I was checking out the Leith Festival’s programme and of course I went straight to the Dance section – never expecting to find a FREE belly dance taster class!! I’ve been dying to try belly dancing for ages but most of the classes I’ve come across are taught in blocks. I have a sporadic schedule and I like to try lots of different classes so I can’t always commit to 6 or 8 weeks in a row so this taster was a perfect chance to see just how much wiggle is in my hips.
The class was held at Shapes Fitness Studio on Arthur Street, a back alley behind Leith Walk. I eventually found the door leading to the upstairs studio, nestled between the car mechanic’s garage and office. The long narrow staircase opened up into a surprisingly large, light and airy fitness room. There was just a small toilet area for changing but a long bench provided plenty of room for all our stuff. It was such a nice space and so easy to get to by bus that I’ll definitely be checking out all the other classes on offer here (a quick check shows kettlebells, lots of yoga, insanity…).
As usual, I was one of the first to arrive. As I was chatting with the other early birds – who walks in but my former neighbour (a zumba instructor) who was coming along to learn some more moves to use in her classes. I don’t really mind going to classes on my own but meeting up with someone I knew was a nice surprise. Our wee catch-up was interrupted by the sounds of the Middle East – calling us to start our warm-up.
Our taster was led by Elspeth SwishandHips who has regular classes in Musselburgh and at Dancebase in the Grassmarket.
As we were warming up, Elspeth gave us a little lesson on the different styles of belly dance and its history which really helped us get into the mood and deepen our appreciation of the dance. We learned that belly dancing originated in the Middle East, with dancers from different regions and cultures adding their own unique flair; there are no set moves, most dances are handed down from mother to daughter; master to apprentice.
During our warm-up Elspeth gave us instruction to help restrain our movement (much of the control coming from our core muscles) so that our hips weren’t gyrating out of control. Elspeth dances in the Egyptian Oriental Style, which is less provocative and more demure than other styles due to the local religious culture. Even so, in Egypt the dancers are quite low on the class system; parents may hire them to dance at their children’s’ weddings but they wouldn’t want their sons to marry a dancer!! So it was with a new empathy that we all learned to dance together with our Egyptian ‘sisters’.
The warm-up got my circulation going, released my spine and woke up the muscles in my core – let’s bring on the belly dancing!! Elspeth’s approach was to teach a couple moves at a time and then use them in a short sequence, slowly building our repertoire. It worked beautifully and allowed us to ‘master’ just a couple moves at a time and get comfortable with this very new way of moving our body!! Most of the movement was in the hips; our core (abs) was both controlling the movement and maintaining stability in the upper body, our arms were ‘gracefully’ (well I tried!) flowing and complementing the movement below the waist (thumbs tucked in girls!!).
Once we had all the moves under our belt hipscarf:
- Hip Slide
- horizontal Fig 8
- vertical fig 8
- Hip ‘pop’
- Hip drop
- arm technique
- shimmy – starting with just the hips then moving the vibration up to the shoulders and then the whole body,
it was time to crank up the music and get our middle eastern grove on! With such a thorough foundation, Elspeth simply had to call out the moves and we were away!! Sliding, swivelling like we’ve done it a thousand times before – the traditional music guiding us, inspiring us to let go of any inhibitions and go with the flow. Although we learned so much and were able to put it all together, it wasn’t easy! Our hips, thighs, abs all got a great workout, and it took lots of mental concentration to control the moves and not just randomly shake it all about! With time, I’m sure my hips could get that bit more rotation in the fig 8’s and my arms would flow and not just flail about or be choppy like a belly dancing robot! Even if you’re not too bothered about perfect technique – belly dancing is a great workout; fun, energetic and you learn about the culture and not just the moves. Although we were tired and sweaty we could still manage one last pose for a belly dancing selfie 😀
I’d love to send a great big thank you to Elspeth SwishandHips for an amazing taste of belly dancing technique and culture. Elspeth has been dancing since her teens, getting her first taste of belly dancing in 1997 which got her hooked. She now teaches classes and workshops, performs once a month at Cafe Casablanca on Leith Walk, and is available for private lessons, hen parties, children’s parties, performing or teaching. In addition to belly dancing, Elspeth is a personal trainer and will be launching some new women’s health classes in August; she promises to keep us posted!
I definitely will be doing more belly dancing!! Elspeth’s regular classes start again in August/September…..
- Dancebase, Grassmarket. Wednesday evenings, 6:30pm beginners 7:30pm improvers
- Musselburgh’s Fisherrow Centre on Thursdays at 7.30pm.