re: When I think of my father,
George Elias by Nadia Elias
Dear Nadia Elias,
I read your tribute
to your father. I worked at the Bagdad in the early 70s as a dancer. I
wanted to tell you that I'm sorry your father passed away, and that I
thought he was a very honorable, kind man - along with being a terrific
musician. Unlike many other people that I worked for as a dancer, he treated
us with respect.
HOMETOWN, STATE NEEDED
letter below from Miles dated 5-21-07
Miles Copland wrote:
"It should also be pointed out that most ethnic dance is not very
strict as to exact movements and discipline. Spirit makes up for sloppiness
and no one really cares."
Ex-CUSE ME!!! I am
the co-director of a dance troupe whose focus is Egyptian orientale and
Near and Middle Eastern ethnic/folkloric styles. He is showing his obvious
ignorance of ethnic dance by making such a comment. I'm sure the director
of Ballet Afsaneh, of Avaz, of many other "ethnic" dance troupes
would agree with me. We're very strict as to exact movements and discipline,
otherwise we are not doing the dance style as it should be. Spirit is
always needed, but NEVER is a substitute for proper technique and execution
of the movements.
BDSS is just about showing beautiful, lithe, young female bodies dressed
in pleasing costumes (well, except their tribal stuff looked like a head-on
collision between a biker chick and one of Miss Kitty's "girls"
from the Long Branch on Gunsmoke), dancing well, (I can't take that away
from them, I saw them at their show in Royal Oak, MI and their posture
and port de bras and choreography could not be faulted on technical aspects
- but that's due to Jillina, not Miles Copland). So perhaps Mr. Copland
should refrain from making any comments regarding dance technique, as
he is just a promoter, not a dancer or dance teacher.
Co-Director, Troupe Ta'amullat of Ann Arbor, MI
re: SF Ethnic Dance Festival
pictures and looked like a great event, but why wasn't the Near/Middle
Eastern Dance community represented with"Ethnic" dance from
Egypt or the Maghreb, or wherever, instead of modern "cabaret"style
costuming and dance?
stars of our community
Does anybody know whatever happened to Rafael et Juliana,
featured in several bellydance magazines, and album covers?
Ann Arbor, MI
in the Detail:Part 1-Booking a Party by Yasmin
Thank you SO much for posting the article by Yasmin, The Devil is in the
Details. It is absolutely true- there are truly so many details to this
career, and Yasmin seems to nail many of them right on the head. With
all the talk about pricing structure and support for charging what we
and the art are worth- we also must make sure our performances are truly
up to par and representing the art well and priced fairly. Yasmin's experience
can help us avoid some of the pitfalls common to newer dancers, thus helping
to preserve the reputation of the dance by helping the professionalism
and standards of each of us an individuals.
There are many, many articles online about professionalism, and this one
promises to be truly thorough and detailed. I look forward to the next
thanks a bunch!
Bellydance CD review by Rebecca Firestone
Dear Editor and Rebecca,
First let me tell
you I absolutely love your magazine, there's always so many interesting
stuff. I found Rebecca’s review of “Macedonian Bellydance”
to be accurate on many issues and appropriate for presenting this CD to
the majority of your readership. But, I felt compelled to add my 2 cents.
I was born and lived
for 20 some years on the Balkans (in Serbia mostly, before I moved northward
to Hungary) and yes, this is "party music" and back home we
bellydance to it at parties!
When I say bellydance
I mean: use lot of bellydance moves ("mixing with hips": figure
8s, amiyamis, sharp little hip lifts) together with other moves (the "folkloric"
ones): chasé in place or 2-3 steps back- and forward, twirling
a large kerchief - or table napkin or whatever suitable piece of cloth
that comes handy - with both hands, etc. You can see some men doing backbend,
even a full backfold on the floor (I've never seen a women do that while
dancing socially, only in costume).
After moving to Hungary,
I started taking bellydance classes and here I learned of some "terrible
Turkish rhythm" that no one can dance to and subsequently no one
uses it in class, so imagine my surprise when I finally heard it - it
was that familiar beat :-)
Now, this use of bellydance
moves is not a new thing, at the very least it predates the bellydance
craze du jour. From what I know, it seems that originally, there where
bellydance moves in the dance, but they were omitted from staged folkloric
choreographies back in the 1950s for various practical and ideological
reasons. But the moves remained as part of party dancing.
I'm not a professional
ethnologist or historian though, my research in the matter is very amateurish,
so I might be completely off here. Then still remains the question how
did these moves get here, in a time when there were still no staged bellydance
shows. (I'm not talking about dancing to arabesque pop-folk, but to more
traditional, brass-band and coffee-shop, music.). How did then, to the
average person, the chochek became (connected to) bellydancing?
As for the comment
that there is "no "bellydance" traditions in places like
Bulgaria", I've heard otherwise from my (non-bellydancing) Bulgarian
friends. Another woman, who was dancing in a folkloric ensemble (in southern
Serbia) for many years, told me they have actually learned some "Turkish
folklore". Later when she saw a bellydance she thought, "Oh,
I know that. That’s it then" (the same way I was with the 9/8
I've performed solo
to this music back home on many occasions (in both folkloric and revue
styling) and people loved it. No one told me it was "wrong".
(Actually, you could see folk ensembles adding some hipwork years ago,
and nowadays even a bellydancer to their show).
Keep up the good work
with the magazine.
of Cairo by Shira
I'm looking for the sheet music for bagpipes for the song, The streets
of Cairo. Do you perhaps know someone down the line that knows where this
sheet music might be found?
I'm not looking for the piano version. I'm specifically looking for the
bagpipe version, adjusting sheet music into the bagpipes doesn't easily
work. I'm hoping to find a version of the tune already worked out.
San Antonio, Tx
BDSS review by Sierra [ed
note-WARNING- LONG LETTER!]
The Bellydance Superstars show remains in a constant state of
improving, rethinking, reworking, eliminating, adding and will continue
to do so both as we become more able to afford greater production elements
and as the dancers themselves develop and dancers join and/or leave. The
dancers are always coming up with new ideas as am I. Now that we are represented
by one of the top booking agencies specializing in the performing arts,
I am starting to get all sorts of advice from them too. They have an entirely
different perspective from the world of bellydance. To top it off, PBS
is talking to us about filming the show for national broadcast. They also
have a perspective on what this show "should be" especially
when they are talking budgets well over $300,000 to film it. Everybody
has an opinion and they all differ. Its enough to make one tear one's
hair out trying to please EVERYBODY!
Regarding the array
of dance styles in the show, I made the decision very early on not to
include much of the more folk elements found in Middle East dance as I
felt they would not work in the highly competitive world of mainstream
entertainment. Folk dances tend to be just that, informal and necessarily
amateur for average "folk". Simply put, they do not look difficult
enough. Of course, they may actually be very difficult but they don't
look that way to the average concert goer. Given that the pure bellydance
audience was not yet big enough to sustain an expensive professional full
time show of top dancers getting paid properly, I had to think beyond
that audience, while still trying to do my best to please them. I also
had to allow our dancers some latitude in being able to express their
own array of talents and dance interests so they would find the BDSS a
creative and enriching environment to work in. So unless I see a folk
dance that is "impressive" in the "big picture" I
will of necessity include very little of such dance in the show.
Our use of other ethnic
styles and dance disciplines in our show often draws comment. The recent
review of our show in Gilded Serpent suggested that it is too
much to expect a dancer to be versed in many styles of ethnic dance. As
such they cannot expect to compete with "real" dancers of a
particular ethnic dance. I have to disagree with this on two counts. First
I DO expect it if I am to include a different dance style in our show.
With professional gifted dancers who can work full time on dance, I can
expect allot and I need to expect allot. If they cannot pull off a different
dance style it should not be in the show--I agree with that.
Secondly, very few
"ethnic" dance troupes can afford to put the time into dance
that the BDSS do. They are for the most part working for a living on something
else to pay the rent and dance on the weekends and evenings. Most "ethnic"
dancers cannot make a living purely from dance hense they are semi-professional
at best. Having just been to Tahiti, I became educated as to exactly what
the top Tahitian dancers put into what they do. It is totally wrong to
suggest that this is a life long pursuit and training for them that cannot
be matched by non Tahitian dancers. There were some exceptional dancers
to be sure (Moena--wow!!) but for the most part Polynesian dance is just
as amateur as much of Bellydance and that is why it is fun, just like
Bellydance. That's part of the charm. Also, almost all the dancers were
quite young so to say that "they have devoted their lives to it"
doesn't mean much in terms of actual years. It should also be pointed
out that most ethnic dance is not very strict as to exact movements and
discipline. Spirit makes up for sloppiness and no one really cares.
Meanwhile we do not
do pure Polynesian or Latin, or Ballet, or Indian dance anyway. We do
fusions. In Bellydance for instance, one moves parts of the body that
do not move in Polynesian dance. We do a merger --"Bellynesian"
-- so I could say that our dancers are the best "Bellynesian"
dancers in the world and be quite correct. Polynesian dancers cannot easily
do what we do as that is not in their dance. When Sonia
taught a bellydance class in Tahiti with many members of the top Tahitian
Polynesian dance troupe in the class, she was surprised that they had
the most difficulty with their upper bodies. Bellydancers make much greater
use of their arms as part of the dance where as Polynesian dancers stick
to fewer positions.
The reality is that
if you are a gifted dancer working full time at dance it is quite amazing
how many styles one can become proficient in. I know from extensive experience
that there are musicians who can play many very different instruments
and styles (and very well) so why can't a dancer? Is a dancer automatically
less capable than a musician? I think not.
Given the talent base of the BDSS dancers and our need to think in broad
terms in a commercial world while still putting primary focus on Bellydance,
I think fusions work well for us. Fusions can inspire creativity as well
and no dance discipline should be stuck to work within a clearly defined
rule book. Bellydance will benefit as it becomes more relevant to the
greater dance mainstream. Greater opportunities will come to more and
more bellydancers in the process. If the BDSS narrowed its focus I believe
we would become less relevant to Bellydance generally let alone to the
mainstream entertainment world. We may not always get the balance right,
nor please all the people all the time. It will always be a work in progress.
Sherman Oaks, Ca
May 18, 2007
re: How to Charge What You Are
Worth by MichelleJoyce
My dance partner and I have been working with each other for a long time
now, and have recently decided to go pro as a dance company of two. In
doing research on pricing for pairs, she found some of your articles on
the Gilded Serpent (which we both very much enjoyed) and checked out your
website- which is beautiful, I might add. We loved how well your booking
page was laid out, and how clearly the guidelines for shows were presented.
We're out in the boondocks of the Southeast and routinely get bizarre
requests for shows from people whose expectations are...er...well, just
this morning I was asked to choreograph and perform to an original 45-minute
long jazz composition in two weeks. For fifty bucks. I politely declined.
So I just wanted to
send along our compliments on how well you've spelled it out on your website
and in your articles. It was really refreshing to see, and I'll be looking
to catch one of your restaurant shows if I'm ever in your neck of the
How to Charge What You Are Worth
by Michelle Joyce
I just wanted to tell you how awesome your article on charging what you're
worth was. I think it's an invaluable piece of writing, and am already
thinking of ways to apply it to my own bellydance bookings. Thanks so
re: How to Charge What
You Are Worth by Michelle Joyce
the article is great and has added to an ongoing discussion we're having
in our community about professionalism and rates. I could see the "younger"
professionals were having real "aha!" moments, thank you!
The funny part is
when someone asks you to refer them to someone cheaper (they get the "ring
of fire" here, too) or when they tell you a dancer they talked to
previously quoted a cheaper price. (Well, I suggest you call her back
How to Charge What You Are Worth
by Michelle Joyce
article advising dancers who to secure what they're worth reminded me
of my younger days as a lawyer. Frequently I was also told, "It will
be good experience for you," and an older colleague suggested responding
with Abraham Lincoln's line--or at least, a line attributed
to him: "The finest experience a young lawyer can enjoy is receiving
a fair fee for his services." Even today I find cashing fee checks
It should not be different with belly dancers, and that's even without
contributing whether in the grand scheme of things belly dancers or lawyers
add more to the sum of human happiness. A dancer who is a lawyer, say,
an accountant, or a businesswoman would not enter into a business relationship
without a full discussion of terms and recompense and no one would consider
her grasping or unduly sharp for doing so. And get it in writing; you'd
be surprised how malleable memory can be. Unless you know the other party
very, very well, a handshake agreement is not worth the paper on which
Most Gilded Serpent readers are well aware that even today belly dancers
and their dance are not afforded the appreciation and cachet they deserve.
The cause is not advanced by dancers who fail to insist that they and
their dance be treated with deserved respect. Otherwise, they do as much
a disservice to the dance as club owners--I've come across a couple--who,
not seeking an ethnic audience, are uninterested in broadening belly dance's
appeal and figure they can get away with putting on stage some attractive
gal who has a costume and knows a few steps. Such dancers will happily
take whatever they're offered; skilled and talented dancers should hold
themselves and their art in higher regard.
My experience as a labor union negotiator and a lawyer leads me to remark
that while Michelle has much excellent (and I daresay hard-won) advice,
the best is: be prepared to walk away from the deal. If you're going to
accept the gig no matter what you're offered, you may as well say so at
the outset and save everyone time and aggravation. But be aware that forevermore
you will have trouble getting a fair fee and you will neither win popularity
contests among your dance sisters nor receive any decent referrals.
Finally, if I may presume to add a response to those Michelle suggest
for point 5: "We're spending so much money on the party already."
A reasonable response is, "You're sparing no expense on food and
drink for your guests. Why do you think it's all right to scrimp on their
How to Charge What You Are Worth
by Michelle Joyce
I just read your article in the Gilded Serpent, about How to Charge what
You are Worth. it is wonderful. I wish I had has that advice at the beginning
of my career! Thanks for writing it.
We Got our Video Groove On by Zari
Wow, this article is so well written! I am impressed at the clear images
Zari is creating with her storytelling. Can't wait to read the sequel.
Very enlightening to hear the arc of their journey on creating their own
re:Interview with Marliza Pons by
name is Carolyn Gallerani-Williams. I found your interview with Marliza
Pons on Google, not too sure how old it is.....however I studied
with Marliza for 7 years from the age of 9 until I was about 16. I was
dancing professionally by the time I was 14. I'm now 44 have a 12 year
old daughter, have since retired from belly dancing as my life changed
here and there. According to your interview Marliza has moved to Chicago...I've
been trying to find her. Anyway, just wanted to drop a line.......my stage
name was Princess Alithia. Attached is a photo of when I danced at the
Dar Maghreb Resturant in Rancho Mirage CA, from about 1981 through 1985.
It is no longer there, however the one in Hollywood is still rock'in.
I continued on here and there, did a series for television called Greatest
Heroes' of the Bible. Just one episode, I was 16 yrs. old, discovered
by Vince Edwards. Actually did that gig prior to working
at the restaurant ......if you know how to contact Marliza I would love
to find her. She used to call me her "Star" aside from "Malika
& her little sister "Sabrina" I was her star. Took all the
titles from every Southern Nevada Youth Fair two or three years in a row.......a
great career at a young age. Lots and lots of shows............I adored
Belly Dancing........still do
Thanks for your time,
Carolyn Gallerani Williams
LaQuinta , California
below re: letter below re:Sashi
- Kabob by Lynette
Re : Nisima's letter about Sashi's performance, some 11 months ago at
Tribal Fest held in Sebastopol, CA. Still timely, but it does seem as
though these letters to the Editor about Sashi are coming at a fortuitous
time: right before the 2007 Tribal Fest. They say that "no publicity
is BAD publicity", and I surmise any "bad" publicity for
Tribal Fest is merely going to encourage those who are naive enough to
think anything "non-traditional" is better , or more creative,
than anything traditional.
I agree that Tribal
Fest is VERY "non-traditional", and my reasons have nothing
to do with pierced wings, or burlesque strippers, or any other offensive,
pushing-the-envelope performers that this years "Fest" may host.
It has to do with the lack of "community" and loyalty, and the
greed and gluttony that the Tribal Fest now appears to embody. I, one
of the few vendors who creates all her own wares, and has been a well-known
and respected belly dance costume artist for more than 15 years, won't
be vending there this year. For your information, please check out the
webite that lays out the new "rules" for performing or vending
at Tribal Fest. I have but two words to add : OY VEY !!
Coin Belts by Susie
Santa Rosa, CA
in '70s Berkeley: Cedar Sposato's Photo Archive
Ohmygod! Cedar's photos are gold! More! More! MORE!!!
What a fabulous time machine to the early days of American belly dance,
before tribal became tribal and before the Egyptian invasion. fabulous!
thank you Cedar!!!!
Los Angeles, CA
letter below re:Sashi - Kabob
I once more, almost a year later, reviewed the text of your article and
photos of Sashi's performance, my reaction is exactly the same as it was
last year, whether or not I am "into" mystical visionary piercings
is irrelevant; I still find a performance involving actual piercing to
be completely inappropriate for TribalFest where families and their kids
are there all day.
And my question is, why is it the reporter's responsibility to somehow
find credibility or understand a performance vision that is so outside
the box that an announcement has to be made beforehand that "if it
is upsetting then audience members should feel free to leave and shop".
I attended and performed at Tribal Fest for several years and have enjoyed
many "alternative" styles of innovative dance, but last year
I chose not to attend because I felt Sashi's stated intent (not to "shock")
simply was not confirmed by the actual performance. I did watch Sashi's
performance on Youtube and she was moving very slowly and carefully; understandable
with multiple large temporary fresh piercings in skin of back! She also
looked very glassy-eyed which I guess is the "high" she refers
to in her texts.
I do find it curious that if a dancer says, "well, I am American
Cabaret style bellydancer and that's my vision" there are many in
dance community who will not respect this form as a style choice, no matter
how skilled the dancer, how tasteful the costuming is, how skilled finger
cymbal playing is or Middle Eastern music used, American Cabaret gets
thrashed frequently "unauthentic". But, let a dancer decide
to present something so controversial that warnings must be issued before
performance, and many in community will express their awe and respect
at courage, creativity, vision, etc., declaring that it is the observer's
fault if they do not "get it" and that they should "remove
children if upsetting".
So my second question is, whatever happened to the concept that it is
the PERFORMER'S responsibility to present performances that involve serious
consideration of audience make-up? I took the time last year to read Sashi's
and her piercing partner's websites and can see that they understand very
well their select audience venue. But I do not think Sashi thought "Tribal
Fest" through enough to realize that she would be facing some backlash
if she decided to go ahead with a very controversial performance at a
family type festival. I can assure you, Lynette, that I dance and costume
myself differently for pre-school or grammar school performances than
at a nightclub on Saturday night!
So, I respectfully disagree with Judi Mar's assessment of your article
on Gilded Serpent; the job of a journalist is to report what they observe
and you did just that. It was not disrespectful for your text to comment
on the size/gauge of piercing needles, it was reality. If in the cold
light of day those photos and text on Gilded Serpent was more reality
than Sashi's supporters were able to accept, they should remember that
Sashi made this choice; her supporters cannot transfer the responsibility
for it to the press.
- Kabob by Lynette
The article by Lynette "Sashi- Kabob! did a horrible job of covering
the performance by Sashi. Like Lynette says she missed the explanatory
introduction of the performance and thus had no insight into what the
body modification meant or any of the performance and thus her article
is not credible. It was more of a biased commentary in which i notice
the author had no genuine curiosity into the culture that Sashi participates
in. The sarcasm in her article shows the lack of respect for Sashi's practice.
"The needles used are 12 gauge, one or two sizes larger than what
is commonly used by emergency personal to start large bore fluid lines
into a patient's veins during trauma and rescue situations." I applaud
Sashi for breaking customs and having the courage to think and create
something new from her mind and work! Its more than others ever do, by
following the prescribed moves of bellydance. I thank Gildedserpent for
posting "A Response to the Criticism
of my Tribal Fest 2006 “Pierced Wings” Performance"
this was extremely insightful and intelligent, unlike the short paragraph
Tribute to Rhonda by Shabnam
Thank you for your piece about Rhonda Williams,
and for sharing her story with the bellydance community. I was fortunate
enough to know her during my short tenure with Ooh La La last
year, and found her to be refreshingly funny, honest, and extremely dedicated
to our dance form. I guess I identified with Rhonda because were both
working moms, struggling to get to rehearsals, and improve our shimmies
- she amazed me with her commitment to the troupe, traveling several nights
a week from Tracy to rehearsals in Oakland. I admired her hard work, diligently
practicing over and over again, despite her serious health problems -
I, on the other hand (healthy as a horse, mind you), would be yawning
nonstop and complaining to anyone who would listen about how tired I was!
A few other things
come to mind when I think of Rhonda: working the "food booth"
with her at the Queen of the Bay
competition, and serving her Ooh La La Lemon Cake...I came to find
out later that Rhonda, in addition to working, taking care of her husband
and kids, dancing and going to school, occasionally did catering on the
side! I also remember standing in a circle with my troupemates minutes
before going onstage at last year's Wiggles of the West competition, with
you and Rhonda leading us in a prayer. I felt at peace after that, and
the greatest camaraderie ever with the women I danced with that day!
Thanks again, Shabnam,
for sharing a little bit of Rhonda with those not lucky enough to know
her. It seems that people drift in and out of our lives...the short time
I knew Rhonda made a huge impact on me as a dancer, and on my life in
general. Yes, she certainly was an inspiration to us all!
Castro valley, CA
with Nakish by Sausan
The interview of Nakish by Sausan
was beautifully done. Early in my dance career I had seen the well known
"lounging photo" of this beauty and had always wanted to know
more. Exhaustive "google searches" for Nakish never led to anything
more than a few other vintage photos. Little did I know that I really
had to look no further than my mentor, Sausan!
Nakish deserves recognition
first as being one of the Bay area "belly dance" pioneers, a
phenomenal performer and teacher whose influence has touched many from
all ethnic backgrounds, even after stepping away from the dance scene.
She is also equally an inspiration to dancers of color, such as myself,
who up until the last couple of years worried that we were a very small
Today, the western
belly dance community is more diverse than ever. What a wonderful time
to celebrate this Legend. I'm looking forward to her highly anticipated
Emeryville (San Francisco Bay Area), CA
re: Interview with Nakish
I am writing in response to the article done by Sausan on NAKISH. I thought
that it was a wonderful piece on the background of a great Afro-American
dancer. She is an inspiration for us all.
The real purpose of
this letter is to also bring forth the problem of discrimination against
Afro-American dancers in our communities. Although it has never happened
to me personally, I have spoken to other (BLACK) dancers who have suffered
this problem, and it shouldn’t be. We should be treated with the
same respect as any other dancer. Too often we are ostracized by the color
of our skin even in our own country. (STILL). Paying gigs are cancelled
most times for us, for that very reason. Most times, we are the better
As one (BLACK) dancer
said so well, THEY ARE ALL TO EAGER TO TAKE OUR MONEY, BUT WILL NOT ALLOW
US TO DANCE IN THEIR RESTAURANTS ARE ANYOTHER VENUES, because of RACEIST
Several years ago,
I was at Cairo, and an African American troupe performed. They were all
dancers of size. They were beautiful, and they danced to perfection. I
have never seen or heard of them since. Why? I don’t know. I was
never able to find out the name of their group. Point being, we shouldn’t
be fading away. We should be making ourselves heard throughout the dance
community. If we don’t keep it on their minds, just like everything
else, it well forgotten about, and will fall between the cracks and nothing
This is a very serious
issue, and needs to be addressed in every media possible, to be brought
to the forefront and dealt with in no uncertain terms.The number of our
BEAUTIFUL NUBIAN dancers is growing, that take the dance seriously. Maybe
in numbers, we can reach out and educate some of these narrow-minded people.
Quite frankly, they don’t know what they are missing, and, it’s
their loss.After all, we are from the MOTHER COUNTRY, and, we are the
originators of the dance.
Dorothy M. Hoffman
Student of Ravenmoon
Los Angeles, Ca
Interview with Nakish by Sausan
I was so pleased to read the article about Nakish and had the honor and
pleasure of meeting her at Rakassah Westthis year. She is absolutely stunning
and has a presence that emanates stateliness. I did not recognize her
but knew that she was SOMEBODY! I was there performing with Lotus Niraja
and the NDC and Nakish came to us right after we finished and welcomed
us with incredible love and warmth. We spent some time listening to her
share her experiences with us and also her appreciation to see African
American, Latina and other dancers of color continue in bellydance. I
explained to her that as a Black bellydancer, teaching and performing
were a part of my mission to connect with my community and myself. The
Black community is very big in embracing the concept of the Motherland
and going to see the pyramids and Kemetic knowledge, etc. But less open
and aware of the dance that comes from Mother Africa that we all know
as bellydance. I am so glad that this beautiful woman is finally being
known and know that I will be letting everyone I know about Nakish and
her place in our history!
re: Interview with Nakish
You could not possibly have chosen a more suitable person to include in
your current issue of the Gilded Serpent. As soon as I saw Nakish's beautiful
face and immortalized style in her photos, I realized that she is a great
inspiration for not only all dancers, but definitely for bellydancers
of color. We have exceptional talents in our Hispanic and African American
bellydance communities that are not always recognized. It was so wonderful
to read about and see photographs of Nakish's dance life.
Thank you Gilded Serpent
for bringing her to the forefront. Seeing Nakish in her glory make our
dance journey's brighter.
with Nakish by Sausan
I was so pleased to see the article on Madame Nakish!
As one of her first students, I want to applaud her teaching ability,
her wise words of counsel and her loving compassion in launching my own
career. A few years ago my producer and I did a long interview with her
on video at which my youngest daughter was present. Nakish used to dance
around her studio with Sarah (my daughter) on her hip
and Sarah would laugh and clap her hands. It was an honor to hear Sarah's
comments and see the awe and respect in her eyes at meeting this wonderful
woman. Everything Nakish touches becomes beautiful...she is a true ARTIST.
I am proud to see her receiving the honor she deserves. I agree, we need
to honor those who paved the way for us. There is true gold there!
Dance Career's Dark Side by Najia
I just read your "My Dance Careers Dark Side" and laughed my
toes off. I too, like many dancers, have had funny and not so funny things
happen throughout my dance career. My husband has always been bugging
me to write it down and I was always thinking "no one would be interested
in reading that." Thanks for sharing your experiences and for your
Khadejah El Oueslati
An inconvenient Body Truth by Barbara
to Barbara for
broaching a subject that is little discussed because of its unpleasantness.
Having been involved in Middle Eastern dance for 30 years, and now being
in my 60s and still teaching and occasionally performing, I can relate
to Barbara’s “belly dance crisis.” Dance, by its very
nature, is best performed by the young and physically strong. The aging
process, does (whether we want to admit it or not) zap flexibility, muscle
strength and yes, your physiognomy! And as Barbara says, more and different
types of exercise are required to keep up the pace. But belly dance, because
of it its very exotic nature, does put more emphasis on being fair of
face and figure. It puts those of us who have aged with this dance in
a particular dilemma. Does one just give up teaching and performing and
relegate oneself to other forms of exercise to keep fit and active? After
all the time and money invested in lessons, seminars and costumes, and
the great friendships formed with the community, this hardly seems a great
option. Does one just limit oneself to teaching and hope that prospective
students won’t penalize you for your age and run to younger dancers
who are performing in clubs and have “credibility”? Should
you perform, and if so, what venues are most appropriate? It’s very
distressing to put yourself in a show with a line-up of those who look
the part, because admit it or not, looks are 90% of this dance. The few
at the very top who can combine looks with stellar technique are among
the fortunate. In the final analysis, it is a personal decision based
on many factors germane to each dancer’s psyche; because all the
assurances of “you look great,” “your dance was wonderful,”
just don’t cut it if YOU don’t believe it. I don’t think
there is any one solution to how a dancer handles menopause or the aging
process. And even the fortunate few should be aware that their “day”
will come. No one is exempt or immune.
not your Grandmamma's Zar! by Roxxanne
Thank you Roxanne for writing such a lovely article about the Egyptian
zar ritual. This summer I was fortunate to film an entire ritual, with
the permission of the participants. I hope to come out with a DVD about
it eventually. To actually see these women go into trace is a very moving
A zar ritual allows
women to communicate with the zar spirit(s) that possess them. The censing
of a woman's "private parts" is to prevent zar spirits (who
have been summoned for the party) from possessing new women through that
passageway. Zar spirits are attracted to blood, so they have an affinity
for that particular door :) There's more about it in the booklet I wrote
for the CD Zar - Trance Music for Women.
Serpentine / Sands of Time Music
of Stars Panel Discussion of Fusion in Belly Dance
This was certainly
an interesting discussion! These ladies, having numerous years of experience,
brought so many perspectives to the issue of fusion and ME dance that
I had more questions than answers after reading the transcript.
One thing all panelists
have in common: they are practitioners of the arts of Middle Eastern cultures
(although I'm not sure whether Edwina
dances.) So I think that what we received here was a perspective on fusion
by artists whose primary focus is the Middle East.
I wonder: how would
a discussion on fusion differ if panelists had included a goddess dancer,
a goth dancer, and an ATS dancer? What I'm getting at here is that "fusion"
may mean one thing if discussed by American or Western practitioners of
Middle Eastern arts; and quite another if discussed by artists whose dance
forms don't seem to originate (in any way that I can
tell) from the Middle East. Outcomes are in some part determined by initial
choice of data set.
I very much appreciated
the points made by Jihan Jamal about sensuality vs. sexuality,
and also about "the look." However, I suspect that the more
"American" this dance becomes, the more important will sexuality
and "the look" become also.
[ed- check out
the photo of Edwina dancing with
the Mazin sisters here]
I Dance, You Follow by Leila
My take on this is slightly different; times have changed so drastically
from the 70's and 80's when students right from the beginning were taught
not only technique, but that improvisation was a very important part of
belly dance and that while choreo had it's place, we were taught improvisation
skills in every class and encouraged to take maybe combinations from set
choreos and adapt them in our own creative process. We were trained how
to take dance notes efficiently as well when creating our own choreography
which can easily be a loose framework of entrance, exit and taxim combinations
- leaving the rest free to follow the music. However, we all know that
with the advent of set choreos so readily available, many dancers abandon
the whole idea of improvising and/or creating their own dances. While
I don't really blame them, it's a shame that creativity and improvisational
skills are becoming a lost art in the general dance population. When I
teach, I always break steps down but I teach combinations, not entire
choreos, and I also teach, right from the beginning how to start the process
of being able to "improvise" to Arabic music; it takes an understanding
of the structure of the music far beyond just cuing a set choreo to a
set version of a song. And, I tell them, "even if you learn a choreo
PERFECTLY" - what will you do when you have the opportunity to dance
to live music, you request the song and lo and behold, the musicians are
human beings and each time they play a song, it will be different enought
that a set choreo is not going to work. Breaks either won't be there or
there will be extra flourishes and if you lack the ability to improvise
even a little bit, you will be very frustrated. On the other hand, it
is an extremely freeing experience to be able to "follow" Arabic
music with your body and your emotions and the musicians will also start
to notice and follow you! Personally, I am grateful I had the opportunity
to "follow the musicians" for ten years in clubs, restaurants
but I also enjoy learning new styles, new combinations but when I learn,
I am always mindful that what I want to take away from a class, workshop
or video is an APPROACH to the dance, not be a carbon copy of the performer/teacher.
Yours in dance,
By the way, I for one appreciate the side bar boxes promoting awareness
of what is actually happening on the ground in the Middle East, birthplace
of the dance and music we love. As we wander through the colorful pages
of GS having fun looking at the pretty pictures or snorting in indignation
at the articles, it's good to be reminded of how lucky we are to have
the luxury of arguing about the origins of belly dance or the merits of
fusion when people are trying simply to stay alive.
Los Angeles, CA
I Dance, You Follow by Leila
Thanks to Leila for reminding me that the "follow-me" style
of teaching has important benefits. I do not believe, however, that either
teaching style is best exclusively. Many students need the technique break-down
to learn Oriental dance movements, especially beginners. Different people
learn in different ways. Some could never learn with the follow-me style
only, no matter how open they are to it. The best teachers blend teaching
styles to reach the most students. I rely more heavily on movement breakdown
and choreographies in my own teaching, partly because that is how I learned
best as a beginner (and I have no doubt that I attract and retain more
students who learn best that way). Choreographies give students examples
of how to string movements together. This builds understanding that the
student can translate into improvisation as they experiment with different,
more personal stylings. Also, I must disagree with the statement "
Contrarily, a lesson following a pre-set choreography does not give any
insight into the creative process of building those steps." If a
teacher is able to understand and explain the creative process, many students
can learn it better with explanations and specific examples than by simply
watching someone else dance.
Barb Ferrill Van Hoy ~ Zafia ~
Springs Oasis Belly Dance
Colorado Springs, USA
One Banat by Tasha Banat
Is there more to this article? I enjoyed what was written, but
it doesn't address its stated topic.
There was nothing at all exploring the origins of the costume, but a lot
about the origins of the term "Middle East". Also, for the reader
it would have been helpful to have a picture or drawing of the costume
mentioned so that we could see what she was referring to.
I'd like to hear what
she has to say about the origins of the costume.
re:Jim Boz's Masterful Teaching by
Thank you for such a wonderfully concise review of your workshop experience
with Mr Boz in San Diego. It seems that you have connected with a dancing
soul who is an outstanding pedagogue in the art of Rak Sharki. The description
of the workshop and Mr Boz keeps me mindful of where I hope to be in sharing
what I know with others. After reading your article, I felt as though
I was in the room. Good job!
Deirdre Lovell, LMT
re: I Dance, You Follow by Leila
I have tought dancing for a long time. My first chance was at the age
of 10 to a juvenile of 7,the Cha Cha Cha. He grew to have his own and
great studio in Melbourne and dance in world competition. I always think
that his very first class with me could have given the key to his ambition
I still perform and teach a lot. Oriental for the last 8 years. I have
been to Egypt only once and plan on saving for a trip in October of this
I have met a few great dancers and had a most wonderful week with Mo last
year in Queensland Australia. Dancing for him on the Gala stage was the
most exciting time of my career. I am proud of my journey and still travelling
on. There is much more to do and teach.
The final comment, " follow me", "try this", "it's
easy", and they do!
Thank you for this opportunity to send a true meaning of dance, message.
Who Really Gave Us This Dance?
I am a pretty hard core Egyptophile, preferring the Egyptian style over
all others, but even i was startled by Sausan's claim that:
"it is solely
because of the Egyptian film industry that it was first introduced to
the rest of the world and which has helped it to survive."
I know some Turkish
dancers who will disagree. As will all the people who came to the US from
Turkey, Lebanon, Tunisia, Syria, Greece, and all the countries of the
Middle East and Mediterranean, and danced here and taught women here how
to dance. And I'm sure women in the Middle East - even in Egypt - would
be startled to hear that the dance they've been doing for generations
actually all started with the cinema. What on earth did they do before
they went to the movies and learned how to dance?
I agree that Egyptian cinema has heavily influenced belly dance in the
US. However, the Egyptian style became widely popular in the US only in
the 1980s after the advent of VHS. (Also, it's my understanding the belly
dancing first became widely popular in the UK and Europe in the 80s -
coincidence?) Whatever influence Egyptian cinema had, it can have had
little in the first 100 or so years after Middle Eastern dance's introduction
to the US, simply because before the VHS, few Americans had ever heard
of Egyptian movies, much less seen them. After all, KTLA never had Taheyia
Karioka/Samia Gamal film fest weekends.
the United States, numerous versions of Belly dance have evolved. Many
of these versions do not resemble the first Belly dance ever depicted
on Egyptian film danced by Egyptian dancers."
Correct. They don't
resemble the dancing in Egyptian movies, because they're not trying to
dance Egyptian! American belly dance for many years was dominated by Turkish
and Greek influences. Look at the list of rhythms Morocco
talks about learning in her earliest days (semai, karsilama, ayoub, zembekiko,
kalamatiano, tsamiko, lazbar and maqsoum). How many of those are Egyptian?
In addition to immigrants from all the Middle East and Mediterranean,
another heavy influence was American cinema and TV, from James
Bond to Barbara Eden. And the fertile imaginations
of dancers who incorporated circus tricks and yoga and whatever else struck
I prefer the Egyptian style, but it's simply ignorant to deride other
styles as though they are merely failed attempts at Egyptian, and it's
just incorrect to deny the contributions made by the other countries.
Dancer's Guilt, by Miles Copleand in Response to The
Ethics of Fusion by Naajidah
I read the article
by Miles Copeland,
Western Dancer's Guilt. I'm reserving comments to his brazen article for
a blog to one of my blog sites, but I would like to point out one very
big discrepancy. Miles states, "In fact, in the entire three and
a half years of the BDSS existence I have had not one Egyptian and indeed
only one Arab profess to be upset at the BDSS as some sort of cultural
affront." In an article I wrote for Gilded Serpent, and which was
published on March 3, 2005 entitled, The
BDSS Experience and Miles Copeland; Doing What he Does Best, I believe
I stated that my partner -- Egyptian born and raised Dr. Hatem,
and he had a heated discussion regarding what he was doing. Obviously,
the heated discussion was one where one Egyptian -- Dr. Hatem -- was very
upset at the BDSS as some sort of cultural affront to his culture.
Miles's memory must
be fading, or he simply may not want to remember that evening, or he may
not think of Dr. Hatem as an Egyptian with an Egyptian cultural past and
background. If Miles meant, "not one, but many Egyptians profess
to be upset...." then I could find some reason to go along, though
reluctantly, with some of the points he made in his article. But, while
Mile's article posed some thought-provoking points, it lost all credibility
with me when he stated "...not one Egyptian....profess(ed) to be
upset at the BDSS...." when, in fact, in the very same e-zine, just
one year and ten months earlier, an article was published, written by
yours truly, that specifically stated that at least one Egyptian was indeed
Sausan Academy of Egyptian Dance
See 1-15-07 letter below re:The
Ethics of Fusion by Naajidah
Matthew Montfort's letter deserves to be front page,
not just buried in the letters- a very thoughtful consideration of respectful
fusion practice. We need to see more like this!
Teaching at the 2006 Ahlan
Wa Sahlan Cairo Festival by Leyla Lanty
Great article, format, photos, and presentation. Lively and fun to read.
Apache Junction, Arizona
re:Western Dancer's Guilt,
by Miles Copleand in Response to The
Ethics of Fusion by Naajidah
i have just read the article: Western Dancer's Guilt Response to The Ethics
of Fusion by Naajidah by Miles Copeland on the internet. i was quite fascinated
with it and completely agree with the points made.
i only managed to see a live performance 2 years ago in Cardiff of the
BDSS and it was a lovely part of the show having a Polynesian dance in
i went with a massive group of dancers and not one of us said anything
bad about it. in fact, many said how interesting it was, noted similarities
and differences in our chosen style and the Polynesian and quite a few
were interested in learning more.
having something slightly different was also refreshing to the eyes and
ears in the same way as having the live drumming with the lovely Issam.
i think that the only people who would critique in a non-impartial way
don't realise how much effort, work, thought and planning goes into doing
shows like this. i'm organising a one night small event and it has been
planned to the finest details for months and things can still go wrong!
in all i would say that here in the UK we really understand the inclusion
of cultures and the fusion AND the guilt that can come with it!
South Wales, UK
I Dance, You Follow by Leila
I was so happy to
read the article, "I Dance, You Follow". I have always chosen
to teach using this method, because of my own dissatisfaction with the
way I was taught. I do teach isolations and do isolation drills, but dedicate
a significant portion of each class to "watch and do", as I
My instructors taught me this move and that move, how to put some moves
together, and some choreography. But they never just danced and had us
follow. There was one exception, but I was only able to study with her
for one semester. That one semester permanently changed the way that I
danced. I could "dance"! Not just stand in front of a mirror
and do four camels to the right and four camels to the left, or four hip
drops on one side and four on the other, as the other instructors taught
me. Everything was counted out in repetitions of fours and eights, and
danced from side-to-side or back to front. We were told to be an extension
of the music, but then taught to move like robots.
I will keep this article always; it has given me a new sense of confidence
in my teaching style.
I Dance, You Follow by Leila
I loved this article! Finally, a positively written tribute to a great
way to teach.
I have alot of students asking me to choreograph a song for them to learn
in class. I've told them that I would think about it but my preference
is not to do so. To me, it's a form of cheating and all they would learn
are "my steps" to a particular song and not discover on their
own how to incorporate the movements they know to particular sections
of the song.
"Flow" is not a teachable concept - it must be learned from
the ground up and will not incorporate itself until your own body flips
the switch and you have one of those lovely "a-ha" moments and
then you're there, in the zone.
I'm one of the few dancers in the area that get very pissy when I spend
the money and my time to take a workshop and the majority of the class
is devoted to this person's choreography. Good God. If I wanted to mimic
your dance, I'd buy the DVD. What I want to see in class is just as you
instructor dances, the student follows". This showcases form and
movement and shows us the flow. Then movements can be broken down and
explained to anyone that has questions.
Choreography does have its place. But to me, it's boring and flat. (one
of the reasons that I just could not sit through a presentation by the
lovely ladies of Bellydance Superstars, for example) Let me see you free-form
to a song, especially with a live band, and you'll impress me to no end.
Dancer's Guilt, by Miles Copleand in Response to The
Ethics of Fusion by Naajidah
To the editor:
I'd like to respond to Miles
Copeland's article "Western Dancer's Guilt". I
agree with Naajidah
and her article "The Ethics of Fusion". I feel that with Mr.
Copeland's recent article, it's pretty clear that his heart isn't in the
dance. As A'isha Azar once pointed out, we as dancers
have an obligation to the culture of who's dance we are performing and
to our audience to present it in that cultural light. Mr. Copeland has
to understand that for years, especially in this country, things have
been renamed, changed, and fused together all for the "mighty dollar".
Take henna for instance, in the Middle East and all over the world it
has done wonders for women's hair and as a substance for body art. But
here in America as I've seen a lot, you get people who add PPD and other
dangerous chemicals and it's advertised as henna, even though it's clearly
dangerous enough to damage organs.
Raks Sharki in itself is already influenced by other dance forms such
as ballet and the dancer performing the dance adds to innovation as well.
As with anything, if you put "too much in the pot", it's no
longer once it originally was.
Moni Al Nour
Ethics of Fusion by Naajidah
Benefits of World Fusion
this letter to add some input to the discussion on the "Ethics of
Fusion" introduced by Naajidah
in her 12/5/06 article.
I coined the term
world fusion music in 1978 to describe my band Ancient Future's
unusual blend of musical traditions from around the world. In my book
on world rhythms, I define world fusion music as "music that combines
ideas from many of the earth's traditions." *1
While I have dedicated
my career to fusion music, I am also a firm supporter of tradition. Traditions
must be kept alive and purists are an important part of that process.
But without innovation, traditions can lose their vitality. One of the
main purposes of world fusion music is to encourage understanding between
people through cross cultural exchange. People who understand each other
are more likely to be able to work out conflicts peacefully than people
who do not. I
like to look at world fusion as a process rather than a genre. It is a
process that leads to new traditions through an exchange of knowledge
that encourages creativity.
- First stage world
fusion music is what happens when musicians from different cultures
who have no knowledge of each other's traditions try to find common
ground. The results are usually mixed: some great moments and some moments
- Second stage world
fusion music is the result of musicians studying many types of music
for inspiration and knowledge, and then using that knowledge to create
their art. This is where Ancient Future started in 1978.
- Third stage world
fusion music is created by master musicians from many cultures who have
for years been learning from each other and have developed a true understanding
of each other's traditions. This is where Ancient Future is today. It
has grown into a broad family of 28 world music masters who work together
in a variety of smaller ensembles. By its very nature, third stage world
fusion music is very respectful to the cultures involved, as it is created
through the direct contributions of the masters of those traditions.
Of course, cross-cultural
music made by artists without formal training in the traditions involved
can be of questionable merit. But the creativity and spirit of natural
genius cannot be contained. For instance, Django Reinhardt,
a gypsy guitarist born in Belgium, was able to make a huge contribution
to American jazz despite the fact that he could not read and was not native
to the tradition of jazz.
The more we understand
each other's traditions and feelings, the more chance humanity has of
reaching its full potential. Music is a non-threatening way of reaching
people who may not yet thinking about ways of cooperating to make a peaceful
world. World fusion music has elements familiar to most people as well
as elements that are exotic.
In this way, it often opens people up to cultures other than their own.
Out of new
music that is living and breathing and fits in with people's lives today,
an appreciation for other cultures can develop.
principles would apply to dance. Learn the traditions. Respect them.
Practice diligently. Then be creative.
leader of Ancient Future
footnote--*1: Matthew Montfort, Ancient Traditions--Future
Possibilities Rhythmic Training Through the Traditions of Africa, Bali,
and India (Mill Valley: Panoramic Press, 1985), 1. http://www.ancient-future.com/atfp.html