Mention bellydancing and images of young women shimmying in midriff-baring costumes come to mind.
But if the participants at the World Bellydance Competition are anything to go by, age is hardly a factor when it comes to bellydancing.
Held last Friday at the Goodman Arts Centre as part of the 2015 World Bellydance Festival (WBDF), the competition saw dancers as young as seven and as old as 74.
Competition categories were diverse, with segments for children, young adults, seniors, amateurs and professionals.
Dressed in an array of glittery costumes and headdress, dancers from countries such as China, Japan, Spain, Korea and Taiwan spiced up their routines with graceful splits and acrobatic somersaults against a backdrop of colourful lights and artificial smoke.
Dr Fei Jia Zhen, who is from Shanxi, China, was the oldest contestant at 74.
Speaking in Mandarin, the solo performer told The New Paper (TNP) that she is a retired doctor and a grandmother of five.
"I started learning bellydancing four years ago. I felt I was getting older and needed to keep fit," said Dr Fei, who looks after her 92-year-old mother and practises medicine part-time.
She said she was attracted to the elegance of bellydancing, and that she could learn it without a dance partner.
She spends about an hour-and-a-half during each practice session."I'm a serious person.
"If I learn something, I do it well. But of course, I am older and not as active or flexible as the younger dancers," she quipped.
Dr Fei said that she was not worried about winning or losing her senior category.
"My goal is to stay healthy. Bellydance helps to tone my body and it makes my waist, hips and thighs more flexible.
"It is a beautiful dance that transcends age, size and nationality, which is a very good thing," she said.
Her husband, Mr Liu Guo Quan, 79, who was by her side during the competition, is proud of her.
"All the people in her dance class (in China) are younger than her. Those above 60 years old are actually not encouraged to join the dance classes, but her dance class made an exception for her, as she is still healthy.
"I fully support her. I'm happy when she is happy dancing," he said.
One of the youngest contestants, Mei Yue Han, seven, from China, performed in the solo category and as a member of a troupe.
She told TNP in Mandarin that she started learning bellydancing at the age of four-and-a-half.
"I was attracted to bellydancing because its moves are very pretty," said Yue Han.
Although she is busy with her daily schedule of school, homework, dance and drawing, she plays hard too.
"I am good friends with my dancemates. We have sleepovers in my home and we play with toys and dance together," she added.
Her instructor Li Jia Rong, 30, said that Yue Han is one of her most talented dancers.
She said: "She has won many top prizes in international bellydance competitions. Her freestyle routine is very good, and she can imitate dance movements accurately.
"She is very brave and confident. Whenever she dances, the stage belongs to her."
WBDF organiser Wang Haiqing, who is known by her stage name Jamila, said that the competition provided an opportunity for cultural exchange and self-challenge.
"It was not just about competing with others, but also about competing with themselves. For instance, for those who've never competed on stage before, it is an accomplishment for them," said Madam Wang, who is also the founder of dance school Bellydance Extraordinaire.
This article was first published on June 2, 2015.
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