Monday, July 24, 2006

On navel duty

A Brazilian-Peruvian teaches the intricacies of belly dancing

Shevlin Sebastian

Belly dancer Veronica Simas De Souza Rosas, (29), is wearing a beige cap. Sometime into our conversation, I ask her whether I can see her hair. “Sure,” she says, as she theatrically lifts up her cap with both hands and places it slowly on the low glass-topped table in front of her. Then she takes out the black hairpins and shakes her head. The golden hair falls in a cascade around her shoulders and the effect on her face is instantaneous: it is suffused with sensuality. The word, ‘Wow’ escapes from my mouth even before I can think of saying it. She laughs at my reaction and says, “Like it?” I nod, unable to speak, not sure whether my larynx has the presence of mind to produce some intelligible words.

We are sitting on sofas in a hall on the first floor of Zenzi restaurant in Bandra. Against the walls are placed multi-coloured cushions, while a thick carpet adorns the floor and a hookah in the middle gives the effect of an Egyptian living room. She has been conducting belly dancing classes here for the past two months.

Death and destruction

Sadly, as we talk, the horrific blasts on the local trains are taking place. She looks at her mobile and gets SMSs from students telling her they are unable to come for the classes later in the evening. After a while, she gets a SMS from a friend in Bangkok asking her whether she is safe A little later, there is a missed call from Peru. “My parents must be worried about me,” she says. This is instant global communications at work.

Sometime later, a group of girls, led by air-hostesses Rebecca Baz and Sanjukta Yolmo, come in. “We want to learn, Veronica, but because our parents are worried, we need to get back soon,” says Rebecca.

“Why did these blasts happen?” says Veronica, to no one in particular, and this is a question that has popped up in all our minds: Who can explain the minds and hearts of men who have no compunction in killing hundreds of innocent people?

To change the subject, I ask the girls why they want to learn belly dancing.

“Because of Shakira [the singer],” they say in unison. “What a dancer she is. Her belly dancing is awesome.” Says Isha Raju, who has just finished her graduation, “Everybody wants to move like her.”

Since there are no classes, Veronica inserts a CD in her laptop and shows us some dances on the monitor. Undoubtedly, the women are all sexy and their gyrations mesmerising. (Here is a definition from ‘learn to’: The characteristic movements include curving patterns, undulations, thrusts, lifts, locks, and drops. The focus is on isolated movements of individual parts of the body with little notice given to the footsteps. Arms and hands move fluidly, like serpents or ribbons in the air. Unusual strength and control is demonstrated in the belly area.)

Soon, there is a clip of Veronica dancing at a private party in Bandra and the amazing thing is that she is doing it on top of a table, with an Egyptian sword as a prop. In one scene, she manages to balance the sword on a fold of her stomach, without holding it, and is still able to gyrate sexily. Then she puts the sword on her head and again, is able to balance it and dance as well. She ends her performance with an Indian touch: the Nataraja pose. There are cries of ‘Wow, that’s great, that’s fantastic” from the girls.

The Brazil-Peru connection

Veronica, the daughter of a retired Peruvian army general and a Brazilian mother, grew up in Rio de Janeiro and Lima. She started dancing from the age of five—ballet, acrobatic gymnastics, the Peruvian dance, marinera, the samba and salsa—till at 21, she discovered belly dancing and fell in love with it.

“In belly dancing, you work with three parts,” she says. “The chest, belly and hips. You can make movements like walking around, and use your arms but it is mainly these three parts which are used.” To be aware of the movements, she says, you have to go back into your body and try to be aware of each part. “Dance should be a sort of meditation,” she says. To develop awareness, a knowledge of yoga helps, she says. She has been dancing for the past eight years and says it takes about fifteen years to master the art.

The Indian experience

So how did she come to India? Last year, after extensive travels in Europe, she ended up in Bangkok. “There were so many friends there who urged me to come to India because it is the mother of all cultures, history, art and religion.” She took the plunge last December and came to Mumbai and fell in love with the place instantly. “Mumbai is a place that welcomes everybody with open arms,” she says.

Her 25-odd students are also taking to the classes with open arms. When asked about the dancing capabilities of Indian women, she says, “They are pretty good because they have been exposed to dance from their childhood: through television, Bollywood movies, weddings, and on the streets during festivals.”

One of the regulars is actress Masumeh Makhija. “Belly dancing is all about isolating muscles and having grace,” she says. “It is a beautiful dance, and it is a great workout, as well.”

Joel Viegas, manager of Zenzi, analyses the response: “The classes are gaining in popularity through word of mouth. Initially, we were sceptical because there was a mind-set which felt that belly dancing was vulgar.” But now, he says, Zenzi has been getting a lot of calls from women, aged 18 to 40, who want to join. “The credit goes to Veronica who is a good teacher and very inspiring,” he says.

The inspiring Veronica plans to stay on for a year and then adds, with a laugh, “But if I fall in love with an Indian, I might live here forever.”

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