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Ask Yasmina #9

Dina learns from Samia

Teaching Differences, Men in Bellydance, New Troupes

by Yasmina Ramzy
posted September 8, 2009

Question #1, Technique Discrepancies
I recently attended your workshop when you visited our city and found that your explanation of some of the technique was very different and, in some cases, the opposite instruction I have formerly learned. These discrepancies happen quite often between many teachers I have had the opportunity to learn from. I am now confused in deciding which explanation is correct. Any guidance?

Answer: The "correct" instruction is the one that works best for you. Perhaps even a combination would be ideal. Consider the idea that these are not different ways of explaining the same step, but rather completely different steps. Sometimes, it is a question of semantics. I often think of Bellydance as a "way of movement" where the repertoire of steps is limitless. Learning a new step is like a new finger pointing to that "way of movement." The more fingers you have pointing, the clearer your direction is. Each dance artist, from Samia Gamal to Dina, contributes her own steps that her body created as a reaction to the music.

Apart from a few formal Bellydance classes, the bulk of my learning experience came from dancers who did not speak English, nor knew how to teach. I followed and figured out much for myself. I have no role model for teaching. However, my instructional methods came about after 28 years of trying to correct common difficult habits in students who were having trouble isolating or grasping the Arab way of movement and it seems to have worked so far.

I do not believe there is a "correct" method. What makes a good teacher is the ability to demonstrate good technique and nuance and then a very strong desire to communicate this and pass it on to others. How each teacher goes about this is as unique as is each student’s learning process. In the end, I think it is most beneficial to learn and get input from many experienced and accomplished teachers.

Each different point of view will help mold you into the best dance artist you can be. Then you can create your own "correct" method.

Snake Question

Question #2, Starter Troupe Logistics
We are a newly formed troupe and are currently discussing how to go about the details of who pays for the costumes and other expenses. Could you please give us some advice?

Answer: Every ensemble is different but the answer to this question is really in your objectives or mission statement. If you are a collective, perhaps all duties are shared and thus members may be responsible for their own costumes and other costs, ultimately sharing in the revenue as well. This is often a good starter point for most amateur ensembles. However, it can get cumbersome when someone leaves or new members join. Always a good idea is to buy extra fabric and materials for future costumes as well as insist that those leaving be willing to sell their costume back to the group. More often than not, the more energetic, conscientious and hard-working members end up taking on the brunt of the work or even the creative process. If and when this happens, it is a good idea to acknowledge this when deciding how to divvy up the income and acknowledging credit.

As an ensemble becomes larger and more professional, it will find that it is more efficient and effective if it models itself like a professional company with defined roles

such as "dance artist," "artistic director," "choreographer" "wardrobe mistress," "rehearsal coach," "administrator," "manager," etc. Some members may wear a few of these hats or one of the hats may be shared by a number of people, but it is always a good idea to be clear on what the roles are and who is responsible for them.

There is a fantastic movie called "The Company" (USA), which I believe every member of every dance ensemble should watch. At the end of the movie, you realize that the star of the movie is not a person but rather "the company" itself which acts like an autonomous, living, breathing entity that has the personality and many traits and complexities of a human being. (Also, l love the movie because it features my idol, Canadian choreographer Robert Desrosiers.) And just like a human being, every now and then, you need to get your thoughts or "ensemble members" together and re assess your mission statement as you grow and evolve.

Snake Question

Question #3, Should Men Bellydance

What is your opinion of male Bellydancers? I thought this was supposed to be a feminine art form.

Answer: Interesting question. I actually became a Bellydancer because a Bhuddist Lama (whom all my productions, CDs and DVDs are dedicated to), told me to. He said that women’s spirituality has been neglected for a very long time and that Bellydance was going to play an important role in women’s spirituality in the future. He said this to me in 1980. It seems so obvious to me now, the truth in his words, but at the time, I had no idea what he was talking about. Quite frankly, I was really surprised that he was encouraging me to go off in search of a dance class instead of meditation.

A recognized powerful feminine archetype and women’s spirituality is healthy for the whole world and all of its creatures, not just women. If our mothers are happy and fulfilled then so are all of their children.

If both the feminine and masculine which reside in all of us, no matter what species we are, is allowed to flourish, we are all healthier.

The world, the universe, the cosmos, our bodies and our minds all have a dual nature or a "Ying and Yang" if you like. When this is at odds, we and all of nature suffer.

To be more practical and in a nutshell; if it is beneficial for women to become what is seen as a masculine role, say that of a soldier or a president, then why shouldn’t a man become something seen as traditionally feminine like a nurse or a child caregiver or a Bellydancer. What is defined as feminine and what is defined as masculine can change with time and point of view. We are most liberated when we loose these restrictions. Personally, I am tickled pink when any man and especially one so talented as Tito Seif expresses himself through Bellydance. I think it confirms even further how profound and special this art form is. When I watch him or other talented men Bellydance, I feel a part of my soul is healed. I feel the same thing when I watch a beautiful female dancer as well. Whether male or female or a combination thereof, each dance artist is unique but the dance remains the same as a uniting element.

Yasmina & Tito
Author and Tito
at Arabesque Academy, Toronto 2006

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Check the "Letters to the Editor" for other possible viewpoints!

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  1. Rawiyah

    Sep 8, 2009 - 11:09:06

    Regarding your answer to Question #3 – well said, Yasmina!

  2. admin

    Sep 9, 2009 - 08:09:07

    Dear Lynette, 

    I thought Yasmina’s article had a lot of sound, clear reasoning on the first two questions regarding teaching methods and starting troupes.  I am puzzled, however, at her logic behind why she thinks men should belly dance, i.e., on the one hand she writes that she was advised to belly dance because “women need spiritual recognition”, but then she feels men should bellydance to “balance the Yin -Yang” or male-female roles.  In my view, this is an excellent example of using conflicting theories to make an opinion “work”.   

    To be clear, the style of belly dance Yasmina is referring to is “Raks Sharki”  traditionally (from about 1930 or so) a very  feminine dance role in Egypt.  We are not talking about men doing folkloric styles, which is traditional in the Middle East, except for the period hundreds of years ago when men dressed as women, even veiled their faces, to dance as females because women were not allowed to dance in public at all.   That cultural history is important and relevant.  When you take into consideration that the West, with it’s belief in freedom of personal expression, what you have here is a Western culture superimposed over the Middle Eastern culture, which as we all know, feels very differently about this issue.


     And with all due respect, I don’t follow Yasmina’s analogy about men taking traditionally “female dominated jobs”, well, there are laws about equal rights in employment and housing but we are talking about a cultural art form here, and that means the culture deserves recognition.

     I just want to point out that, after all, “bellydance” as we call it did not originate in the West so let’s be very careful when we talk about  “balancing” out male-female roles.  Personally, I feel inspired by Tito both as a teacher and performer of Raks Sharqi, not only for his obvious dance skill and charisma onstage, but his costuming is more traditionally male-style gelabaya and hip sash.  What impresses me the most is that Tito’s overall  presentation both as teacher and performer comes across as focussed  within the Middle Eastern cultural context.  
    Yours in dance, 


    Pacifica, CA
    [posted for Nisima by Editor]

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