by Minh Thu
|Rings on her fingers and bells on her toes : Nguyen Van Anh demonstrates a difficult back bend. — VNS Photos
"Chest! Up! Down! Circle!" With a strong voice and skilled movements, Nguyen Van Anh moves amid miraculous melodies and teaches young girls how to belly dance in a room lined with mirrors.
She has been a belly dancer for a long time but didn't establish the Cleopatra Club in Ha Noi until 2007. Since then, she hasn't stopped creating, teaching and performing to bring the beautiful Middle Eastern dance to Viet Nam.
Starting with a few dancers at first, she now attracts hundreds of young women who are eager to dance as a way to relax and get fit.
Anh has loved dancing since she was a little girl and showed her talent from a young age. She was a star among children of the same age in her area.
"I was charmed by the belly dancing in Indian films although I didn't really understand their content at that time. I just enjoyed the dances," Anh says.
She watched the same films multiple times to memorise and teach herself the moves.
When she performed for her family and neighbours, people soon realised that she had a real aptitude for dancing.
She nurtured her passion for the dance as she grew up. Later, she became a professional dancer and gave performances of many different styles including sport dance, folk dance and Indian dance, all of which she learnt primarily on her own without the aid of professional instruction.
She performed and taught with enthusiasm until she injured herself while pushing too hard.
It was a serious injury that left one leg paralysed in 2005 when she was 22 years old. She couldn't believe the lack of feeling in her leg; she could stick a pin into her skin without feeling a thing. After once considering dance as her joyous reason for living, the accident left her desperate. Words cannot express the pain in her soul, she says.
After one year of living paralysed and without hope, she met a doctor who was an expert in curing traumas for athletes and artists (Anh wouldn't reveal his name). It was the luckiest day of her life, she says.
After a series of specialised therapy treatments, the doctor allowed her to return to a light dance regimen as part of her rehabilitation.
Soon after, she heard about a national belly dance festival and she was eager to join. In her excitement, she practised too hard and reinjured herself. The doctor gave her two choices: continue practising at full capacity to perform at the festival and risk being paralysed for life, or give up this chance and wait for another after a full recovery.
She opted for the second option and never looked back.
She followed her doctor's guidance and realised that belly dancing was suitable for her body.
Gentle movements require skill but don't hurt. It not only satisfies her passion for dance, but also helps her body endure and maintain its skill.
Cleopatra, her dance club, evokes the beauty, wisdom and power of the Egyptian queen. Anh believes the dance disguises these characteristics as well.
"I always want to try new things," she says. "If new dancing styles were to be adopted into Viet Nam, I would try them for a while but I'd never give up belly dancing."
"It is something I can't live without. It's my eternal love till I die."
Anh spends everyday performing, teaching and directing new dances.
A friend in India helps her collect music which she mixes to create background music for a dance. She listens to the melodies numerous times and tries to understand the context then creates movements and uses props such as swords, candles, wings and scarves which suit the music.
She also studies Middle Eastern culture and history to get a truer sense of the music.
With a deftness for decorating and design, she also makes belly dance costumes.
Coins, bells and other accessories which help the wearers charm the audience are made by hand. Her small flat is full of props and costumes but she still likes to sit at her sewing machine to grow her collection even further.
"All of my clothes are stored in one wardrobe but I don't have enough space to hold all of my belly dancing costumes," she says.
|Shimmying example: Nguyen Van Anh (in orange) with her students.
Her life revolves around belly dancing.
"I work all day and don't seem to have any other hobbies such as shopping, sports or travel," Anh says.
"Many people say my life is boring and ask why I don't take a break to have some fun, but for me, anything relating to belly dance is my passion and happiness, I don't find it boring," she says.
"Listening to a melody, sticking beads to a bra and dancing in front of the mirror is how I enjoy my life."
When asked what she would do if she weren't a dancer or a dance teacher, Anh says she would like to open a coffee shop where belly dance lovers could gather to exchange and perform together. It would be a venue to boost understanding of Middle Eastern culture through dance and cuisine, she says.
Anh never stops trying to bring new features into her dances. Hoang Minh Khanh, principal of the Viet Nam Circus and Variety Arts College, offered an interesting idea.
"Once, Khanh suggested I should combine belly dance with circus. He didn't mean that circus acts and belly dancers should perform separately on the same stage. His idea was for them to perform at the same time," Anh says.
"The idea sounded strange but interesting and I immediately decided to try," she says.
She worked with Khanh's students to get an understanding of the movements in circus then mixed them with belly dance.
A few months ago, Khanh's students performed a belly dance combined with hooping at the Lao National Circus in Vientiane where they were granted Supporting Prize.
The unique performance won over the audience and the judge's hearts.
"Anh is a talented dancer," Khanh says. "I appreciate her effort to combine belly dancing with circus. The creation honours both artistic forms and attracts a lot of public attention."
He says hopes to work with Anh again.
So far, Anh has directed three acts including belly dance with hooping, belly dance with fire dance and belly dance with aerobatics. She's always thinking of new combinations to develop the circus and belly dance style.
Day by day, she works with an adorable passion and effort. She entertains herself by shimmying to fascinating melodies and finds a happiness that can't be compared with anything. — VNS