SHE’S an accountant-turned tribal belly dancer.
By day, Heike Humphries, a qualified accountant, is a project manager, but by evening she is leader of the Tribe of the Honey Badgers.
Transforming her appearance with heavy make-up, glitter, clip-on dreadlocks, a turban and extravagant costumes which reveal her extensive tattoos, it’s likely that many of her colleagues wouldn’t recognise her.
But the 49-year-old who lives in Southampton city centre says that the contrast between the formality and routine of her day job and the creativity and freedom of being a belly dance teacher and performer suit her perfectly.
Heike discovered belly dancing in 1989 when she was looking for an exercise class.
“I was fed up with the body fascism of aerobics and things like that,” she says.
“I didn’t like the fact that it felt like you had to be a certain size and the more I found out about belly dancing, the more I wanted to know about it. I found it to be very tolerant and inclusive.”
But Heike had no idea that her new hobby would evolve into her studying belly dancing in London and Hawaii, teaching it and travelling the globe to attend belly dancing festivals and perform with other dancers.
She started out doing cabaret-style belly dancing – the kind performed in restaurants – but around 14 years ago discovered tribal belly dancing, which instantly appealed to her.
“The costume is very elaborate and it’s very much about the tribe (the troupe of dancers) because it’s a synchronised group improvisation, which means that as a group you have a ‘vocabulary’.
“There’s no choreography. You just make things up on the spot from your predrilled vocabulary. It’s really nice – you couldn’t really dance in that style with anyone you didn’t like.”
Heike describes tribe members as ‘sisters’ – although there is one man in her tribe – and says that the social side of belly dancing is very important.
“I have people coming from as far away as Poole for my class but it’s more than a class,” she says.
“We socialise with each other too. I have made friends all over the world through belly dancing.”
She adds that it’s hugely effective at building confidence too – citing herself as an example.
“I started this as a hobby – I never thought I would teach or perform it.
Although I’m confident with talking to people I don’t know, essentially I’m quite introverted. Belly dancing has helped me and I’ve seen it help a lot of other people.”
Heike loves belly dancing, particularly the spectacle of it, with the elaborate costumes and lavish make-up.
“When you’re performing, you transport yourself to another world,” she says.
“I think everyone needs a bit of escapism – it’s good for the soul.”
For more information about Heike’s tribal belly dancing classes and performances, visit akashatribal.co.uk, search for Afrita on Facebook or follow @Afrita on Twitter.