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Gilded Serpent presents...
A first column in a once-a-month series: GS is proud to present this passionate and knowledgeable expert in the field of Middle Eastern Dance; she is an artist, pioneer, and creator of the International Bellydance Conference of Canada. Readers are welcome to submit dance related questions of any nature, and Yasmina will answer three of them every month. As always, GS strives to be inclusive and give different points of view for controversial issues. Go ahead: Ask Yasmina!

Ask Yasmina
Evolution, Oum Kalthoum, & Cover ups
by Yasmina Ramzy

I receive questions everyday by email from students both in and out of town or country, and if I do not have the answers, I usually find the appropriate expert who can answer the question. It is my hope to share these answers with as many readers as possible through this monthly column as I find many have the same questions. My 28 years performing in the Middle East, teaching around the globe, and directing a Middle Eastern Dance company, orchestra, school and conference has fostered a deep love and respect for this awe inspiring art form that I love to share. I hope to be inclusive of different styles of Belly dance and offer different points of view on controversial issues. If you have a question, please ask.

1. Question: Do you think Bellydance is evolving? Should it?

Ozgen evolvesAnswer: The answer is "yes" to the first question and "of course" to the second. Any kind of art by definition, is in constant evolution. Bellydancing has been evolving since it began - whenever that was - and I am sure it will continue, hopefully forever. My own personal 28 year journey is nothing but a constant evolution. My style, technique and approach has always been in a state of flux. This flux is influenced by other inspiring art like music, a painting, a movie, and by personal life drama. Most of all, by other dance and movement art, even martial arts. Every dance form evolves. This is what has kept me interested for 28 years.

Sometimes, there will be a very dramatic transformation, so dramamtic that a completely new dance form is created as was the case in the evolution of Ballet to Modern Dance (which incidentally, Middle Eastern dance played an important role) and perhaps Bellydance to Tribal. Many Ballet companies today are inspired by the Modern Dance approach while the foundation technique of Modern Dance is in Ballet. It may be that Bellydance and the Tribal approach could have a similar relationship as well.

Even within Egyptian Style Bellydance (the one I am most familiar with), there is a basic technique and aesthetic but how dull it would be if Samia Gamal, Naima Akef, Sohair Zaki, Nagua Fouad, Fifi Abdou, Saha Hamdi, Dina and now Randa Kamel had not all added their personal contribution to its evolution.

2. Question: Hello, I am a dancer in Canada and I was wondering what your rules were on covering up before and after a performance.

Answer: I am not sure what you are asking but if it is concerning what your attire should be when you arrive to a performance in a night club or wedding reception etc., then here are some thoughts. It is best not to reveal your costume or even your face before the performance. This way, you do not loose the impact on the audience when music, dance and costume all come together with a big impact. Likewise, it is best not to show your costume after the performance as well because the magical memory of the show will be destroyed. It is generally best to stay out of sight of as many of the audience members as possible before and after the performance. Whether in costume, street clothes or gallabeyah on top of your costume, try to leave the audience's last memory of you as the magical Bellydancer. As long as mystery surrounds you, they are more inclined to want you back, again and again. A side is also best not to socialize with audience members, ever. This is looked down upon in the Middle East for a wide variety of reasons and a huge topic on its own. Just because you are asked, doesn't mean it is a good idea to do it. Hope that helps.

3. Question: Is a dance artist only of a certain caliber allowed to dance to the music of Oum Kalthoum and are there some pieces of music held with more reverence that should not be danced to at all?

Answer: It is relative who has the where-with-all to dance to Oum Kalthoum. It also depends upon the audience. An Arab audience will have a more discerning eye for the artistic interpretation of this music and a much stronger emotional investment. All of her songs are of equal importance - some are more famous and popular and many have been adapted for Bellydancers. It is said only a Maalema (Maalema = dance master - feminine -, sometimes a teacher and/or director of an ensemble) can dance to the music of Oum Kalthoum but that does not mean it has ever stopped anyone and everyone dancing to it. Who does the music justice is in the eyes of the beholder.

The following are some issues to take into account on this subject. The music of Oum Kalthoum is often quite difficult with rhythm changes and thus a beginner dancer will find it difficult to apply short cut elements like combos that can easily be used with pop music. The music is generally slow and emotional, often in a sad maqaam so emotional expression is an important factor. Dancing to an original recording of Oum Kalthoum singing live may seem disrespectful to some who revere her, it is best to use a recording by another singer or a musical arrangement. Many of her songs are 1-2 hours long so often the musical arrangements that are popular are only a small part of the song, often the beginning or just the musical parts which do not include the melody of where her voice would be. Non-Arab dancers should note that when an Arab audience is listening to the musical arrangement of Oum Kalthoum music, they hear in their head the memory of the original version with her live voice and the profound lyrics, just like you hear Robert Plant's voice when a cover band plays Stairway to Heaven. Thus it is important to listen to the original before dancing to the musical arrangement so the dance artist can portray the same emotion and musical nuance the audience is experiencing, otherwise the audience may feel the dance artist does not understand the music. To know more about Oum Kalthoum, see the film "A Voice Like Egypt"

Have a question for Yasmina? Send her a letter!
Have a comment regarding this article? Send us a letter!
Check the "Letters to the Editor" for other possible viewpoints!

Ready for more?
2-5-08 My First Mid East Gig by Yasmina Ramzy
Once we landed in Amman, we were greeted on the tarmac by solid lines of soldiers on both sides leading to the doorway of the airport, machine guns pointed towards the passengers. I don't recall ever seeing even one Canadian soldier in the flesh and blood, let alone a gun, let alone so many big guns and pointed at me. I don't think I blinked during that endless walk. We were clearly not in Hawaii.

5-21-08 Saturday Gala Peformance Part 1 of the International Bellydance Conference of Canada video and photo report by GS staff
Performers include: Lopa Sarkar, Sacred Dance Company of Victoria, Nath Keo, Roshana Nofret & Maria Zapetis of Bozenka's BD Academy, Ensemble El Saharat of Germany-
Mayyadah & Amir of Germany, Ferda Bayazit of Turkey, Arabesque Dance Company & Orchestra of Toronto

9-26-07 Lifting the Veil by Yasmina Ramzy
I excused myself first and then asked her “why on earth would someone obviously not of Middle Eastern heritage actually choose to wear the veil?”She smiled knowingly and gave me an answer that still keeps me thinking today.

11-13-07 Where Have All The Cover-ups Gone? by Ashiya and Naajidah
What happened to professionalism? Mystery? Decorum and good taste?

8-1-07 The Summer School of Khaleegy Dance, Dance Style from the Saudi Arabian Penninsula, by Yasmina Ramzy
The “moral police”and hotel security watched every move I made. All my phone calls were monitored. I was not allowed to talk to or get into an elevator with an Arab man.

5-18-07 A Report on the First International Bellydance Conference of Canada Part One- Lectures, Workshops, Panel Discussions by Diane Adams Photos by Lynette
April 18-22, 2007 Toronto, Ontario. Hosted by Yasmina Ramzy of Arabesque Academy in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, this International Bellydance Conference of Canada, the first ever on the Canadian dance scene, proved to be one of the top dance experiences in this reviewer’s 30-year career.

11-26-08 Bellydancer of the Universe Competition 2008, photos by Carl Sermon
held in Long Beach, California, on February 18 & 19, 2008, produced by Tonya and Atlantis

11-20-08 Winning Bellydancer of the Universe by Mia
Puerto Rico is kind of a small island, not that we’re cut off from the world or anything, but we don’t have huge hafflas or competitions here. In fact, after about two years of classes and training we have to travel outside our country to keep up with the whirlwind of innovation that is bellydance.

11-17-08 So You Want to Dance in Cairo? by Leila
Foreign dancers who negotiate their own auditions with hotel managers usually find themselves seated at his private table in the nightclub month after month while he promises that next week he will make her an orchestra and give her an audition.

11-15-08 Bellydance Fashion, American Style: The 2nd Annual Decotach Fashion Show Report by Tanna Valentine photos by Brian Lin
For this year’s fashion event, Ms. Lambru chose to display her costumes in the context of a Berber wedding.

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