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Elena Ramazanova Speaks About the League of Bellydance Masters

Elena!

An Interview by Iana Komarnytska
posted October 17, 2013

We had the pleasure to meet with Elena Ramazanova, president of The League of Bellydance Masters in Russia, artistic director of “Ramiza Dance Group”, and a successful dancer and teacher at the open beach party of the Seventh International Belly Dance Festival titled “Expression of the East” in Berdyansk, Ukraine.

Iana: You are the president, Elena, of the League of Bellydance Masters (LBDM) that annually hosts more than forty different events (1).  At the same time, you have your own soloist dance career as well as the dance group known as “Ramiza”. Is it difficult to combine all these activities? 

Elena: Of course, it is a little bit difficult, Iana, since different hemispheres of the brain should work to resolve different tasks. When you are a creative person, you worry about different aspects of an event than you would as an organizer. However, I should say that LBDM consists of people who are self-sufficient; they give me suggestions and advice. Without them, I would not be able to manage everything. I really adore them! Otherwise, I would not have invited these teachers to join LBDM.

Iana: When you decided to create LBDM, did any similar organizations already exist in Russia? Did they share their experiences with you? How is LBDM different from these organizations?
Elena: Of course, such organizations already existed, but nobody was willing to share their experience. The only exception was Natalia Kuzmina (2) who ran the belly dance organization in Yekaterinburg and now has a big organization in Cyprus as well. She was (and still is) my friend. She helped with some ideas about organizing LBDM.

LBDM was created because I saw that the future development of the field of belly dance differed from what there was at that time in Russia.  I think that people’s desire to earn money is absolutely normal, but it should not override everything else!

When we started LBDM, it consisted of famous dancers such as Aida Hassan, Natalia Fadda, Maria Shashkova, and other stars of belly dance. Since above all, I wish to be an artist, I wanted to do everything for the art and the artists. Of course, I also hoped for financial success! For instance, we were the first group who invited Dina and her orchestra to our country, but the audience was not ready for that event at the time. It was a financial failure! However, I do not regret this attempt.

mapThe main focus always was, and still is, upon the artist at our events.  For instance, I don’t want people to perform at the competitions under numbers; unfortunately, a common practice in Russia. I don’t want them to be introduced as, “Number 143 on stage”. The dancer should enter the stage under her or his name and surname. The dance floor should be in appropriate condition, as well as the security, changing rooms, etc. Everything should be under control! I will give you another example: since we started running children’s competitions, we always have a doctor nearby, and our assistant is always in the audience near the stage to prevent a child from falling off the edge of the stage. We care about people who are involved in our events.

Also, as I mentioned before, at first, LBDM consisted mostly of performers. However, now it mainly consists of teachers. This is the main emphasis because we believe that we need teachers who can teach; their star status doesn’t matter. The quality of teaching, and the understanding of the material, does matter! People who work  at LBDM now are saturated with this philosophy. They always research the material deeply. In fact, a lot of folklore styles were introduced by LDBM to our region. We try to persuade our belly dance community that the Arab world is not only Egypt and that dancing is not only limited to Egyptian style. This is my personal point of view as well. I am interested in folklore dances of any country. Perhaps this is because when I was a child, I studied the dances of the Caucasus and other folklore dances of the world. History and the heritage of folklore can teach you to project personality and help to create depth in your stage character!

Iana: As any other organization, LBDM probably faces some difficulties in its everyday activities now as it did at the beginning of its existence. Are these difficulties still the same, or has "the kid grown up", and have the difficulties changed?
Elena: The initial problem was a bureaucratic one. It was complicated to open such an organization with an eastern focus since nobody wanted to help or support us. Another difficulty were the contacts and sponsors because, of course, we want to have beautiful prizes at our competitions, along with other motivations for our community members.

I have been dreaming for a long time about a pension fund for belly dancers. There are so many people who have committed themselves to this art, and when they retire, unfortunately, they are often forgotten. However, it would be so wonderful to encourage them, and to create a little “Belly Land”, where we could feel secure and supported.

Unfortunately, in reality, sponsors are rarely willing to invest money in a foreign culture. Moreover, a lot of people still believe that belly dance is a striptease, even though many organizations are trying to prove the opposite. However, the person who is not involved in this sphere won’t even discuss it. They see a girl in a restaurant, who does a shimmy and allows a guest to put money in her bra or belt, and that’s the end of it! For most people, that is belly dance, and their opinion is based on that limited experience! In contrast, LBDM tries to bring belly dance on a big stage and to develop love for folklore, from which all roots of the dance take place. In contrast to the sometimes disrespectful restaurant format, we also emphasize the importance of the stage culture and ethics for both performers and audience.

Iana: Belly dance events, especially, competitions are quite popular in the Ukraine and Russia. Almost every weekend there is a belly dance event somewhere. In your opinion, why did competitions become so popular in these countries, and how did competition influence the belly dance development?
Elena: I think the reason is our spirit. Eastern Europeans are accustomed to setting up goals and reaching them. Think about our history (former Soviet Union ideology). Competition, especially in sports, was a sense of life for the people: you must, whatever is happening, get successful results, and approved (government) expectations. We were brought up hearing that we had the best figure skating, the best ballet, the best, the best, the best…  It formed our mentality, that only through competition can we develop.

Students
The group photo is from the last year training course in Berdyansk, photo credit to Elena Fionova.

I agree that it might be better for belly dance to have festivals, to share the experience.
On the other hand, the popularization of the competition is good for LBDM.  We offer our rules: if you want to become a star–become one, but work hard and do it professionally, please! Work, work, and work! Study history, culture, and research all details. Futility is not welcomed.

Without competitions in our region, the belly dance would have been mostly associated with the entertainment sphere.

In this case, the education would not have been so serious. Look at our junior division dancers (6) for instance. We have extremely strong dancers in Russia, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan. If they work, they work hard, and they are ready to compete; they like it! For whose who don’t like it, there are festivals, and this is the individual choice of everybody.  No problem! However, our experience shows that we do like to compete, and we do like contests. Moreover, mostly people who criticize competitions are just afraid they will lose!

The main importance of competitions is not only the desire to win; the importance is in the aesthetics as well. We demand that the dancer look beautiful; the appearance is evaluated also. Not every mother can teach her daughter about proper make-up for dance, or hairstyle because of the lack of her own knowledge. However, for the stage, and especially for our competitions, the girls must find out this information. They must accept our rules, must look great, and dance well! Girls and women start blooming! We have participants in our Grand-seniors division (7) that are about seventy years old who, with the help of dance, gained a zest for life! For many people it becomes an escape from loneliness, everyday routine and drabness.

Iana: In some way, the connecting link between competitions and education is the training of judges, which LBDM also organizes regularly. When do you think the person is ready to be a judge and to evaluate others on the competitions? Does she or he need to have a successful career of a professional performer?
Elena: No, the judge doesn’t need to be a current or former performer. However, the person needs to have a solid fundamental knowledge. It is not necessary to be a good dancer or performer, but she or he is required to be a knowledgeable person and a good teacher. Tastes are different, but the knowledge is the one truly objective criterion! The panel of judges must be able to understand and evaluate what they see, but the dance skills of individual members of the judging panel doesn’t matter at all. However, the level of a judge’s students is an important indicator.

Elena with Safaa Farid and the Negum Orchestra at the 9th International Bellidance Cup
held on May 4, 2013 in Moscow.
Photo by Andrey Shishkov

Iana: 2013 is the seventh year when the LBDM organizes the teachers’ courses in Berdyansk. Why did you chose the Ukrainian town Berdyansk? How do you usually choose the themes of the workshops (3)?
Elena: Ooo! (Elena is excited and intrigued!) I was born in Siberia, Taimyr (North-Eastern part of Russia). Every year, our mother took us to the sea to visit our relatives not far from Berdyansk – on the shore near Podsporie. It was essential to be near the water and surrounded by nature, since in Taimyr, we didn’t have any trees, nothing at all! Our town is quite a bleak place. However, here in Berdyansk, I was dizzy with excitement. I was thrilled because of the lovely smells, and the site of everything green around me. It was so different from what we used to see in our everyday life in Siberia. It happens that the best years of my childhood took place in Berdyansk, even my first love was here.

I still keep the tradition of coming to Berdyansk every year. When we started LBDM I thought: “I’m coming here every year, so what if I combine work and pleasure, and try to organize some event here? ” I started searching for people who work in Berdyansk to join our effort. Then Olga Rudakova(4) gave me the phone number for Victoria Berest (5), and that is how everything started: “Victoria took a risk of dealing with me!”  (Elena laughs, and then adds) …”and she has not made a mistake!”

Concerning the workshop themes, of course, we are constantly looking for something new! For instance, there are some new, modern trends. We should include them, and use them. Nevertheless, at the same time, we combine them with our view and experience, with our influence on this or that dance style. 30-40% of the material in our workshops are always our own interpretation of the trends.

Iana: I know that this year on the Ukrainian forum (8), a guest from Spain was wondering about attending your courses in Berdyansk. Do you have plans to make your events more accessible to non-Russian speakers by providing information and workshops in English? Or maybe, do you have plans to develop your activities outside Russia and nearby countries?
Elena: I do hope very much that someone will help us with this task. However, until now we have not been thinking about it–but we should!

However, we do have events in other countries than Russia: we collaborate with Natalia Kuzmina who organizes an event on Cyprus.  We used to have a lot of events in Baltic countries in the past, as well as had events in Great Britain, Poland, Tunisia, Kazakhstan, and, of course, Ukraine. There will be an event in Belorussia (Belarus) soon. We are thinking about Morocco for the nearest future projects, as well as have some plans for the U. S., possibly in Miami.

For sure, we want to develop and grow because there is an interest to our organization; moreover, our teachers have already given the workshops all over the world!

This video was recorded at the Gala Show Primorye Cup’13, Berdyansk
by Mr. and Mrs. Fionovu, who kindly support LBDM by photo and video materials..
Primorye Cup is the name of the competition which followed after the training courses in Berdyansk, also, organised by LBDM and Elena Ramazanova.

Footnotes

  1. According to the official LBDM website,http://bellydanceliga.ru.
  2. Natalia Kuzmina is the President of the Federation of the Eastern Dance Amira in Yekaterinburg, Russia.
  3. For instance, these year workshops were spread over four days (eight hours of dancing and lectures per day), andeach day highlighted a specific topic: Egyptian style, beledi/shaabi culture, fusion & show belly dance, ritual dances and dances of Maghreb.
  4. Olga Rudakova is the President of Ukrainian Association of the Middle-Easter Dance Performers.
  5. Victoria Berest is the Director of the Centre for Dance “Victory Dance” in Berdyansk.
  6. According to the LBDM competition rules (http://www.bellydanceliga.ru/index.php/2011-06-11-18-18-42), children of the age between  twelve-fourteen years old are consider to be Juniors.
  7. Grand-seniors are contest participants of the age of fifty years old or elder (according to the LBDM competition rules,
  8. Ukrainian forum- raqs.com.ua
Resources:

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