An Interview with Hadia
posted August 12, 2009
My first encounter with Hadia was when she invited me to teach at the “Festival of the Nile” which she organized in Calgary 2002. We became friends instantaneously. I had heard about her long before while still living in Berlin, Germany. Friends came back from Belgium raving about a Canadian dancer who was living and working in Brussels. A true globetrotter, Hadia lived and worked in Spain and Belgium before moving back to Canada. Hadia has since established herself as one of the top Middle Eastern instructors in the international scene today. Belonging to a generation of dancers who valued the necessity of learning the dance in it’s country of origins, Hadia, has 38 years of experience in Egyptian oriental as well as many of the folkloric forms of the Middle Eastern countries. She is also a professional Flamenco dancer living for several years in Spain studying with many of the best "Gitano" instructors in the world. She travels regularly to Turkey to continue her studies of authentic Rom dancing and also organizes dance tours to Turkey. Funny, passionate, enthusiastic and honest, Hadia offers wise words to all dancers.
Changes in Our Workshops and Festivals
Jalilah: It has been almost 10 years since I first met you in Calgary. Do you feel that the Middle Eastern dance scene has changed during this time?
Hadia: Yes, there have been major changes in the world of Middle Eastern dance. We had started gaining inroads into being accepted and recognized as a legitimate and respected dance form. We could be found teaching classes in Universities, doing some major theatre productions, and holding international Symposiums and Festivals with many gifted artists and instructors.
For example, that event to which I invited you was Canada’s very first festival of Middle Eastern dance, music and culture. It was enthusiastically supported and attended by dancers from all over Canada and the US; in fact, 80% of the more that 100 students were pre-registered and prepaid 2 full months before the event.
It worked well because all of the classes were organized to work as cohesive units with a central theme furthermore all registrants were able to attend all the workshops and lectures, without having to decide between competing classes held at the same time.
Jalilah: Yes, for instance, I taught a class on how to interpret the music of Om Kalthoom using the song “Lesa Fakir” and the music professor, Michael Frishkopf, taught a music theory class using the same music. Opportunities such as these that allowed dancers to deepen their knowledge were not easily accessible to us when we first started.
Hadia: Now we are faced with an environment of hyper-saturation as there are festivals, contests and major events running everywhere, all the time. As such, students no longer value any particular event, because if they miss one, there will be another one (or two or four) the next weekend. These events also tend to have more instructors, with multiple workshops (mostly lasting 2 hours) running concurrently. This set-up tends to create conflict of interest between events as well as within the events themselves. I have often heard festival participants express their frustration about having to choose between as many as 30 instructors, with many of their favourites teaching at the same time.
Unfortunately, this hyper-saturation, along with the current international economic crisis, has led to a self-initiated devaluation of both dancers and teachers, as they compete for contracts and students in an extremely competitive market.
Instructors and performers are charging less and less and are creating a climate of undercutting in order to attract the relatively smaller percentage of students and contracts. Many workshop instructors are now also paying their own transportation costs (even hefty international flight costs) and not requiring minimum remuneration fees or cancellation clauses in order to secure their contracts.
As a professional dancer who has spent decades perfecting my dance skills and gaining valuable knowledge and experience, I feel that we should demand contracts and conditions that reflect what we have to bring to the community and the art form.
Jalilah: Many complain about this, but don’t seem to offer any suggestions to ameliorate this trend. I know of a few places where the local dancers put on events and have managed to respect each other and not organize workshops at the same time but it does not appear to be the norm. I always encourage my students to attend workshops that are sponsored by established local organizers who bring well-reputed instructors.
Do you have any other recommendations?
Taking Your Dance Seriously
Hadia: I do have some very positive ideas and suggestions that might interest those dancers who want to be here for a LONG time as well as a GOOD time….
Even though we may all be experiencing some difficulties in these challenging economic times, I prefer to look at this as a special opportunity for us to step back, slow down, and to think carefully about what we envision for our future in the world of Middle Eastern Dance.
I recommend that we develop the fine art of discrimination and spend time to research potential instructors in order to determine and confirm their scope and length of experience.
It might take some time but will be well worth the effort, as it will almost certainly guarantee both legitimate and accurate information being disseminated. This is actually how students in most dance forms select quality instruction, not on the amount of promotion that the contenders put out.
Another really great concept is that you may learn more from one in-depth and comprehensive training session or workshop if you follow through the threads of the entire package and then go home, mull over the information, work with it and slowly than by dashing from one tasty bite-size 2 hour workshop to the next. Even if any of the instructors do magically manage to give you something of substance in 2 hours, it is immediately forgotten and replaced by the next instructor and their 2-hour class and so forth.
Workshops need to be savoured like a good glass of wine. And it once again comes back to the choice between quality and quantity!
Jalilah: The world is becoming increasingly commercialized and many people seem to prefer name brands over locally made, and fast food chains over quality cuisine. Do you see a parallel in the dance world?
Hadia: Yes, the dance world has most definitely fallen prey to this tendency over the past few years. In the words of many of the dancers themselves, we now have an INDUSTRY where we once had an ART FORM.
The belief that “more and bigger” are better now dictates and dominates the marketplace all over the world.
As Middle Eastern Dance attempts to go “mainstream” to catch the general market and its masses of consumers, it has actually begun to loose the essence of what it is.
A homogenized, palatable and production line style of belly dance and approach have replaced innovation and individualism from the deep roots that touch the soul.
Presentation and Expertise
Jalilah: You have also studied other dance forms like Flamenco, African, Polynesian, Brazilian and Latin dances. The mainstream public attends performances of these ethnic dance forms in addition to ballet and contemporary dance performances. On the other hand, outside of the Middle East, “Belly” dance shows are attended primarily by other Middle Eastern dancers.
I find this very odd. Why do you think this is?
Hadia: I believe that the primary factor involved here is the question of quality of presentation and expertise. With the exception of student recitals, if the general public is going to part with the price of a ticket and take the evening to attend a dance performance, they expect a well-rehearsed, professional event with an exceptionally high standard of skill and artistry in all the performers. I am sorry to say that more often than not, Middle Eastern dance performances do not meet these standards. This might possibly result from several factors. All too often, our training consists of demonstration, rather that explanation and correction. I have been very surprised at the reactions of some students when they are corrected in class. They interpret correction as a personal insult, as opposed to the opportunity to receive guidance and thus “learn” the material. This could easily explain that fact that many dancers are therefore not aware that what they are doing may not be what they “think” they are doing, as well as “how” they are doing it.
One very good recommendation is to video yourself or your students during rehearsal BEFORE a performance. This is a highly effective tool that will help them to see for themselves where corrections and improvement are needed.
Because we cannot attract and maintain the general public, we rely on other dancers and their partners and family as our primary audience. In order to attract as many dancers as possible to these shows, performers are often chosen for the number of students that they will bring as opposed to the quality of their performance. Another tactic to attract audience members is to have an excessive number of performers. These shows go on far beyond the appropriate 2 hour limit in order to accommodate the dancers (I have had to sit through many 4, 5 and even 6 hours shows!).
Both factors have the same result – any new non-dancers in the audience do not return to see a second show!
Learning from Other Dance Forms
Jalilah: What do you think that we Middle Eastern dancers could learn from these other ethnic dance forms?
Perhaps first and foremost among the many things that we could learn from other ethnic dance forms is the golden rule of respect for cultural integrity and accurate representation of the countries and culture that they represent.
I am very sad to see that the terms Middle Eastern and Oriental/Sharqi Dance have now been totally eclipsed by the general catch all term of “Belly Dance”. Many new dancers do not have any idea that belly dance even relates to any particular culture. This is not surprising, as the way that it is often performed has absolutely nothing to do with anything anyone does or ever has done in the countries of origin. This lack of respect for culture integrity could be excused 30 or even 20 years ago (which it most definitely was) because of our very limited access to information and training in most aspects of the Middle Eastern Dance Arts – particularly the folkloric forms. However, today with so much readily accessible information and training available these days we can not innocently plead the case of blissful ignorance.
Many argue that all art forms undergo changes, growth and development. I completely agree with them. Dance is by its very nature, growth, fusion and change.
However, when these changes lose the very essence of what the dance form and the culture are, then it is time to step back and reevaluate.
Flamenco could offer us a very good role model, as it is a specific cultural, yet highly individualized art form. It is also practised in all corners of the world. The difference is that it is still indisputably flamenco, as practised and taught in Spain (its country of origin) no matter where you find it.
I just get so enthusiastic and inspired even thinking of the many great artists I have studied and worked with and what an honour it was to be able to be in the room with them and to absorb even an iota of their brilliance, day after day, hour after hour, in order to finally step back and have a slow deep smile spread through my whole body, as I thought to myself, ah haaa. NOW I think that I am just starting to get it….
Ready for more?
- 7-17-05 Hadia Speaks: a Telephone Interview
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.
3-28-08 Gypsy…Un, Deux, Trois, A Review on the “Journey Along The Gypsy Trail” Workshop
with Hadia, Jalilah Zamora, and Amrita Choudhury, Photos by Denise and Tracey Vilbert, Event held on January 5, 6, 2008, in Montreal, Canada
- 4-2-07 “In a Beirut Mood”: Jalilah’s Raks Sharki 6
I found the selections included make exciting listening. Each selection is a beautiful arrangement and a good mix. Best of all: each musical selection is useful and conducive for dance.
- 12-8-02 Oriental Dance: Myth and Reality, The Harem Slaves
To say so would be like saying that playing music, singing, and reciting poetry are also only the occupations of slaves.
- 3-20-01 Living in Yemen, Part I – Tafruta
A simple question was all they needed to get them into motion!
- 10-5-01 Dancing in Yemen, Part 2: El Arous
I had been to many Middle Eastern weddings before, but none were as visually impressive as the ones I attended in Sanaa, Yemen.
Jalilah’s recommend reading list added-10-24-01
- 8-10-09 The Ghawazi: Back From the Brink of Extinction (For now)
The really fabulous news is that Khairiyya’s sister Raja has come out of retirement and is dancing again.
- 7-29-09 At Home with Fifi Abdou
In America, one of the things that especially pleased me was the inclusiveness of the dance scene there – in my classes I saw women of many different ages – and body types – enjoying dancing, and that made me happy
- 7-27-09 Carl Capture Character: Rakkasah Festival East, Sunday Dancers M-Z,
Mariyah, Metal Goddas, Nesheli, Nubian Daughters, Oasis Dream Dancers, Oreet, … Suzanna Del Vecchio, Willow
- 7-18-09 Dancing for Dowries: Earning Power, Ethnology, and Happily Ever After
When a mythic history is told and retold in a context like the belly dance community, you have to assume that there are strong underlying reasons for its popularity.
- 7-17-09 Little Istanbul in Japan
For several years, belly dance has been rated as one of the top three favorite hobbies for women who are in their 20s and 30s in Tokyo.
- 7-16-09 Does Modern Media Kill the Organic Process?
If they see "the same thing", instead of feeling a responsibility within themselves to try to see it in a new light/from a new perspective with a richer understanding with fresh eyes, they chalk it up to the performer failing them for not bringing them something "new and cutting edge".
- 7-15-09 Ask Yasmina #8: Socializing with Your Audience, Relaxing the Upper Body, Tattoos
It may take a while but you and the owner need to train the audience to arrive on time if they want to see a performance. In the end, everyone will benefit.