Nestled among the clubs, bars, and shops of Granville Street is the multi-leveled Harbour Dance Centre; my destination one Thursday evening for a fitness class. Walking into the centre, I was surprised that I hadn’t heard of it before. Perhaps it was because I was new-ish to Vancouver, but the Harbour Dance Centre was opened in 1985. Inside, the centre was busy as the after-work crowd descended to join the late afternoon classes- myself among them. And for my fitness class, I go back to my roots and joined Contemporary Belly Dance.
The intro class was taught by dancer and choreographer Nesrine Adham. I did not disclose my informal background in belly dance (I am half-Egyptian, and grew up with some knowledge of the hip movements). The small class of just under a dozen had ladies of all ages, all prepared with their hip scarves and smiles on their faces. What I have always loved about belly dancing is that it doesn’t feel like a workout, but it is actually a great way to tone and firm the body.
“The reason my students enjoy this style of dancing is because it is basically just fun, and once they start at the right level, they realize that it is not so intimidating after all,” said Adham, who has over 36 years of experience as a dancer.
Although I am usually quite uncoordinated in dance classes, belly dancing seems to be at a pace which is easier to keep up with. And I admit, I absolutely love the hip movements and hip isolation exercises. This love is enhanced by the hip scarves covered in little metal coins that shake and give the sounds associated with this dance form. But the Middle Eastern dance work out is not just about the hips and belly, your arms end up getting a great work out as well. Whether raised up with slow hand movements, or down closer to the waist, the arms are constantly fighting gravity as you continue to raise and move them throughout class.
The beginner class goes through the basic movements and walks associated with belly dancing, with the constant flow of movement creating a great fitness class. Adham also teaches short choreography to songs each class.You will sweat, but the class will also leave you ladies feeling feminine, exotic and sexy.
“Students have told me that it’s like their therapy. They always feel good after class,” Adham said. “Contemporary belly dancing engages all muscles and focuses on the core. I like to blend a little of my background in jazz and contemporary to make more use of the space, and the movements are bigger, not too focused on just the basic belly dance moves.”
I haven’t taken a belly dance class in a few years, but anytime I hear Arabic music or beats, my hips automatically wants to sway. After a few classes, I am sure most belly dancers feel the same. Personally, I also really enjoy singing along to the Arabic songs during classes.
Besides teaching, Adham has a dance troupe, Hips Can Sway, who perform at functions and large events throughout the city. If you have never tried it before, and are looking for a fun new low-impact workout, I recommend belly dance classes.
And as Adham says, “For those who love dance and have never danced, it’s a good place to start. It is a lovely, playful and sensual dance, and a workout in disguise.”
Harbour Dance Centre is open seven days a week and located at 927 Granville Street. A trial pass for three classes is available for $30. Nesrine Adham’s classes are on Tuesday and Thursdays.