Alyonna Dhillon may be in only her early 30s, but already she has racked up several years’ experience as a boutique owner, film and TV actor, photographer, model, dance instructor and has travelled the world performing.
Her latest business venture in Victor Harbor is Alyonna Dance Studio which is not only putting on spectacular concerts, but also helping women (and some men) gain confidence and fitness through oriental belly dancing.
Dancing has been one of Alyonna’s loves since growing up in Malaysia, learning and performing Bollywood-style dance, thanks to her father’s Indian heritage.
But it was an Iraqi friend who first introduced her to belly dancing in 2002. Ironically, the friend who introduced her to it wasn’t that keen, but Alyonna loved it.
“When she left I went to a few different classes and started performing in 2004,” Alyonna recalls.
“When I was in the Malaysia World Pageant (the Malaysian equivalent of the Miss Australia Pageant), my talent was belly-dancing.
“I used to secretly go to classes, but never thought of it as a career.”
Alyonna’s father was keen to see his daughter study for a much different career, so she enrolled in dentistry in India, but never started, instead jumping into fashion design.
“He kept saying I didn’t need to learn dance and that it was a waste of time,” she said.
“I soon started teaching friends and other girls who found out I could belly-dance.”
Her fashion studies took her to London where she lived, studied and worked and took her first steps into modelling. As well, she undertook marketing work while in Malaysia and London. Her marketing role was to recruit students for the university, which even took her to Iran.
“I used to dance at events and different locations,” Alyonna said.
“I was dancing at the Arabic Function Centre and people asked me if I taught dancing, so I started teaching.
“I ended up teaching at the function centre in London on weekends.”
Her pageant participation, including being named the runner-up for Malaysia, led her to participate in a pageant in London sponsored by TW Steele (a watchmaker) and a trip to China to be part of a television show, on which she performed.
While juggling modelling, performing and teaching dance, and a film and TV career on a number of Bollywood shows, Alyonna also opened and ran two fashion boutiques.
She closed the boutique when she met, then married her husband and moved to Victor Harbor.
“Everything happened so quickly, I just closed the boutique.
“I loved photography and started a photography business when I first came to Australia.”
Alyonna continues to operate Perfect Pix Photography as well as her belly dancing school.
It was the power of Facebook and a conversation over a nail appointment with Deani Edwards of SOMA Beauty, that led to the creation of the Alyonna Dance Studio which now operates from the Victor Harbor Lutheran Centre.
“I met Deani and she said maybe I should teach,” Alyonna recalls.
“Someone posted on Buy Swap Sell (on Facebook) and asked if there were any belly dance teachers down here and Deani tagged me and it just went from there.”
Initially the classes were started at the Victor Harbor Yacht Club for about 10 people, then the Encounter Church in Leeworthy Street, but the problem was mirrors were needed at the venue to assist students to check their actions.
“I then had a lady in her 70s inquire about the classes. She said there was a hall with a mirror at the Lutheran Church. They made it easy and we moved there in June this year,” Alyonna said.
The classes are gradually growing with more than 20 students today across seven classes a week. The students recently performed before a crowd of about 150 at the Goolwa Centenary Hall for an annual showcase.
“The most fulfilling thing for me was to see one of the students who, when she first came to me she would hang at the back of the class; gradually she progressed forward and you could see her gaining confidence to the point where she volunteered to do a solo in the showcase,” Alyonna says with a tear in her eye.
“In the lead-up to the concert some of the ladies were showing signs of anxiety and stress and Heather Cripps from The Joyful Buddhas volunteered to conduct a yoga session for us, including meditation, to help calm the nerves.”
Alyonna was also very grateful to local dressmaker and fashion designer Nichole Parnell for her assistance, particularly at the last minute, in altering and making costumes for the showcase.
As well as teaching belly dancing Alyonna also conducts what is termed a Hafla about every six weeks for her students. This is a traditional Arabic “dance party” for women only.
“The aim is to help the women feel like they are part of a family. Everyone comes to realise no one is judging them and everyone is there for support,” Alyonna explains.
At the Hafla the hall of the Lutheran Church is transformed into what could be described as a scene from The Arabian Knights with plenty of colour, scarves, cushions, lanterns and lots of costumes and dancing.
Alyonna’s students range in age from 18-74, but she has plans to launch kids’ classes in 2018 and even a parent/child class to help create bonding as well as body fitness and fun. She also wants to add classes using the spectacular Isis wings and Punjabi drums.
“Punjabi drums are usually played by men, but I want to start classes so they can be played by women too.”
She wants to set up a studio in Victor Harbor, but so far has been unable to secure a suitable venue.
With the range of business and life experience Alyonna has already accumulated she says one of the main things she has learned is to try not to react to the views and actions of others and not to allow the negativity of others to impact her.
Lesson to share:
Don’t react to others – If there is criticism or abuse from people who don’t like what you’re doing, don’t react to it. No matter how hard it can be, keep your reactions to yourself, lest you make situations worse. Don’t take criticisms or the behaviours of others personally and don’t let other people’s negativity impact you.
For details about the studio and classes visit www.adsvh.com.