Sheffield belly dancer brings community groups together with an Aladdin show to remember
A pantomime classic will be given a vibrant makeover in Sheffield in just a few weeks’ time.
Aladdin - The Belly Dance promises ‘an evening of dance, colour, and magic’ at The Merlin Theatre in Nether Edge.
It has been in the making for approximately two years and is being produced by Eleanor Gaywood, founder of Shimmy School.
She said: “Firstly, I want to raise the profile of belly dancing, to show that it isn’t just a thing you see on holiday. Secondly, I want to make new contacts with different groups. Finally, I want to create a sense of community - inclusion. I wanted to create something that people would remember in years to come.”
The 26-year-old first started belly dancing at school but it wasn’t until she got older that she became more interested in it, eventually starting Shimmy School while at university.
Eleanor, who is dyslexic, said she ‘finds it hard to put words into action’.
She explained: “There was no outlet for what I wanted to say until I found dance. Arabic dance has become my passion. If I can get just one person to enjoy the same experience I had, it’s worth it.”
Eleanor teaches over 100 people a week via classes and workshops, either face to face or virtually.
She also offers private lessons for people with anxiety and eating disorders, teaches at a hospice and performs on cruise ships.
Despite her busy schedule, Eleanor ‘wanted to do something creative’ and – after a period of illness – decided it was time to ‘do it now’ by making a belly dance version of Aladdin.
After funding applications were rejected by Arts Council England three times, she turned to raising money herself.
Eleanor said: “We have fundraised everything, from car boots and sponsored walks to tabletop sales, haflas – informal gatherings where people dance together – and online. I wanted to make the event free for people as I don’t think you should make money from things like that.”
Having been inspired by a similar Sleeping Beauty project in which she played the lead in 2012, Eleanor realised the project ‘wasn’t just about performing’.
She explained: “It’s about acceptance, the round of applause and the confidence you get from it. It is giving people a platform to shine.”
One of the groups Eleanor is helping is Dance Stars Sheffield, which provides opportunities for disabled children and young people. Previously named Activity Sheffield when it was funded by the council, it has been operating since 2013 but is now run solely by parents.
Janet Chelliah, 51, has two daughters who attend the group - Melissa, 12, and 18-year-old Kirsty, who has special needs.
She said: “There are not many opportunities for disabled and non-disabled children to dance together. Being involved with Aladdin provides a sense of inclusion in something mainstream.”
Nikki Chowdry, 49, whose daughter Ena, 14, is a Dance Stars member, added: “We are not a school, so we don’t get invited to things.”
The Aladdin cast numbers total more than 90. Boomshanka Tribal, Sisters of Tribellica, Hype Dance, EWDA, Artworks Sheffield, Candi’s Shamadan Group, Greentop Circus, Moonstruck, University of the Third Age, Erica Wilkinson Dance Academy and solo artists from the UK and France will all be joining forces.
The first performance has already sold out but Eleanor would like to sell a few more tickets for the second night. She believes that, with more funds, she would ‘be able to do more’ – like paying the professionals who are taking part through their own goodwill.
In the meantime she has received an anonymous donation of £500, and Crookes Social Club has offered practice space – Eleanor also wants to film the Aladdin performance for a DVD.