Originally Published 1 October 2020

What I love the most about Belly Dancing is that it is so joyful and energetic. When I dance, I don’t care what people think. It’s my happy place. I don’t need to compare myself to others; I just cheer myself up and enjoy every little progress I make. The costumes are beautiful. In addition to all that, it’s a very efficient workout – I could do this all day!

My name is Xin Zhang, but most people call me Cindy – easier to remember and communicate. I have been working as a software engineer for 5 years. I do Android and Java development, and I recently started learning Front End.

I became interested in tech when I was in school, as Mathematics and Physics were my favourite subjects. My father did computer science in college – I always wanted to follow his path, and he taught me a lot when I was a kid. This is how I got into science and technology. Very few girls chose this path and are often discouraged because they believe science, especially IT, is for men. But I wanted to prove them wrong.

I am currently living in Dublin, but I only moved here in August 2019. I have lived elsewhere in Ireland for almost 8 years. I started as a visiting student at UCC, and then did my Master’s degree in Cork. Not long after, I moved to Limerick to start a new job. I travelled so much, I feel like I can be the local guide for these cities!

Outside of my job, I love Belly Dancing. I first became interested in belly dancing in the summer of 2012 – I was browsing activities to stay fit at the local gym. But running on a treadmill or lifting kettlebells for hours sounded too boring. So, I started looking for dance classes. This is where belly dance got my attention. Soon enough, I gave it a try, absolutely loved it, and I immediately followed up by taking one of the intensive courses that were offered.

My teachers in Cork and Limerick and my biggest inspirations; they are awesome. I am lucky enough to have met the best belly dancers instructors in Ireland. They can fly over the dance floor – you would swear they were wearing roller-skates!

There are several types of belly dance. The main styles commonly taught in Ireland are Raqs Sharqi (Egyptian style), Rakass (Turkish style), and Tribal (also called American Style, since it was invented in the USA). Most of the time, I do Raqs Sharqi, which is a modernization of Egyptian folk dances. It was invented in Cairo in the 1920s and borrows elements from European dances, like Ballet and Flamenco. You will see a lot of sweeping footwork (arabesques), wide arms movements, and dramatic stances.

ZIn and her dance teacher, Katya, in 2019

One of my favourite experiences with dance was when I participated in Miss Belly Dance Competition Ireland 2017 as a part of group dance. I also attended Raqs Ireland competition in 2018 and 2019, organized by my teacher, Katya, in Limerick. There are also belly dance haflas (demonstration) that I enjoy (I never won any first place, however!). There is an amazing dance community of ladies in Dublin, Cork, and Limerick. They are professional dancers, with a very high level. I’ll never be as good as them, but I still love dancing with them and I learn a lot.

In the future, I will definitely be looking to progress further at my own pace, and enter more competitions and performance opportunities. I am not a professional, but I hope to be good enough one day to participate in public shows and also get prizes in the competitions.

I do see similarities between Dance and my current occupation. Dancing is art, and I believe coding is art too; one of the most famous books about coding is titled The Art of Computer Programming. For both, you need practice, precision, and discipline to master the basics, but you also need strokes of inspiration at the right time. I code like I dance: the biggest part is the muscle memory building up to the heart of my performance, where I really get to shine. Designing the heart of a very efficient piece of software is like reaching the climax of a dance routine. I see a parallel between the beauty of code, mathematic, algorithms, and the figures of dancing.

Belly Dancing has been a benefit to my tech career. Investing seriously in a hobby can be challenging. Preparing for the competition or performance while delivering project commitments can be overwhelming sometimes. But it is a great benefit to my mental health; I often have to deal with a lot of pressure at work, and this my way to blow some steam.

My advice to anyone interested in taking up belly dancing is to just do it. Some people may have conservative opinions on belly dance: they think it’s a stripper dance, or something only for Arab people. Don’t listen to them – it is extremely diverse; there are people from all over the world doing belly dance. And you should never be ashamed that you’re not good enough. The most important thing for me is to find my own place to dance and enjoy it. Don’t hold anything back. Don’t be afraid to try. Be proud of yourself.

There is always more than tech. The point of technology is to improve our lives in all aspects. But it doesn’t happen out of nowhere: technology is always driven by people, for people. And people, in their infinite diversity, have to draw inspiration somewhere to figure out the next innovation. Technology isn’t made by cold minds, but by functional, healthy human beings.

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