Dubbed Indonesia’s belly dance icon, Christine yaven is not only a consummate performer and dance instructor, she is also someone on a mission to rescue the reputation of an elegant and ancient Middle Eastern dance. She tells Patricia Ivana why belly dance is for every woman.
Belly Dance Jakarta Jl. Taman Kemang I, Jl. Masputih D 48, Permata Hijau Tel: 021 3354 2239, 0817 981 3346, firstname.lastname@example.org email@example.com
Belly dance, believed to be the oldest dance in the world, originated in the Middle East and has many forms and styles depending on the region. In Indonesia, however, belly dance is often thought to have an erotic connotation and is frequently performed in revealing costumes as café entertainment. It is also taught in most gymnast studios as part of their weight loss programs.
These are the misperceptions about belly dancing in Indonesia that Taiwanese-Indonesian Christine yaven strives to correct. Dubbed Indonesia’s belly dance icon, Christine is the founder of Belly Dance Jakarta, the only belly dance company and school with an internationally certified teacher in Indonesia.
“I was angered when I joined a so-called belly dance class here and the teacher told me that I must’ve done it wrong because I did not lose weight,” Christine says.
It was 2006 and Christine had just gotten back from Australia, where she studied for her master’s degree in business administration at Griffith university in Sydney. It was there she first discovered belly dancing and fell in love with it.
“I’ve always loved dancing,” she says. “When I was a kid I took Balinese and Scottish dance classes in Jakarta. In Sydney, I originally took the Latin and ballroom dance classes but my teacher told me that if I wanted to do it professionally I needed to lose weight because Latin and ballroom dancing require partners, so I had to find a partner who was my size.”
Christine turned to belly dance and trained to be a professional dancer at Sydney’s Newtown Middle Eastern Dance Centre in 2001. While learning the art, she says discovered that belly dance is very natural to a woman’s body.
“It was really hard growing up as a fuller-figure woman in a Chinese community,” Christine says. ”As a Chinese woman, if you weigh more than 45 kilos you are obese. So when I discovered belly dancing it gave me the strength to stand tall.”
Christine explains that the energy in belly dance is very internal and very controlled. There are no big movements or showing off involved in the dance. That is why anybody of any age and any size can do it.
“The biggest misconception of all is that belly dancing can make you lose weight,” she says. “No. Belly dance is just another form of dance. It will not make you thin. In fact, belly dance is probably the only dance where you can be of big size and still look elegant doing it.”
Christine says was upset when she read in a local magazine in Jakarta that you can lose weight in three months if you do belly dancing. It made her even more determined to establish her own belly dance school to teach the correct techniques and to fight the misconception that it is either an erotic dance or a weight loss program, she says.
She was still working at a retail company when she started to teach her first class of five students in 2006 at a rented room in the Pakubowono area. Through word of mouth, her classes attracted more and more students and she had to change locations several times to accommodate her growing number of students. She eventually got help from her parents who let her convert a part of their house in Permata Hijau into a studio in 2009. Now she has around 100 students and teaches belly dance full time in her Permata Hijau studio. In April, she opened a second studio in Sanggar Nari Nari in Kemang to cater to residents here.
Great for Self-Esteem
Over the years, Christine has taken her own dance training seriously in order to improve her techniques. In 2006, she went to Egypt to train under the renowned Egyptian teacher and choreographer Raqia Hassan, and also studied belly dance in Canada in 2008. Her last trip abroad to train was in 2009, when she went to the uS to study with the legendary belly dancer Tamalyn Dallal.
“When you know the real belly dance, you’ll see that there is nothing erotic to it,” says Christine. “The Egyptian costumes are very elegant and not revealing at all. you even have your midriff covered.”
She explains that the dance movements are focused on the hip and so the dancer needs to be immersed in the music to be able to dance to it.
“Arabic music is quite complex,” she adds. “It changes rhythm four or five times within one song and there are certain rules we need to apply when dancing to this music. That’s what makes belly dancing technically difficult. It’s not just a matter of shaking your body all over like what you see performed in cafes and restaurants. The movements are very elegant and refined. you need to incorporate balletic movements if you want to elevate it when you perform belly dance professionally.”
Belly Dance Jakarta also has a professional dance troupe called The Belly Dance Jakarta Dancers. They are Christine’s students who chose to become professionals. They are often hired to perform at weddings, corporate events and product launches.
“My dancers have different body sizes. Some are stick thin and some have fuller figures. I want to spread the message that belly dancing is the dance that truly embraces you as a woman,” she says.
Christine encourages everyone to do belly dancing because it is good to build one’s self esteem and is suitable for anyone of any age. Her youngest student is 13 years old and the oldest 60.
“Everyone can belly dance, but not everyone can be a good belly dancer,” she says. “To do it professionally, you need to have certain flexibilities. But not everyone is meant to do it professionally. you can do it simply for fun. I never pressure my students to be good belly dancers. What’s important is that they feel good about their bodies, no matter what size and how old they are. If they are better now than they were yesterday, that already is an achievement.”