Meet Tamalyn Dallal

From Tamalyn Dallal travels the world in search of the meaning and special qualities of dance and movement. Much of her inspiration comes from living among people in different cultures, from Asia to Africa, the Middle East and Latin America. She has dedicated the past 35 years of her life to dance, as a performer, teacher, writer, film maker and producer. Ms. Dallal currently teaches workshops and residencies around the world. She is an author of three books on dance and culture, and has produced the first of a series of dance ethnology films entitled "Zanzibar Dance, Trance, and Devotion". She began filming the second film "Ethiopia Dances for Joy" in spring 2012. 
Amity Alize hosts Tamalyn Dallal at Raq-On Dance Studio May 18-19. See the event listing for details and to register. 

Which came first - travel or dance? Did you dance to support your travel habit or travel to support your dance habit?
I loved to study different cultures and collect traditional music from around the world since I was very young. My dream had been to travel the world but I hadn't done it. When I was 17, I took up belly dancing because I liked the music, not knowing that this dance form would help me fulfill my dream to travel.
You study many forms of world dance, and your style is influenced by all of them. Would you recommend that American belly dancers train in another dance style outside of belly dance? In addition to being better educated about dance, what would the benefits be?
I do recommend that they study as many dance forms as possible. It doesn't mean they have to get good at all of them. But they can get better educated about dance beyond the belly dance world, find new ways to move, and see correlations between different dance forms. Also, I find that belly dancers are in their own world, rather than the larger world of dance. By taking other dance forms and meeting other types of dancers, it expands our circle and puts us in the dance community, not only the belly dance community.
Tamalyn in Zanzibar. Photo by Suleiman Mauly.
I've read that you see increased interest in and respect for, the elders in the dance, with younger dancers wanting to hear the elders talk and share their insights. How do you see "elders" benefiting from younger dancers?
Mutual benefit! Each generation of dancer has lived through different experiences. For example, dancers of the 60s - 80s worked with a lot of live music, so they can share their knowledge of music. The night club scene, when the dancers and musicians played off of each other, tended to be a catharsis when the energy united among dancer, musician, and audience. So many dancers miss that time. They didn't use choreography. It was a very spontaneous experience. Many movements were different and dancers made their own costumes at that time. It was a different world that we can all benefit from learning about. 
Elders can benefit from younger dancers as their life and dance experiences are valued when they teach and share. They can share ideas and learn what's new from younger dancers. I see it as a sort of exchange.
The club scene isn't what it used to be - little to no live music and of course, minimal pay. Can you see a future where belly dance becomes more of a theatrical art? How do we support that?
I think the club scene is a relic of the past. It is nice when we can re-live some moments of it. That was a special time. But this dance comes from women in the Middle East. It is just what they do. Of course, it is great to make it a theatrical art, but it is important to acknowledge the women who really are the keepers of the dance - the ones who dance in their kitchens, during henna parties, and so on. If we meet them, then realize how their dance morphed into a club scene, then is on its way to the big stage, we can find more artistic inspiration.
I see two possible futures. One includes different forms of tribal that are very far from the source and incorporate a lot of legitimate dance theater. That is art without limitations or borders. It is doing well. There are some real artists in that field. One of my favorites is Mira Betz, but there are many others. 
Yet, to take this dance as a Middle-Eastern cultural dance, and bring it to the theater is a bigger stretch. Theater is a Western concept. Women dancing for joy and celebration in an intimate setting has a totally different energy. When you take this dance into the theater, it changes. It has to. It is no longer the same dance. One of my quandries is how to address that and keep the integrity of the dance and culture while putting it on a large stage.
We have a long ways to go, and I think the best way is to go back - as far in time as we can find record of. Experience the dance in its traditional context, then decide how it should go onto the stage.
My dance studio outside of Seattle is called Zamani Culture House. Zamani is a Swahili word (though "Zaman" exists in Arabic, Turkish, and Farsi). In Swahili, time has two dimensions: sasa (now) and zamani. Zamani time goes back very far into the past. It absorbs, holds, and stores all the events that have ever occurred. The philosophy of Zamani Culture House is that we must learn about the past if we are to move into the future. Thus, learning history, and going deeper into our dance or art form gives it a more sustainable future.


Amy SmithComment