Life & Culture

The woman who dreamed of banking...and belly-dancing

Frederique Assor combines a successful career in finance with the traditional Middle Eastern dance she fell in love with as a child


As a little girl Frederique Assor had two dreams. One, inspired by the film Wall Street, was to work on a trading floor. The other was to be a professional dancer. “Two opposite dreams which both seemed inaccessible,” says Assor, now 50.

Growing up in Tunisia, she was mesmerised by the local folk dancers who moved their hips, shoulders and hands as they belly-danced to the sound of the Middle-Eastern drum, the darbouka. At home her nannies taught her how to replicate the moves of the oriental dance, otherwise known in Arabic as raqs sharqi, planting the seed of her love affair with traditional dancing.

Her parents didn’t object to extra-curricular ballet lessons, or performances at her end-of-year school shows. But a career as a professional belly-dancer was out of the question. Their heart was set on her getting a good university degree and learning languages, to stand her in good stead for her career prospects. And so, aged 18, she moved to Paris to study for a degree in banking and finance at the Sorbonne.

While studying abroad the hypnotic magic of dancing never left her soul. One day, walking on a side street in Paris, she passed a dance studio, which taught belly-dancing. She instantly signed up, her teacher being the enigmatic, charismatic Leila Haddad, dubbed the “high priestess of oriental dance”. She felt addicted to her weekly classes, they gave her an incredible boost, no matter what else was going on in her life.

Straight after her studies she moved to London and started working as a broker in equity derivatives, one of a rare few women in the job. In 2011, after almost 20 years in finance, she took a career break to spend time with her family.

“Although I loved my job, I needed to be with my three boys who were growing up fast,” she explains. “I didn’t want to regret anything and decided it was time for a sabbatical.”

The time gave her the space to think about her future. “I got ‘infected’ with the belly-dancing virus, but this time I decided it would never leave me again!”

She travelled far and wide attending courses, workshops and festivals, hooked on her new pastime, her body in continuous motion as her hips punctuated the music. “I wondered how I managed to put to sleep this love for dancing for all those years. But this time it was different. I wanted to know everything about this fascinating world.”

Her talent for dance turned into a passion for teaching it. First, she obtained a teaching certificate from the Mia Serra dance school before studying under the tutelage of dancer and musician couple Serena and Hossam Ramzy. Serena taught Egyptian dance, while her late husband Hossam was a renowned composer and producer of Egyptian music, playing for famous musicians such as Led Zeppelin and Peter Gabriel.

Eventually Assor returned to work as a broker in Mayfair, but only if she could do it alongside her newfound passion for teaching classes at JW3. “I knew I needed dance to balance any stress level my day job could inflict on me,” she says. Given that there are still few women on the trading floor, having dance in her life has become all the more important. It is healing not just for the body, but also the mind and soul, she says.

Apart from the huge adrenaline rush, the celebration of different traditions through costumes, make-up and props for shows makes it all the more fascinating and fun. Assor, who is a member of South Hampstead synagogue, believes dancing is good for living and breathing, a “balm for the body and the soul”.

In particular, she says the oriental dance moves — including Figure-8, hip lifts and shimmying — are artistic and feminine, creating a positive feeling of sensual expression and freedom. There are no age, height or weight limits, meaning her students range from nine to 90.

Before Covid-19 she organised workshops inviting international teachers such as Israeli dancer Tamar Bar Gil, who has become her biggest influence. And every February her students would go to Eilat, for a four-day belly-dancing festival organised by Orit Maftsir and Yael Moav, where they would perform customised choreographies.

Throughout the pandemic she has taught on Zoom, attracting students from as far as France, Spain, Tunisia, and Israel. Her assortment of kaftans, hip scarves, beaded skirts and pantaloons, brought much-needed splendour and colour to lockdown. She says the classes can support those with mental health issues. Apart from the physical and emotional release and creativity, “movement,” notes Assor, can help you feel in a better mood because of the endorphins that are released. “For me it’s like meditation as you are connected to yourself via the rhythm of the music.”

Achieving one lifetime ambition is lucky, realising two is exceptional. “At 18 you become what your parents and society expect from you, at 40 you become who you want to be,”she says. “I have created my own world and it makes me a happy and complete woman.”

Facebook: Frederique Assor-Liscia

Youtube channel: Frederique Assor

Share via

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive