‘Teaching and performing is a good lifestyle’
2007-06-21 15:28:14 -
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In the latest instalment of Metro Eireann’s Meet The Boss, SANDY HAZEL speaks to Sarah Keogh, a self-employed yoga instructor and belly dancer in Dublin 

Sarah Keogh, from Dublin, started dancing with formal ballet lessons at just four years of age. After eight years of studying classical ballet, she grew restless and began to explore other styles.  “When I got to my teens I tried out all sorts of different forms of dance,” she says. “I took lessons at Digges Lane and did hip-hop, street style, contemporary jazz and Irish dancing too.”

Following a course in interior design, Keogh tried out some ‘career jobs’. But various positions working in administration did not really suit the creative and artistic Keogh. “I did enjoy working at Gael Linn, an Irish culture organisation,” she remembers. “I was in the music distribution department and had a great opportunity to listen to fantastic Irish music but also brilliant world music. It reintroduced me to the idea of dancing.”
Keogh also travelled to India to study Hatha Yoga, and she gained her instructor’s qualification there. After that, three summers were spent working in America with special needs children and adults at summer camps. “I had the grand title of sports and dance specialist, introducing the students to movement and dance,” she recalls fondly. “The experience was fun but these students had blindness, autism, Down’s syndrome. It definitely matured me.”

Keogh studied her craft further, adding pure classical Egyptian dance to her repertoire: “I became interested in tribal dance and specialised in belly dancing.” Keogh explains that belly dancing is a very traditional style of dance in different forms, originating from Turkey, Egypt and other Arabic countries. While it is sensual and flirty, it is also rooted in cultural tradition.

“The version that we see over here now is very much influenced by Hollywood movies of the 1930s and ’40s,” notes Keogh. “In traditional Islamic cultures there would be less flesh on show, but many of the moves and even the costumes are still faithful to the oldest traditional styles of the form. The coins on the belts and scarves signify the tradition of gypsy girls sewing their wealth and dowry into their clothes, for handiness sake really. Nowadays it’s purely for a rhythmic sound while shaking.”

While Keogh was busy studying dance and teaching yoga, she realised that there were many people who were not being exposed to these art forms. “I felt that there is a type of person who would benefit enormously from these types of classes, in areas where classes were not available,” she says. “I wanted to raise awareness of the benefits. So I approached Ballyfermot Family Resources Centre to discuss the possibility of running classes and they agreed.”

Keogh now runs her yoga and belly dancing classes at the centre on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. “My clients are all types: some yoga clients are ex-bikers with old injuries; they need to keep their bodies supple. To the belly dancing I get mothers and daughters who will come along together.

“The belly dancing is interesting for women as it is not only great exercise pre- and post-pregnancy, but it also helps women to keep in touch with their ability to move in a particular way with a personal rhythm, to not shy away from the power of their body and their fertility.”

Keogh performs belly dancing at private parties and events around the country. Lads’ nights are strictly off the list, but Keogh will bring her skill anywhere there is a genuine interest. She will perform and instruct and will encourage all to try it.

“I have done some alternative hen parties which were brilliant fun,” she says. “I’ll do weddings and younger girls’ parties, too, where there will be some dressing up involved. If a restaurant is having a special event they will hire me to perform. My most recent outing was at The Tassel Club, a monthly burlesque night held at Dublin’s Sugar Club. It was part of the No Fit State Circus burlesque night. The punters there are serious about their dance and are very appreciative. Teaching and performing is a good lifestyle.” 

As a business, what she does is unusual, so how does Keogh handle this alternative lifestyle? “The downside of being your own boss is the promotion of yourself and your skill,” she explains. “It can be hard sometimes to sell yourself but I am getting better at it. There are many upsides to running my own business. What I love most is knowing exactly when I will be working and when I will be off. Making a living from doing something I love is a confidence builder by itself. The more you do, the more you feel confident in your abilities. I appreciate that what I do benefits people greatly. It is promoting health and well-being in body and mind. Yoga is being taken more seriously as a therapy by health professionals now, which is good for yoga instructors.”

Keogh’s classes are soon to expand to further locations, with summer classes in belly dancing being held at the Whitefriar Street Carmelite Community Centre on Dublin’s Aungier Street this July and August.
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