Interview: Sarah Swirled Talks About the Benefits of Belly Dancing

“I was ready for something new and “rebellious” to do.”

-Sarah Swirled, Preston belly dancing teacher

If I said to you, let’s try belly dancing, what do you imagine? Does it conjure images of needing a tan and a bikini? I was scared I might not fit in when I shuffled to Penwortham in my leggings one August Monday evening. Not so: Sarah Swirled, aka Preston belly dancing teacher Sarah Garrish, soon put me at ease. I was amidst women of all ages, we had a laugh, and it helped ease back pain I had. I asked Sarah to talk about the benefits of belly dancing.

Preston belly dancing teacher Sarah Swirled performing in a blue costume
Sarah Swirled dancing a Galabeya dance

Tell us a bit about yourself and about belly dancing.

My name is Sarah and I live in Hesketh Bank, between Preston and Southport. I’m a mother of two and I have been dancing for approx. 25 years (that’s scary!!). The belly dance that I perform and teach originates from Egypt. I think there is a very wide misconception that there is only one kind of belly dance,  but in actual fact there are many types of dance found under that umbrella term.

For instance, ask most people in the west what they think of when they consider belly dance and more often than not it would be a two-piece costume, showing a bare stomach. This is only one aspect of belly dance. Of course, belly dance also has influences from other countries, such as Turkey, Tunisia etc, so it can be quite confusing.

Describe belly dancing for me in three words.

Hey, no fair! 🙁 Fun. Complicated. Sparkly.

 What do we have to wear for belly dancing?

There are two ways of answering this question, depending on the context. If you are asking what do you wear for a dance class, then the answer is: loose comfortable clothing that allows you to move freely, i.e. a long skirt, leggings, t-shirt, gym wear. Many people also like to wear a coin belt too. If you are asking what do you wear for performance, then the answer is much more complex because it depends on what kind of belly dance you are performing. For instance, there is the well-known two-piece costume worn for Cabaret dancing, then there is the galabeya which is worn for Stick dance or Saidi, and then there is the Melaya dress for Melaya style.

Preston belly dancing teacher Sarah Garrish in Saidi dance costume
Sarah in Saidi Dance costume

Three reasons why women should try belly dancing?

That’s easy. 1). It’s good for you – physically and mentally. 2). It’s fun, and 3) there’s loads to learn – it’s not a quick thing to learn.

What sort of ages/people take part and is it suitable for those with health conditions?

All sorts of ages take part, from 16 year-olds to 90 + years. Yes, it is suitable for those with health conditions. Of course, it is always advisable to seek medical advice first before trying it to ensure there are no obvious issues.

Preston belly dancing teacher Sarah wears a cabaret costume of blue two-piece and blue veil
Sarah dancing in cabaret/oriental costume

What got you into learning belly dancing and how long have you been teaching it?

When I was a child I used to dance: the stereotypical modern, tap and ballet, until my ballet teacher once told me “Sarah. You will never be a ballerina.” My mum and dad had always done ballroom dancing too, so dance had always been a part of my life. It wasn’t until many years later, when I was 25 years old, that my mum saw an advert in the local paper advertising belly dance classes, and so I decided to go along too. I was ready for something new and “rebellious” to do. I went along to classes for a good many years until one day my teacher asked me if I had ever thought of teaching. Well, I was rather taken aback because I hadn’t. She recommended that I signed onto a course designed for belly dancers on safe teaching which she also taught on, so I did.

The rest, they say is history.

Sarah Swirled wearing a red belly dancing costume
Sarah Swirled belly dancing

Tell us about a move we can try at home!

Probably the easiest move to learn by yourself is the leg shimmy. Stand with you feet in parallel, hip width apart. If you’re not sure where that is, bring the heel of one foot into the arch of the other foot, then turn it out. Feet should always face forwards. Bend one knee, and straighten the other, then swap over. Keep doing this quickly, and you’ll notice your hips “shimmying”.

Sarah teaches and performs around Lancashire. To find out about her next Preston belly dancing beginner classes, check her website here. Sarah says she is happy to provide us with a taster session, so if you would like us to offer a taster bellydancing event here at Wonderful Women, email us or or let us know on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram!

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