Fire in their bellies

Pictures by: 
Ariffin Jamar
Report by: 
Benson Ang

Blazes of colourful chiffon twirl and sweep across the floor. Seductive rhythmic Middle Eastern melodies infused with oboes fill the room. Bodies writhe and undulate in time to the percussive beats of tambourines and tablas.

Yes, the room is full of belly dancers, but this is no harem in Persia. It’s a modest rehearsal studio at Claymore Hill. While the intoxicating music comes from a humble stereo, the passion for dance is very real.

It’s here that group Goddess Motion are rehearsing. Made up of 43 women – mostly aged above 40, with the oldest aged 78 – they practise shimmying their hips and artfully turning their wrists to prepare for their performance, called Goddess In Motion, at the Raffles Hotel Jubilee Hall on Tuesday.

The performance will last about two hours and will have more than 20 dance segments. Some of these are choreographed by a belly-dancing instructor, Ms Mia Sha’uri, who was specially flown in from Puerto Rico.

They may not have toned and taut stomachs, but these dancers are not afraid to jiggle. They are out to debunk the stereotype that belly dancers have to be young, pretty and slim.

“This is a misconception created by Bollywood and Hollywood movies,” says group founder and teacher, Ms Susanna Lawren. “They usually present belly dancers as being very sexy. The truth is that anybody can learn how to belly dance – as long as they are willing to learn. “My students are older, but they are young at heart,” says Ms Lawren, 42.

One of the Goddess Motion’s oldest dancers, Madam Alice Goh, 60, used to participate in Western line-dancing before picking up the Middle Eastern dance. The retiree and grandmother has no regrets about the change: “Belly dancing is more gentle on the knees. It’s also feminine, sensual and expressive. “It makes me feel sexy.”

Madam Goh adds with a laugh: “So what if I don’t have a flat tummy? You need a belly to belly dance.”

The article related to these pictures was first published in The New Paper on Sunday on 13 October 2013.