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More Kunming women learning to belly dance

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Li Ruiwen is one of the busiest teachers in Kunming. Responsible for more than a thousand twenty- and thirtysomething students, Li - who goes by the English name Amy - is in demand.

Making sure to present a professional appearance, Amy takes her time in selecting her outfit for her next day of classes - today she'll be wearing a dark bikini top with bright yellow pants slit to the top of her thighs. After all, she is a belly dancing instructor.

Mainland tastes in non-Chinese styles of dancing since reopening to the world progressed from ballroom dancing in the 1980s to disco-style clubs in the 1990s. In the last ten years, other dancing styles have gained in popularity, especially Latin dancing and perhaps even more surprisingly - belly dancing, known in Chinese as dupiwu (肚皮舞).

Li first started studying belly dancing in 2000, while she was living in Beijing.

"At that time there was a belly dancing conference in Beijing," she said. "Some friends wanted to go and made me go with them, but it ended up being me who liked it the most. I found belly dancing to be very feminine, very sexy."

Li has been teaching in Kunming for more than three years, teaching several thousand students, with more now than ever.

"It took me two years to absorb it... I had to eat it, digest it and now I can spit it back up for my students," she said.

Chinese that are interested in belly dancing are first interested in the dancing itself, Li said - only later on do they take interest in the origins and tradition surrounding the dance, which has its origins in Turkey and Egypt.

Li estimated that between the four gyms around Kunming where she teaches belly dancing she has between 1,000 and 2,000 students a month. There are many reasons that belly dancing is growing in popularity among young women in Kunming, the top reason being weight loss, she said.

Other reasons why students sign up to study include the ornate costumery and the opportunity to meet and make friends with other young women. Li said there was also a large portion of students that were already members of a gym but wanted some variety in their exercise routine.

Weight loss and socializing aside, Li also sees a more emotional or spiritual element in belly dancing. "Belly dancing can be a way for a woman to express her spirit and emotions," she said.

Although belly dancing is traditionally thought of as a feminine art, not all of Li's students are women.

"I do have some male students - they're my favorites," she said, smiling, "They can be even more seductive than women."

Amy Li teaches weekly belly dance classes at Dimeisheng Fitness Center, Your Morning Gym, Powerhouse Gym and Dimeisi Fitness Center, all of which are listed on our gym listings page.

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