The Temple of Siri is the Mornington Peninsula's little piece of Middle Eastern magic. It is the studio where Siri imparts the art and soul of
From Victorian Lifestyle Magazine December 2003
The Temple of Siri is the Mornington Peninsula's little piece of Middle Eastern magic. It is the studio where Siri imparts the art and soul of belly dancing to hundreds of aspiring goddesses.
Your shoes are not all you leave at the door to the Temple of Siri. From the moment you enter, it's as if an instant feeling of calm has descended upon you, dissolving all the tensions of the body. Perhaps it's the gently flickering candles, or the subtle infusion of incense in the air? Or perhaps it's the soothing rhythms of authentic Middle Eastern music, complemented by an intriguing display of treasures of the Orient? Whatever it is, the atmosphere inside this exotic miniature temple creates a world that seems to transcend everyday life, allowing the mind to temporarily slip into another dimension.
Siri herself is an olive-skinned beauty with an hourglass figure and soft kohl-framed Cleopatra eyes. Through the art of Oriental dance, or as Westerners like to call it, belly dance, her mission is to take ordinary women on a "journey to awaken their sleeping goddess".
Siri believes that grace is a woman's natural state. "Everything I'm teaching them is what they already know," she explains. "It is a rhythm that was here before we were. It's a rhythm that's in all women - and it will still be here when we're gone."
She doesn't believe in choreography, encouraging her students to feel the music. "A real belly dancer does nor predict the music, but reacts to it," she says. "Belly dancing is spontaneous - it's about learning to reflect the music. It's not your mind waiting for a beat to come, it happens because you're in sync with it." These are the qualities of what she calls the Siri stamp.
"I want my dancers to look natural, not contrived or artificial," she explains.
However, before the goddess can unlock her natural grace, there are a few things she must know... like the basic movements. Siri's beginner classes are primarily about movement. "Dancing is like a vocabulary. If you don't know the words, you can't tell the story. The vocabulary of dancing is movement." Beginners are encouraged to tie something onto their hips, either a scarf or a traditional coin belt - to remind them that the hips are the focal point of the dance, and to help them feel the weight changes.
Much of Siri's teaching is about leading by example, rather than describing the steps. She teaches in the centre of a circle, demonstrating each movement in mesmerising slow motion. Once she's satisfied that her students have achieved sufficient mastery of the movement, she lets the dance take over, giving her aspiring goddesses a glimpse of what it really looks like to be driven by this ancient rhythm. Every now and then, the students get their turn to let loose. At the command of "Shimmy!" the 15 or so women in the temple let the music take hold. The sound of the shimmying coin belts rings out like an orchestra of cicadas, each with their own distinct call, until the crescendo reaches its peak.
At the end of the lesson, Siri goes around to each of her students and gives them a warm hug. It's a gesture the women seem to appreciate, even though they hardly know her. Siri definitely has a knack for breaking down barriers.
Her genuine love of people, and desire to bring out the best in everyone, are evident in her teaching. She believes that through dance, she can trigger every woman's potential, and not just as a dancer. "It's about making them go for it in life!" she beams. "Women love it because it makes them feel like women. That's what our culture is missing, it's a very competitive culture. Never mind the Eastern woman, unveil the Western woman!" Freeing women of their inhibitions is an integral part of Siri's guiding philosophy. "After a while, the belly dancer learns to accept themselves and suddenly the unbeautiful becomes gorgeous." To Siri, new dancers are like blossoming flowers: "Each one opens in its own time, but that doesn't mean that they are any less beautiful."
Siri and her architect husband, Phil, designed the studio together. "One day I made a big circle with a hose and danced in it - and that's how I knew where my studio was going to be," remembers Siri.
The studio is complemented by her new shop, Dancing Goddess, in Frankston South. Every item in the shop's wonderland of colour - costumes, jewels, crystals, perfumes and more - has been individually selected by Siri. "It is everything that was in my imagination as a child. It is a manifestation of who I am - the woman, the child, everything," she explains. Indeed there is something childlike about Siri. She has a penchant for all things bright and sparkling, and an infectious positive energy. As husband Phil quips: "Siri wouldn't care if the glass was half empty. For her, it's simply having the glass that's important because if you've got the glass, all you have to do is fill it!"