Ask Beverley Joffe what the secret to belly-dance is and her answer might surprise you.
“It’s just decorated walking,” she says, perhaps because the art of moving has always come so naturally to her.
“Since I was little, I was aware that dance was a meeting point between musical expression and the exploration of movement. It has always been a personal discipline as well as a path of surrender. Dance is more than just my love and passion. For me is it an inseparable part of life and an expression of it,” Joffe tells FORBES WOMAN AFRICA.
Joffe began ballet when she was three and made her first stage appearance a year later. She soon progressed to modern dance and jazz and as a young adult trained in London’s West End before heading east to study yoga and Oriental dance. At the time, she was preparing for a career on the stage. Now, as the owner of Babylon Theatre Cafe in Claremont, Cape Town, she owns the stage.
The restaurant is a Mediterranean-fusion, vegetarian, non-alcoholic, Arabic shisha (hubbly-bubbly) establishment and is an embodiment of all Joffe has become. She has not eaten meat for 25 years and not consumed alcohol for a decade-and-a-half as she sought to nourish her body, and the results are self-evident.
Joffe mastered several dance forms including the Indian classical dance Bharatanatyam, worked as a soloist in the United Kingdom and performed with the international Planet Egypt events before returning home to Cape Town to care for her aging mother.
Since being back in South Africa, she has established her own studio, Al-Masrah Academy in Sea Point, and has now branched out into the hospitality industry, where she intends to share all she has learned.
“There is one thing I know without question: when you stand by your truth you will succeed. As an artist I know I can only create from what I know, and what I draw towards me. To many on the outside, it looked like a crazy gamble, but to me the only thing that made sense was to open a vegetarian, non-alcoholic theater restaurant,” says Joffe.
“Food is the key to healthy body maintenance and physical cell regeneration. We should be eating nutrients and energy. I can’t serve what I would not eat myself.”
Her philosophy starts with her staff, an all-female crew who she has handpicked and trained. Joffe hopes to empower them to become entrepreneurs of their own one day.
“Far from running my staff as a business machine, I train them as I would an athletic team. Feeding them on a vegetarian diet is a power unto itself and I pay very close attention to their health and performance. I see my success for the restaurant alongside their success in skill development and reaching greater standards in life,” she says.
However, the main attraction at Babylon Theatre Cafe is neither the organic, locally-sourced foods and freshly-squeezed juices nor the card games, but the shows on Saturday nights. From 8PM to 11.30PM every week, the restaurant turns into a theater with performers ranging from professionals in the industry to students from Joffe’s studio, who have acquired the expertise to put on their own show.
Joffe continues to teach classes, with the intention of helping women find their inner voice. Her students start as young as nine and she has no age limit on who she opens her doors to. Anyone, at any stage of life, with any or even no level of dance experience is welcomed at Al-Masrah. Classes cost R80 ($6) a session.
“I have never run my studio as a commercial profiteering venture. I offer small group classes and lots of personal growth space for everyone. This created a haven for so many women who needed to unshackle and blossom, learning yoga, bellydance and gaining back their natural confidence and joy,” she explains.
When she is not teaching or working in the restaurant, Joffe has one more project occupying her time. In October 2016, she started the Theatrical Oriental Dance Festival, a three-day event of intense dance workshops and performances across a range of genres. Joffe invited international guests from as far afield as France to teach master-classes and take part in a gala evening. Her intention is to run the festival annually for dancers to “come together and share their work”.
According to Joffe, the magic of art is as much in the creating as it in the sharing, which is why she keeps giving so much.
“Art can only grow and evolve with display, interaction and training, so platforms like this are essential for healthy artistry and inspiration. It’s a mammoth task, but worth every drop of sweat,” she says.