A dance from paying tribute to women is becoming more popular in Hong Kong, writes Mabel Sieh
There are many theories about the origins of belly dance. One is that it started as a way to worship a pagan goddess and celebrate women's ability to give birth. So, many belly dancers believe it empowers women.
Although belly dance is said to have been around for more than 6,000 years, it is quite new in Hong Kong. A decade ago, belly dancers were mostly seen in Middle Eastern restaurants entertaining diners. Liina Cheung Ling was one of them.
Cheung had been working as a freelance dancer for concerts and on television, and was finding it hard to make money. She wondered if her career choice was wise.
'I looked at dancers who were older than me and asked myself: 'Do I want to do this for the rest of my life?',' she says. But inspired by some belly dancers she met, Cheung taught herself the moves, and decided to change her focus.
Cheung went to Egypt and Turkey to watch performances and attend workshops. 'The International Belly Dance Festival in Egypt was an eye-opener,' she says. 'I learned so much by watching the dancers' amazing expressions and movements.'
In Egypt, she also met a pioneer of modern belly dance, Mahmoud Reda, who founded the first Egyptian theatre company, the Reda Dance Troupe, in 1959. Cheung took lessons from him, becoming his only student certified to teach his techniques in Hong Kong.
Today, Cheung has 80 students in her own studio, Belly Princess, in Causeway Bay.
Yang Min-min, 24, is a secondary school English teacher who has been learning with Cheung for four years.
'I've learned so much about Egyptian culture because Liina introduces the background of each dance,' says Yang. 'Being a teacher myself, I have high expectations of my teacher. Liina is serious about educating her students.'
University student Maisie Wong Tin-yan had never danced before joining Cheung's school. 'Belly dance is a very feminine dance which shows off the curves of a woman's body,' says the 19-year-old. 'After taking the classes, I appreciate my body more and am more confident. Many girls like to be thin, but it's nice to have a shape.'
Louise Yung, 11, is one of Cheung's youngest students. Her mother had been taking classes for five years before Louise joined. 'It's fun to have a mother-and-daughter thing,' Louise says. 'And I love the upbeat music - it makes me happy.'
Cheung says: 'Everyone learns belly dance for a different reason. I [love seeing] my students transform into beautiful, confident women. It's like a big girl power project.'
Earlier this year, Cheung held the first HK Belly Dance Festival and Competition, with performances by her students and overseas professionals. And to make sure the dance continues to grow in the city, she hopes to set up the first teaching certificate course for belly dance teachers.