Most might assume that belly dancing is not a hobby much pursued in the Cotswolds. After all, there are no tweed or labradors involved, and not much call for chiffon, tassles or bells. Most would be wrong.
There are hundreds of women belly dancers here.
The largest belly-dancing group is, we think, Mirage, run by Carol Gibbon and based in Cheltenham. Others include Egyptian Spirit, Haziz and Syren Belly Dancers, who we went to visit recently.
Syren Belly Dancing grew out of Mirage. The group is made of six wonderful women: Cass Smalley, Naomi Hill, Sarah McDonnell, Teresa Phillips and Brynah Rockmore. The sixth, Maura McNulty, is living in the USA for a few years, but they’ve no intention of assuming that just because she’s not in the country, she’s no longer part of the group. So she remains on the roster. They’re a really close-knit group of friends, and they get loads of support from friends and family.
Syren Belly Dancer’s performances are a little different to the usual, as they perform to all kinds of music, from Marilyn Manson to Nickelback, Industrial to Dance.
They train regularly at Bourneside School, Cheltenham. We visited them in July, on probably the hottest evening of the UK summer.
We can’t begin to tell you the level of technique they posses: their stomach muscles are incredible, their hips mellifluous, and when they’re dancing the top halves of their bodies seem totally separate from their legs. They’ve been dancing together for around eight years, and it shows.
During the summer they perform regularly at festivals and other events across the Cotswolds, and every January they bare all at a wassail in Somerset…. (they say it’s their favourite). The group have around two dozen dances in their repertoire, each one taking a few weeks to create and polish to perfection.
They tried to teach us the basics that evening, and we were rubbish. It’s much, much harder than it looks.
Pretty much every weekend throughout the summer they’re performing at events and festivals, so much so you’d think that they did this as a full time job, such is their level of skill. In fact they all have day jobs and careers, from working at Weird Fish, Superdry, Lloyds, UCAS and more.
Why do they do it? For lots of reasons, but the main ones they told us are that you don’t need a partner to belly dance, there’s nothing better to boost confidence and it’s a brilliant way to exercise.