Belly-dancing (raqs sharki) has never been more popular. After years in the exercise wilderness, with a slightly dubious reputation and centuries of ignorance impeding its progress in the UK, it is now fully established on the timetables of trendy studios all over the capital. Unfortunately as it gains in popularity it does lose some of its cachet and sassiness. But it is still a mighty fine way to keep fit and toned.
Its origins are somewhat fuzzy, but most agree that it started as a kind of exercise regime for young women to prepare them for childbirth and the other rigors associated with being a woman. The titillation bit crept in later on.
We thought it was time to chat to our favourite dance teacher, Mrs. Miggins. Aka Polly.
Why Mrs. Miggins?
I use the name because in sounds old fashioned rather than the usual exotic bellydancer names. When I dance and my students learn, I always emphasise that we are dancing on this little damp island called Britain not in Egypt or Turkey.
It was a nickname given to me when I worked in a pub that used to be a medieval chantry. She is a character in the Black Adder comedy series written by Rowan Atkinson. It was set in medieval England and Mrs Miggins was the sweet and innocent owner of a pie shop.
British bellydancers have a long tradition of suppressed body pleasure, which was at a height around the time of Queen Elizabeth 1 when Mrs Miggins' character lived. Both the Church of England and Catholicism frowned upon the body, and women in general .
Why do you wiggle?
I have to wiggle, it makes me happy. I started teaching Bellydance six years ago because my teacher quit and I had gained a momentum that wouldn't stop. I have been Bellydancing for thirteen years, it never fails to cheer myself and others up.
Belly muscles are the most forgetful in the body, I must wiggle otherwise I will forget my middle.
I love the music: Egyptian and Turkish rhythms have kept Bellydance alive . Now fusions of these rhythms with European beats are changing Bellydance, as it has always changed over the millennia. Currently I perform Norse Bellydance celebrating Northern European energy myths. I also perform a mix of Tribal Egyptian Bellydance styles.
I don’t have a belly. Can I still belly dance?
I wish I had more belly. Bellydancing keeps me slim and toned. A belly looks good, in time it will become a belly with muscles. Many teachers are women with flesh, as are many students and performers. All sizes, all shapes can bellydance. There are all kinds of costumes, to suit everyone.
We’ve heard that even men belly dance .
Yes there are a few male performers. Some are gorgeous, others extreamly camp. Depends on one's taste!
Very, very few men come to classes. In thirteen years of teaching and learning , I have seen three men in class.
What good will it do me?
Bellydance will make you stronger, happier, more confident. Core muscles , the middle, will tone and strengthen . If the middle is strong , the body and mind will be too.
Do I need to fork out on opulent clothes? What equipment do I need?
No, but a coin hip belt will help with hip muscle awareness and makes a noise.
You can dance in bare feet, 'sticky pad 'socks or soft shoes. Bring a bottle of water to drink. That's it to start.
Will I be expected to perform in public if I join a class?
No, not if you don't want to. If you are willing, there are always opportunities for performance.
Can I make any money out of it?
Yes, and create joy and happiness around yourself. To perform, for money, you will need a good costume, experience and training. There are teacher training courses now for Bellydance like JWAAD and ATS Blacksheep or Fitness Training for private member gyms that will enable a Bellydancer to teach safely.
OK - I’m convinced. How do I find a GOOD class near me?
There are classes all over London.
Mrs. Miggins herself runs classes in Sydenham, Camberwell, Brockley, Sidcup and New Cross, from £2 a class. Contact her here for more details.