The beautiful 'Ginger Rogers' of the Arab word, Samia Gamaal
'الرقص الشرقي' (raks sharqi), or belly dancing, is the mother of all exercise. Bold statement, I know, but take this from someone with hips (also fondly referred to as love handles) – no amount of side, reverse or upside down crunches can give you the tone and definition that a spot of belly dancing can. With the added advantage of potentially feeling sexy as opposed to a blob of sweat and tears in an oversized college sweater and lycra capris.
Now, although my Jordanian heritage means I can* belly dance by default, it doesn’t mean I am an expert. On the contrary, I’ve sat through some Egyptian films from the 60s and 70s, mouth agape, brow furrowed at the gorgeous sirens of Arabic cinema and the apparently effortless way they shook their lust-inducing hips, gently kicked their heels and rolled their stomachs. Bedecked in colourful chiffons, emblazoned with metallic or cloth fringes and stunning, bedazzled bras, these women were the epitome of the Arab glamour woman.
Note, not once did I mention a taut stomach, a size zero or Russians. Why? Because the current example of belly dancers has been diluted and diluted even further to something that does not even remotely resemble the true class of the original. As with most pop culture phenomena, things have changed over the decades. When you head down to a resort city like Sharm el Sheikh, on the Red Sea coast of Egypt, you witness an array of foreigners complying with the animation team’s schedule of ‘ethnic’ entertainment. To be fair, I have seen women of many backgrounds attempt a belly dancing show, and although some are wonderful, the true essence of the art of belly dancing is lost.
The origin of belly dancing may be questionable, with many a nations claiming they bred the wondrous form of expression, including aforementioned Egypt, Morocco, Lebanon, Tunisia, Turkey and more. Its form may be regurgitated and copied and adapted to completely irrelevant forms of mass culture. The hooks of some of its most resounding tunes may have been reworked into totally unfamiliar songs (see: Big Pimpin’) but that is not belly dancing. Belly dancing is not Shakira, a Latvian student in a gaudy get-up on a cruise ship in the Balkans or a tune on a God awful Akon single.
My recommendation? Get involved. Watch the video below and sign up for a class at your local academy/studio/gym with your girlfriends. This form of dance is the definition of feeling good on both the inside and outside; bring out your inner Naima Akef (see below).
Note: In case it looks familiar, this article has been reposted from former lifestyle blog, Behind the Looking Glass. It's mine, I promise.