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Gilded Serpent presents...
Hadia Speaks:
a Telephone Interview
by Erica

My introduction to Hadia came through her instructional video number 3 that focuses on the rhythms of Raqs Sharki.  I was struck by her technique (her locking hip drops are to die for), and was interested to learn more about her.  My teacher, Christina Bates, has studied and traveled with Hadia and let me know about a workshop in Vancouver last year.  In person Hadia’s teaching skills and technique are as evident and impressive as in her videos.  Her personality shines through, and you can’t help but have fun while you are learning.  I spoke with Hadia on the phone from her new Montreal, Quebec home about her belly dance career.  The conversation focused on how she started out and the changes she has seen through the years as a dancer and teacher.

To label Hadia as a belly dancer would be an inadequate and limiting description.   Perhaps belly dancer, Flamenco, African and Brazilian dancer, Jazz, Latin and Polynesian dancer, Manual and Massage Therapist registered practitioner and post-graduate studies teacher, and dance-teacher trainer comes closer to encapsulating the accomplishments and career of this educated, well traveled, well learned woman.  When talking to Hadia, three things become very evident as being of the utmost importance to her as a dancer and teacher. 

She believes in being well informed and knowledgeable about the dance and its origins, she believes in the advantage of knowing our bodies and how the muscle groups work to produce the moves we make, and she believes in maintaining personal and professional integrity above all else.

Hadia has lived in various cities through out Canada, Europe and the Near East and has traveled, studied, performed and taught in North America, Mexico, South America, Europe, the Middle East, the Far East, New Zealand and Australia.  Her belly dance experience started at the Vancouver YWCA where she attended classes while completing her theatre degree.  Hadia was instantly hooked. 

The three teachers in Vancouver at the time were a good start for Hadia, but she decided to take it further and traveled to study with Badawia of Portland, Oregon and on to California to several instructors there.  These women shared their personal versions of a “West Coast American Arabic” style, but it was during a workshop with Lebanese-Canadian Ahmad Jarjour, that Hadia had her first taste of the illusive and divine soul of oriental dance!  It was the big, “ah – this is what this dance is supposed to be”.  She continued with intensive studies and workshops with artists such as Ibrahim Farrah and Nadia Gamal, then went on to find out first hand what was actually going on in the Middle East - its people, its culture, its dancers and their many styles. Her other primary influences have been Mona Said, Ibrahim Akef and Dina.

Her first performances were for free for friends at the endless parties and celebrations of that era.  Eventually, she began to be invited to and paid for her performances in a wider and wider circle, including a myriad of ethnic restaurants, and nightclubs, both Egyptian and Greek. Hadia said,“There was so much work that we were dancing 6 days a week. There was an explosion of ethnic restaurants and curiosity about foreign, distant places at that time in Vancouver.“

Teaching came early to her – she was “thrown into it” after her role as Fatima in Boys From Syracuse at the University of British Columbia.  After a long run of the play, the staff and students in the theatre department wanted to take classes, and so the director gave her a studio and sound equipment and she began teaching her colleagues for free. Her classes were an instant success, and before long she set up shop in the world outside the theater.  She can recall full classes of 30 students every time she taught, despite the fact that students paid on a purely class by class basis and the concept of advertising was as far away as the moon.

Hadia compares the early years of her lengthy career to the world of oriental dance today.  Another planet!

“We danced in a state of ignorant bliss of almost no information with no internet, almost no magazines, no books, no organized tours to the middle east and certainly no classes over there.“

Now, however, she points out the ease with which people can learn from dancers and musicians who have a great deal of knowledge, years of training and teaching technique to share. She advocates study with such renowned teachers, as well as travel to areas where the dance is integral to society.  Hadia explains that the dance for people in this area of the world has been part of their culture for millennia, and was not considered something that necessitated teaching. Everyone dances!  It is in their blood! However, almost no one dances professionally, as this is considered “haram” (forbidden) in Islamic society, especially since the recent rise in fundamentalism. The professional dancer is regarded akin to a prostitute and sadly, a large percentage of dancers do practice this even more ancient art.  (She also suggests that any starry-eyed occidental dancer dreaming of dancing abroad in the Middle East should undertake an objective study of the culture and the business realities there before undertaking any contractual agreement.)

It is not surprising then, that schools teaching this dance were non-existent in the Arabic countries until very recently. (When she was in Egypt, for example, she was granted permission by the National Egyptian Folkloric Company to watch their rehearsals and dance with them, as she was by the National Turkish Company in Ankara).  As more and more Westerners had been bitten by the Belly Dance Bug and began traveling to these countries to learn with Arabic dancers, some who had already been to America and seen the potential for business realized that there was a huge new market to be exploited.  Now there are festivals and classes everywhere. 

Hadia’s experience is that, although many dancers in  Middle Eastern countries are wonderful artists, they generally lack the skills to teach in an effective, methodical, safe way.  The approach is often “do and let follow” with an occasional “hup” thrown in.

Hadia and author
Hadia and author

If you have attended classes or workshops with Hadia or read her articles on proper technique and introducing the particular muscle groups used for dance movements, you have noticed the emphasis on anatomy.  I asked Hadia what made this such an integral part of her teaching.  She replied simply that she is a therapist.  After graduating from the West Coast College of Massage Therapy, she pursued post graduate studies in Muscle Energy Technique, CranioSacral Therapy, Myofascial Release, and several other areas of expertise.  She worked as a full time instructor and clinic supervisor at the Rocky Mountain Academy, and has taught post graduate studies at the Mount Royal Massage Training Institute in some of the above mentioned areas.  She has also run her own practice and taught intensive, accredited weekend workshops.  When she started dancing, she was seeing it from the outside and trying to mimic the movements.  Once she was educated in the working of the body, she began devising ways of being more efficient and safe in her dance.  She states that we have a very safe dance, but “there are still certain things, particularly in alignment and how we do our technique that we can still injure ourselves in some pretty major areas like lower back, hip, knees.”

Hadia is now primarily a teacher and her occasional performances are for her “favorite public”, namely students and fellow dancers. Her Teacher Training Program is presented in two levels.  The first is an introductory level wherein a large variety of information is presented including effective teaching principles, her technique methodology, musical interpretation, rhythmical and cymbal studies, history and styles of oriental dance, basics directly applied to oriental dance movements and injury prevention.  The second level explores the above themes in greater details and assesses the students to make sure that people are going out there with the knowledge needed. 

She acknowledges that teachers have a great deal of responsibility to their students and seriously hopes that the thousands of new teachers riding the wave of our present oriental dance explosion will take this responsibility to heart and will seek out some sort of specialized training before injuring or misinforming their students. She is happy to be able to share the knowledge she has acquired over years of experience and trial and error and considers this to be her legacy to leave with the community.

On her web site and in interviews Hadia has mentioned the need for belly dance to strive for excellence within its own community before seeking it from those outside. To start with, she stresses the need to “work hard and study for years before considering ourselves advanced dancers and teachers.”  She knows from personal experience as a flamenco and jazz dancer how hard dancers in other forms of dance have to work in order to be recognized and feels we need to bring belly dance up to this same level.

In Occidental society we are fortunate that our dance form is finally being considered as a legitimate art form but if we want to reach, develop and maintain an audience with the general public, it is very important to present our art in productions (maximum 2 hours) by highly skilled experienced profession artists, in theaters, with good lighting and concepts/story lines. 

However as an eternal idealist, she hopes that somehow we can also maintain the “art and soul of oriental dance” without letting it turn into chorus-line, show-girl slick Broadway production. Although it is important to provide students and newly emerging dancers with performing possibilities, she insists that these should be separate events.  We should also be professional enough to write and accept “real” reviews in order to grow out of the bellydance community into the general dance world.

She warns that because we don’t have a general public, that we are currently feeding on ourselves. 

She fears that this system cannot sustain itself, and is already starting to short circuit.  She tells of tours and workshops by great teachers being canceled because of an excessive number of workshops and festivals, often by highly media-sized newcomers.  Oriental dance has become BIG Business, with the focus on quick fame and money to the detriment of art and education.  She fondly remembers her first years as a dancer and the support and help that each dancer had for the other.  After predicting that the overload of the present unprecedented popularity of belly dance will cause its downfall, she hopes that the truly dedicated artists will continue with their chosen art form and keep the dance alive.

Hadia explains that a career in dance “was never something that I planned.  It was obviously my path.  But I probably have a few paths...professional Flamenco dancer for years... health care professional….”

Hadia is still in love with oriental dance and its powerful ability to transform and assist women in their personal journeys of self love and self esteem. She sees it as a beautiful, joyful and magical way to allow oneself to be a total and real woman.  Her commitment to her students and to disseminating information about the dance and how to perform it will continue.  Through the number of workshops she teaches and the number of students she touches, her legacy will certainly survive.

To learn more about Hadia or find out when she will be teaching a workshop in a city near you, or leading a tour or dance camp in a far away land (her trip to Turkey this year was fantastic!) see her web site,

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