Oriental dancing shimmies into West Yorkshire

Creative Director Helena Orientale rehearsing her routine. PIC: James Hardisty
Creative Director Helena Orientale rehearsing her routine. PIC: James Hardisty
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Strictly between us – belly and oriental could be the up-and-coming dances in West Yorkshire.

Growing interest in all dances including Arabic styles - sparked by Strictly Come Dancing – has sent women and men to the door of professional performer/teacher Helena Rix.

On February 25, her troupe will lift the curtain on Layali Orientale, a one-night show at Stage Leeds Theatre at Leeds University, which already has its own belly dance society.

Belly dancing is the label for a small part of the Middle East dance genre which has entertained audiences for centuries.

The 33-year-old drifted into Arabic dancing nine years ago after graduating in linguistics at York University. She returned to Leeds from a year in London seeking fun, friends and a distraction from her web communications work.

Helena went for classes in contemporary dance, but wanting something different and scanned the Yorkshire Dance Centre syllabus and opted for Arabic Dancing.

Inspired by expert teacher Margaret Reddyhoff – then in her 70s – Helena found the moves came “very naturally” and could not stop shimmying.

Now qualified through the Joseph Wise Academy of Arabic Dancing, she runs classes from a studio beneath a railway arch in Brussels Street, Leeds, and in Morley.

But she keeps her day job to ensure steady income and give her gyrating hips a rest. “Very few people can make a full time living from it,” explained Helena.

In Morley she shares a building with MP Ed Balls – but has not tried tempting him to wobble to her music.

Her evening classes focus on Arabic and Egyptian styles while a colleague teaches Fusion dance including “American Tribal”.

Most “students” are ladies, but men are fitted in where possible.

Helena said: “Many are looking to keep fit as they would at a gym or in sports. My students range from 13 to their 70s and they are all shapes and sizes.

“If I had a pound for everytime I have been told ‘you can’t be a belly dancer, you haven’t got a belly’ I would be a rich person now,”

Helena has corporate clients such as Harvey Nichols, Centrica and Conde Nast. She has also danced for the Girl Guides Association and was resident dancer at the Spice Quarter in Leeds.

The show will feature Egyptian folkloric dancing including lit candle, sword and silk vale sequences. Tickets are £10, £8 concessions.

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