Tarifa Salem: Aesthetics and authenticity

Tarifa Salem is a Middle-Eastern dance artist and instructor. Her early exposure to the music and dance of her Lebanese heritage set the stage for her dance career. Her uncle and mentor, the late great Ibrahim Farrah, helped her develop and refine her art and inspired her to pursue graduate studies in dance in the late 70s. She performed with the highly respected NYU-based modern dance company, Kaleidoscope, and performed with the Ibrahim Farrah Near East Dance Group from 1979-1982, and was a regular featured dancer at popular Middle Eastern nightclubs in NYC, NJ and PA. She currently teaches Middle Eastern Dance in Jacksonville, FL, and is a personal trainer and fitness instructor. She has been a featured presenter and featured performing artist for workshops, clinics, and master classes throughout the eastern US.

Riskallay Riyad hosts Tarifa Dec. 2nd and 4th for Oriental and folkloric workshops, as well as a presentation on "The Farrah Factor".

Younger dancers are not as familiar with Bobby Farrah's work and talents. What are the most important things you would like them to know about him? 

I would like them to know how unbelievably committed Bobby was to his art, how much of himself he gave to maintaining traditional (dance) forms without sacrificing artistry and theatrical aesthetics, and how devoted he was to maintaining a standard. He was an extreme perfectionist and had an amazing vision for how to present his dances on stage.

Tarifa (left) and Bobby Farrah (right) dance at a family wedding. Photo courtesy of Tarifa Salem.

Tarifa (left) and Bobby Farrah (right) dance at a family wedding. Photo courtesy of Tarifa Salem.

Bobby grew up in a very traditional Lebanese family. Quoting him in his article “The Lebanese Chapters from Arabesque Magazine, “My childhood in Pennsylvania, as I realize from the perspective of time, would not have been much different had I been born in Lebanon.” He embodied the essence of the dance of his heritage by being immersed in the culture, but his intellectual capacity and thirst for knowledge led him in the direction of research. A Duke Grant took him to Lebanon in the early 70s, where he filmed a family of Bedouin gypsies performing authentic dance rarely seen outside the east, (and shown in his “Rare Glimpses” DVD). He was editor of Arabesque Magazine where he created a space to discuss “ethnic dance”. This became a forum where he engaged other researchers and anthropologists to share their studies on dances of indigenous folk, as well as modern nuances of ethnic dance. Bobby won the prestigious Ruth St. Denis Award presented by La Meri in 1979 for his choreographic expertise in bringing to the stage the best of the myriad of Near Eastern dances, and for being an untiring pioneering in his chosen field of ethnic dance.

I would also like people to know what a kind person he was, and how truly loyal he was to family, friends, students, and respected colleagues. Not only was he dedicated to sharing knowledge about his art, he shared his joy in expressing it. On a personal note, I will always cherish the laughter he brought into my life and that of my family. He was the best uncle, brother, son, godfather, and friend that anyone could ever ask for.

Why is the study of folkloric dance an important part of an Oriental dancer's education?  

Studying the movements of cultural dances seen at celebrations, community gatherings, and festivals specific to a time and place help the student to understand characteristic gestures and facial expressions, as well as the overall essence of a particular style. Nuances such as carriage, use of space, and dynamic among various populations of a people (men, women, married, single, and so on) should be addressed in folkloric classes so that students will develop an understanding of traditions and mores within a culture. The “how and why” of a dance gives historical and cultural perspective. For example, there are circumstances that define the appropriate style of dance to be performed within a given time or a particular space, and of course, age and gender.

Oriental dance today is very different than 20 or 30 years ago. How do you see the Oriental dance study and performance evolving?

Bobby Farrah and Nadia in the Town Hall performance.

Bobby Farrah and Nadia in the Town Hall performance.

I don’t see what I refer to as Oriental Dance as having changed that much. I began my professional career in 1978 and have been fortunate to enjoy performances by artists who have maintained the tradition that I am familiar with 40 years later. I have seen styles that depart from those traditions, but many young dancers I have seen have obviously inherited all the elements I consider to be essential in the Oriental genre from their instructors who have dedicated themselves to maintaining the essence of the Eastern Dance.

All dance evolves, but the elements remain the same in traditional Oriental dance. Traditional costume, music, and technique remain, but an artist may take liberties with form and be considered authentic according to La Meri’s definition in her book Total Education in Ethnic Dance. We take liberties in traditional Oriental dance when we choreograph for the stage and set a time limit, but it is still considered Oriental. If a style has taken liberties with costume, music, and form, but the technique remains the same, it becomes a “Neoclassic” form or what we call a “creative departure”. Unfortunately, some artists lose sight of the cultural base and it loses its Oriental essence; therefore it can no longer be defined as Oriental. It is still art and if an artist’s base is strong it will truly inspire. You must have a strong traditional base to depart from, however, if you hope to maintain the essence of Oriental dance. To quote La Meri, “One must understand not only the authentic forms but the motivations, else one loses the essence of ethnicity, and the result is a mishmash of schools with no aesthetic value.” (Total Education in Ethnic Dance)

Celebrating 25 years of dance with the Desert Moon Dancers

Su'ad founded the Desert Moon Dancers in 1991. Since then, Su'ad, Hijara, Rayya, Astrea, Elena, Aziza, Khalisa, Noor, and Nadia have delighted audiences with their rich choreographic repertoire and on- and off-stage camaraderie. They celebrate their 25th anniversary as a troupe with a show on December 10th at Connecticut College. 

You founded the Desert Moon Dancers in 1991, a few years after you moved to Connecticut from Wisconsin. You had co-founded a troupe, Hazet Helwa, in Wisconsin. Did you form DMD because of your positive experience with Hazet Helwa? Were the original members of DMD your students, other dancers you met, or a combination?

I moved to CT in August 1987, because my ex-husband came to CT for his post-doctoral work. I danced in some local events and also went to some dance seminars. I knew Boston-area folks from attending Bobby Farrah week-long seminars. I also did belly grams as the back-up person (nights and weekends) before I got pregnant with my son Matthew. I really got to know CT from driving all over! 

In February 1990, I received a call from a dancer who had a small group of students she had been teaching, but she had only taken a year of dance herself so was looking for a teacher. I had started teaching in Madison,  first teaching beginner classes under Mona N'Wal's guidance, then teaching more advanced classes. I started teaching the group in February 1990, meeting in a firehall in Barkhamsted. All of the students in the class belonged to the SCA (the what? I said). Tony was part of that original class, and so was his wife (who stopped dancing and went on to be a fighter in the SCA).

Desert Moon Dancers began with the folks who stayed in the class. In 1991, students who were part of the then Prince and Princess's royal household, came to me because they wanted to prep a dance show for the royals (who were supportive of Middle-Eastern dance -- not always the case in the East Kingdom of the SCA at that time). I told them it wouldn't be fair to the others to not invite them to perform, so in October and November 1991 we prepped a 30-minute show to perform for the Prince and Princess at a December 1991 East Kingdom University in NY State. We themed it around a feast. For the majority of the attendees, it was the first time they had seen a Middle-Eastern dance troupe (those responses prompted me to join the SCA). Everyone had a great time, so we started performing more after that. We named ourselves the next year when we applied in July 1992 to perform at First Night Hartford, which required that we have a troupe name. It was great to have students who wanted to be in a troupe, because I really loved being part of Hazet Helwa.

Did DMD start out as a folkloric troupe? How much of your repertoire is folkloric vs. Oriental?

We've always been a folkloric and Oriental dance troupe. Once we started dancing in the SCA, I started doing research to see how to make the dance fit into the SCA anachronism structure (pre-1600 AD) using both music and costuming. That involved a lot of library work (this was before the Internet). It was a good fit because Hazet Helwa had done both folkloric and Oriental. Much of our SCA performing was folkloric-style and a lot of our dancing was in the SCA as we worked to introduce and help define Middle-Eastern dance in an SCA context. Some of those same dances we brought to other stages, such as regular dance seminars. However, we always kept Oriental dances in our repertoire. Over the 25 years, we have performed folkloric-styled dances of many types - Egyptian, Turkish, Romani, Persian, Khaleegy -- as well as Oriental (cabaret, balady), Oriental fusion, and fusion. Some of our dances can be performed either in folkloric costume or Oriental/balady. So maybe 40% folkloric.

DMD is one of the few (if not only) New England dance troupes that includes a male dancer. When Hijara joined, did this change how you thought of staging choreographies, or what dances you performed?

I think we are on of the few Middle-Eastern troupes anywhere with a male dancer! Since Hijara was with us from the start, we've always included male dance roles in certain troupe choreographies. I like to think we have some great stick/cane dance chops because we worked with Yousri Sharif on the stick dance as a troupe,  especially the man's dance. One of our first major pieces was a stick dance that featured a male role. Having Hijara in the troupe has also allowed us to do more theatrical pieces with male roles. Hijara also performs with us as "just one of the troupe". Of course, some dances are female-themed only. 

Does your repertoire consist primarily of original choreographies? 

Yes. I love choreographing and staging! We have used some choreographies we've learned at seminars, and I have some of Bobby's choreographies that I've been performing that I've taught to the troupe. There are a few choreographies that troupe folks have made, and we have some that we've all worked on together. Staging is nearly 100% mine. I also do solo choreographies for some troupe members. We had to have a lot of original work because I was actively teaching 2-3 times a year at the CT Spring Fling, NJ DanceFest, and Long Island haflas (and adult ed classes for a long while). 

You and Astrea are members of the SCA, which is known for its emphasis on knowledge of factual historical information, such as costuming. In fact, you (Su'ad) have been given the SCA's highest award for your historical costuming research. Does DMD get to benefit from all that knowledge much? 

Actually, Astrea, Hijara, Rayya, and I are all members of the SCA. At one point Helen was also. Hijara is the most active in the SCA; Rayya and I are both parts of SCA households although we participate much less, and Astrea and Helen do not participate at all at this point. 

I actually have received all of my SCA awards (local barony, kingdom, SCA) for Middle-Eastern dance and teaching. Historical costume research (as much as we can do for that early of a time frame) was part of this to present in the SCA context. Astrea has her awards for callligraphy and illumination (SCA), dance (SCA, kingdom), and service (barony). Hijara has an SCA-level award for service, and a kingdom award for dance, and baronial awards as well. The three of us have received a specific kingdom arts award for dancing. All five of us have received our award of arms (AoA). 

And yes, DMD has benefited not only from all of my research knowledge, but the teachers I've helped sponsor, the seminars I've gone to with the troupe, and the other learning I've done outside of the troupe. And we share our knowledge with each other!

Aaliyah Jenny: Bringing autobiographical snapshots to the stage with courage

by Brittany Capozzi 

With her upcoming visit to Boston to teach a workshop, I was intrigued to find out what inspires Aaliyah Jenny’s delicate, yet, poignant movements across the stage. She agreed to be interviewed for BDNE and openly discusses both the difficult and graceful transitions in her life as she continues to dance.

When did you begin your dance journey?

Although I started dance lessons as a young child (ballet in 3rd grade; ballet/modern in high school; summer intensive at Boston School of Ballet sophomore year, but my dad refused to enroll me in the fall semester citing it was more important to focus on school; Brandeis University dance club and elective courses, including one I took with Debra Messing; hip hop classes at Broadway Dance Center NYC in my 20s that continues to this day; tap and Polynesian dance in my 30s), it wasn't until I found bellydance at the ripe age of 33 that I found my expressive voice. Surprisingly, listening and dancing to Middle-Eastern music improved my syncopation, especially in hip hop. 

I'm now 48, so it's been 15 years now that I have been studying the dance of the Near East. One of my first teachers is Aszmara (Westchester, NY), with whom I still study as much as I can. For almost three years, I was a member of a Gypsy Caravan-style troupe called Twisted Tassels based in Woodstock, NY. I certified in Oreet's SharQui the Bellydance Workout and Zumba, and had classes at local YMCAs and studios. During that time, I also taught students in my home. At one point, I believe, I had about 10-12 students in my living room! I was training in hip hop, contemporary, and Polynesian dance during this time. I began teaching hip hop through the recommendation of my teacher. I backed off from teaching around 2010-11, when I came to the conclusion I needed to study more. So I participated in Rachel Brice's 8 Elements Initiation and Cultivation. And I threw myself into traveling and studying with Donna Mejia, Karim Nagi, Raqia Hassan, Zoe Jakes, Mira Betz, Oreet, and Aszmara, to name a few. I had the honor of taking weekly classes with Sera Solstice and performing with her Solstice Ensemble, including opening for Beats Antique at Irving Plaza in NYC.

Photo by  Dancer's Eye Photography

Photo by  Dancer's Eye Photography

In 2014, I decided very last minute to compete at the East Coast Classic because I really wanted some honest feedback about whether or not my performance choices were coming through as a fusion artist. I won the Fusion Category and was invited to perform in the Gala Show at the Hannover Tribal Festival in Germany the following June. I also competed in the Tribal Star and placed 3rd, even though I gave them the wrong music.  

In 2014, I was also diagnosed with breast cancer. During my treatment, from July 2014 to October 2015, I bribed myself to finish by coordinating appointments with travel to dance events. I also competed and won two more competitions in August 2015 - Bellydance Masters and Jewels of the Orient.

We moved here to Salt Lake City in July 2015. I am having the time of my life being so close to so many teachers!  I am also teaching at Michelle Sorensen's studio, The Velveteen Serpent. So I am either taking or teaching class almost every day of the week now.

I still go to many events all around the country! It was from my travels that I realized I wanted to provide an opportunity to those of us who do not want to compete but want the growth afforded through the feedback process. Thus R.A.W. Epiphany was born! It stands for the Real Artist Within.  It will be July 7-9, 2017 in Park City, Utah. There are five tiers of participation, with the highest being the Raw Epiphany level that includes three headliners, 19 local premier instructors from SLC, a performance opportunity with feedback from the headliners, a semi-private with one headliner, and the opportunity to win a scholarship to another event. Because it is a non-profit, the registration is unbelievably low.  Please visit my Web site or go to Raw Epiphany 2017 on Facebook!  The TheRawEpiphany.com website is coming, too!

How did you come to the hybrid forms of dance such as hip hop fusion and Polynesian dance? Was that a blend of movement that you found through performing as your genuine self? 

My current style is a blend of inspirations from the dance of the Near East (known as belly dance), hip hop, and contemporary. Because I have been training in these styles for most of my life, I have found my movement vocabulary has morphed into a unique mix of all three when I freestyle. I also have noticed that Polynesian dance come through, too.

I find it interesting that even though I have trained in Odissi and Bollywood, neither one of these styles comes through in a noticeable way. In my opinion, I think it's because I need much longer training in them before they will be incorporated into my dance style. In all my performances, I hope I am always dancing as my genuine self.

Many believe that dance is therapeutic; has there been a defining moment or a collection of defining moments in your dance career when the art was your therapeutic tool?

I absolutely believe dance is therapeutic! I also find it is a form of prayer, personally. I can't help but feel better after I dance. My first solo back in 2003 was a candle and veil piece. You can see a version of it here from when I performed at the Queens Theater in NY. Looking back, I can say it was the beginning of my coming out of my shell and being ok with being seen.  

Another solo I put together was about my anger and internal struggle when one of my kids was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. I cried every time I practiced and performed it.

This piece from my 100 days of improv (I did 4 of them) expressed the gratitude I felt for my husband and the way I was feeling about my post treatment. Throughout my breast cancer treatment, I participated in events around the country in whatever way I could: taking workshops, competing, and performing as my energy levels allowed me. I had to put to practice the energy conservation techniques I used to teach about as an Occupational Therapist! I can say without a doubt that being in the same space as my dance family helped me tremendously during my chemotherapy/radiation/infusions and post-surgery. 

I have always told universal stories through autobiographical pieces as a form of therapy. But I also believe it's important to express what I know. I want my audience members to feel less alone at the end of our time together. 

I started a Facebook page called Jenny's Transformation that shares what I went through from the onset of my treatment. Please feel free to visit it if you want more information.

Photo by Studio Jaki Photography

Photo by Studio Jaki Photography

The phrase “I wish […]  I could be somebody forever” plays during your performance at the Las Vegas Belly Dance Intensive 2015, followed by what seems to be the lightest musical part of the piece; did that phrase have a significant impact on you as a person?
 
Would you believe I cut that piece of music back around 2010 or was it 2012...I remember receiving my email requesting music for LVBDI 2015. I was in the middle of treatment and feeling my mortality. This music popped up on my iTunes library and as I listened to it, a story emerged about my observations about my own aging. There is a wistfulness about the light music of the piece - a reminder about when I was young and naively thought I was so old [laughs]. For that particular piece of the light music, those words are an echo of when I was so young and did not realize how quickly time passes.

What movements connect you to yourself the most when storytelling?

This is a great question. I don't quite know...well, I resonate deeply with the movement vocabularies from the three dance forms I draw inspiration from: the dances of the Near East, hip hop, and contemporary. I do know that music plays an integral part of my storytelling. It shapes my movements.

This November, your Authentic Selves and Hip Hop Fusion workshops are coming to Boston; what are a few things you hope your students will walk away with understanding or feeling?

I hope to empower with the tools to tell stories about us in a universal way, so that we can be true to ourselves while successfully conveying the message we are compelled to send through the gift of performance. In Authentic Selves, I share my personal process and we will play with different approaches to storytelling. In Hip Hop Fusion, we will do an overview of 8 to 10 different subcategories of urban dance from popping and waacking to gliding. These movement vocabularies are good tools to have! Be prepared to have fun in a safe environment, no matter what! 

Being a Sensual Belly Dancer: Finding the Art through Intuition

by Brittany Capozzi (BellaBianca)

We all shed and layer identities; it’s a growth process. At the start of my belly dance journey I thought that by simply immersing my body in movement with music I understood my new identity in its entirety. I only saw one dimension within the dance while studying my reflection, but now, choosing to dance by intuition instead of sight, I explore its unseen dimensions.

A mirror is needed in the beginning; one needs to see how the body cooperates with technique but dance is not only about watching oneself develop using the mirror. It is equally important to learn and grow without that tool as well, after all, the man-made object did not come first, movement did. We need to remind ourselves of that. My reminder is visiting a routine where not only do I strip the reflection from the mirror, but I strip the music, time, and in turn I strip the art to make it become what it needs to be on its own. The process of rearranging the atmosphere allows me to be more genuine in the dance.

This practice is the answer to a question I asked my instructor, who specializes in expressive therapies with a concentration in Dance Movement Therapy: “How can I become more grounded, more balanced?” She smiled, took my hand, and told me to close my eyes. Noticing a neighbor who was outside on his lawn, I smirked, feeling a bit embarrassed but my curiosity was stronger than my feeling of vulnerability. From the sidewalk, she led me a few feet up and around the tree in front of her house. Though initially unsteady and unsure, my small steps grew bigger and more relaxed as I went along. The pressure on my eyelids from the sun lessened. I didn't realize how liberating it had been until we stopped moving and I opened my eyes. The key is to trust what is present.

Since that afternoon, I’ve put time aside to dance by touch only, continuing to learn with this new perspective. As my fingers knead the air, the space constantly reminds me that this insignificant action requires an open mind; I must be patient as the fingers on my right hand open and close around soft curtains and sharp furniture edges. The flow of energy and grace on this side of my body is hidden under muscle tension from cerebral palsy. But I inhale and exhale slowly. My muscles begin to soften. I am calm and patient; this is what it feels like not to be timed by music.

Time, like the space in my room, is open. Naturally, as many would do, I fear pain if I step out of my comfort level so by habit I’ve danced in one corner, close to the door frame. But by reaching forward and embracing obstacles, I accept the idea of learning from and through any hurt. As I push the wall away with each palm, I think about the walls outside this room, limitations that challenge my passion and mental strength. Even I have imposed limitations upon myself. The soles of my feet are magnetized to the ground. Each hand drops just as each heel lifts. The upper parts of my feet remain strong. In the dark I give myself permission to trust my own support.

Staying in this pose for longer than anticipated, I deepen my balance as I bend my knees more. Now I can no longer limit, but surprise myself. It’s in my nature to play with contrast so I experiment with high and low space. I rotate my shoulders while leveling halfway to the ground. I pull at the tension in my shoulder blades and push them back. Burdens from the day roll off my body. As I move to the right my wrist taps a leaf on a bamboo plant; I’m now in front of the mirror. I’ve emerged from the corner to the center of my room. I’m not hiding in or around frames anymore. I lift my heels off the ground once more and turn my back to the mirror.

I turn away from practicing for an audience, and away from any criticism in the mirror. If I stand with my chest facing my reflection, I’ll feel the pressure in front of me even though I can’t see it. Here I practice the Scissor step, a cross lateral movement with feet forward and back, and a few hip lifts. The weight of the coins around my hip scarf challenges me. Unsecure, I adjust the weight on the balls of my feet as I lift my head high. This alleviates the fear behind any what If questions: What if I fall? What if one day I can no longer use my right side, or worse, my dominant side? What happens with dance then? I hear the worries but concentrate on my breath. As my inner voice lowers, my energy climbs.

By feeling the art from the inside out I take it with me from day to day. For instance, if I dance with my eyes closed in the morning, my patience and the need to take it easy lingers throughout the afternoon. And I subconsciously add mobility to my right thumb and index finger as I do routine chores. What used to be dormant energy now stays active. I’m still the same dancer, still an artist outside the perimeters I dance in. Becoming aware of this I realize how we each must be grateful for our senses. We cannot take our bodies for granted but treat them with the utmost respect. Ironically this is when we understand who we are capable of being to ourselves before anyone else.

Brittany (BellaBianca) is celebrating her fifth year of belly dance by weaving the art onto her yoga mat. She teaches Yin and Vinyasa Yoga on the South Shore of Massachusetts. For more information, follow her on Facebook under BellaB Yoga and Dance

 

Getting the "green light": permission, consent, and art

I was curious about the premise of Jaylee and Lulu Stone's upcoming show Green Light Effect. They both graciously agreed to be interviewed for BDNE about the unique and innovative origins of the show. - Amy Smith

BDNE: Could you elaborate on the show theme of "consensual art", and the various interactions in which permission and consent come into play?

LULU: Permission itself plays a huge role in Green Light Effect - independent musicians from around the country gave us express permission to use their work in our show. However, we chose the word "consensual" as our tagline because we feel it carries even more complex social nuance than "permission". Permission is the act of one party conceding or allowing something; consent is a mutual agreement by multiple parties. Green Light Effect deals with various complex aspects of consent, using it to contextualize relationships, including those among artists and between artists and the community.

JAYLEE:  This is a really multidimensional use of the words “permission” and “consent” which is why I think makes this a unique production. Beyond using music with direct permission from each musical artist and making the artists a feature of our program, each performance piece dives into an exploration of how consent, or lack thereof, affects us in our everyday lives—so it presents an opportunity for connection with our audience on a personal level, too. And the talent involved in this production is just as dynamic as the concept: musicians from near and (very) far lending us songs with an array of stylizations and origins; and performing artists with incredibly diverse cultural backgrounds and dance styles. A great mix of purpose and art.

Jaylee. Photo by Ravenwolfe PhotographyBDNE: Was there a particular reason you were inspired to do this show?

LULU: Jaylee and I were both really excited about the idea of collaboration in general; the Boston belly dance scene has grown so much over the past few years, and some really fabulous professional and personal relationships have flourished. We started brainstorming a way to showcase that, and the idea for this show (and this cast) was born. I really wanted to take the collaborative effort one step further, and convinced Jaylee to support my harebrained scheme to pull a bunch of musicians into the boat with us! Music is the backbone of our dance. I feel that, especially in the era of social media domination, it's really important for dancers to make an effort to seek collaboration/consent when it comes to the music we are using. It's something I've been meditating on for awhile, and I figured I should put my money where my mouth is and make a whole show where the music itself is a collaborative effort. Plus, there is a ripple effect here: now the dancers have been exposed to fantastic new musicians (some of them local), musicians are getting interested in what we are doing, and, at the show, the community at large will be exposed to dance and music they may not yet know!

JAYLEE:  I love Lulu’s passion for this collaborative effort - how could I not get just as excited! I’m so honored to be a part of this effort to bring this concept to light. My personal emphasis has been more on the content of the performance pieces: how we can portray issues of consent to an audience and create some conversation around that.  Right now there is a lot of turmoil surrounding permission and consent in myriad facets of our lives - you see it all over the news and social media.  The Green Light Effect is a discussion with our community on what happens when we get “the green light”— the approval, the go-ahead — and what happens when we don’t?  How does consent and permission mold us, shape us, and change us?  How does it color our community and networks; interpersonally, locally, and globally?  The goal is to explore, and spark some great conversation and connections.

Lulu. Photo by Liam CarltonBDNE: What is the "take away" for the audience?

LULU: Two things. One: belly dance has earned its stripes as a form of high art, and two: artists in general are agents of social change and vital to the essence of every community.

JAYLEE: I want the audience to come away having learned more about our dance form, and the musicians whose music inspires and colors our art. I want questions to come up, networks to be established, and a healthy dialogue started. I want to show that in our dance community, we can collaborate more closely and use music respectfully. In a word, connection. And we hope to connect with all of you at Green Light Effect!

Get the word out: fliers and press releases

by Morgana Mirage

Here in New England, spring, summer and fall are often the busiest times of years for Middle-Eastern dance events. The reason is simple - the weather! Be sure to put the word out well ahead of time for event goers to make their plans and support your event. Same-week reminders are great, too.

Fliers

Fliers are a great way to get a lot of information out quickly about your event. They can be printed, shared as PDFs, or posted on your website or favorite social media channel. Therefore it's important to be sure to include all the information someone would need in order to check out your event!

All good flyers have the following - apart from attractive artwork and jazzy graphics (which should enhance, and never muddy or overwhelm, the text):

  • Time, date, and day of the week (Year is not necessary if the event takes place in the current year).

  • Location, including complete name of venue and complete street address. This includes street number, which is frequently omitted.

  • Cost, and how event-goers can pay. If it is free, state that clearly; if donations are desired, state that also. Indicate if tickets are available in advance and how to order, if they are available at the door, and so on.

  • A contact for more information. Always provide a contact email, phone number, website, or other means for the public to get in touch.

There has been a recent development in which event promoters cram all the information possible about the event star or teacher on the front of the flier. The result is a visually-confusing and hard-to-read flier, especially if the flier is posted on line. It's much better to keep the essential information front and center; ancillary information, such as teacher bio, can be posted to your web site or Facebook page. 

Press releases

Your local newspaper and its online sources can be a great way to get the word about an event. But for those who've never done it, it can be a little confusing. Here's a few "dos" and "don'ts" based on my experience on the other side of the desk and a long-time news and arts editor.

DO: 

Read your local newspaper. The newspaper cannot support events in the community if the community does not support the newspaper. Readership and circulation is how the newspaper provides this resource.

Check out guidelines ahead of time, including your newspaper's submission deadlines, any word limits, and other information needed before sending a notice.

Always include the following. This bread-and-butter information is much more important than long descriptions attempting to "sell" the event. This is the information a reader actually needs in order to attend an event:

  • Time, date, and day of the week. The most frequent omission is day of the week. Most event goers need to know this in order to decide if it's something they can attend.
  • Location, including complete name of venue and complete street address. This includes street number, which is also frequently omitted.
  • Cost, and how event-goers can pay. This information is sometimes left out entirely which leaves the impression that the event is free. If it is free, state that clearly; if it's donations, state that also. State if tickets are available in advance and how to order, if they are available at the door, and so on.
  • A contact for more information. An event-goer may need more information than what limited space in a newspaper can provide. Always provide a contact email, phone number, website, or other means for the public to get in touch.
  • Designate one person and one person only as a press contact and include that person's contact information.
  • Include a high-resolution photo. There may not be space to run it in the end, but it's better for an editor to have the photo in hand than have to reach out and ask, which creates an extra step in an often hectic deadline schedule. The photo should have a caption that identifies the people in it, or name or artist or group. If there are children, please be sure to get parents' or guardians' permission first. This may seem like common sense, but on occasion people do submit photos without taking this important step.

DON'T:

Have multiple people sending the same information or calling on behalf of the event. This can be very confusing, especially on deadline, and for editors or editorial support staff who may have literally hundreds of notices to process. Also it makes it unclear whom to contact for more information.

Send multiple "follow-up" emails forwarding the original press release. This can also create confusion and make it harder for the person who is processing all the emails - which again can run in the hundreds. If you don't hear within 24-48 hours, make a quick, brief follow-up call.

Send just a flyer and ask that this run as advertisement. Display advertising is a paid service and most newspapers can't devote space for a free flier except under certain circumstances.

Send a link to a page or website, and ask the editor to look up the information from the link. This creates an extra step including having to filter graphics or other elements from the link.

Send excerpts from an article in another newspaper. A newspaper article is copyrighted, and doing this is asking the editor to appropriate copyrighted material to which their paper may not have rights. Also, that newspaper may be unaffiliated so it's also asking the newspaper to give props to its competitor.

Give an interview to a competing paper and then ask your local editor for an article as well. Again, the news business is a business, as well as a competitive enterprise. Newspaper editors want to present fresh, original stories to their readers as much as possible. If you give a story to a major metropolitan paper and then ask your hometown paper to do the same, this is treating that paper as a second-class news source. Newspaper editors especially get upset if they have been faithfully printing calendar briefs and other notices for a long time only to pick up a competing paper and see the group or person has given that paper a substantial feature.

Send a press release and then send a "revised" version. Once it's in the editor's hand, the process of getting ready for layout and deadline begins and it's not necessarily a simple task to go back and make corrections or revisions. Of course if there is an error such as date or time, it's best to alert the editor right away - better to correct information than not. But carefully checking over the press release can help avoid this step in a very narrow press time frame.

Forget to buy a copy, put a link to an online feature on your website or Facebook page, or promote it to all your friends and families. The newspaper has given space to you and your event; do the newspaper a good turn by, well, by spreading the news!

Morgana Mirage is associate editor of Belly Dance New England.

Meet Jacqui Lalita's mom!

 By Amy Smith


Joyce Zarro is Jacqui Lalita's mom. She lives in Rhode Island has recently taken up belly dancing. We took the opportunity to ask her a few questions about her belly dance journey.

Did you know anything about belly dance before Jacqui started studying it?

I knew nothing about belly dancing before Jacqui started taking belly dance classes, and I still knew nothing even after she became a professional dancer and teacher. I was at the opposite pole on the dance globe. Where she wore exotic dance costumes and performed breathtaking undulations and hip sways to enchanting Middle- Eastern music,  I was out dancing in jeans and Western boots doing boot-scoot boogie and two-stepping to Toby Keith and Garth Brooks. My country-western dance career ended in 2003 when I had part of my foot actually replaced with an artificial joint. Dancing in Western boots for years took its toll on my feet. 

What did you think when she became a professional belly dancer and teacher?

Watching Jacqui perform belly dance from the beginning  has  always been magical for me. Her body and heart are so connected. She radiates love of the dance and of life whenever she dances and teaches. She is a master at belly dance and I watch her with awe. I have always felt such pride in watching her perform all types of dance in her life, but nothing compares to her masterful art of belly dance. 

What finally inspired you to take up belly dancing?

I found myself falling in love with Arabic music and wished I could dance too, but working a tedious desk job and caring for an aging mother left no energy to try it. It was not until two years ago, being retired, that I felt I as ready to share my daughter's passion, to share her love of belly dance, to venture outside my comfort zone and try it. 

I have so much to learn but I am loving it more with each class. My back is not what it used to be in my youth, my movements do not flow effortlessly, and often I feel like awkward, but I love my belly dance classes,  and I strive to get better with time and practice and to continue to learn indefinitely. 

What advice would you give women about starting belly dance later in life?

My advice for women learning belly dance later in life is to just  enjoy pushing your hips further than you have since disco dancing; no pressure, no competition with 30-yearolds. Smile in the mirror as you shimmy and let your heart become captivated with the whole Middle-Eastern culture and dance. All women are sensual at any age. Belly dance is a beautiful art. It is captivating and exotic. It is wonderful exercise that tones body, improves your mind, and can slow the process of osteoporosis. 

I am eagerly looking forward to when Jacqui is in New England and can give me private lessons. She is an amazing, patient teacher; my daughter; and my best friend, and I strive to get a good report card as her student. 

 

Jacqui Lalita: Dance of the Divine Feminine

by Amy Smith

Jacqui and her Dance of the Divine Feminine tour will be in New England from mid-August through October. She will be teaching at dance studios in NH, VT, CT, RI and MA. Kanina of RI is hosting Jacqui at her studio on Sunday, Sept. 27th. Jacqui's mother is one of Kanina's students - be sure to read our interview with her!

Photo by Jacqui LalitaYou have studied a wide variety of ethnic dance. How did your belly dance journey begin? Why is this dance form especially compelling for you?

I discovered belly dance while in college at the University of Miami 14 years ago. I stumbled upon a class in the wellness center and fell in love instantly. The exquisiteness of rhythms and melodies seemed to transport me to some ancient land and my body danced as if it were remembering a lost language it once spoke. I remember walking out of those classes and feeling my hips and heart so wide open and I knew I was onto something special.

My first teacher kept talking about her teacher and what a master she was and this amazing place she created called the Mid-Eastern Dance Exchange in Miami Beach. I looked it up in the Yellow Pages (people were still using phone books then!) and I began taking every class I could. That studio and Tamalyn's teachings became my home away from home and a place where I found such a huge, wild part of myself.
You have studied belly dance and Oriental dance with a diverse group of master teachers, from Tamalyn Dallal to Yousry Sharif. How would you describe your belly dance style to someone not familiar with your work?
  
For me dance is a way of expressing the Divine, a way of tapping into that deep longing of the soul to merge with all of Creation. My style focuses on embodying the myriad of human emotions and allowing all of life to dance through me. I spent my early days deeply immersed in Tamalyn's teaching and mentorship, and through her learned what it is to truly be a teacher, to care deeply for ones students and create an environment where dancers can flourish. In her school, dancing alongside Bozenka and other great dancers, we learned precise technique, creative embellishments, and a deep respect for the cultures from which this art has come. I remember Tamalyn had me subbing for her and teaching my own classes before I even knew I was ready to teach. She has a way of recognizing a spark and calling it forth, and I do that with my students as well.

 

Photo by Jacqui Lalita 

Yousry and his incredible musicality and stunning choreographies that seeem to burst forth out of the ethers have also been a huge inspiration. My time with him in NYC and my four journeys to Egypt have ensured that the essence of Egyptian dance remain at the center of my style.
 
I've also traveled several times to Turkey and spent time with the Sufi dervishes and incorporate a lot of whirling and devotion into my dancing.
Photo by Brock BradfordYour mother (a New England resident) recently started to study belly dance and attend your retreats. How is this for you?
  

I was thrilled to hear my Mom started belly dancing! I knew the benefits of belly dance would work their magic into her life, and sure enough they have. When she came to my retreat in Costa Rica it was such a gift to share one of my passions with her and hear her talking about the music of Oum Kalthoum!

What is your teaching style and approach? What are your primary goals for your students?

In California I'm known for my focus on the soulfulness and sensuality of belly dancing. It's not uncommon for me to hold classes and dance retreats in the middle of nature, where students can experience the freedom of dancing barefoot in the forest or beside the sea with a soft wind on their skin, feeling themselves a part of nature. I'm an encouraging teacher who believes the potential to become a great dancer exists inside of everyone if the desire and discipline is there.
One of my goals in teaching is to help dancers feel fully at home in their bodies and to connect with the center of their power and dance from their hearts and souls. Often when I travel I have professional belly dancers and total beginners in my workshops, and I love creating ways to keep everyone equally challenged, fully engaged, and thoroughly inspired.
 
What's playing on your iPod these days?

Azam Ali and her project Niyaz, the beautiful music of the Yuval Ron Ensemble, the funky fusion music of Chancha via Circuito, all sorts of spicy flamenco guitar, and sacred songs from around the world :)

 

Jacqui Lalita travels the world teaching traditional dances of the Middle East and devotional dance as a path of healing. She leads belly dance retreats for women in paradise places like Costa Rica and Turkey, and is passionate about helping women awaken to the divine joy of their hearts. She is the star of the "Element Belly Dance" DVD sold in retail stores throughout the US, and is the author of two books, Romancing the Divine and Rebirth of Venus. Her love affair with ethnic culture and sacred movement has led her down many silk roads to study Oriental dance, Romani Gypsy dance, Sufi whirling, Samba, Afro Brazilian, and Flamenco.  Visit her at her web site here.


 

Ashley Lopez: A Symphony of Talent

by Amy Smith
  
Ashley Lopez returns to Portland (ME) in October, courtesy of the lovely Heather Powers, for a 5-day Performance Intensive! Ashley took the time to answer a few questions for us. All photos by Micah Reese.
  
I think that you are the first dancer we have interviewed who has an opera background! How did that training support your dance?
 
Strangely enough, my background as a singer/musician has been incredibly beneficial to me as a dancer.  In college, I was required to study not only singing technique but also music history, music theory, music composition, ear training, acting, and pedagogy. As a dancer, I apply all of this training to dance.  Musicality is incredibly important to me. When I hear a piece, I’m listening for all of the layers within it: rhythm, melody, harmony, instrumentation, dynamics, structure. In music composition, we were required to write music using computer programs so it was a sinch to start editing my music for dancing. Studying music theory and ear training gave me the skills to pick out rhythmic patterns quickly, which is extremely helpful when it comes to improvising drum solos or playing zil patterns.
  
My experience performing in the opera helped me to understand what it means to effectively portray a character, tell a story, and how to communicate with an audience from the stage. I also observed costume designers, makeup artists, and hairstylists at work backstage. This taught me a great deal about aesthetics on big stages and influences my choices of costuming, hair and makeup to this day. I learned a lot about how to prepare big pieces, how to work with stage lights, and have had experience performing in many different kinds of theaters and other venues. Being a part of a professional company also taught me about teamwork and rehearsal techniques.
  
  
What is your teaching style and approach? What are your primary goals for your students?

Well, pedagogy was part of my college education and I understand several theories about effective teaching methods, but mostly I’ve learned about teaching by having incredibly gifted teachers myself. My first voice teacher has been the single most influential person in my life. My goal as a teacher is to not only help people become better technicians and performers, but to help people become better humans. 
First and foremost I want people to enjoy my classes. I want them to feel they’ve entered a safe and supportive space where they can leave the stresses of their daily life at the door, to be free to learn, make mistakes, and grow. 
  
The way that I break down movement and structure my classes comes largely from my education in the fitness world. I studied cueing, class construction, and anatomy in yoga teacher training; pilates certifications, therapy workshops and other various fitness formats like cycling where BPM is really important for things like interval training. I want to get my students moving and teach them about their bodies, how they work, how to develop safe and effective dance technique, and how to be more fit and healthy. I also want to help guide people toward their goals, dance or otherwise, and coach them on time management, self-care, and balance. I hope to be a good example to students if their goals are athleticism, teaching, or performing.
  
One of your workshop topics for October is stage presence. That is one of those things that is hard to define, but you know it when you see it. What does it mean to you, and how do you help your students to understand it?

Yes, that's a tough one to define. In my mind, the term stage presence implies several things: confidence, charisma, skill, and poise. If a performer is trying to portray a character, good stage presence means they are successful in maintaining that character throughout; they’re committed to the character and the audience can clearly identify their character. If a performer is telling a story, the audience can follow. Most importantly, a strong performer with skillful stage presence will be able to create a mood, command a captive audience, and leave them feeling something - so they have something to talk about or think about afterward. 
 
When I teach stage presence to dancers, I use a variety of exercises and games to help them get out of “technique and choreography brain.” Stage presence goes beyond the motions of the dance. Of course, this means that a dancer must have a strong enough technical foundation and must know their choreography (or be able to improvise) well enough to think about communication, characterization, musicality, and poise.  So as not to overwhelm performers, I break down each of these concepts separately, depending on the workshop or experience level of performers. We’ll play character games, work with portraying various emotions, discuss entering and exiting stage. Other layers include working in groups, creating an aesthetic, understanding stage lighting, and how to work within various venues.
  
Who are your biggest dance influences, and why?

In terms of dance influence, my greatest influence comes from my dance teachers--the people I was so drawn to that I sought them out to teach me what they know. I have spent the most time learning under Rachel Brice and Zoe Jakes. Both have been incredibly supportive and they’ve offered me countless hours of guidance in all aspects of dance and performance. Not only are they great teachers of technique, but they are kind, have mountains of experience, and they are both (in my humble opinion) aesthetic geniuses. They’ve helped me with the big things: form, technique, choreography, pedagogy, but also with a myriad of little things: how to pack for the road, how to do makeup and hair, how to store my stuff at home, how to manage those huge dance calluses. I even got a dress form from Zoe one Christmas - never knew what a huge help that would be until I had one. Rachel has shared several tips on sewing, how to get all that metal through the airport security, showed me what a bun pin is. And those are just dance-related things. There’s tons of other things they’ve shown me!  I could probably write a novel but I’ll stop there.
  
Other teachers I've studied with have all influenced me in different ways. I have studied quite a bit with Mira Betz. I absolutely adore Amy Sigil. Early on I was able to study with Jill Parker and Heather Stants. This community is just filled with the most amazing, hard-working, intelligent, and creative people.  
  
Other influences include taking contortion classes or studying other dance forms and watching plays, operas, and circus shows.
  
What's playing on your iPod?
  
Ha! I destroyed that thing long ago. I’m more of an internet-streaming gal these days. I also hunt for lesser-known music from newer artists or non-Western artists. But I’m currently combing through Sufjan Steven’s new album on my best friend’s recommendation (I’m not sure how I feel about it just yet). Love Ray Lamontagne and Mumford and Sons. I am not ashamed to admit that I often rock out to bad pop music, especially while lifting weights. If I’m sewing I’m likely to put on some house or breakbeats, or bizarre electronica. I adore heady jazz, anything with syncopation, and I always keep Chopin and Beethoven nearby. The Eroica Symphony is my personal theme song. One can have an entire symphony for a theme song, right?

 

Drive-by Interview: Fun Folkloric Facts with Nahara and Uza Mitra

The roots of all belly dance styles are firmly embedded in the folkloric dance traditions of the Middle-East, Mediterranean, and North Africa. Tava Nayin (CT) hosts a workshop on May 31st featuring two teachers of folkloric dance: Uza Mitra (Iraqi dance) and Nahara (North African Berber dance). (Tava will also teach a session on 9/8 musciality.) 

Uza and Nahara graciously sat down and answered some of our questions about the history and style of the dances they will be teaching. 

Uza Mitra on Iraqi raqs el kawliya

What exactly is Iraqi "raqs el kawliya"? How does it compare with other Middle-Eastern folkloric dances? 

"Raqs El Kawliya" is an umbrella term that refers to a fusion of Iraqi dance styles performed by the Kawliya (Dom) dancers of Iraq. Traditionally "Kawliya" dance is closely associated with Southern Iraq and the "Hecha" dance style. However, nowadays the dance also includes vocabulary from other folk dances and musical styles of Iraq such as Choobi, Hewa, Basrawi (Khashaba), and Amarah. 

Though raqs el kawliya incorporates elements of raqs sharqi, such as hip movements and shoulder shimmies, it is much earthier, and involves less isolation as the movements reverberate more throughout the body. There is a lot of foot work and a tendency to push and propel to and from the ground. Head slides and hairwork also also typical, but the dance doesn't come from the head, but rather travels from the feet up. Daggers (Khanjar) and finger cymbals (Chumpara) are also used as props from time to time. 

What is traditional dress for raqs el kawliya?

Like everywhere else in the world, Iraqi fashions change over time. Back in the 50's you would often see Kawliya dancers wearing  typical 1950's tailored waist swing dresses, and sometimes a traditional "Hashimi" (Iraqi thobe) over the dress. You might see a traditional or modern jalabiya, or even tight or loose fitting evening dresses, which can be plain or embellished. Though dresses are most common, in contemporary settings you will also see pants or jeans. All these can be worn with or without  a hip scarf or beaded belt. Gold jewelry from India is also a favorite of the Kawliya performers in Iraq. The famous Iraqi dancer Malayeen sometimes even wears a raqs sharqi style two-piece similar to the modern Egyptian costumes. Ultimately, what a dancer wears has mostly to do with performance setting and their own personal style.

Learn more about Uza here

Nahara on North African dance

First, some history to get you oriented:

North Africa (aka Maghreb, Tamazgha, Numidia) refers to the countries west of Egypt and extending into the northernmost part of the Sahara Desert: Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, and Libya. Traditionally these countries are Berber (Amazigh) territories, but due to many invasions by other cultures over thousands of years, the native Amazigh culture has been greatly influenced by outside groups. Amazigh language, dance, music, and food have all been affected, but the core of Amazigh culture remains. The dominant language spoken in North Africa today is Arabic but the Amazigh language (Tamazight) is often spoken at home and used in traditional music.

How common is the 6/8 is North African dance? What sort of technique does it require?

There are many different rhythms used throughout North Africa but the 6/8 rhythms are very common in the popular music of the people known as Chaabi (commonly spelled Shaabi in Egypt). In the workshop I will be teaching the Chaabi style of mainly Morocco, but time permitting I will also show some Tunisian and Algerian popular movements. As with belly dance, these dances are pelvic-centered, involving twisting and lifting/dropping movements of the hips.  

 Besides the 6/8, what movements or techniques characterize North African dance?

Many of the movements of belly dance have developed from these roots folk dances of North Africa. In fact, belly dancers would benefit greatly from studying North African dance, as it will strengthen their understanding of the core movements, ground their center, and loosen their hips for more powerful hip articulations such as shimmies. The main difference will be instead of doing the movement to a typical 4/4 rhythm of belly dance (such as beledi), the movements are done to a 6/8 rhythm, which the dancer will feel differently. What can make 6/8 rhythms especially challenging for dancers is the layers of rhythm and syncopation making it difficult for dancers to even know where the first beat of the rhythm is. However, with time the dancer gets an "ear" for the rhythm and then of course it works its way into their heart and hips.

We will be doing Berber (Amazigh) pop dance to the most commonly-used 6/8 rhythms. Berber pop dance has the same movement vocabulary as belly dance - hip lifts/drops, shimmies, shoulder shimmies, and belly lifts. The term belly dance probably arose because of North African dance. Some Moroccan and Algerian Amazigh dances have distinctive belly movements that most likely led to the term danse du ventre,  especially with respect to the Ouled Nail dancers of Algeria. Later the term danse du ventre was translated as "belly dance" here in the West; however, belly dance here is more of a hip-centered dance than an abdominal dance of the Ouled Nail, which are a Berber (Amazigh) tribe.

Learn more about Nahara here

Anjelica Scannura: A Diversity of Passions

Interview by Amy Smith

The 3 Early Girls present "A Weekend with Anjelica Scannura" in Syracuse, NY on May 23-24. In addition to belly dance, Anjelica is a flamenco dancer and actress. She was inducted into the Belly Dancer of the Universe Hall of Fame in 2013. Photos in this article are by Denise Grant.

You've grown up with dance, including Irish Step and Flamenco. How did this experience contribute and support your immersion in belly dance?

All the dancing I've done in my life has given me the bodily awareness and dedication needed to learn the moves in belly dance. I was used to performing, working hard on my craft, and paying attention to unusual musical intricacies, which made belly dance a welcome challenge. Also, as I was wrapping up my Irish dancing career, my physiotherapist suggested I try a form of dance that didn't require jumping or pounding into the floor, but that required more torso movement. Belly dance became a welcome entity to me physically, emotionally, and professionally.

What attracted you to the Zambra Mora form?

What attracted me to the Zambra Mora form was this discovery of something that combined one of my newer passions and one of my older ones. Zambra Mora has the sharpness and ferocity that you find in flamenco, and allows you to juxtapose the taconeo (feet stamping), palmas (hand claps), and flamenco port de bras while maintaining the softness and vulnerability you encounter in belly dance.

What is your teaching style and approach? What are your primary goals for your students?

I love teaching. I grew up watching my mother teach and I remember not being able to wait until I could begin. I've been able to keep a fairly light-hearted teaching environment and still get results. I adjust my attitude towards each individual based on what their goals are, and what I know they're capable of. I started teaching when I was 18, and sometimes I couldn't understand why some people didn't want to be professionals or the best in the world! It took me time to be able to have the ability to put myself in someone else's shoes (or hip scarf) and adjust my methods accordingly.

What's playing on your iPod right now? (or what music is in the most rotation?)

In terms of what's playing on my iPod dance-wise, I'm listening to a lot of different versions of Lama Bada right now, different baladi progressions, and a song called "Zekriayat" by Ibrahim El-Smahey. I'm also listening to more Iraqi pop. In flamenco music, I'm always listening to my Dad's music (flamenco guitarist Roger Scannara), Paco de Lucia, and my favourite song of the moment - "Vivo A Mi Manera" by Londro and Santiago Lara. In terms of non-belly dance music, I'm into Queens of the Stone Age, Britney Spears (unashamedly), and old-school house music.

 

Ela Rogers: Finding her own way

Interviewed by Amy Smith

Ela Rogers is a belly dance artist, choreographer, and instructor, internationally known for her unique and dramatic musical interpretations, experimental fusion, her graceful and powerful technique, and her talents in the fine arts and costume design. Baseema and Mathura are hosting Ela in a workshop and show on Saturday, March 14 at the Dance Complex in Cambridge.

You started out learning/performing Egyptian style dance…how has this influenced your current style?

It’s funny...I was initially bitten by the belly dance bug after seeing Tribal Fusion style belly dance. Actually, it was when the Bellydance Superstars were in New York in 2005 for a guest spot on the TV morning show “Regis and Kelly”, showcasing a trio of the company’s multi-styled dancers. Being a novice to belly dance, I was unaware that there were different styles! I instantly connected to Tribal Style, after bearing witness to the jaw-dropping confidence, exquisite muscular control and articulation of the body, the earthy and (what I thought was) an almost rebellious image juxtaposed with the classic Egyptian and cabaret dancers. After all, I’ve always been a tomboy who has marched to the beat of my own drum, and to me, this style made me feel accepted and comfortable in my own skin. I could barely contain myself and wished to begin training right away, but soon discovered that there were no Tribal Style teachers in my area. I felt it was imperative to just enroll myself in the nearest classical belly dance class, which was Egyptian style.

Once enrolled, I soon realized the importance of learning the basic history and movements of this ancient dance, how it felt on my body, and where the components originated. Studying with the delectable Elena El Amar was just what my soul needed at that point in my life. She is an amazing teacher and woman, who dances within what seemed to be a magical white light, her heart and eyes just illuminated with passion, emotion, and playfulness that embodies the Egyptian-style dance that she dearly loves. To this day, those are the qualities that still influence my dance. Even though I am a fusion artist, I firmly believe in the importance of intelligent fusion that I define as “know the rules before you break them.” I always carry awareness and respect for everything in my movement repertoire, and meld with care and creativity. That is what it’s all about for me. One can always build atop a strong foundation.

You are self-taught in Tribal Style. Can you talk about your process?

Well, thank you! It’s something that I’ve worked hard for. Limitations are sometimes what we perceive; just because I didn’t have a Tribal Style belly dance teacher from which to take weekly classes didn’t mean that I could not work towards my goal of learning this style. Having backgrounds in classical ballet, jazz, modern dance, and martial arts surely gave me a platform for cultural dance. I had to become resourceful to seek out any forms of instruction. I placyed Fat Chance Belly Dance instructional DVDs daily in my home, along with other Tribal Fusion-style instructional videos for my practice.

Being honest, I also had some set-backs. Still being new at this point to belly dance, I would get overzealous imitating movements that I had seen in Tribal Style dance performances but that I hadn’t yet learned, and was inflicted with numerous injuries. The top two that took the cake were a sprained back and a pretty serious abdominal strain that finally resulted in a six-month leave from dance. After physical therapy and chiropractic care, I slowly restored my body, and was coached in anatomy, strengthening, and injury prevention along the way.

I must say that I learned so much from my injuries, ultimately becoming more acquainted with my body and habits of my dancing. Upon returning to dance, I set out on long car rides to take workshops from as many Tribal and Tribal Fusion-style belly dance teachers as possible and I asked many questions. Then, when I was ready, I began performing at my nearest city’s belly dance haflas and shows, recording my performances, and then studying them meticulously! (Your video camera is one of your best teachers!)

When not dancing, I filled my time with yoga, Pilates, and many hours of watching YouTube videos of belly dance performers of ALL LEVELS. To me, it was important to absorb it all, to discover for myself, how I envisioned perfecting my own dancing. One of my all-time favorite quotes by Claude Monet still keeps me motivated to this day: “It’s on the strength of observation and reflection that one finds a way. So we must dig and delve unceasingly.” Whether it’s honing your craft or seeking out inspiration…stay hungry and just keep digging!

What is your teaching style and approach? What are your primary goals for your students?

My approach in teaching is to invite my students to experience my movement material on their bodies in a safe environment, to have them relax, and then have them find emotion within themselves and to embody it in their own movement. This is what I found to be equally exciting and challenging when learning dance. When I’m the student, my intentions are to be receptive to the unfamiliar, but to remain open to explore. From there, you begin to perceive yourself in subtle nuances, further leading towards your feelings of identity. There is an emotional and spiritual side of dance within the mover, along with the anatomical side.

A lot of my students hear my speech of my “Spider-Man Policy”, based on Spider-Man’s well-known phrase: “With great power comes great responsibility.” It’s what I use to engage my students to encourage the mindset of truly honoring and respecting one’s body as a dancer and athlete. If becoming a strong and healthy dancer is what you desire, and if you wish to dance efficiently for an extended length of time, one must be responsible and maintain strength, flexibility, and have a devoted practice. Above all, I deeply enjoy sharing my passion with people and being part of teaching something that is SO much bigger than all of us. It is history. It is dance. It is art and the creative process.

Who are your top 3 dance influences?

I would have to say that my main three influences who truly affected my development when I began my journey in belly dance would be: my first belly dance teacher, Egyptian-style dancer Elena El Amar; innovator of American Tribal Style belly dance, Carolena Nericcio; and Rachel Brice, who continued the lineage of the dance into Tribal Fusion belly dance. These women represent three different dance forms, and I admire their hard work, fearless determination, and dedication to their art and sisterhood. Through the years, they constantly reminded me to step up my innovation, practice more, to become as educated as possible, and to continue to keep setting goals.

Currently, my inspirations change and flux all the time. I admire so many dancers and movers, outside of the belly dance genre, as well. Cyd Charisse is my current crush with her sinuous body lines and flow! Artwork - be it paintings, sculptures, or shapes and textures in nature - also heavily influence my dance.

Improv Roulette: A Collaborative Dance Experiment

by Elizabeth Morlani

Improv Roulette really began out of my love of putting on ridiculous music and dancing to it. It was a physical and mental exercise I found myself returning to over and over again. Dancing reactively and honestly, without the pressure to perform a polished piece, allowed me the freedom to experiment creatively. Practicing with intention and goals is a necessity, but on occasion, it is valuable to just dance and see what comes out. My movement, while probably not as technically proficient, is more creative, more emotional, and more about experiencing and reacting.

And I wanted to share that with friends. So in the fall of 2012 I hosted the first Improv Roulette...and only six people came. But the six of us created magic that night. A belly dancer and a poi spinner shadowed each other and Berber walked across the dance studio. One dear friend brought a pogo stick as a prop and another used it as her slow dance partner. By the end of the evening I had tears streaming down my face and my sides ached from all of the laughter. From the moment it ended, I wanted to do it again.

Every three months I have been renting out a beautiful yoga studio in Pawtucket, RI and inviting people to join in on the experience. Participants begin by placing their names in a "hat". When a person's name is pulled, they get up and perform to the next song that comes up. Songs are on shuffle and we never know what we are going to get. There are fast songs and slow songs, folk songs and rock songs, ballads and baladis, love songs and heartache anthems. Participants are encouraged to bring props if they wish.
People from all performance genres have attended. Seasoned performers and new students have worked together to create spontaneous works of art. At past Improv Roulettes, we have been treated to a touching duet of Christina Aguilera's "Beautiful" by a singer/guitarist and a puppeteer. Sweeping flags have moved in opposition to swirling fan veils set to the music of Metallica. While most of the people that attend are belly dancers, since those are the people that I am most in contact with, this event is not just limited to belly dancers. Hoopers, poi artists, singers, and dancers of all types have created magic in the moment at an Improv Roulette. Every Improv Roulette has played out differently, but they all foster the concepts of collaboration, community, and creative spontaneity.

 

And I want to share it with you. For 2014 I have been taking the event on the road - first New England and then beyond. I want to dance to Justin Timberlake and watch my troupe mates move to MC Hammer. I want to see a group of ATS dancers who have never performed together before bring a masterpiece of movement to life to the tune of Duran Duran. I want to create a collaboration with someone I've never even met. I want to watch someone's interaction with a prop that they've never used before. What can you do with a hula hoop if you don't know the things you're "supposed" to do with a hula hoop? Let's swap our dance stories and create brand new stories together on the spot. Let's mix up my strengths and your strengths and make something so much greater than the sum of our parts. I want us all to laugh until we cry and be grateful for our bodies' ability to listen and feel and speak the music - even if it's Lady Gaga.
Upcoming Improv Roulette dates:

October 19th - Tempest's Waking Persephone in Seattle, WA

November 8th - If Seattle is too far for you, please join us at Aurel's Ancient Art Studios in Berkley, MA

Would you like to host in 2015? If you are interested in hosting an Improv Roulette or creating an Improv Roulette chapter, please contact Elizabeth at improvroulette@gmail.com

 

 

 



 

The Athletic Artistry of Frank Farinaro

by Brittany Capozzi

Jaylee and Heather Powers host tribal-fusion dancer Frank Farinaro (New Mexico) the weekend of Sept. 12 - 14 in Portland. Visit the event page to get more info and to sign up. Contributing writer Brittany Capozzi interviewed Mr. Farinaro about his background, his Hammerhead Sharqui technique, and the increased numbers of male dancers in tribal fusion.

What does your artistic background/education consist of?  

I would say that my artistic background and education is unconventionally broad. Ever since I was a child, I have loved art, science, history, fitness, and education. I apply elements to my craft that I have learned from elementary school, all the way up to what I learned in a rehearsal last week. The condensed description of my artistic background is a combination of focused classes, workshop intensives, academic research, real-life experiences, and experimentation.

In your Tribal Fest biography, you describe Hammerhead Sharqi as “athletic artistry” with “emotional expression”. It sounds like there are dualities to this dance- a hardness and softness -so how does one know if it is right for him/her? What is the choreography like?   

"Athletic artistry" was actually a description of my dancing by Princess Farhana. The cornerstone of my Hammerhead Sharqi Technique is about finding balance. No matter what style of dance one does, it requires a balance of athletic training and emotional expression. My first male belly dance mentor, Elijah Sound, taught me that each person is a result of the masculine meeting the feminine. So if dance is a celebration of life, then we celebrate by embodying the masculine and feminine energies that created us. Like most dance curricula, mine is rooted in foundational dance technique and focuses on conditioning, practice, execution, performance, and instruction/mentorship. But unlike most regimented forms of dance, mine focuses on teaching the individual to dance to the best of their own abilities and find their own artistic voice. Finding one's own artistic voice is a big draw of this dance form. 

My goal is to help dancers dance for their unique body type and create their own experiences. It's here that you learn what looks best for your body, how to dance in a troupe with different bodies, and performer/audience psychology.  In choreography, I like to teach my students how to make commanding entrances and powerful exits. Everything that falls in between is the meat of the sandwich. That is where we focus on the communicative elements of performance art - to find our voice, effectively address an audience, and generate the reaction we want. It's with this intrinsic exploration that we create more cohesive projections when we perform or teach.

Are meditative practices incorporated in Hammerhead Sharqi Dance? If so, how?  

I take a very East-meets-West approach to my teaching and dancing. There are a lot of focused meditations in the form of mind-body communication for isolations and muscle memory, rhythmic trance for breath and musicality, emotional exploration for Method Acting, and visualization for production and performance.

As a performer of the Rakkas Festival, which features male tribal fusion belly dancers, do you see more men becoming involved in the craft, shifting the paradigm, as opposed to shying away from it? Is there more liberation with expression out there than there used to be, before Rakkas Festival was created?  

The first Rakkas Festival that Mark and Matt Bissell produced in 2012 made very bold statements by having an all-male cast of belly dancers and an all-female drum ensemble.  This year's Rakkas followed a similar formula, but was a tribal-specific event. I think that that also spoke to the legitimacy of tribal being recognized today.  When I first entered the bellydance scene in 2005, I noticed that there were quite a few male dancers, all over the world, who danced all styles fitting under the belly dance umbrella, who were working on ambitious projects. With us all being so scattered, it makes it difficult/impossible to work together.  But our dedication to our craft, and our feelings of being minorities have bred a strong sense of comraderie.  Some of us lovingly call it "The Brotherhood of the Sisterhood."   

The belly dance world is experiencing three major events: men being recognized for their dance achievements, Middle-Eastern dance/culture being recognized by the mainstream, and a generational-shift. I feel that this dance attracts people from all walks of life, but to see that there are a handful of men nearing the front of the pack in this female-dominated scene is very inspiring to other men who are intrigued to explore this art form. I think if I would have seen the scene now, back then, I would have started belly dancing a lot sooner.  As more of us men have emerged, there has been a growing amount of talk (both joking and serious) that there is a competitiveness among us, but events like Rakkas really allow us to showcase and celebrate our brotherhood.

Your lecture "The Belly Street Journal" (a lecture on community ethics, politics, economics, and demographics in the Bellyverse) sounds fascinating. What do you think are some of the biggest challenges in the bellyverse today? 

The Belly Street Journal might be a bit controversial, as we will be discussing some hot-button issues, as well as avoiding and dealing with drama. I listed a few things that are affecting the Bellyverse today, in the previous answer. Some of the other topics that will be discussed are market-saturation, a guide to Personal vs. Professional, getting out on the festival circuit on a budget, and focused networking. 

 

Get in line!

by Amy Smith
Line dancing at the AverofIt’s church festival season - Lebanese mahajarans, Greek festivals, and Armenian picnics. These events almost always feature excellent live music and the opportunity to line dance. There is nothing quite like a lively Greek hasapiko to spark an appetite for the chicken souvlaki the church ladies have been slaving over for weeks.

Even if you don’t know an Armenian shuffle from a Michigan Hop, get up and dance. It's fun! These events are ideal for learning - everyone from little kids to the church ladies are happy to teach you. They will appreciate that you appreciate their music and dance. And, as a belly dancer, you will round out your skills. It used to be that, after their nightclub shows, belly dancers were expected to lead the audience in line dancing. Those days are gone, but wouldn't it be nice to be able to hop onto the dance floor at the Sahara or Athenian Corner, and debke with the crowd?

There is some basic line dancing etiquette of which you should be aware. You won’t set off any international diplomatic incidents if you don’t follow it, but these guidelines will help you learn the dance, have a good time, and blend in. 

  • First, watch the dancers and see if you can parse the steps. My first teacher, Naharin, told me that she would observe and see if she could reproduce the steps, using her first and middle fingers, on the table. This seemed to help imprint the steps in her mind. Observing won’t teach you everything, and you won’t quite catch the subtleties of the rhythm as if you were dancing, but you can probably figure out the basics this way.
  • Join the line at the end - never at the beginning. I’ve seen many newbies do this, and while the line leader is always gracious about this, it’s a big faux pas. The leader of the line is setting the pace and often, doing their rock star thing - leaps, turns, and other embellishments. A newbie taking the lead slows the line and puts a damper on the leader’s improvisations. Plus, now the leader has to show the newbie the steps. 
  • Watch the second person in line to see how they dance. They are a) performing the dance sans embellishments and b) probably know the dance very well. This is how you can pick up the steps. 
  • Hold hands like the experts are doing. If they are linking pinkies, do that. If they are holding fingertips, do likewise. Have a light touch and avoid a death grip. 
  • Move! Don’t be a drag on the line. If you can’t figure out all the steps, fake it til you make it. 
  • If you are the last person in line, it’s a nice touch to fold your free arm behind your back. You will look like a natural.
If you are hesitant about jumping in, there are many teachers in the area who can give you some lessons before you venture out to the next kef: Shadia, Riena, Phaedra, Melina, Katia, and Kanina to name a few. A private lesson or two might be just what you need to feel a bit more confident about what you are doing.

Hope to see you on the dance floor!

Amanda Rose: A Modern Classic

Amanda Rose, Belly Dancer of the Universe - Egyptian Category 2008, makes her first Northeast appearance in Syracuse (NY) May 24-25. She is sponsored by the 3 Early Girls. Register online at Ionah Raqs or see the Facebook event. Amanda graciously answered a few questions for BDNE. 

Mo Geddawi said that you reminded him of Taheya Carioca. You've also been described as having a unique blend of classical and modern style. Do you take a lot of inspiration from the "Golden Age" of Egyptian belly dance? Who are your greatest influences? 

I definitely take inspiration from the “Golden Age”, though I wouldn’t say it's seen overwhelmingly in my style as you might notice in some other dancers. Egyptian dance has developed so much in the last 100 years, I really like to reflect on the development and the change, the energy and the feeling that was demonstrated throughout different periods of the dance and the approach that was taken to achieve those effects. I have a lot of influences, which makes it hard to pinpoint other artists that I specifically reflect in my dance style. I like this because it allows me to be inspired and influenced by so many great artists but still develop my style and myself differently. I would say some of my greatest influences are Randa Kamal, Munique Neith, Tito Seif, Jillina, Sahra Saeeda, Mira Betz, Orit Maftsir, Fifi Abdo, Mercedes Neito, Sharon Kihara, Khaled Mahmoud, Dina and the list can just keep going. ;-)    

Let's talk a minute about that blend of classical and modern style. What characterizes each style? Why might a dancer today want to incorporate "classical" style into her repertoire?

Dancers like Dina, Randa Kamel, and Tito Seif - who stylized their dance quite differently than one another - have really forged modern Egyptian style. The style in some ways has moved from the previous lyrical focus to a percussive focus. Now there are shimmies layered on top of everything, and you’re hitting a lot of accents. It’s a much more aggressive approach to the music. There is also an exploration of modern classical dance aspects found in Western dances that have been added into the style. Before there was a representation of some ballet, but that was really the limit of Western dance seen in Egyptian styling. Now there’s more modern dance and jazz found in the style seen in body folds, extensions, and leg work.

Classical Egyptian styling has a lot of beledy aspects, but is very lyrical and much softer than the modern style. There is a lot of light balletic traveling, and the hip work while strong, is not nearly as complicated as in the styles put forth today. What I love about classical styling is that it’s subtle, and perfect. It doesn’t need a whole lot of noise, bells and whistles - it stands alone and rings true.

I really like to blend the more aggressive, dynamic and complicated hip work, with the subtle and soft old school style, transitioning from modern dance and jazz movements into a folkloric and beledy approach. It gives me freedom to move and express myself within the realm of belly dance, but blend pieces to my own delight. 

You were a member of Ava Fleming's Black Opal Dance Company and since then have worked with Jillina on two different Bellydance Evolutions shows and Munque Neith’s International Ballet as well as having your own project ‘Team Latina’ with Mexican dancer Ashmina Karem and Spanish dancer Cristina Gadea. What do you like about being in a dance company?

I absolutely love collaborating and working with other dancers in the industry from near and far. These groups have really given me the opportunity to work with some of the most talented dancers in the world, from Europe, Asia, Latin America as well as some of the worlds most acclaimed superstar stars like Jillina, Sharon Kihara, Munique Neith, Kaeshi Chai, be under their direction and really grow from watching them work and perform behind the scenes. I’ve taken so much away from these experiences to my own company Raqs Sharki Movement Collective, and these opportunities have really made me such a better teacher, dancer, collaborator, and director. 

You choreograph both Oriental and folkloric dances for your own group, Raqs Sharki Movement Collective. Why do you think folkloric dance is important for modern belly dancers to know and perform?

Folklore is the roots and base of everything Raqs Sharki stems from. When you strip everything away, the western influences, the ballet, the jazz, the traveling and stage concepts, you’re left with beledy, and folklore. If you understand those, then you can truly represent Raqs Sharki at its fullest.

Amani Jabril: The Mind Behind the Makeup

Photo by by Robert McCurly

Best known for her fluid and deeply sensual style of dance, Amani Jabril has built her reputation on delivering stellar dance technique combined with the heart and soul of the Middle East. Trained from an early age in dance and drama, Amani has studied and performed extensively throughout Europe, the Middle East and North America. She was named Best Newcomer by Nafoura International Belly Dance Magazine.

Rosa Noreen hosts Amani at Bright Star World Dance on April 26-27.

Which came first, Middle-Eastern dance or the day job as an anthropologist?

Dance came first. I've been a dancer my whole life. I moved to Atlanta in 1998. I really enjoyed the city and had been offered a great gig dancing five to six nights out of the week. It had always been my plan to pursue an advanced degree. About two years after moving to Atlanta I was accepted to the graduate program in anthropology at Georgia State. So I was budding anthropologist by day and dancer by night. Since that time, the two have very much blended themselves into each other. I am looking forward to starting my PhD program in the fall. 

How has the day job contributed to your dance career? How has it affected your approach to learning and performing Middle-Eastern dance?

So, back to grad school... My interest in the Middle East started...oh so many years ago I'm not even sure now how or when it all got started. The thing about anthropology is that it is a discipline that expects you to conduct field work. In short, you have to "go here and do that" to fully understand the people you are working with in their own context. Well, working as a dancer, I was not only in clubs owned by Middle-Easterners, but also getting invited to parties and events where I would have otherwise not been included had I not been the dancer. I really do think that so many of our clients focus on the shiny, beautiful fun that is the belly dancer and forget that there are minds behind the makeup. In that down time between sets, some of us are watching and listening to everything! Well, that was me! My masters thesis was born out of those scenarios and the questions I had about how the Arab-American community was constructing the idea of "Arab" identity.

My dance life and academic life inform and influence each other. Being a dancer gave me an entrance into the communities I was curious about. Anthropology has given me insight into the fluid constructions of identity that humans engage in. This in turn creates different expressions of this identity, like music or dance. So when you understand how fluid and flexible the expression is, you understand that same thing about the art form. This knowledge, I think, allows the artist their fullest creative potential but also gives them the greatest access to their most authentic artistic voice, because they have been able to place their own selves within the context of the art form's culture and ideology.

Photo by Meriwan AbdullahFolkloric dance seems to be making a comeback. What is your advice to dancers who would like to include folkloric dance in their performance?

Good Lord! I do hope so!!

Sure, our dance goes through changes in style and fashion like anything else. Having said that, folklore is always there under the surface. The folklore, or the culture, is where all of the artistic expression is rooted, of course. When dancers dig deeper into the folklore they give themselves the opportunity to expand their range as dancers, but also to add depth and dimension to their art overall.

If someone wants to study... I say go for it!!! But be prepared for a journey with no destination. You will always be seeking knowledge, new sources, and inspiration. There are many ways to do this and some very good teachers out there. If you can travel...this is the best way to really get to see 'it' first hand. As for choosing teachers, my only advice... if they tell you theirs is the "authentic" way and the only way...run away! I am always a bit suspicious of a teacher who can't prove it on the dance floor or if a teacher can't handle hard questions from their students.

Who or what are your primary influences in dance?

What I find is that I continue to return to the people for my inspirations. In this case the people may be a cultural group or it may be that spontaneous energy coming off of an audience. But if you open your senses a bit, you'll find that inspiration is everywhere.

A lot my stuff rests squarely on my theatre, jazz, and ballet backgrounds. I am influenced by my travels and the people I encounter there.

Photo by MaharetTell us about your upcoming dance intensive.

The raison d'être of the Dancers' Intensive is to give dancers an opportunity to focus less on their product, more on their process, and to work intensely on the craft that is dance performance.

Dancecraft is a term I use when referring to the technical aspects of theatrical dance and its production. From your first choice of music, it includes, but is not limited to, conditioning your body, constructing choreography, designing and staging your performance. It also includes those supporting functions, that without them, no artist could even conceive of presenting their art.

More technical than artistic, Dancecraft is the practical implementation of an artistic vision and that's what we will focus on ....Crafting the Art of Dance!

Over this weekend-long event, we will explore our artistic connections with our bodies, the rhythms of the Dance and our interconnected and interdependent expressions of art through a series of intermediate/advanced level workshops, forums and shows designed to help Middle Eastern dance-artists refine their craft in a unique and conscientious way.

At the 2014 Intensive, we have made the move to having all live music in classes and in performance. Like last year' s event, we will again be working with Jonatan Gomes Derbaq from Mazaag. Jonatan and I worked together on the Mazaag debut album that released last year and we are looking forward to working together on shows and workshops in 2014 & 2015.

Interview with Dr. Laurel Victoria Gray

Za-beth hosts Dr. Laurel Victoria Gray in a workshop and showcase on April 26th in Arlington, MA. Dr. Gray will teach two workshops: "Azerbajani "Nalbeki" Choreography" and "Introduction to Uzbek Dance from Bukhara". See Za-beth's event page on Facebook for more information.

What first attracted you to Uzbek and other Central Asian dances?

From childhood, I felt an affinity for all things Eastern, or at least the things I could find in my hometown of Spokane, Washington. My favorite composers were the Russian Orientalists like Borodin and Ippolitov-Ivanov. I searched for books and recordings in our main library for everything I could find about these mysterious cultures.

In 1979, while enrolled in a Russian translation class in grad school at the University of Washington, I learned there was a group coming to Seattle from Uzbekistan. Of course, everyone in the class wanted to talk to Russian speakers. I volunteered to provide transportation for them and discovered that Seattle was a sister-city of Tashkent; in fact, it was the first of the American-Soviet sister-city relationships. When I drove to the motel where the Uzbeks were staying to pick them up, there was a young woman standing in this little garden area behind the hotel. She was the first Uzbek person I had met and she was none other than the People’s Artist of Uzbekistan, Kizlarkhon Dustmuhamedova. And if that wasn’t kismet I don’t know what was! Neither of us had any idea of what was to come and that we would forge a lifelong bond.

When the Uzbek dancers performed that night at Seattle University, Kizlarkhon’s dance absolutely riveted me. I knew I had to learn this dance. Thus began a lifetime pursuit that is much too lengthy for this interview but documented elsewhere. (Editors note: Read more about Dr. Gray in Habibi magazine here.) 

While we're at it, what exactly is the Silk Road and why is it important, historically?

The “Silk Road” may sound like an exotic fantasy, but in reality it describes a network of caravan routes that extended from China to the Mediterranean. The term "Seidenstraße” (Silk Road) was coined in 1877 by German geographer Ferdinand von Richthofen, but the trade routes themselves are quite ancient and go back to the 2nd century BC.

From a geographic perspective, the heart of the Silk Road is Central Asia, so it includes places like Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Iran, Azerbaijan, and so on. This is why it is so strange that recently the belly dance community has appropriated the term “Silk Road” for their troupes or concerts when their dance styles have little or no relation to these traditional cultures. There seems to be no awareness that Silk Road territories are inhabited by real people who have real dance traditions.

In a broader sense, the Silk Road represents cross-cultural exchange. More than just trade goods traveled along those trade routes;  music, dance, fashion, religions, languages, innovations, ideas, and philosophies moved along the Silk Road as well. This is a positive reminder of how humanity can benefit from peaceful interactions..

Your troupe, the Silk Road Dance Company, has been together for almost 20 years. What's your secret? 

As any Artistic Director can tell you, it can be challenging leading a dance company. When I lived in Seattle, I participated in several groups, co-founding one, and then establishing my own Tanavar Dance Ensemble in 1982. These experiences helped me in the formation of Silk Road Dance Company (SRDC). The ensemble has evolved throughout the years, aided by our Company Handbook that was originally created by Keylan Qazzaz, who was our Assistant Director for ten years. The handbook serves as a guide to expectations, procedures, and the benefits of participating in SRDC.

We have high professional standards that require a tremendous amount of work and dedication from our dancers. For this reason we have a six-month apprentice period to make sure that new dancers understand the demands and expectations required by participation in SRDC. Frankly, not everyone makes it through this probationary period, but it does prevent disappointment down the line.

Most important is our communal commitment to creating “Cultural Understanding through Beauty and Delight.” Everything we do must serve this mission.

There's been some online debate about whether Western (read American) dancers should be performing dances of other cultures. In your opinion as a scholar, performer, and choreographer of folkloric dance, what preparations and considerations should Western dancers undertake if we want to perform such dances? 

 Respect for, and knowledge of, the Cultures of Origin should guide our presentations. This is, after all, the Information Age, so all kinds of resources are now at our fingertips, things that were almost impossible to find in the past.

In addition to doing the homework of studying a particular culture, it is also imperative to work with a teacher and not rely exclusively on YouTube! Videos can provide wonderful inspiration, but a video cannot correct your dance mistakes or curb an “American accent.” And even the most beautiful videos can be misidentified or can contain misinformation. Use discernment and try to verify information from different sources.

Dance can open the door to understanding between cultures. It helps dispel the stereotypes. When audiences watch a performance from another culture, it gives a sense of the soul of that culture. It humanizes “the Other” and helps people see them as human beings with the same kind of joys and yearnings and sorrows as any other human being. All of a sudden they’re not the enemy anymore.

But this is a huge responsibility. In places like Iran and Afghanistan, there are no professional women’s dance ensembles giving public performances. These dance traditions survive privately and informally, in the home. These forms are being preserved abroad, often by women who are not Iranian or Afghan. The positive aspect of this is that the dances are surviving and may eventually make it back to their homeland. The downside is that any errors in transmission create a false impression of the dance tradition.

For example, Afghani dance has nuances, gestures, and subtleties that go beyond simply spinning around in one of those beautiful dresses, but this is often all one sees in American stage performances. Likewise, some genres of  Iranian dance presented in the US have been diluted with belly dance movements and costuming elements. Yes, innovation is natural with dance, but we must all take care that the original traditions are not lost and discarded along the way.

Dance is the most ephemeral of the arts. It resides not in books or on canvas, or even in musical scores, but in the human body itself. Like a genetic heritage, it must be passed on from teacher to student, from one generation to the next. And if that fragile lineage is broken, the dance is in jeopardy of being lost.

Is it possible to study Uzbek dance in its home country?

For decades now, dancers who hear about my travels have asked when I would create a tour to Uzbekistan. Not everyone is an intrepid traveler, so in the past, conditions were not right. Under the Soviets, visas were very hard to get and contact with the locals was discouraged. Even the officially invited delegations that I led faced many challenges. 

Happily, the infrastructure for tourism has blossomed in independent Uzbekistan. Thanks to a wonderful partnership with Silk Road Treasure Tours, we have created the very first dance study tour to Uzbekistan that will take place in August 2014. Participants will be able to learn first-hand from native dancers while experiencing the culture. The regional differences in styles make perfect sense when one realizes the distinctions among these places. And watching people as they go about their day-to-day tasks reveals much about the quality of moment and provides a genuine context for the dance.

For more information on Dr. Gray and her dance company, see the following sites:

Laurel Victoria Gray

Silk Road Dance Company

 

Interview with Aszmara of NYC

by Amy Smith

 Photo by Alice Gerbura, courtesy of Aszmara

Aszmara brings her high-energy grace and style to two workshops at Moody Street Circus this weekend. She graciously answered a few questions for BDNE.

Your motto is "Dance is emotion in motion". It sounds like this means that dancers need to draw on inner feelings and emotions to inform their movement and technique. I think that is how many of us of a certain generation were trained, especially for improvisation. How can newer dancers who may have learned dance primarily through choreography begin to incorporate their emotional landscapes into their practice and performance?

Amy, you are exactly on target with your description of "Emotion in Motion." Dancers drawing on their inner feelings to fulfill movements while connecting to music is what makes a performance true. Audiences 
respond to your being in the moment and experience what you are expressing - it is the same as when you see a actor on stage and respond to their emotions. Dancing is acting.

Achieving that true expression comes from different techniques: working your movements in different ways so as to expand your vocabulary; getting inside music so you can feel it intuitively as well as intellectually; freedom to play without expecting outcome; choreographing to music so you know it inside out and front to back 
while discovering all of it's nuances - then allowing the choreography to change as you feel the music differently each time you dance; and finally watch and study other dancers for new influences and work, work, work.

I will be using some of the techniques mentioned above in the workshop this weekend at Moody Street Circus.

You'll be teaching some challenging Turkish rhythms in the January workshop - 7/8 and 9/8. Many dancers are intimidated by syncopated rhythms. Can you talk a little about your teaching approach for these rhythms? Also, for those who like to prepare, can you provide the names of some songs that use 7/8?

These odd time signatures, 7/8 and 9/8 are so interesting! There is a feeling of suspending in space before the one of each measure that, for me, creates a connection between heaven and earth - reach for the sky and stomp the ground!

In teaching these rhythms, I start with the musician's way of counting and morph into dancer's counting. We explore the rhythm throughout the body with movements and floor patterns as well as attitudes. 
Short choreographic phrases help us to connect the rhythm with our brain and body.

For music being used in this class, see below.

What other dance forms do you study, in addition to Oriental/belly dance?

Over the years, I have studied ballet, flamenco, West African, Afro-Cuban, Afro-Haitian, with modern dance being my strongest influence for keeping the dance body healthy and expressive. I also still study Oriental with Anthropological Master Teachers Sahra Saeeda for Egyptian, Lee Ali for North African trance dances, and Aretmis Mourat for Turkish.

Photo by Hilde Eberhardt, courtesy of AszmaraWhat's playing on your iPod this week?

Of course this week's iPod work out is all about the workshops at Moody Street Circus this weekend!

7/8s
"Eve Dönüs" - Burhan Öçal & Istanbul Oriental Ensemble, Sultan's Secret Door
"Hicaz Mandira" - Barbaro Erkose Ensemble, Lingo Lingo
"Laz" - Omar Faruk Tekbilek, Mystical Garden
"Pantzar" - Saffet Gundeger, Turkish Belly Dance
"Gürcü Kizi" - Osman Yudal Tokcan, BendeCan

9/8s
"Segah Roman Havasi" - Ahmet Kusgoz Ve Arkandaslari, Gypsies Of Turkey
"Mastika" - Mustafa Kandirali & Ensemble, Caz Roman

Zap! Pow! Pop! Wow!
"Mashaal (Hani)" - Cairo Orchestra, Belly Dance Classics with Fifi Abdo

That's enough to get everyone started! Enjoy the music and I look forward to dancing with you at The Moody Street Circus event this weekend! Thanks for the interview, Amy!

Loom Gracefully: or, Taking Up Space for Tall Broads

by Jennifer Pelland (Zia)

Zia performing in Abraxas Theater's Paradox. Photography by Ravenwolfe Photography.(An aside before I begin this essay -- while I'm writing this specifically for tall dancers, I want to emphasize that I believe that all non-body-typical dancers should find a teacher or workshop instructor with their body type at some point early in their dance studies. There is someone out there who can prove to you that you can be an awesome dancer even though you're too short/too tall/too old/too round/too flat/too stiff/too [fill in the blank].)

My first belly dance lessons took place in the early 90s in the basement of the now-closed Arsenic and Old Lace in Cambridge. Every time I tried to raise my arms over my head, I'd scrape my knuckles on the ceiling beams. That was the first time I felt like I was taking up too much space in my dance. Between that and my subsequent teacher demanding that we wear nothing but body stockings to class (I was a size 16 at the time and the teacher was a pencil), it didn't take long for me to quit.

Fast-forward fifteen years, when I decided I was ready to try again. I signed up for lessons with The Goddess Dancing, where all the teachers were decidedly on the short side. "You have such lovely long arms," they'd say. "I wish mine were that long."

When I looked in the mirror, I didn't see "lovely." I saw "awkward." Whenever I tried to copy what they were doing, all I saw was a gawky, angular nightmare. It didn't help that from my back-row vantage point*, I seemed to be looming over all the other students like that giant, spindly alien at the end of Close Encounters of the Third Kind. On top of that, I needed to uncomfortably shorten my stride when doing traveling moves to keep in sync with all the other students. I felt like a mincing chicken.

(*Side note for teachers: please don't try to get your tall students to stand in the front row. If they volunteer to, that's great. If they're hanging at the back, realize that they've spent their entire lives being told not to block people, so they'll feel unbearably rude and uncomfortably exposed if forced to the front.)

I heard the same admiration of my arms from my next teacher, the average-height Phoenix Avathar, although I felt less gawky in her class, which was a step in the right direction. Tribal belly dance's devotion to very deliberate, strong arms seemed to suit me better. I still needed to shorten my strides to match everyone else's, but in ITS, which is generally a non-traveling dance, that wasn't as uncomfortable.

And then Phoenix hosted an Aepril Schaile workshop in her studio, and the tumblers fell into place.

Aepril Schaile was just what I needed at that point in my dance education - someone with a body like mine, six-foot wingspan and all, who knew how to work with it rather than against it. I walked away from that workshop a changed dancer. From then on, when I performed, I would make sure that they could see these arms of mine from space!

Phoenix introduced me to the local belly dance scene, and whenever I went to a show where Aepril performed, I made sure to pay attention. I also discovered Sara Ford and Juliana, two other tall local dancers, and took mental notes on how they moved as well. The main thing these women had in common was that they owned their space. Their posture was impeccable, and they projected every inch of their height to the audience with pride. Even when they danced in troupes, they didn't try to minimize their arms to make them look more like everyone else's - they spread them wide, they lifted them high.

As I started internalizing these lessons, I figured out another important piece of the tall dancer puzzle - when you have a lot of space to cover, it's usually best to take your time with it. I love watching quick, energetic dancing, but it's difficult to make it work on a tall body. Larger objects take more time and energy to move through space than small ones do. And when you're dancing in a restaurant or in some other venue with a small stage, it can be flat-out impossible for a tall dancer to do the same sort of energetic work as a small dancer. Where a small dancer can take multiple whirling steps, the tall dancer has maybe one or two steps before she's standing on an audience member's foot, or whacking someone in the face with her veil or cane. So when tall dancers go for speed, they tend to do so in more contained fashion. The energy moves more vertically than horizontally.

But slow work...oh, now there's where these arms really come in handy. Remember how I said it takes more time and energy to move a large object through space than a small one? The flip side is that it's easier to be slow and gooey when you have a lot of length to work with. I can milk an arm move or a weight shift like nobody's business. Give me a sword, and I can keep you enthralled just by carving it through space. And when I take that slow, lovely arm work, and maybe some juicy undulations, and layer them on top of a choo-choo shimmy, I put the entire front row in my shadow. It's my "loom gracefully" moment, and it's damned dramatic.

So tall dancers with shorter teachers, find someone to workshop with who looks like you so you can finally have someone to emulate. If your regular teacher is one of those energetic short dancers and you can't keep up with her, you should absolutely keep trying, but don't take it as a personal failure if you don't succeed. If your teacher has you dancing in pairs or groups, take a moment to quietly ask her to group you with at least one of the other taller students in class so you don't feel like you're looming awkwardly, which can be a confidence-killer. And if anyone tries to tell you to take up less space, find a new teacher. You can't be graceful if you can't be yourself.

Zia is a 5'11" Boston-area dancer. She's currently developing her "Loom Gracefully" idea into a workshop. Please email her if you're interested, or visit her web site. You can also follow her, her dance partner Kezmaya, and their troupe on their Facebook page.