What first influence did you have for the dance?
My first influence in the dance was when I was working in the fashion industry and one of my regular clients was one of the princesses of Saudi Arabia. One day, I was delivering her purchased merchandise to her home in Miami. I had told her about my fascination since my youth with the culture, the music, and the vintage Middle- Eastern jewelry which I had been collecting since I was about 16. She took me to a private room in the house, donned a hip scarf, played some music on the stereo, and began to dance for me. This was the most inspiring moment for me. It was wonderful to not only see how freely she could express herself but also how comfortable she was with her femininity. She was beautiful, organic, and compelling to watch.
I had been a singer in a rock band for many years, and when I experienced this, I was able to appreciate how wonderful it was to express the music through this dance. It felt as if one was not enough without the other. They were meant to be together. As a singer and songwriter, I was able to see yet another way to creatively express yourself through the medium of dance. I am certain that much of this came to me later when I looked back upon the experience, but it did push me to take classes and eventually I became a personal performer for many of the Saudi Arabian Royal Families' events in Miami and in NY. I completed a circle.
Who were your first professional influences?
By my first professional influences I believe you mean my instructors. If so, I began my studies in Miami where the teacher who gave me my first eight-week course was a stunning American Indian woman. Voluptuous, with jet black hair down to her buttocks, her name was Sheherazade. After that, (Tamalyn) Dallal had come back from a trip and I continued my studies with her, Jihan Jamal, and Ylsa to name a few. I learned a great deal from them and began to travel very early on to take workshops from people like Horacio and Beata Cifuentes, Raquia Hassan, and more. Mr. Mahmoud Reda was one of them; he became an integral part of my training and has influenced me in my theatrical work and desire to see this dance in the theatrical arena. He has opened doors for me and given me some incredible opportunities. I do feel that the greatest influence, the one who made me feel like I was truly dancing, and the one who influenced my style, vocabulary, choreographic skills, and even my career the most, has been Mr. Yousry Sharif. He has been a Master Instructor for me as well as a mentor and someone who helped to open doors for me and shape my career. He still does, even today, by inviting me to be a Master Instructor at his weeklong intensives in New York, something I attended for over 13 years. To teach there is also a completed full circle for me. He has been the most inspiring artist for me thus far.
What was your first professional gig? Professional gig would mean a paying gig.
My first was as as a member of Dallal's dance company in Miami. We went as a group to do a show at an event here. I believe it was four dancers together. It was an exhilarating experience. I always did it for the love of the art, to express the music I so loved with movement, and for how it made me feel. It was quite a revelation when I realized you could actually make money doing something that you loved to do!
Where has this profession taken you?
It has given me the opportunity to create seven teaching DVDs, three theatrical productions, two CDs, countless workshops, Teacher Certification Programs, and my annual Rakstar event in Miami. It has taken me to over 46 countries around the world and almost every continent. It has been an incredible journey, not only physically being able to share my passion for this dance with other dancers and students from so many walks of life and so many backgrounds, but also where it has taken me as a woman and a human being. It is an honor to be able to teach, to have students that want to be inspired by you, who appreciate your work and artistry, and that are as passionate about this dance form as you are. It has given me the incredible opportunity to see the world and its glorious splendors, and also to truly know other women and men. It has given me a greater understanding of the human spirit and how we are truly all connected. We all have the same needs, desires, life's losses, loves, trials and tribulations, joys, sorrows, needs for family, love, and a "Divine Creator". No matter how different we think we are, we are truly all "ONE". This dance appeals to women and even men from every background and unites us through this love of the dance. The need to find this on a greater universal level could help heal the world today!
How has the business changed for you?
Obviously it has grown and the prospects around the world have also grown, which gives me and many instructors and artists more opportunities. I am grateful for this. The business itself has also changed. Since its insurgence years ago, we have developed a generation that is interested in a fast track to fame and fortune. Not all dancers, but some. It began for me as a sisterhood and a world where everyone supported each other. Now it is sadly becoming a purely business world for everyone, which in turn becomes a dog eat dog world. Growing pains, I guess; the price we pay for it becoming larger and more widely accepted.
What worries me is those that are in the business without the appropriate knowledge, therefore, my creation of a Teacher Certification Program. We took many years to train ourselves and to continue training ourselves. We created standard pays for dancers and ethical codes. Some of this has been lost on newer generations. It has a lot to do with undercutting in the business. It also has to do with the Internet and having everything at your fingertips. Copying a YouTube video is cheaper and easier than studying with someone for years in order to develop your art form or paying to take workshops. One can never compare to the other. On the other hand, the Internet also gives us the great opportunity to be seen and respected by our peers worldwide. Instant fame for some. But with this technologically advanced society comes a multitude of ethical and legal issues, such as copyright infringements, and the ease with which audiences are videotaping everyone's performances and choreography without any respect for the artist's work. This does not happen in ballet, modern, flamenco, or any other respected dance forms. You would be thrown out of the theater for such an abuse, yet in our dance form it runs rampant. If we want the world to respect and admire our dance form as much as it does other dance forms, then we ourselves must respect it and our artists. We must treat it with the same respect, ethical codes of conduct, and legalities that the other dance forms are treated with.
What changes have you seen in the dance over the years?
The change I have seen over the years has been the development of a higher level of dancer. In contrast to the above, there are dancers that do take time to truly study and learn. The difference is that today you have a workshop in almost every city or area on a regular basis, and therefore have a greater opportunity to better yourself as a dancer, teacher, or performer. Because the dance has grown, the workshops are more readily available than they were for us. We had to spend money and travel to study. This is also something the newer dancer needs to add to her training. But be aware of the experience or knowledge of an instructor. A great dancer is not necessarily a great teacher. We have also implemented competitions, which is another way to raise the level of dance in any area. I was opposed to it until my students I have trained for years were competing and winning, which showed me how much these competitions were inspiring them to change and grow.
I consider myself to be a modern dancer with deep Egyptian roots. Therefore, I always incorporate the true Egyptian steps, techniques, interpretations, and feeling in my repertoire, but I also incorporate a fresh new modern take on its interpretation. I am interested in dancing in 2013. This is what I am finding worldwide as well; many are polishing the standards, but many are breaking new ground with the dance as well.
What do you enjoy dancing to most today? Everything!
If it moves me emotionally, then it inspires me to move! Right now I am quite into expressing some of the lesser known classics and "Tarab". Amir Sofi's CDs always inspire me to create new work for oriental, drum solos, and, of course, Oum Kalthoum. Dancing Saidi, Khaleegy, and many of the folkloric dances are still a big part of my repertoire today, as they should always be. They are the roots of the dance!