‘Cultures are poles apart but united by dancing’
Dancing instructor Gini Zdesar on her burqa-wearing client base:
Gini Zdesar has just set up pole dancing classes at her home studio in a trendy canalside development in Kings Langley.
It is a fledgling project as she has just moved to the area – a far cry from Bahrain, where this time last year she was rushed off her feet with demand from Middle Eastern women who wanted her to teach them moves on the pole.
She said: “It all started when I brought my pole over to Bahrain so I could use it to lose weight.
“All of my friends noticed that I was looking good and wanted to know what I was doing.
“When I told them it was pole dancing they wanted to give it a try.
I started putting posters up in The Rugby Club, which is frequented by ex-pats and liberal Middle Eastern women, and next thing I knew about 80 per cent of my clients were Middle Eastern and Muslim.”
While world news reports highlighted simmering unrest in Bahrain between the governing Sunni Muslim and the Shia Muslims and debates were raging about whether the F1 Grand Prix should go ahead in the country, Gini was experiencing a Bahrain that was very different.
She said: “I had plenty of women coming to my door all covered up.
“They would come inside and whip off their burqas and cloaks to reveal their gym wear underneath.
“They loved pole dancing and some of them told me that their husbands had never been so interested in their fitness regime!”
The image of a woman in a burqa conjures up thoughts of oppression, religion and even terrorism among some people in the Western world,
But for the pole dance instructor women in burqas were her best clients.
They enjoyed individual 45-minute lessons that concentrated on flexibility, co-ordination, fitness and confidence, rather than sexiness. It was more about working up a sweat and losing weight.
Gini said: “I also held pole dancing parties. Women would come wearing burqas and they would wait for the male caterers to leave before they would take off the cover-ups and reveal designer clothes and very high heels underneath. They dressed liked celebrities.
“They would drink mocktails and let themselves go on the pole.”
It made Gini think that maybe the burqa wasn’t the sign of oppression that some people may think.
She said: “I don’t know whether it was their choice or they are told to wear them by their husbands and families but some of the Middle Eastern women would arrive for pole dancing covered up and some would come in shorts and T-shirts, depending on how they felt.
“One week my friend Nas came wearing gym clothes and the next she came wearing the cloak part of her burqa because she felt my security guard was staring at her during her previous visit.
“It was her choice to cover up.
“The reason women wear the burqa is so that men don’t get any pleasure from looking at them.
“When my husband told me he wanted to go and work in Bahrain I was very worried about whether I would be able to expose any part of my skin and what I would be allowed to wear. I didn’t know much about the country,” she explained.
“I was dreading it but when I got there I was really shocked at how westernised it was.
“Bahrain gets a lot of stick from other Middle Eastern countries for not being an Islamic state and being more liberal.”
It seems there were two worlds in Bahrain – one of civil unrest between Sunnis and Shias and the other was a cosmopolitan life lived by well-off Middle Eastern people and ex-pats.
The political and religious differences were kept separate from those living a more westernised lifestyle, who felt safe tucked away in their guarded villas and shopping malls.
Gini said: “The Sunnis made sure that the Shias stopped coming out of their area.
“We had the police keeping them under control. Whether that was good or bad, I don’t know.”
As the economy in Bahrain took a dip and contract work in the UK became more lucrative for Gini’s husband the couple decided to move back to England.
Towards the end of their stay, which was at the end of last year, the political unrest became more evident.
“There were police check points and curfews in certain areas that weren’t there when we first arrived,” explained Gini.
“By then we could hear gun fire in the distance and smell tear gas in the air but I was never scared.”
Find out more about Gini’s pole dancing classes at www.thepoleworkout.com.
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