Ahead of the seventh International Oriental Dance Festival (October 25 to 28 with a gala event at the Nedbank BOE Auditorium at the Waterfront on October 25), I decided to get the lowdown from dancers rehearsing for the gala.

Through her Oriental Dance Theatre, Palace of The Winds company, Marina Rehbein, who is also known as Ajsa Samia, has been organising the biggest event of this kind for six years.

With more than 40 000 people attending over two days in the past, this year looks set to be an even bigger production, even though it started out as a humble idea.

“I came from Germany to South Africa in 2004,” Samia tells me, “and there was a very small Oriental Dance Festival here. I had a lot of respect for it and then said I would start an international festival, that way we have a mixture of dances from all over the world.

“The vision for this festival has always been to unite the whole South African belly dancing community and then to build a platform for South African and international dancers to exchange knowledge and passion and to learn about each other’s cultures.”

A total of 60 local and inter-national dance schools will participate in the festival which includes the gala, the fringe programme, workshops for all those interested in the various dance disciplines such as tribal fusion, flamenco, gypsy, fantasy styles and more as well as a bazaar selling accessories, costumes and food.

All the proceeds from the festival will be given to the Saartjie Baartman Centre for abused women and children in Athlone.

“I hope the gala will be sold out.” says Samia. “The centre is really in need and they were close to closing their doors this year. My school also gives women from the centre as well in the surrounding area belly dancing lessons for free so they can dance and get another idea of what life can be.”

When I took off my hoodie and wrapped a purple and gold belt around my waist to join the gala rehearsal, I got another idea of life, too. The women of all shapes and sizes were in high spirits while Shakira boomed through the sound system and the ladies looked to be enjoying the communal aspect of the rehearsal.

“You see how the self-confidence grows with every lesson,” Samia beams. “It’s a pleasure to watch and see them enjoying the movement of their bodies. They don’t think, ‘My body is not nice’, they just become confident.”

I can believe that. When I started dancing, I was super self-conscious. But aside from it being difficult to get each soft and hard sway right, it’s a lot of fun.

But this fun can sometimes get a bad wrap. It’s “not nice” for people to describe belly dancing as sexy, says Samia.

“It is more sensual than sexual. I see belly or Oriental dancing as something cultural and traditional. I see it as something every woman should try because while it’s obviously a group activity, it’s such a great way to relax your mind and your body by doing something fun.”

• The gala evening is to be held at the Nedbank BOE Auditorium at the Waterfront on October 25. Tickets: R150 at Computicket. For other programme details, festival times and venues, visit www.iodfcapetown.com