Besides being one of the oldest and most exotic forms of dancing, belly dancing is an excellent and enjoyable way to shed a few pounds, strengthen the muscles and firm the abs. A one-hour dancing session may burn around 330 calories.

Egyptian dance instructor Manal Ebrahim gives belly-dancing classes twice a week. She began dancing at the age of 8 but has never considered dancing professionally.

Excerpts from a chat:

Many consider the dance to be a form of seduction.

Belly dancing is an art just like ballet or any other artistic activity. It is glamorous, exotic and dates back more than 200 years. It is not wearing revealing costumes and shimmying your body and breasts. Unfortunately, today many individuals, especially men, view belly dancing as a cheap and seductive way of dancing. Belly dancing is not meant to be and should not be seductive. The women who come to my class are housewives, students, working women, etc. They all want to learn belly dancing to have fun, to exercise, to experience an exotic part of the east to show friends and family back home, not to seduce anybody!

Can anyone learn to belly dance or are there certain characteristics required like a big belly or wide hips?

Any one. Nothing is required. You can have a big belly or a flat one. It doesn't matter. Belly dancing comes from within. But what you need is to feel the music and love to dance. The problem with non-Arabs is they don't understand Arabic music so they focus on the steps. Their movements end up not being in tune with the music. I always tell them to first slow down, listen to the music and then move accordingly. You also have to feel your body and feel the part you are moving. While belly dancing, you have to coordinate the movements of your body with each other and with the music. This is difficult for some people because they can't move different parts of their body at same time, like their shoulder and their hips, but it comes with practise.

How many classes do I need to learn how to belly dance?

It depends on the individual. Some people pick up belly dancing quickly while others take some time. Most of the problems are with coordination, but you pick up the basics in the first couple of classes and based on that you create your own moves. I always encourage my students to create their own moves and not to imitate me.

Will it help me lose weight?

Definitely, but with the proper diet, of course. Because while belly dancing you move all your muscles. Belly dancing helps women lose calories, tone their body and tighten the chest and stomach. Belly dancing also makes you flexible and energetic. The great thing about it all is that it doesn't feel like exercise, it's fun!

Given that belly dancing originated in the East, are Arab dancers better at belly dancing than Europeans?

Not necessarily, even though we have the advantage because we (Arabs) begin dancing when we are children. We dance at parties and weddings. Not all Arabs are excellent belly dancers but at least they are surrounded by it and it is part of their culture. But in spite of all that you see some amazing Eastern European dancers. They do amazing moves because they are fast learners and they are very flexible, which is very important if you want to become a professional belly dancer.

Why haven't you become a professional belly dancer?

Because it is looked at disrespectfully in my culture. Maybe that is not how they view it in Europe because they see it as something artistic.

Sign up

If you want to sign up for belly dancing classes, Manal gives one-hour lessons twice a week: Sundays and Tuesdays at the Abu Dhabi Sheraton Hotel. It costs Dh30 per class.