When thinking of belly dancing, do you see a willowy dancer in a silky yashmak and a dress decorated with sequins and jingle bells, gathering attention with her neck, fingers, arms, waist, hip and body in motion? In reality, belly dance is an energetic, healthy and enjoyable dance that gives us a glimpse of the mystery of the Middle East. There, people of both sexes and all ages dance to the music, and forget about their daily chores when they hear the rhythm.
Li Wan-ru graduated from National Chengchi University's Department of Diplomacy, and went to Israel for her master's degree. During her stay there, she became interested in local dancing styles, and tried to interact with local residents by joining them on the dance floor. She even went on a tour to Egypt with an Arabesque belly-dancing group.
To present the grace, refinement, and elegance of classical Chinese dance, the troupe pays particular attention to form. In addition, they have added new elements in musical arrangement and choreography to bypass traditional boundaries. Eastern qualities such as circles and gentleness are displayed through soft lines; the result may not seem as explosive as modern Western dance, or as lengthy as classical ballet, but it exudes a limitless continuity that stretches on like soft silk.
She came back to Taiwan late last year and started teaching belly dancing as a part-time job. Now, she has quit her day job, and devotes herself to introducing Middle East culture, and belly dancing in particular, to Taiwan.
Li states that belly dancing, which is called the Oriental Dance in Middle East, is quite feminine. Women of any body shape can show their distinctive beauty using unique movements; this can give them the confidence to be sexy.
The casual movements that appear in a belly dance are similar to our daily movements--they won't strain the body. While many dances require the dancers to be slim and long legged, belly dancing welcomes all who are interested.
Many people mistakenly believe belly dancing to be alluring, with attractive dancers, passionate music, and shimmering lights. But Li thinks it is a dance with cultural beauty, and would be more interesting if we appreciated belly dancing from an ethnic or cultural point of view.
Religious and political conflicts have had a deep impact on our perception of the Middle East, but Li tries to bring the region's mysterious, distinguished and intriguing civilization to us through the belly dance. Instead of merely teaching, Li hopes to share the dancing concept, which she feels is healthy, joyful and connected to Middle Eastern culture. Those who regard belly dance as aerobics or an alluring dance might find it disappointing.
With shining, sexy garments and charming, attractive eyeshades, women draw attention openly, while they behave conservatively off stage. It's like doing some little bad thing just to be happy; "Guys might get the wrong idea," Li says "but girls should understand."
I could sense her determination and motivation towards her future life during the interview. Like a lost painter trying to find his color by painting a colorful picture, it might be tricky at first, but I saw her eyes sparkle.
Li holds belly dance lessons at LinXiuWei Dance Garden and community colleges at NeiHu, XinYi and ZhongZheng. And lessons in Keelung and Taoyuan are also in progress. You can also look for them in A-Liang-De-Dian (A Liang's store), where they give informal performances free of charge, at 15, Alley 15, Lane 345, RenAi Rd., Sec. 4, Taipei.