Gaza spa offers belly dancing lessons
GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip – At five o’clock in the afternoon of a peaceful spring day, the secretary of the Sun women’s salon and spa in Gaza received a phone call from a man reserving a place for his wife in a belly dancing class.
The secretary received many calls from men interested in registering their wives. Men are not allowed to enter this women-only spa and the only contact they can make is by phone.
Soleil is the first spa for women in Gaza that offers a variety of health, relaxation and beauty treatments for women. The all-female staff of 10 offers beauty treatments and classes. The spa also has a gym and social club.
On the floor dedicated to the Soleil Training Academy, women learn belly dancing from a professional belly dancing teacher. Some clients, especially those who are getting married or exploring belly dancing as a way to get in shape and lose weight, prefer to take private lessons.
One of them, Hanadi (a pseudonym), 22, told Al-Monitor that her mother pushed her to enroll in the course as her wedding date approached. “My mum told me that I should learn belly dancing before my wedding day to avoid being embarrassed. I chose to take private sessions as I am shy and don’t want others women see how bad my dancing is. I don’t want to be bullied.
Al-Monitor spoke to Soleil director Rawan al-Katari, who founded the spa in 2018. She said belly dancing classes were her most popular service, especially over the past two years, when participation jumped 50%.
“Gaza women see dancing as a way of psychological relief in addition to exercise to lose weight,” she said. “Women’s perception of the importance of fulfilling their husband’s desires has changed. Marital incompatibility drives up divorce rates in Gaza. In 2021, divorce cases increased by 23.6% compared to 2020.”
Katari said the internet has brought a degree of openness to Gazan society. “Many young people travel to Turkey and other foreign countries. Their exposure to other cultures triggered a cultural shift in society. Open-minded young married couples struggle in Gaza’s conservative society.
She explained that she first considered opening the spa in 2014 after Israel’s Operation Protective Edge, when she began looking for a way to provide women in the Gaza Strip with comfort and psychological, health and aesthetic support.
Katari admits the staff have come under fire from the public and the spa has come under fire for running what critics call a dance academy, the kind of institution few residents would approve of. The attitude is clear in the comments on the spa’s social media posts regarding the belly dancing class.
“We do not offer anything contrary to social values in Gaza. We only provide entertainment for women without violating the customs and traditions of society. The place is an all-female establishment. We will never allow ourselves to commit any lewd acts,” she said. added.
Meanwhile Ahlam, 30, a pseudonym, slammed the courses in a street interview with Al-Monitor. She associates this type of dance with revealing outfits and loud music, which are considered against Islamic law. She also doesn’t think dance lessons are appropriate amid the current poverty and suffering in the gated enclave.
“I was provoked by the social media post of the dance lessons, which showed the dance teacher looking indecent,” she said.