Tears well up in Soheila Forughian’s eyes when she speaks about the November 2011 opening of her dance studio. It’s a dream come true for the Persian-born expat who had a long career as an engineer, but didn’t give up on a lifelong passion for dance.
This enormous career change had been on her mind ever since she and her husband, who is also an engineer, came to Singapore from the UK with their first daughter in 1993. While here, they had a second daughter. Soheila resumed her career, working in engineering for a year before moving to Ngee Ann Polytechnic where she taught for four years.
In 2002, she finally took the plunge. “As a sole operator, I started out small, teaching belly dance at The British and American clubs. My whole idea was to teach dance to adults as a form of fitness rather than focusing on performance,” she says. “The analytical skills and teaching experience I had gained as an engineer were useful in developing the programme.”
In the ensuing nine years Soheila developed a loyal following, and also started offering dance classes for children, at Tanglin Trust School. “We participated in the Chingay Parade, which was fantastic,” she says. “Dancing builds children’s confidence and helps them feel good about themselves. Another highlight was performing for the President of Singapore – which I’m proud to say we did twice!”
Her heart is definitely in the right place, as many of the performances she organises raise money for charity. “Adults are often reluctant to perform, but I had a great group in 2006 who were very enthusiastic. So we entertained the crowd at the Riding for the Disabled Ball – we even made our own costumes. It was a little daunting to perform in front of 750 people, but everyone really enjoyed it despite the butterflies.”
For her adult pupils, the main focus is on improving fitness through dancing. Over the years, she has extended her classes to other venues and to meet demand – she is now giving classes at the American Club, Singapore Island Country Club, Hollandse Club, British Club and the Tanglin Club.
“The two activities might sound completely unrelated, but my belly dance class at the Singapore Island Country Club is largely made up of golfing ladies. Belly dance strengthens the core, lower back and abdominals, and it’s a lot of fun, too. Some of the ladies say their swing has really improved as a result of their Wednesday class with me,” she says.
Soheila eventually decided to open her own studio because she wanted a home base where she could have everything under one roof. “I felt that this would be a positive move after years of criss-crossing the island and teaching in numerous venues. What’s more, I had a large enough following and it seemed like the right time to make this move.” She has since taken on several instructors whom she trusts to meet her high standards, and she has expanded to include dance genres such as flamenco, salsa, burlesque and, more recently, the global craze, Zumba.
When I ask her about her inspiration, Soheila tells me the story of her moving to the UK as a 14-year-old, one of many Iranian students caught in the uncertainties of the 1979 revolution. The upheavals and uncertainty of the time put her passion for the arts on hold. In addition, not being a strong English speaker made her turn to maths-based subjects that led her to an engineering degree; she was the only female in her class, she recalls.
“I was channelled by the events going on around me. Once I had finished my studies, I was able to get a job. With that security I stayed in the UK, where I met my husband who had a similar background.”
Coming back to the present, Soheila’s drive and passion for her business is obvious. “I enjoy it so much,” she says, “and I hope to share that with the people who attend Rhythmic Fitness programmes.”
• Belly dance
• Bollywood dance
• Retro groove
• Karate and self-defence
Classes are available for all ages. Ask about special birthday parties for children and adults.
Rhythmic Fitness is at 35 Rochester Drive, #03-10 Rochester Mall. Call 6570 5006.