Pune girl Aziza Degwekar is on a mission — to change the perception about Belly Dancing, that it is a dance form where one sees young shapely ladies dancing to Arabic tunes. As her dance academy Stepz Studio is set to present its annual programme Bellysma this Saturday, Degwekar tells us about her journey.
“Coming from a traditional Iranian family, Arabic style of dancing came naturally to me but when it came to teaching in 2012, I had 2-3 girls in my class who were interested in learning Belly Dancing. My academy Stepz Studio used to organise a programme where I used to encourage girls to perform on stage, but they would always be reluctant for fear of rejection from their father/husband/mother and society. Then I built a team and won a few competitions which were held in malls. That was the turning point in my career,” she recalls.
Bellysma is an amalgamation of ‘Belly Dancing’ and “Charisma”. Degwekar conceptualised it in 2015 with a wish to uplift women and break stereotypes about this dance form. She and her group of women perform in a mall every year so that they can reach out to common people and make them believe that this is doable by everyone irrespective of their age, size and gender.
Degwekar stresses that there is absolutely no skin show when they perform. “We had people coming to us and saying, ‘Wow, this is different!’. Slowly, the number of girl students coming to us went up. I then decided to have a flash mob in a mall in 2014 so that I could reach maximum people and make them believe that Belly Dancing is not what they think it is. It is not about wearing less clothes and dancing to Arabic music. I remember how so many marketing heads at malls rejected this offer! But I persevered. I feel nothing ever grows without a seed and nothing ever changes without a dream,” she says.
With the number of her students going up from 40 to 142 and two records set — Limca Book of Records and India Book of Records, now she does the event purely for spreading the unknown culture of Belly Dancing. She has even been awarded with the prestigious Nari Shakti Award in the field of art for this motive this year.
This year, 160 women from different walks of life are going to perform under one roof. Talking about the interesting concept this year, Degwekar says, “This year, the concept is Raga Evolution. I love Indian culture and music. I have started loving Indian classical music more after I worked with our DJ Roxy on Kal Ho Na Ho Instrumental which got 21 million views in seven days. I wanted everyone to appreciate the beauty of Indian classical music and instruments, so we have skipped all the traditional Belly Dancing music and instead mixed Bollywood songs with aalap and sargam. As many as 21 Indian classical instruments have been used to make the track. We have used sounds from instruments like matka (ghatam), manjeera, khartal, chimta, dholak, mridang and so many from our super rich classical music culture.”
There is no age bar to be part of Bellysma. From 6-year-old to 62-year-old, any female can participate in it. Mentioning about the challenges she faced while practising, since it’s a huge group, Degwekar says, “There are a lot of challenges but we overcome all of them by cooperating with each other. Combined practice is a challenge as 160 girls can’t fit in at our academy. So we have booked a big tennis court in Salunke Vihar. The owners have been kind enough to help us. We are practising thoroughly, the results are looking beautiful and it makes me a very happy choreographer.”
ST Reader Service
Bellysma will take place at Amonara Mall on September 1, 5 pm onwards