Belly Dancing in Shanghai by Belly dancer Kaeshi Chai
Shanghai, also known as the Paris of Asia, has an exploding belly dance scene that is only 2 years old. In the eye of this shimmy storm, is the Isis Belly dance club spearheaded by Sissy Wu, Estelle Shao and Sophie.

The initial inspiration for this Club came when Ms Wu realized there was a need in Shanghai for a social network enabling women to come together to share a common interest. Many others have a similar background to Ms Wu, they are young graduates from outside provinces, who flock to this huge bustling city in search of work and a better life. Most of them left families and friends behind, put in long hours at the office and have little time left over to meet new people.

The Isis Club provides a haven for such women to develop these much needed friendships in the absence of their familial network, plus it provides plenty of excuses to get all dolled up and dress up in fancy, beautiful costumes.

Casual dating in China is also not as prevalent as it is in the west. Once you make a boyfriend, there is tremendous societal pressure to marry him, so Chinese women tend to choose their boyfriends very carefully, preferring to spend their time in the company of other females until they are ready to "take the plunge".

Isis Bellydance Club is a young company however they already have 800 members and are growing strong. They have an office staffed by volunteers from the club and rent space from 4 local gyms to teach classes. Both Sissy and Estelle hold down full time jobs. Sophie is the only one that makes her living full time from belly dance. Last June, the co-founders from the Isis Bellydance club made a trip to Cairo, Egypt to get their bellydance fix at the "Ahlan wa Sahlan" festival.

Belly dancing in Restaurants and Clubs in Shanghai

Believe it or not, there are currently around 10 restaurants that feature belly dancers every weekend in Shanghai, that's right, you heard me correctly, I did not say Cairo or New York, I said, Shanghai, China. Although belly dance is only 2 years old, Shanghai businesses have opened their arms to embrace this ancient art form. Shimmies and undulations are in hot demand here and companies such as "Bailey's" have aligned their brands with Isis Club performers, creating large belly dance parties touring these dancers through multiple cities all over China.

The mother ship of restaurants featuring belly dance is "1001 Nights". Every single evening, 7 days a week, there are 3 separate soloists that perform. "1001 Nights" is a franchise with a presence in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou. There are 15 dancers that belong to the "1001 Nights" restaurant circuit, after they perform in one city for 3 months, they rotate and move on to the next city.

Most of the recruited dancers come from Xinjiang, the Turkic part of China in the north west. The belly dancers from Xinjiang are stunningly gorgeous, with big brown eyes, high cheekbones and strong straight noses. Any one of them could easily grace the cover of a high fashion magazine. They don't look like Han Chinese at all, but instead, look like they stepped right off the streets of Istanbul. Watching them perform is a reminder of the incredible diversity in China, and how many fascinating minorities are contained in this giant country.

The 1001 Night performers all danced with a similar posture and style. Balanced on 3 inch heels, they swirled around the stage with a pronounced sway back favoring mayas, circles and undulations. They punctuated beats with sharp shoulder and hip accents and preferred tight vibrations to loose layered shimmies.

Most of the soloists come out every half an hour and performed for the duration of two 3-4 minute songs. They danced simply, without any props - cymbals, veils, canes, or balancing swords. Their beautiful, ornate belly dance costumes were made in their home province, Xinjiang, for a fraction of the cost compared to getting costumes directly from the Middle East.

"1001 Nights Restaurant"
4 Hengshan Lu
near Wulumuqi Lu, Metro Line 1 Hengshan Lu Station
Shanghai, China

This article was written by Kaeshi Chai, who was the first US belly dancer to teach and perform in mainland China.