Soc-Hopping No. 10: The Oxford Middle-Eastern Dance Society

Student Life

“It’s all about sparkly boobs” is one of the first things the dance teachers gush when I chat to them before the class. As far as I can tell this isn’t a deliberately ironic-post- feminist joke, but an indication that the society is primarily about women having fun. Aimee and Caitlyn, the instructors, wreathed in vibrant scarves and coin belts, certainly look ready to enjoy themselves. I’m wearing a black top and leggings, so definitely not getting the full sparkle-chested experience, but hopefully I can still learn to persuade my hips not to lie. Looking around the hall at East Oxford Primary School, it’s clear that Aimee was right in saying that middle eastern dance is for “all ages, shapes and sizes;” a few ladies look like they’ve just walked out of the office, some are grey haired grandmothers, others plump mums or skinny students, and on top of this the group seems pretty international, except for the fact that no one appears to be representing the Middle East… Caitlyn explains that they teach a social style of dancing; just as people in Brooklyn wouldn’t go to a hip hop class, women who dance like this at parties don’t need to learn it on the Cowley Road.
This sundry group, however, do. The first thing Caitlyn teaches us is the number one move of belly dance: the shimmy. Trying to move only your hips in isolation turns out to be harder than it looks. We wiggle around to some Egyptian music (which I’m now addicted to), and once we learn how to move our hands up and down in the right way, everyone’s eyes seem to take on a rather sultry look. This is exemplified by Caitlyn as she gives us a quick performance; she flicks her long black hair and long pink scarf and raises her eyebrows evocatively, shaking her hips in a way that makes every woman in the room want to sign up immediately. This is why the girls are often booked to teach at hen nights and even bops! Aimee tells me the classes are very adaptable; there’s no pressure to improve but there is the possibility for people who want to push themselves. Similarly, those who can’t bear the thought of being on a stage will never have to be, while others get the opportunity at the regular socials and haflas, which is Arabic for party.
Although some of the women tell me they hate exercising, everyone attempts our next task with enthusiasm. We learn how to walktoe-heel rather than heel-toe, inverting the normal step to give a lighter, more elegant movement. A curious side effect of this class is to remind me of the gritty dust that collects on the soles of your feet whilst participating in such indoor barefoot merriment, a sensation I haven’t experienced since primary school P.E. To some more modern music, we glide around, pausing to practice shimmying/ sultry eyebrow raising. Apparently it’s helpful to imagine you’re trying to hold up an object between your thighs. This tip also proves to help with the eyebrows…
My favourite move, however, is the hip drop. To do this you put one foot slightly forward, one hand out and one behind your head, whilst tapping your hip down quite hard on one side. This is the type of move where the more you enjoy it, the better you look. At the risk of sounding like one of the kinder glossy magazines, everyone looks great because they look like they’re having a great time. It’s all about the confidence.
Oh yeah, and the sparkly boobs. I’m getting a coin bra. – Beginners classes on Tuesday evenings. Taster sessions this week!

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