The Gilded Serpent presents...
“Belly dance is the physical manifestation of and visual compliment to the music.”
A’isha Azar has studied the cultures and dances of the Middle East and North Africa since 1974. She has taught belly dance and folkloric styles since 1976. A’isha has studied with some of the most accomplished dancers and other natives of the Middle East, as well as many of the finest western artists.
A’isha was introduced to belly dance in the 1970s at Renaissance Faires in California, where she observed the Americanized styles interpreted by Jamila Salimpour, and the cabaret and Beledi dances of Dianne Webber. She began her own studies with Jodette Silhi in 1974. Jodette was an Egyptian belly dancer in the traditional style of Tahia Carioca. A’isha had no prior experience with dance and found that this was the most fascinating endeavor of her life.
She began performing only six months after she took her first classes. “It was way too soon”, she says, “but there was no one around to tell me I wasn’t ready.” Over the course of her career, she has covered the spectrum of dance venues from fairs to nightclubs to dance festivals, to parties. From 1976 until 1982 she danced with Oum Rabia Dance Troupe, doing belly dance and folkloric styles. She was the house dancer at Azar’s Restaurant in Spokane for twelve years, from 1991 to 2003.
She spent five years studying with Badawia, a native of Jordan, whom she describes as “passionate, incredible”, and from whom she learned about the essence of the dance as something emotional as well as physical. A’isha traveled frequently to Portland, Oregon, and followed her mentor from workshop to workshop around the Northwest.
In the early 1980s, A’isha began to feel definite lack in her dancing, but could not within herself, or in an instructor, find what she needed. Finally, she saw a video of Sohair Zaki and fell madly in love with the dance, and once again with Egyptian dance as it is done authentically and naturally. She had started out in the style and it called her home. She began at that point to study extensively from videos, experiencing Sohair, Fifi, Lucy, Nagwa Fouad, Nelli, Mona Said and others. They all had exactly what she wanted. It was as if she was a beginning student, learning all over again! A’isha cites Sohair Zaki as her strongest influence. The woman became her idol in the 80s and that devotion has not wavered. “ She has perfect control in the Egyptian way and is a consummate interpreter of the music” says Azar. She has since had the opportunity to study in person with some of these wonderful dancers.
A’isha Azar 1999
by Terry Kanago
A’isha has studied with about 50 different dancers, native Middle Easterners and North Africans over the years. Several of them have stood out as strong, vital influences on her dancing. She names Aziz, Feiruz, Cassandra and Shareen El-Safy, and Nadia Hamdi as dancers from whom she has gained intimate knowledge of the dance on one level or another. She has a host of Arab friends from different countries who have also contributed very generously to her knowledge of culture and dance, giving her deeper insight into the dances of the Middle East.
A’isha has been teaching since 1976. She gave her first class at the YWCA in Spokane, Washington, and has been teaching ever since. She has developed a methodology for teaching belly dance, based on 10 fundamentals, and moving through variations, layering and phrasing in order to teach movement concepts in a cohesive and comprehensive manner to make it easy for students to understand. She found that many instructors seem to complicate the dance far more than necessary and felt that there had to be a better way. Her system allows the student to learn more easily from any instructor that they might want to study with, because the fundamental movements remain the same no matter what they are called. Many of her students have gone on to dance professionally and some also teach. She teaches workshops and master classes, and offers instruction in Egyptian belly dance and folkdance from several regions of the Middle East and North Africa.
When asked what she knows now that she did not know in the first years of her dance career, she answers, “That the dancer’s job is to be the physical and spiritual manifestation of and visual compliment to the music. That just as the music has many different layers, so must the dancer in order to become the music. That these layers consist only partly of what is happening physically. There must also be many levels of emotional and spiritual response. We manifest the abstract concepts in the music. There is a rhyme and reason to the dance, and it is best perceived by stepping outside the boundaries of western thinking on order to experience it most fully, on all levels.”
Azar can be contacted at
PO Box 4782
Spokane, WA. 99220
E-mail: [email protected]