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A Beautiful Way To Exercise, A Strong Community Of Dance

Aalim Dance Academy Says Bellydance Is For "Every Body"

Article by By Heide Brandes

Photography by By Choctaw Photography and Provided

Originally published in OKC City Lifestyle

In the heart of Oklahoma City, women are shimmying and swaying to the sounds of Egyptian music, their hips bouncing to a staccato beat, their torsos undulating like water flowing down the mountain.

These women range in age from early teens to late 70s, and they come in all shapes, sizes, colors, races and backgrounds. Some are early into their journey into Middle Eastern folkloric dance - known as belly dancing - and others have decades of training behind them.

The Aalim Dance Academy of Oklahoma City is a nonprofit professional belly dance studio located in Oklahoma City, and students of all ages are learning the ancient and beautiful art of dance. 

It's also a beautiful way to exercise, said Ayperi Al Jawahir, board president and head instructor at Aalim. We sat down for a Q&A with Ayperi to learn all about belly dancing in Oklahoma City.

Q: Tell us about Aalim Dance Academy.

Ayperi: Aalim Dance Academy is a 501(c)3 nonprofit dance school, and we specialize in dances from the Middle East, North Africa, Greece and Turkey, otherwise called belly dancing here in the West.

Most of our classes are for adults, and many of the people who start dancing at our studio have never even had dance classes before. And we get all ages of students. Adult students are up to 77 or even older, so you can start belly dancing at any age. 

Before the pandemic, we had two children's classes, one for ages 5 to 9 and then one for ages 10 to 13, but our main focus is adult classes.

Q: If someone is interested in learning to dance, but has never danced before, what does Aalim offer?

Ayperi: A lot of people who come to our studio or who are interested in classes sometimes don't feel comfortable coming to classes because they've never had a dance class or they've never had any type of movement-based classes. They just don't feel coordinated enough.

I let them know that our classes, especially our "intro to belly dance" classes - which is where everybody starts out - are accessible for all. We start from the ground and work our way up. We start with the basic steps and strive to make our classes accessible for all because we understand that we didn't all start dancing when we were 3 years old or whatever. We really want to give everybody a chance to dance.

Q: What are the physical and mental benefits of belly dancing?

Ayperi: Belly dancing is great for you, and any sort of movement can help boost your mood. The best thing about using belly dance as exercise is that you don't feel like you're exercising - you're dancing and you're having fun.

And it's easy on the body, especially for people who may have had injuries or bad joints. 

In our beginner classes, everything is very, very low impact, and there is not a lot of jumping or hopping. When you go further into your belly dance journey, you may come across specific dance styles, such as Debke or Saidi, which have more hopping and more jumping. Turkish folkloric style also has a lot of hopping and jumping.

When you go through your dance journey, you get to choose where your journey takes you. 

Q: Being nonprofit, how are you different from say other dance studios that are not nonprofit.

Ayperi: One thing we strive to do as a nonprofit organization is to reach out to the community. We will do community shows such as different art festivals, different fundraisers like the Kidney Walk, and other events like fairs, OKC Open Streets, nursing home shows, children's events, you name it.

Throughout the pandemic, we've been offering free virtual shows to help keep our community entertained. We've done numerous shows just throughout the pandemic.

During normal years, our professional dancers will perform at events, such as birthday parties, wedding celebrations, anniversaries, corporate events, area restaurants and competitions.

Q: How has your dance studio shifted during the pandemic?

Ayperi: Typically dance classes are done in person, but because of the pandemic, we knew we would need to shut down. We have so many students and teachers who are either high risk, or they live with or take care of someone who is high risk. We wanted to make sure to keep all of our students, our teachers and our volunteers safe.

We immediately shut down our studio for in person classes, and we moved all of our classes to an online format. We offered pre-recorded classes, and then live virtual classes.

Q: You've mentioned how Aalim is a family of dancers. Can you explain?

Ayperi: Belly dance is a cultural dance, and it comes from the Middle East, North Africa, Greece and Turkey. And in our classes, not only do we study the movements, but we also study the culture and the music, where the dance comes from, and the different stylizations from each of those areas as well.

It's quite the community. Everyone in our studio becomes great friends. If someone needs help with something, we're there to help them out. We've got each other's backs. Our community has really come together, especially during the pandemic to help the studio to survive.

Many of our students find an escape and a family of friends when they come to class. They learn with others, laugh with others, grow as dancers with others. It's hard to explain, but you get instant friends who are there to support you both in dance and in life.

Q: How does one sign up for classes at Aalim?

Ayperi: They can go to our website, www.aalimokc.com, and we have our classes listed there under the classes section on the website. They can also call us at 405-844-0304. We have classes ranging from introduction to belly dance to advanced and specialty classes. We also have gift certificates available. 

Q: Any parting thoughts?

Ayperi: Belly dancing is an amazing gift for your physical well-being and your mental well-being. It's fun. It's a community. It is a way to safely learn a beautiful art form. It's great exercise too! 

Simply, it's a beautiful way to move and to exercise. 

For more information, visit aalimokc.com.

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