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Aalim School & Dance Class FAQs (below)

Aalim School director and instructor answers some of the most common questions we hear about starting classes at the Aalim School.

About Al-Bahira and Hiring a Performers

Answers to common questions about Al-Bahira Dance Theater and hiring performers. Coming soon.







Belly dance In general

Is it true that belly dance is a good workout? Will I lose weight?

What are the other benefits of belly dance? Why do people take class?

Am I too old/young/heavy/skinny/out-of-shape/uncoordinated?

I have an injury--is it ok for me to take belly dance?

Can pregnant and post-partum women belly dance?

Aalim School policies

How much does it cost?

What if I pay for the full session but miss a class?

How do gypsy cards work?

Why do first time beginners need to register for a full session or 10-class gypsy card?

Can I go to more than one class a week?

Do you accept men in class?

Do you accept children/girls in class?

Why do I need to sign a waiver?

What happens if class is cancelled due to weather or instructor illness?

I'm not sure yet--can I come just watch a class?


Taking classes at Aalim School

What should I wear to class?

Do I need any special materials or clothing for class?

How long are the classes?

How are the classes structured?

How long does it take to learn to belly dance?

How long will I spend in each level?

I have taken belly dance before with another instructor--what level should I take?

I have never taken belly dance classes but I'm a dancer or I come from a culture where people belly dance--can I start at level 2?

I don't have any dance experience at all--what class is right for me?

What styles of dance/belly dance do you teach?

I met you at an event--will you be teaching my class?

I'm excited! When can I start?

This Q & A is (c) 2008-2010, 2011 Mirah Ammal, all rights reserved. Reprint or reuse without expressed written permission of Mirah Ammal is strictly prohibited. For questions or permissions write


Belly dance in general

Q: Is it true that belly dance is a good workout? Will I lose weight?

A: Belly dance can be an excellent form of exercise--it's relatively low-impact and gentle on the joints, yet the muscle isolation techniques and training provide benefits to core strength, body awareness, flexibility and alignment. In terms of aerobic activity and caloric burn, belly dance can range from gentle to moderate physical activity to intense aerobic activity, depending on the duration and nature of the exercises. Most beginner classes are gentle to moderate--they will get you moving and will make the average person crack a sweat, but with more focus on learning and demonstrating proper technique and developing muscle isolation skills, the class is generally not intensely aerobic. Our belly dance intensive and cardio classes (offered in special sessions) are drill based and can be very intense.


As with any physical activity, the more you do it (within reason), the more you build endurance, strength and skills, the more calories you burn, and the better your workout becomes. If fitness or weight loss is your goal, for best results, we recommend attending more than one class a week and/or practicing outside the classroom.


As far as weight loss...weight loss is best achieved through a consistent combination of healthy diet and regular exercise. Will one belly dance class make you lose weight? Realistically, if you make no other changes in your lifestyle and/or diet, probably not. However, belly dance can tone muscles and is an excellent component in an overall fitness and wellness plan. Plus, it's a lot more fun than the stairmaster! Also, don't discount the power of posture! The skills and core support you'll develop through belly dance can help improve the way you stand and carry yourself in your daily walking-around time. You'd be amazed--the average woman loses 10lbs visually (and her clothes hang much better) simply by improving her posture and abdominal support, even without losing an ounce!

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Q: What are the other benefits of belly dance? Why do people take classes?

A: Students come to our belly dance classes for all different reasons. Some start classes with the goal of eventually becoming a professional belly dancer, but this is a very small minority. Most women start belly dancing for other reasons. Some start for exercise or fitness (as described above), but there are many other reasons women turn to belly dance. Just a few:

  • Stress-release--to do something nice for themselves or to have a night out of the house, away from the stress of work and family

  • Creative expression--belly dance is a beautiful art form with beautiful music

  • Social bonding--many women join class with female friends or relatives as an activity to do together, or find class an opportunity to meet new friends

  • Feminine power--some women come to this as one fun way to embrace their femininity and do something is makes them feel graceful, strong, and beautiful! I've seen many students who were cancer survivors, abuse survivors, or who've lived with serious body-image issues blossom in dance. 

  • Cross-training with other dance forms

  • Curiosity about the Middle East or Middle Eastern culture

  • Love of world music and percussion

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Q: Am I too old/young/heavy/skinny/out-of-shape/uncoordinated?

A: In a nutshell, no, you're not!

One of the wonderful things about belly dance is that, at its core, it is a dance created by women, for women, with movements that that work with and enhance a woman's body. Though professional belly dancers you see in "show business" may tend more toward a certain range of body types, ALL ages and sizes CAN dance!

At Aalim School, we strive to foster a fun, friendly, safe, and comfortable environment for all of our students, regardless of age, size, shape or lifestyle. Our students range from young pre-teen girls to women in their 70s and 80s with many students in their 30s, 40s and 50s. Our students also represent a great range of body types and levels of fitness, and though we never *require* students to perform, ALL are welcome to perform in our quarterly haflas (dance show/parties). We've found that, through belly dance, ladies of all types can find increased confidence and better appreciate their own beauty.

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Q: I have an injury or medical condition--is it ok for me to take belly dance?

A: This depends on the type of injury or condition you have. As when staring any new physical activity, check with your doctor to ensure what is safe for you and your circumstances.

In many cases, people with past injuries or body weaknesses can learn to dance and some may actually see improvement in their conditions or pain levels as they strengthen muscles and improve posture. (For example, lower back pain often improves with strengthening of the abdominals and proper dance alignment.) The key is to communicate with your instructor. Aalim School instructors place a high priority on teaching in way that is healthy and promotes good balance and alignment. If you have a prior injury or problem, tell your instructor. She may be able to give you alternative exercises, advice, or movement modifications to help. Most of all, listen to your body--learn the difference between good exertion and bad pain.

In the case of other medical conditions (such as diabetes, asthma, cancer treatment, etc.) individuals vary greatly, so be sure to talk with your doctor. In some cases, exercise may be helpful, but you will need to listen to your body and know your own limits. We have had students with various conditions (including women going through chemotherapy and other treatments) who have been cleared by their doctors and participated in classes. In such situations, it may be helpful to privately let your instructor know about your condition. Then, if you need to slow down, stop and just observe, or even ask for help during class, listen to your body, and do what you need to do to be safe.

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Q: Can pregnant and post-partum women belly dance?

A: Every body and every pregnancy is different, so, as with any exercise or activity, be sure to clear it with your OB/Gyn first.

In general, for healthy women without complications or high-risk exceptions, doctors recommend moderate exercise. If you've been taking belly dance prior to your pregnancy, you will probably be cleared to continue so long as your comfort and condition allow. As your pregnancy progresses, certain movements or warm ups may not be advisable, and some movements may become harder to see or less comfortable, but again, it varies by person. Some of our dancers have continued taking classes right up until the time they gave birth!

Generally, pregnancy is not the best time to start a new dance or exercise regimen. If you have not taken dance and are pregnant, it may be better to wait until after the baby is born.

Post-partum, belly dance can be an excellent way to get back in touch with your body and regain/build strength in your abdominals and pelvic floor as your body recovers. Be sure your doctor has cleared you for exercise before starting or returning to class.

Instructors at Aalim School have experience teaching and working with pregnant and post-partum women. Mirah Ammal takes a special interest in pregnant and post-partum women's dance considerations, and several of our other instructors are dancing mothers themselves!

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Taking classes at Aalim School

Q: What should I wear to class?

A: Come to class dressed in comfortable, soft workout clothing or dancewear that allows you to move and sweat! Most students (and instructors) wear yoga pants or leggings with a top or a leotard. Though you do not need to expose your belly, you may want to consider wearing a somewhat slim-fitting top so that you can see some of your torso movements, however you should let your own comfort and style be your guide. Jeans are generally not appropriate for dance class as they will restrict movement in certain areas.

Consider dressing in layers, especially in winter. You may be chilly at the start of class, but as you get moving you may really heat up!

As far as footwear, most students and instructors dance barefoot. If you prefer foot coverings, we recommend a dance shoe similar to those suitable for modern/lyrical dance, such as a shoe (ballet slipper, thin-soled jazz shoe, or dance sandal) or a product that covers the ball of your foot leaving your toes and heels free (such as a lyric sandal, or a toe-less soled dance "half-sock" like DancePaws or FootUndeez.).

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Q: Do I need any special materials or clothing for class?

A: Nothing is required, but there are some materials that many students find useful.

Most students choose to wear a hip scarf of some sort. This can range from a simple fringed scarf/shawl to a coined hip scarf. Hip scarves can serve as training tools in a few ways. First, wearing a scarf of a contrasting color can help emphasize your hip movements and draw the eye to your hip, which can be helpful when practicing isolations and movements in front of a mirror. Second, a coined hip scarf actually creates a little extra weight at the hips, which can help you feel the movements and train the muscles in the area. Finally, some students find wearing a beautiful hipscarf just feels fun, pretty, and special--and that positive feeling can give you a nice mental "boost" in class!

Finger cymbals are also a tool we use in all levels of class. You do not need to buy finger cymbals if you do not wish (instructors generally bring a supply of cymbals--also called "zills" or "sagat"--to class), however many students prefer to have a pair of their own that they can size to their own fingers and practice between classes. If you're interested in buying a pair of finger cymbals, contact the school.

At higher levels (especially level 3 and up), it may also be a good idea to keep a veil in your dance class bag. Veil is often introduced in level 2, and instructors bring a supply for students to borrow, but as you progress, it may be useful to have one of your own.

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Q: How long are the classes?

A: Our "regular" classes are 90 minutes (1-1/2 hours). Some specialty classes and workshops may be longer (2-3 hours), and classes such as BellyFit or children's classes are shorter, generally no more than 60 minutes. See schedules for class times. Most class sessions are 8 weeks long, with each class meeting once a week.

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Q: How are the classes structured?

A: Individual classes may vary but in general, our classes begin with a moving warm-up to get the blood moving followed by other gentle stretching/warm-up exercises and isolation practice to help prepare your body and strengthen your muscles. All class levels include a combination of new technique/movement training, technique drills, and combinations and transitions. All levels also include some use of finger cymbals and basic Arabic rhythm education to help you understand and dance to the music (this material is presented at a level and intensity appropriate to the class/experience level of the students.) As you continue in your study, choreographies, improvisation skills, different types stylizations, technique variations, more complex finger cymbal patterns, other music style/rhythm information, cultural information, and more are introduced. Most classes will also include a short cool down with additional stretching and flexibility training.

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Q: How long does it take to learn to belly dance?

A: This will vary a lot depending a lot on how quickly you pick up the material, how much you practice, and, of course, what you mean by "learn to belly dance."

Over the course of one 8-week session, most people will develop a familiarity with many of the core, foundational movements of the dance, and have a few movements that they can execute well enough to use in very simple choreographies or for social dancing. In subsequent sessions, those foundational elements are internalized and refined. Eventually, you move on to more complex variations. If your goal is to learn a few simple movements for your own fun and physical training, you will begin to see progress within the first year. If you are interested in becoming a serious hobbyist (dancing solos or more complicated group choreographies in haflas and other student/community events), you might expect anywhere from 1.5-4 years (depending on your natural skill, how much you practice, and your comfort level.)

Becoming a dance instructor (a good one, anyway) or semi-professional/professional dancer takes time and commitment. Most working dance teachers and performers have been dancing at least of 4 years. At Aalim School, all of our teachers and substitutes have studied for a minimum of 6 years, and several have been at it significantly longer. Our director and the other instructors also share a commitment to continuing their own dance educations, helping ensure that our curriculum, teaching methods, and dance skills are up-to-date and always growing and evolving.

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Q: How long will I spend in each level?

A: This varies a lot by students, but we'll try to give you some sense of what to expect. Most students should expect to take Level 1 at least twice. Some students choose to stay in level 1 for a year or so to master the foundational elements.

After level 1, students average one to two years at each level. The curricula in levels 2 and up are larger and more diverse--though some material is repeated in each session at a particular level, not all elements of that level's curriculum will be covered in one 8-week session. Therefore, it takes more than one session to see everything, and there are always new facets of the dance to explore!

Some students like to take two classes a week when they are making the jump from one level to the next: one class at the old level (where they feel comfortable and can work on refining their style and movement) and one class at the new level (where they are more challenged with new material). This is not required, but some students find it useful.

If you are uncertain which level is right for you or whether you are ready to move up a level, talk to your instructor.

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Q: I have taken belly dance before with another instructor. What level should I take?

A: Unfortunately, there is no simple answer to this question. Different instructors and dance programs can vary a LOT--in terms of specifically what material covered, class-level expectations, even terminology usage.

If you have not been studying long or are out-of-practice, it may be useful to start with level 1 for a session to get acclimated to our program and terminology or to reacclimate to regular study.

Sometimes dancers who are much more experienced will even take some classes in level 1 to help themselves get oriented a new school--this is especially true and/or helpful if the dancer comes from a program that is very different from our program or if she has never used finger cymbals. However, some dancers come from programs that are more similar to our own, and in those cases, they may be able to start in one of the higher levels. Our instructors can help you figure out what's right for you. If you have been studying elsewhere and are trying to determine which level is right for you, we recommend you contact our director, Mirah Ammal (, 612-703-7002) for more information.

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Q: I have never taken belly dance classes, but I am a dancer or I come from a culture where people belly dance. Can I start at level 2?

A: Generally, no. If you have never taken formal belly dance classes before, you really do need to start with level 1--even if you have a lot of dance experience in other dance forms or come from a culture where "belly dance" is part of the social heritage.

If you are a dancer, you may progress more rapidly than a non-dancer, but you will still need to learn the foundational elements of this particular form, and you will need to learn to play finger cymbals. All other levels build on those foundations. The body awareness and dance training you already have can be helpful, but there are important ways in which belly dance differs from other forms of dance (in terms of posture, feeling in the body, how movements are driven, etc.) that you need to master before moving on to more complex, layered techniques at higher levels.

Students who come from "belly dancing cultures" but have not taken formal belly dance classes are strongly encouraged to start with level 1 as well. Though, again, you may have certain advantages in terms of familiarity with the movements and the music, there is a significant difference between informal, social dancing and training the body for more ongoing practice and complex techniques. Formal instruction can help you develop healthy technique form and posture on which to build more advanced skills. Also, beginning with level 1 helps ensure that you are familiar with the terminology the instructors will use to describe movements going forward.

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Q: I don't have dance experience of any kind--is there a class that's right for me?

A: Level 1 Belly Dance Foundations is appropriate for first-time beginners (including those with no other dance experience), as well as returning students who are working to master the foundational elements of this dance form. From time to time, we also offer shorter Introduction to Belly Dance courses, which are suitable for non-dancers.

In Level 1 Belly Dance Foundations, we cover all of the basic elements you will need to build higher level technique, regardless of prior movement experience: proper posture and alignment for Middle Eastern dance, basic rhythms for belly dance (including finding the beat!), movement style, foundational steps and figures, and terminology.

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Q: What styles of dance/belly dance do you teach?

A: You may be familiar with or have heard of various styles of belly dance. There are many different belly dance stylizations--such as Middle Eastern/Arabic raks a-sharqi (and variations within that category such as Egyptian and Lebanese style), American Cabaret, Tribal and Tribal Fusion, or Turkish belly dance. There are also many forms of folkloric dance that come from these regions, and techniques from other regions that are sometimes included in fusion performances.

At the early levels (Level 1 Foundations and Level 2), we provide a very strong, well-rounded foundation to the techniques and skills one should master regardless of what style(s) you ultimately hope to dance. The movements and muscle control you learn will be useful--even essential--to be a strong, well-rounded dancer as you begin to pursue a particular style. In these levels, we also begin to introduce concepts and techniques from VARIOUS belly dance forms, to help students begin to understand key features of different styles.

At the later levels (Levels 3 and up), the material does begin emphasize more complex Arabic raks a-sharqi and American Cabaret techniques, stylings, history and musicality, however folkloric, Turkish, Oriental-fusion and tribal fusion content and/or cross-training techniques are also part of the curriculum. Also, Aalim School offers workshops in different dance styles and prop usage. These workshops are designed for dancers of various styles and backgrounds who wish to develop a well-rounded understanding of Middle Eastern dance and contemporary belly dance.

The school's director, Mirah Ammal, has a knowledge base in several forms of Middle Eastern dance and belly dance fusion. If you have questions regarding styles or whether our program might be right for you, please contact Mirah at or call 612-703-7002.

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Q: I met you at an event--will you be teaching my class?

A: Aalim School offers an array of classes at two different locations, and to accommodate that schedule, we generally have a select staff of 3-5 instructors teaching for us. Therefore, whether your class will be with a particular instructor depends on that instructor's teaching schedule and the class/location for which you register. Rest assured, however, all of our instructors are skilled, conscientious teachers who have a strong following among our student base. In general, most higher level classes, specialty classes, and some level 1 classes are taught by our director, Mirah. Other level 1 classes, some level 2 classes, and occasional workshops or specialty classes may be taught by other instructors. If you have questions about the schedule or which instructor will be teaching which class, contact us at or call 612-703-7002.

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Q: I'm excited! When can I start?

A: If you have previous belly dance class experience, you are welcome to drop in and join at any time!

Due to the cumulative nature of the material, if you are taking belly dance class for the first time, we strongly recommend you start within the first three weeks of a session. If the third week of the session has passed, it is probably best to wait until the start of the next session. Aalim School offers level 1 classes year round, usually with a maximum of 1-2 week break between sessions, so the start of another session is always right around the corner!

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Aalim School policies

Q: How much does it cost?

A: Our regular 90 minute classes are $13 for a single class (drop-in rate) or $88 for a full 8-week session. Gypsy cards (class punch cards) are $60 for a 5-class card or $110 for a 10-class card. (Some summer session pricing and session lengths may vary.) Specialty classes and workshops may vary, so check the classes page of the website for pricing and registration information.

Due to the cumulative nature of the material, first time beginners generally must register for the full 8-week or a 10-class gypsy card. Students with previous class experience may select any of the above options.

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Q: What if I pay for the full session but miss a class?

A: You are welcome to attend any Aalim School class at either location as a makeup class, within the same session. You do not need instructor permission, simply show up to your makeup class and tell the instructor which class you are normally in and that you are taking a makeup class.

Missed classes do not carry over from one session to the next. You must take your makeup class within the session for which you are registered.

The exception is gypsy card students: gypsy cards are assigned an expiration date relative to the date of purchase, and therefore are good until the expiration date, even if that date crosses from one session into the next.

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Q: How do gypsy cards work?

A: Gypsy cards allow you the flexibility to try out different classes or accommodate a busy schedule. Gypsy cards are not bound to session dates but rather have an expiration date (dated from the date of purchase or first day of the new session for which you register--whichever is later.) 5-class cards expire after three months; 10-class cards expire after 18 weeks. Gypsy cards can be used for any regular 90 minute belly dance class at either location.

Gypsy cards can carry over from one session until the expiration date. 5-class cards are often used by students who know in advance they will miss class and be unable to take makeup classes, or who wish to get a price break over the single class drop-in rate, but are not able to pay for a full session all at once. 10-class cards are often used by students who like to occasionally attend more than one class in a week. If your gypsy card runs out of "punches" before the expiration date or the end of a session, you can simply purchase a new card or attend class at the single class drop-in rate.

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Q: Why do first-time beginners need to register for the full session or a 10-class gypsy card?

A: Due to the cumulative nature of level 1 material, we ask first-time beginners to register for the full session. Alternatively, first-time beginners may purchase a 10-class card which will allow them to attend extra classes during the session or extend into the next session.

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Q: Can I go to more than one class a week?

A: Absolutely! After all, the more practice you get, the faster you'll learn. Many students take more than one class, especially when changing from one level to the next.

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Q: Do you accept men in class?

A: Most of our students are women; however we have welcomed several male students into our classes over the years. Some men take an interest in this dance form for artistic, athletic, musical, or cultural reasons, among others, and we're happy to accommodate when appropriate and to demonstrate male stylizations to help them learn.

Men are permitted on a case-by-case basis with approval from the school's director. (Please note that certain classes may be restricted to women only to accommodate Muslim students and others who for personal or cultural reasons cannot take classes with male students.) If you are a man who is interested in taking class with us, please call 612-703-7002.

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Q: Do you accept children/girls in class?

A: Our regular classes are open to all girls and women ages 13 and up. Children under 13 are permitted with approval from the school's director, however additional guidelines may apply (e.g., we may require an adult guardian be present due to the length of the class.) If you are interested in registering a child under the age of 13, contact Mirah Ammal at 612-703-7002 to discuss your situation.

Classes and workshops specifically designated for children and youth generally have an age guidelines. We ask that you respect those age guidelines, and contact us if you have questions.

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Q: Why do I need to sign a waiver?

A: Our insurance company requires that ALL students who attend any class or workshop through Aalim School of Dance, LLC sign a waiver before they are permitted to participate--this includes single class drop-in students.

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Q: What happens if a class is cancelled due to weather or instructor illness?

A: In the event an instructor is ill or unable to teach, a reasonable attempt will be made to arrange for another one of our instructors to substitute for her. If a substitute cannot be arranged, class will be cancelled. In the event a class is cancelled, we will post a "Breaking News" announcement on the Aalim School homepage. We will also attempt to reach registered students via email and/or telephone, using the information provided on the student's registration form.

Winter storm or severe weather cancellations will be posted on the School's homepage as well. As most of our classes are held in the evening and conditions can change drastically from early morning to evening, Aalim School typically follows the direction of local college and university night school programs rather than local k-12 school district to determine cancellations. For our Minneapolis location, we take our cue from MCTC and the University of Minnesota evening classes; for our Inver Grove location, Normandale Community College and Inver Hills serve as a guide. If evening or weekend classes at these institutions are cancelled, you can be sure Aalim School classes are as well.

As all of our studios have some amount of air conditioning or climate control, we generally do not have to cancel classes due to heat in the summer.

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Q: I'm not sure yet--can I come and watch a class?

A: Out of sensitivity to our students and their comfort, we generally cannot allow you to observe a class. If you are interested in seeing what a class is like before you commit to a full session or a gypsy card, we recommend you attend and participate in a single class as a drop-in student at the $13 drop in rate. If at the end of that class you wish to register for the session or a gypsy card, we can apply your $13 drop-in fee toward your gypsy card or session purchase. Students with previous belly dance class experience are welcome to do this at anytime. If you are a first-time student, please contact our office first so we can notify the instructor and ensure the class you are attending is suitable for this purpose. If you have any questions regarding this policy, or if you are a media representative looking to visit a class for a story you are working on, please contact us at or call 612-703-7002.

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Al-Bahira Dance Theater and Aalim School of Dance, LLC.

3754 Pleasant Ave. S.

Minneapolis, MN 55409





Copyright 2007-2012 Al-Bahira Dance Theater and Aalim School of Middle Eastern Dance, LLC. All rights reserved.