After five children, my belly was not what it once was and I was looking for an enjoyable exercise class that would help tone while give me an excuse to get out of the house a couple of times a week. In belly dancing I found that.
When I stepped into my first class, I was heartened by how many women were there of all shapes, sizes and ages. It doesn't matter what level of fitness or flexibility you have, belly dancing offers a warm welcome to all, with its strong focus on a positive body image. Not only is it a low impact, aerobic form of exercise, it improves posture and helps you be happy in the way you look. It wasn't long before I found myself shimmying away with the best of them and I loved my twice a week dancing.
As time wore on, I became aware of a vibrant subculture of belly dancing haflas (parties), regular performances and celebrations of all things belly dance, as well as workshops and events. I hadn't just taken up a hobby, I'd gained a whole new community. As my confidence grew, my teacher said that there would be an opportunity to perform at the next hafla for anyone who wanted to be part of a group choreography, and I decided to be brave and give it a go.
Our theme for this year was zombies and over the next two months, we were taken through a routine set to Where's Your Head At? by Basement Jaxx. Every week, the dance built up until we'd gone all the way through and then we drilled it over and over until we knew it backwards. At the dress rehearsal, it was amazing to see all the different varieties of zombies - we even had a bride and groom who beat each other up during the instrumental break!
Despite my hard work, nothing could have prepared me for Harem Scarem. Although there are other Hallowe'en Haflas, Harem Scarem, now in its eighth year, is the biggest in the UK. Held in the depths of South Wales, it is a unique night of belly dancing with a Hallowe'en twist. Last weekend I opened the doors to a world of ghoulies, ghosties and long legged beasties. Demons rubbed shoulders with vampires at the bar, while mummies jostled with aliens to check out the goodies on offer in the bazaar.
At last the lights dimmed and the night opened with some darkly funny poetry by Janice Price to set the mood. She left the stage, audience still chuckling, to clear the way for the first dancer, Rosy. It was instantly apparent that this was going to be a night of extraordinary performances. As her dance in the graveyard gave way to devils, then the Scarlett Harlot, it was clear that everyone had made enormous amounts of effort to put on a show like no other. The care that had gone into the detail to create costumes that complemented the music, all with a Hallowe'en theme, made for one very special night.
It wasn't all frights and chills either - there was a lot of humour in many of the performances. Zombie Britney Spears (as played by Trish) took time out from her Bite Me Baby (One More Time) dance to remove some troublesome worms from her knickerline, take a bite, then toss them into the audience, while Shirl wriggled and writhed her way onto the stage in an incredibly restrictive mummy costume, yet managed to perform a beautifully limber, fluid piece before comically hopping off stage.
The night raced past and before I knew it, it was time for my group, 50 Shades of Grey. Those expecting a raunchy number were soon to be disappointed as zombies lurched towards the stage from all angles. Dressed as a traffic cone head from the cult computer game Plants vs. Zombies, I made it my mission that if I couldn't give someone nightmares, I'd at least make them jump and as I suddenly strode across the stage in a pretend attack on one of the audience at the end of the music, I certainly achieved that!
The final solo of the night was by Steph, who performed in heels that were almost vertical. The fact that she could even stand in them, let alone dance, was a minor miracle and she was carried off by her assistant to well-deserved rousing applause. The dancing closed with the traditional Monster Mash and anyone who fancied getting up and joining in was more than welcome.
Rogora Khart took to the stage, playing a bizarre blend of break neck punk influenced by Eastern European music, singing in Georgian, German, English, Welsh and Russian. There couldn't have been a better band to send everyone home in high spirits.
As Shirley Griffiths, the event's organiser, puts it, "Harem Scarem is the belly dancer's ultimate Halloween ball, a night not to be sadly missed" and as the creatures of the night melted away at the evening's end, we were already planning our ideas for next year to make Harem Scarem 9 even bigger and better than this one. Do YOU dare to be there?