Celebrated belly dancer Meher Malik can give the Colombian singer a run for her twists. Anju Maskeri sucks in her tummy for a trial session
Tighten the buttocks and swing those hips while keeping your torso still,” Meher Malik tells the class in her husky voice, even as she nudges me to pull my belly in. Memories of reckless binging come flooding home, as I try hard to suck my tummy in and shimmy. As they say, once on the lips forever on the hips.
Malik taught Rani Mukerjee to shimmy in the song Aga Bai from Aiyya
Malik, of Delhi’s famous Banjara School of Dance, is in Mumbai for a one-week intensive crash course in belly dancing at Bandra’s House of Wow, for the first time. And, we have made it here at noon for a trial. Along with me are a bunch of 25-odd, starry-eyed students, of all shapes and sizes. “You don’t need to be voluptuous to learn this. I have students who are size zero as well as XXLs,” says Malik encouragingly.
Meher Malik guides this writer at a belly dancing class. Pic/Pradeep Dhivar
In the six years that she has been teaching the Middle Eastern dance form, the 27-year-old has encountered many body types. The Indian body, however, she says in the same breath that she instructs us to push our chest out so that the back forms a natural arch, may not be as foreign to the form as you think. Belly dancing, may have its roots in Rajasthan, much like the flamenco-kathak connection. “Researchers have found that the first belly dancers in Egypt had darker skin, used more kohl in their eyes and sported colourful clothes and did not look Middle Eastern,” she shares.
As Mohamed Hamaki’s Wahda Wahda fills the room, Malik, who spent 17 years in Muscat, tells us to do the chest lift and drop, exaggerated versions of which are a staple fare in Hindi movies. “Visualise a string attached to your spine in the centre of your chest. Imagine a puppeteer pulling this string upwards on a 45 degree angle,” she says. I try, my chest refusing to rise to the occasion, but I won’t give up. “It comes with practice,” she reassures.
As the class progresses, Malik tells us that the dance is about fixing the female reproductive system. “It is an art form in the Middle East, passed on from mother to daughter, to prepare the womb to give birth,” says Malik. “Belly dancing uses all the muscles of the abdomen to keep that area fit. Which is why, if you learn belly dancing, you’ll never face problems with menstruation,” she reveals. So, there.
Where does the Bollywood-esque enticing men come in? Nowhere, she declares. Malik refuses to choreograph an item number because she thinks it objectifies women. “Tutoring Rani Mukerjee in Aga Bai in Aiyya was an exception as that track was shown as her own sexual fantasy, and not as someone entertaining ogling men. I have a problem with that setting,” she says, even as she nudges me to roll my hips more, leaving me with the sage advice: Don’t lift the shoulders and make sure your pelvis is being pushed up and backwards as well.
Where: House of Wow, Hill Road, Bandra West
Next Batch: Yet to be scheduled
>> Arts in Motion
Where: 39/44 T V Chidambaran Marg, Sion East
Entry: Rs 3,800 for two months
>> Kohl Movement
— A Belly Dance Company
Where: Organised Chaos, Parmeshwar Bhavan, 14th Road, next to B:Blunt salon, Khar West
Entry: Rs 500- Rs 3,800