In the heart of France, where art and culture converge on the cobblestone streets of Paris, a mesmerising art form has been quietly thriving for years - belly dancing.
This ancient dance, with its roots in various Middle Eastern and North African cultures, is a celebration of femininity, self-expression, and empowerment.
One instructor of the traditional dance determined to spread this very message is Marine Scardina, who has passionately taught oriental dance to women from diverse backgrounds in Paris for more than six years now.
Her mission is to inspire her students to reconnect with their bodies and rediscover their innate femininity through her passionate instruction.
Becoming a viral sensation
Scardina's love affair with belly dancing was ignited from her first lesson.
"It's a dance that I love passionately. I don't really know how to explain it. I think it was something that resonated in me, that was already there, in me, without me knowing it. And the day I took my first lesson, it was a revelation," she says.
Her journey took an unexpected turn when she became a viral sensation on Instagram. She reflects on this surge in popularity: "Last November, I went from 1,500 to 130,000 followers on Instagram, in the space of a few weeks, it was really crazy.
"It immediately gave me a lot of visibility. I received messages from women all over the world, but hundreds and hundreds of messages every day," she explains.
Scardina found that during the training sessions, that she would frequently record with her students, she would document sequences that weren't always executed perfectly, revealing imperfections in their technique.
"I believe this created a phenomenon where women realised that it's accessible; they thought, 'I too can pursue oriental dancing.'"
Demystifying the art of belly dancing
However, there exists a pervasive and misguided belief surrounding belly dancing.
Many people still view it as a dance solely designed to cater to the male gaze, dismissing it as a form of seduction rather than appreciating it as a genuine art form.
For Marine the dance is so much more.
"It's wonderful to see people reconcile oneself with one's body, with one's femininity. It's something really beautiful to see. In fact, in our societies, we tend to crush creativity and femininity. And oriental dance allows us to reconcile ourselves with all that," she adds.
She also highlights the diversity of the art form: "It's a dance that you can do in a very gentle, sensual way, but also in a way with percussion, something much more explosive, or you can look to folklore for something more traditional."
One of Marine's students, Fadwa, eloquently expresses the transformative power of belly dancing: "We realise that by dancing, we learn a lot about ourselves, we learn to know ourselves, we learn to know what drives us. It's something very liberating. We become aware of our body because when we dance, we pay attention to our fingers, our eyes, our shoulders, our toes. We pay attention to all that, so we become aware of our body.”