monday night at 7.30pm at the Physique Club at the Hotel Cambodiana. Anyone can drop into the class for $10 per lesson, or a 13 class pass, which can be used for any dance form, will set you back $110. 


To contact the reporter on this story: Laura Walters at [email protected]