Shake, rattle and sway
There is something compelling about wrapping a scarf with jingly bits around your hips – the minute you tie the knot you are overcome with an overwhelming desire to wiggle.
There is something compelling about wrapping a scarf with jingly bits around your hips. The minute you tie the knot you are overcome with an overwhelming desire to wiggle and make the small gold coins jangle like a rattle. Before I started belly dancing recently in Abu Dhabi I would call this wiggling my hips, but now I am a belly dancer I call it the “shimmy” – the hip shimmy, to be precise, as opposed to the shoulder shimmy or diagonal shimmy. Until I moved to Abu Dhabi I did not have the opportunity to dance. Then by chance, when I was doing a yoga class at The Yoga Tree and Soma Pilates Studios, I saw it on the list of classes: “Oriental Belly Dancing with Elina”, it read. I had no idea there was more than one kind, but there are two: Raqs Baladi, which is local or folk dance, and Raqs Sharqi, the oriental variety. I signed up immediately. There are three of us in the oriental belly dancing class, along with Elina, our teacher. She is from Finland and has the most perfect body I have ever seen outside the Elle Macpherson swimwear catalogue. A dancer by training, she learnt to belly dance in various places, including California and Munich, where apparently two German women run one of the world’s most formidable belly dancing academies. The two other girls already have the brightly coloured scarves tied around their waists. Elina asks me to pick one from a basket she has on a shelf. The coins, she says, are symbolic of women’s wealth. “And the colour?” “Personal taste,” she replies. I go for bright pink. Scarves on and we get to work. We begin by taking small, elegant steps, two on our right foot, two on our left. My money jangles subtly. We bring our hips in, moving them to echo the rhythm and movement of our feet. Now I am rattling like a room full of rattlesnakes. I feel great; strong and sensual. The brilliant thing about belly dancing, as opposed to something like ballet, is that you can actually look like you know what you are doing straight away. Then we start work on our arms. Rather like ballet, there are positions for your arms, four of them. Your fingers are slightly separated at all times, the movements graceful and elegant. I ask the other ladies why they are there. “I love dancing and want to get fit,” says Frances, who is from England. “And it’s sexy,” adds Liante, who is Dutch and also lives in Abu Dhabi. The health benefits are well documented; belly dancing is an excellent cardiovascular workout, it increases flexibility and strength and is very good for your core muscles. It also burns as many calories an hour as jogging, swimming or riding a bike. And you get to shimmy. What’s not to like?
Helena Frith Powell was born in Sweden to a Swedish mother and Italian father, but grew up mainly in England. She is the author of eleven books, translated into several languages including Chinese and Russian. She wrote the French Mistress column The Sunday Times about life in France for several years. She is a regular contributor to the Daily Mail, Mail on Sunday, The Times, Daily Telegraph, Tatler Magazine and Harper’s Bazaar.
Helena has been the editor of four magazines, including M Magazine, a supplement for the Abu Dhabi-based National Newspaper and FIVE, a high-end fashion glossy, also published in Abu Dhabi. Helena was also editor-in-chief of 360 Life, a quarterly glossy magazine published with the Sports 360 Newspaper in Dubai, part of the Chalhoub Group.
Helena contributes regularly to UK-based newspapers and magazines and holds a Masters in Creative Writing from the University of Cambridge. She is working on a thriller set in Sweden as well as a novel about the relationship between Virginia Woolf and Katherine Mansfield called Sense of an Echo.
In 2022 her short story The Japanese Gardener came second in the Fish Publishing Short Story Prize. One of her stories was also shortlisted for the Bridport Short Story Prize. When she’s not writing, she works as a headhunter for the media and entertainment industry for the Sucherman Group.
Helena, who was educated at Durham University, lives in the Languedoc region of France with her husband Rupert and their three children.
More France Please, we’re British; Gibson Square 2004
Two Lipsticks and a Lover 2005; Gibson Square (hardback)
All You Need to be Impossibly French; (US version of above) Penguin 2006
Two Lipsticks and a Lover; Arrow Books (paperback) 2007
Ciao Bella Gibson Square; (hardback) 2006
Ciao Bella Gibson Square; (paperback) 2007
So Chic! (French version of Two Lipsticks) Leduc Editions 2008 (also translated into Chinese, Russian and Thai)
More, More France; Gibson Square 2009
To Hell in High Heels; Arrow Books 2009 (also translated into Polish)
The Viva Mayr Diet; Harper Collins 2009
Love in a Warm Climate; Gibson Square 2011
The Ex-Factor; Gibson Square 2013
Smart Women Don’t Get Wrinkles; Gibson Square 2016
The Arnolfini Marriage; Amazon Kindle December 2016
Smart Women Don’t Get Wrinkles (paperback); Gibson Square spring 2018
The Longest Night; Gibson Square spring 2019