Dallal adds spice to the menu

PUBLISHED : Friday, 03 October, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 03 October, 2003, 12:00am

IT'S A SWIVEL and a shake and the gentle vibrations that fold and unfold in rhythmic contortions. Welcome to the art of belly dancing as perfected by Tamalyn Dallal, whose undulations come from the pit of the body and defy logic.

The guest artist in residence at Habibi restaurant in Wellington Street, Central presents her Egyptian dance to diners and teaches the ancient art three times a week. 'Most students are local Chinese. They're eager to learn the intricacies of the dance and pay attention to the details,' says Dallal. 'I don't know much about Chinese dance but I find the locals inherently graceful, they get their movements right very quickly or will keep trying until they do. In Miami where I live and teach, the Latin community just wants to have fun and not go into the layers of dancing. Here, the students want to go deeper.'

Invited by the management to perform every night (except Sundays) after her popular appearance last year, Dallal is an impressive head-turner who makes a grand entrance in her colourful costume, decorated with sequins and sparkling jewellery.

'The two-piece outfit with the bare belly is an invention of Hollywood from the 1940s that has somehow been adapted all over,' says Dallal. 'When originally performed in Muslim countries, the women were completely covered. In more conservative circles today, the women still only perform for other women, men never see it. Men have their own form of dance and they may perform at any celebration at any time.'

Visions of men trying to shimmy as gracefully as Dallal are hard to conjure, and Dallal admits it is better suited to women. 'It's a very feminine dance where your arms and body move in natural postures. If you're gym-buffed and stiff then this dance isn't for you but women who are toned yet yielding in their posture can do it perfectly well.

'Belly dancing is about layers - there are up to four layers of movement where you use your midriff, your ribcage, arms, limbs, neck and so on in alternate movement. A series from one basic layer of movement to another makes this dance. You could be doing four layers of movement at a time but that can become too busy and messy. It's about constant variation that anyone can learn,' she says as her bejeweled arms swivel like a snake traversing the Sahara.

Born on a ranch in Colorado, a resident of Miami, Florida she has travelled the world in search of the origins of dance and to learn as much as possible. 'I have gypsy origins from my mother's side and I've always been fascinated by dance, in any form,' says Dallal, who began learning belly dancing aged 17 when she was at the University of Washington. 'By being an observer, as at weddings in Egypt for example, where women of all ages will dance for each other, I've spent days trying to get a movement down. I don't always go up to a person and ask them to show me but just by watching I try to adopt the step.'

There are many forms of belly dance, which has Middle Eastern origins, but variations of it can be found spanning countries and borders, 'It's a living, growing art form and I've seen it in places like Egypt, the Arabic countries, Turkey and even in the Balkans. The gypsies play a huge part in this dance and they've taken it with them in their travels. Without knowing it, I guess I was meant to find this dance form through my gypsy veins.'

Dallal loves to perform her craft to new audiences. 'In the US, I've created shows for theatre and I was very reluctant to perform in a restaurant, but Habibi's got just the right atmosphere and audience. I've performed in Italy, Jamaica, and in front of the president of El Salvador. The audience reaction has always been encouraging.'

Tamalyn Dallal performs until October 11 at Habibi, G/F, 112-114 Wellington Street, Central.

Tel: 2544 6198