Between tango halls and dance floors, belly dancing might be one of the last dance forms you’d expect to find practised in Argentina. But, owned by the Academia de Baile Flamenco, Almagro’s Academia de Danzas in Buenos Aires, offers tuition in just that.
Originally danced throughout Arabic countries, the popularity of belly dancing spread to countries such as Egypt, Turkey, Uzbekistan and Greece, before being picked up on as part of a recent trend sweeping western metropolis.
Now, as one of a wide range of Arabic dance forms gaining popularity every day, belly dancing has emerged as a favourite.
Practiced by superstars such as Shakira and Beyoncé, its sensual and mesmerising body movements make it an attractive choice when it comes to taking lessons in a new dance form.
Brenda Diaz Brunetto, who goes by the name Jadiyeh, has been practising belly dancing for nine years and teaching amateur and professional dance for five. She explains that belly dancing existed originally in Argentina as a tradition passed on through generations of immigrant Arabic families, until the likes of Amir Dhaleb, an Argentine born Syrian, became pioneers for bringing the dance form to Argentine schools.
The belly dance market has since spread to other Argentine cities such as Rosario, Tucumán, and Córdoba, and Argentina has now developed a unique belly dance style that was recently acknowledged in international Arabic dance seminars.
Other countries, such as Japan and Russia, have also been acknowledged for adapting the dance in their own way but professionals notice the subtle differences in each one.
“The Argentine belly dance is different from the Egyptian style,” says Jadiyeh.“Ours is more theatrical. We make sure to move around the space or the stage quite a lot, while the Egyptian dancer is more still, moving on the same spot.”
While the Egyptian style also focuses more on feeling, and the Argentine style more on technique, the Academia de Danzas has tried to create a fusion of the two.
Julieta Bonelli, a dancer at the academy, says she chose belly dancing because it suited her personality more than other dance forms she’d learned.
But while some students already have experience with other types of dance, no previous dancing experience is necessary to try belly dancing, and unlike in other forms of dance, a fit looking body isn’t a prerequisite.
Since the techniques of belly dancing involve isolating parts of the body – especially the hips, stomach and pelvic area – an un-toned stomach actually helps to intensify the movements.
And whilst the two-piece costume of a decorated bra worn with a full-length skirt or sheer harem pants might make you feel a little exposed, the welcoming environment of the class promotes a feeling of comfort in your own skin.
Fascinated by the music, the costumes and the moves, I was transported to an exotic world where dancers carry swords, wear finger cymbals and elaborate headdresses, and perform stomach contractions in rapid succession.
Some challenging facial expressions are encouraged to add to the theatrical feel of the Argentine belly dance form, but the biggest difficulty, it seems, is learning to marry your moves with the rhythm of the music.