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Timaru belly dancers, from left,Kathryn Gilligan, Anne-Marie Chapman, Elizabeth Irvine and Janette Francis.

by Claire Allison

Organisers are hoping women of all ages, abilities, shapes and sizes will shimmy along to belly dance beginners’ classes starting in Timaru next week.

For the first time, the Beledi Middle Eastern Dance Group is offering courses for beginners, drawing on the decades of experience of new group member Elizabeth Irvine, formerly of Auckland and a dancer and teacher both in New Zealand and overseas.

The dance group started 19 years ago, after a dance teacher moved to Timaru to study at the then Aoraki Polytechnic and offered lessons while she was here.

Founding member Kathryn Gilligan (65) is still dancing, teaching and performing, despite having had a double hip replacement.

While she walked with a stick, she would probably be using a walking frame by now if it was not for dancing, she said.

“It’s kept me moving.”

The group’s membership has fluctuated over the years, numbers up to 20 at certain times, but now sits at about seven active dancers. The youngest member of the group is 18, and was 14 when she began dancing.

Members meet once a week during school term time, and also perform at rest-homes, birthday parties and hen parties.

Group members will attend the lessons. There are no standardised steps, and every teacher and dancer is different, so they all expect to learn something new.

“You never stop learning – the steps never stop coming.”

The group is encouraging women to give it a go.

“Everyone can do belly-dancing – all the moves are really natural for the female body. It caters for all shapes and sizes, all levels of fitness and ability.

“It’s a way of keeping fit in a limited space. You should be able to do an entire dance standing on a bathmat, and still make it interesting.”

While intricate costumes are an integral part of Middle Eastern dance, leggings and a T-shirt – or something similarly stretchy and comfortable – are all that is required for the lessons.

Members of the group are heading to Auckland in April for the Middle Eastern Dance Association of New Zealand’s annual meeting, where they will also perform.

The six-week beginners’ course will start on Thursday, February 7, at 6pm, upstairs at the Timaru Town and Country Club. Contact Anne-Marie on 022452-6691 or Kathryn on 021183-4476 for more details.