Belly good business

Belly good business
Singapore belly dance instructor Darren Ho (second from right) with his group Le'Mirage, comprising (from right) Japan's Meri Yamamoto, Singapore's Anka, the Philippines' Arjae Vitug and Japan's Yoshika Fukuda. They have won awards in local and international competitions.

Back in 2004, only two people showed up for Ms Yuki Chua's first belly dance class.

Today, 10 years later, thousands of students have passed through the doors of the 39-year-old's Bellydance Discovery studio in Tanjong Pagar.

"By the end of the first year, I had eight classes, some with as many as 20 students in the class," says Ms Chua, who is married with a seven-year-old son.

Others in the community agree that belly dancing has boomed in Singapore over the years. Some men, and even children, have also taken it up.

Apart from belly dance studios, classes are now being offered everywhere from homes to community centres to gyms.

Some dancers here are so good that they have been winning competitions locally and abroad.

Ms Angelina Tay, 34, recalls that classes were few and far between when she started learning the dance in 2002 as a university student.

"It wasn't very popular then and classes were not so readily available. But interest has grown, classes have grown and there are now many people teaching the dance," says Ms Tay, who is single.

After furthering her training in Egypt, she has been teaching and performing belly dancing full-time.

Most belly dance teachers in Singapore cover Egyptian, Arabic or Turkish styles, depending on which country their own instructors are from.

But the learning continues, even for more seasoned practitioners who have their own "master teachers" overseas. Ms Chua, for example, makes annual trips to Turkey to pick up new skills from these teachers.

Ms Nur Shiblie, 58, director of Alhambra Bellydance School Singapore, flies in some of these master teachers from time to time, who hail from the Middle East, as well as the United States, Australia and New Zealand.

"I bring them in to show my students where they stand against the master teachers' standards," says Ms Shiblie, who has three adult sons. "I don't want them to compare themselves only against me."

Her studio is at Cuppage Terrace and she says she has had hundreds of female students. "I've taught young women, married women. My oldest student is in her 60s," she adds.

She charges $120 for 10 sessions for a group class, while private lessons are $70 an hour.

While belly dancing is often seen as a sexy, sensual dance form, Ms Shiblie says she deliberately does not over-emphasise that aspect.

"I always tell my students that it is an artistic dance, it is not meant to be vulgar," she says. "When we perform at events, I tell them not to do too many of the sexy moves in front of the men, especially when their wives or partners are next to them. We need to respect their spouses and imagine ourselves in their shoes."

Belly dance students that SundayLife! spoke to say they were not drawn to the dance for its seductive, provocative nature.

One of Ms Shiblie's students, Mrs Miki Tsuchiya, 36, has been learning from her for nine years. Before she took up belly dancing, she was learning Latin dancing and found that those were dependent on the leading of a male partner.

"I prefer to be my own lead and I found that belly dancing allowed me to do that. I also don't need a high degree of strength or athleticism for this dance," says the Singapore permanent resident, who is from Japan and works in a telecommunications company here.

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