Every week we send a member of the Urban Sports Club team to try one of the many sports we have in our offering. This week we’re off to try a new and exotic form of movement – Oriental Dance…
What is Oriental dance?
Oriental dance, more commonly known as belly dance, originates from Egypt and involves isolating specific body parts, particularly the torso, to create complex and fluid movements. Oriental dance evolves from many different cultures across the Middle East, North Africa and beyond.
The studio I visited is called HAYAL – Oriental Moves, opened by two friends and professional belly dancers Amira and Shalymar. Their studio teaches many different forms of dance including belly dance, oriental fusion, ballet, pilates, yoga and more.
What can you expect?
You’ll find HAYAL – Oriental Moves tucked away through the courtyard of a beautiful Berlin Altbau off Körtestraße in Kreuzberg. The studio itself is beautiful. I entered through a long, brightly lit corridor decorated with framed photos of performances of the studio owners, Shalymar and Amira.
The reception area looks like a Moroccan riad. Members can help themselves to herbal tea on arrival and garden-style tables and chairs are strewn with brightly coloured blankets and sequinned cushions. Wall art, screens and water features give the space a serene atmosphere; I felt a million miles away from wintery Berlin.
The most striking aspect of the space is the two rooms where the dance classes take place. Both are large and bright with a mirror running the entire length of the room. The lighting is professional, installed above and below the mirror to give a soft ambience to the studios. HAYAL really is one of the most beautiful studios I’ve ever seen.
How was the workout?
I was participating in the Oriental Dance Basics class on Wednesday evening in the purple room, led by Amira. We warmed up with a simple oriental dance. I’ve never tried anything remotely similar to belly-dancing, so all of the movements were completely new to me. Amira was an excellent teacher and made it easy to follow her movements, which consisted of arm gestures and simple steps. Our warm up also included some yoga and pilates moves on a mat.
Once we were warmed up, Amira taught us how to pirouette. This is much harder than it looks; we had to keep our backs completely straight as we bowed our legs.This takes a lot of flexibility which, unfortunately, I lack. After about ten minutes of practising this I realised that this was going to be a challenging 90 minutes.
We then moved on to practice hip isolation, the movement commonly associated with belly dancing. Again, this is a lot harder than it looks. Amira taught us how to move our knees so as to help with the movement. Throughout the entire class she seemed to be having the time of her life; it was a joy to watch.
Amira taught us more body-isolating movements and then put them all together to lead us through a sequence. Many of the students had brought belly-dancing skirts and accessories. The atmosphere was fun and energetic and Amira played upbeat, Middle Eastern music.
At the end we spent about 15 minutes doing the full sequence together (including the dreaded pirouette we’d been taught previously). At this point I was thoroughly enjoying myself and was able to do most of the movements without thinking.
90 minutes sped by, and soon we were warming down with more yoga moves, stretches and a round of applause. Everybody had a smile on their face as they left the studio.
How did I feel after?
The workout was a challenging mixture of cardio, dance and muscle isolation. Directly after the class I felt relaxed and focussed. Belly dancing is very fluid, and as the class went on I was able to detach my thoughts from the specific movements which helped my mind focus and de-stress. As a result I felt physically tired but mentally calm.
The next day the muscles in my glutes were by far the most painful – probably because of all that pirouetting.
Benefits of Oriental Dance
Oriental dance helps alleviate joint and hip pain and has been proven to increase bone density.
Belly dancing is a self-esteem booster for men and women alike. The movements are artistic and expressive both emotionally and physically.
Belly dancing is a big stress-reliever. I felt calm and focussed after the class and was in a positive state-of-mind afterwards.
It’s a low impact form of cardio exercise – if you have trouble with intense cardio or high-impact sports, this is a great alternative.
There was a wonderful sense of camaraderie before, during and after the class, and the dance promoted positive thinking and self-confidence.
Don’t forget to bring…
Just workout gear and water – you can dance in socks or ballet shoes so there’s no need for sneakers. Lots of people wore brightly coloured clothes and brought their own sequinned accessories – a great way to get into the spirit of oriental dance.