Aida Sajadi remembers watching her mother conducting belly dancing classes at her home back in Iran when she was little, but she was too little to understand why it had to be done in secret.
One day when she was a little older, Sajadi was pushed forward by one of the ladies to join the dancing - and learned later the risks her mother had been taking with her belly dancing performances and classes in the Islamic republic.
Although dancing itself is not defined as a crime in Iran's penal code, based on its constitution "indecent act in public" is a crime and public dancing can be interpreted as an indecent act, and punished. Dancing can be performed on stage only by men.
Sajadi and her mother and younger sister moved to New Zealand as refugees 20 years ago, and one of the biggest excitements her mother found in their new life was the freedom to openly perform the Arabic dance she so dearly loved.
Now 30 and with her mother having retired from dancing, Sujadi is living and breathing the art. She has made dancing her career and is also making it her goal to pass the art on.
"My first exposure to belly dancing was seeing my mum teach belly dancing to family and friends in the living room of our house, and at parties and events behind closed doors, my mum would dance because she was really good and always asked to entertain," Sujadi said.
She would dance with her mother to music from cassettes bought from illegal dealers on the black market.
"Mum's been my inspiration really, and seeing how much she's risked and sacrificed has made me all the more determined to keep dancing, especially now that we're fortunate enough to be living in a world where I can freely do it," she said.
Sajadi started performing belly dancing publicly at the age of 12, and is now a much sought-after belly dancer in Auckland.
Going by the name of Aida Oryantal, her calendar is filled with bookings for weddings, birthdays and anniversary events.
When she is not performing, Sujadi is busy practising new moves, exercising or conducting belly dancing classes.
She makes her own colourful costumes that include glittering fitted silk bras, hip scarves, chains and dance skirts with high slits up the side.
Sajadi says she is used to having eyes on her, and having people film her every move on their cellphones as she dances and sways to the rhythm of the music.
Although admired by some, others in the Iranian community frown on what Sajadi does.
One told the Weekend Herald he thought belly dancing was "disgusting" and that what she is doing "brings disgrace".
Sajadi says she is aware of the negative stigma attached to belly dancing, but she is not too fazed by it.
"The stigma is something that belly dancers have always suffered. Some people see it as being sexual, but it is not, other than perhaps having outfits that may be a bit revealing," she said.
"Belly dancing means everything to me, and to me it is my way of connecting art and culture. I will continue to live it because I am lucky to be now living in a country where I have the freedom to pursue it."
Belly dance emphasises complex movements of the torso and is believed to have originated in Egypt. Sajadi says her dream is to travel there and to one day set up a belly dancing school so she can pass on the dance form to future generations.
Her sister Rana, 23, says belly dancing is "more than just a passion" to Sujadi who would spend at least two hours daily practising the art and regularly stays up to 4am to sew new costumes.
"She has basically dedicated her life to it, and me and Mum feel we just have to do what we can to support her," she said.
Sajadi has won several international belly dancing competitions including the Raqs Cancun competition in Mexico 2018, and was a finalist a year earlier in the Miami Belly Dance Covention in Florida. She was also a Miss Universe NZ finalist in 2014.
Reza Sarkheil, owner of Rumi Persian restaurant in Parnell, also from Iran, says most Iranians would not have grown up with belly dancing as a form of entertainment.
"Back in Iran, we don't have dancing for entertainment while we eat and drink, so it's not something that brings back memories or takes us back to our homeland," Sarkheil said.
"I personally have nothing against belly dancing, but it is not something that originated from Iran and for many Iranians here, it is not something they are comfortable with."