by Nguyễn Kiều Trinh
What began centuries ago as a form of entertainment in the Middle East has transcended into Vietnamese life in a major way.
Belly dancing may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but visitors to the Cultural Centre, Hai Bà Trưng District, in Hà Nội were treated to an afternoon of quivering hips and undulating movements that would not have looked out of place in the dance halls of Egypt circa 1800s.
Around 100 performers of all ages, shapes and sizes took part in the Belly Dance Sensation Festival 2019 earlier this month.
There were no áo dài here. Instead it was the traditional, and in some cases revealing, costumes of belly dancers that were donned by those taking part.
It is fair to say this is not something you would expect to see on a Saturday afternoon in the capital city.
WHIRL OF COLOUR: Vũ Tuyết Nhung performs on stage.
Yet as a hobby, coupled with a perfect way to keep fit while enjoying yourself at the same time, belly dancing is certainly gaining popularity.
“When I started to learn belly dance, my family did not encourage me because they were afraid of the revealing costume and sexy moves,” said Vũ Tuyết Nhung, who has been practising and teaching the dance for 12 years.
“But after seeing the values that belly dancing brings to women, making them become more beautiful and improving their spirit, my family changed their minds and now encourage me to help other women become beautiful and happy.
Now I am very happy to inspire people with belly dancing.”
The routines may look complicated, and the movements difficult to learn, but according to those in the know, it really is a style anyone can master.
GROUP SNAP: Feeling beautiful. VNS Photos Paul Kennedy
Đỗ Hồng Hạnh believes the benefits of the art are plenty, and as a former champion, encourages people to give it a go.
She said: “There are many aspects in belly dance. The difficulty for artists is how to improve yourself and create different beautiful pieces. Dancers take part in competitions to educate themselves to improve their skills.
“I encourage people to try belly dance. If you are talented, passionate and hard-working enough, you could be a professional dancer. Or at least, you will have good health, a beautiful figure and feel youthful. If you study further, you could achieve the higher level to be a creative choreographer.”
Lê Thị Ngọc Lan defies her 55 years of age. She feels fit and healthy, and even credits this ancient art for helping her overcome serious back pain.
“Eight years ago, I suffered from terrible back pain,” she told Việt Nam News.
“I tried many different things to help ease it, including a course of belly dancing. After just a short time, I began to feel much better.
“My body became more flexible, my back hurt less. Attending the classes, there are still times I have to lay down on the floor, waiting for the pain to ease, but then I continue. My teacher and classmates always encourage me and are very happy every time they see me in class.”
SEXY: A contestant performs fusion belly dancing.
But when Lan broke the news of her new hobby to her family, at first, eyebrows were raised.
“When I started to learn belly dance, my family asked many questions,” she said.
“After visiting my class, my husband and my children understood and encouraged me. They are now very happy because my health has improved so much. I do not need to take painkillers any more. My children are with me when I perform on stage.
“When I perform, I feel very happy and enjoy the music and movement very much.”
Some believe this form of dance dates back to the time of Alexander the Great who ruled Ancient Greece between 336 and 323 BC.
If that is the case, there is no doubt the man who was intent on endeavouring to reach the "ends of the world and the Great Outer Sea" would certainly raise a smile to know the dancing style created in his time seems to have conquered the world.
If you are interested in taking up belly dancing, classes cost around VNĐ2 million for three months. For intensive courses with international instructors the cost is higher. VNS
Belly dancing facts
In Turkey and Egypt and other places in the Middle East belly dancers have traditionally been hired for wedding parties.
In Egypt it is customary for the bride and groom to have their picture taken with their hands on the belly dancer's stomach.
Described by some as the oldest dance in the world, belly dancing is said to date back at least to the time of Alexander the Great (356-323 BC).
Belly dancing was originally done by women for women and the undulating belly is said to resemble a woman giving birth.
The Egyptian Takia Karyoka is regarded by many as the best belly dancer of all time. She enchanted Nazis, Allies and Arabs during and after World War II.
Professional belly dancers regard themselves as artists. They bristle at the thought that are little more than stylised strippers.
Thomas Edison made several films featuring belly dancers in the 1890's.