Yasmina and snakeGilded Serpent presents...

Ask Yasmina #3

Dance Fusion, International Travel to Study, Dancing the Taqsim

by Yasmina Ramzy
posted 2-4-09

Dance Fusion
Some people were notably disturbed about the representation of Bellydance at a recent Fusion Competition in the United States, citing issues like: “Spitting out blood is not part of Bellydance,” etc. What is your take on these fusion or experimental issues?

It does raise such questions as: "Is Bellydancing defined as ‘anything goes’ as long as the belly button shows?" Perhaps one could be concerned equally with "dancers" in cabaret costumes, using Isis wings (not part of the Bellydance I was taught) but unable to isolate the hips or execute a solid shimmy; maybe this is not Bellydance as well.

Personally, I am all for any kind of creative expression (blood, snakes, flowers, even fake chicken heads and urine) as long as it comes from a place of inspiration and with the intention to move members of an audience to think about the world around themselves and their own relationship to the substance or reference of choice with a new and wider point of view (maybe an even more loving point of view).

To achieve this goal without making an audience watch something meant for the therapist's office would take much skill, years of intense and serious training, and deep philosophical investigation. Using shock tactics to make up for lack of skill and talent is not all that admirable.

One of the greatest modern Bellydancers ever known is Sohair Zaki who managed to bring audiences to tears while staying in the same modest costume for one hour, using a “bare bones” number of musicians and very little variety in steps. Now, she was an artistic talent and someone who really knew how to communicate creative expression through dance. I thoroughly enjoy an artist who pushes boundaries and steps outside the box, but I want that artist to communicate to me through the art, as well as knowledge and awareness of the boundary they are pushing. I like to understand why they are pushing it, or which box they are stepping out of—and—why?

I am the director of the International Bellydance Conference of Canada and have encouraged that the majority of the performances on the two nights of performances on the main stage be either experimental or a fusion. Obviously, I am a great fan of pushing the envelope. Most of the fusion artists have solid training in both or all of the forms they are fusing. Actually, we allow only one Cabaret style Bellydancer per night. These two nights every year find me in awe of the creativity into which Bellydancers are able to tap.

International Travel for Study
Bellydance is rapidly increasing in popularity; so much so that even small towns all over the world now have their own Bellydance communities. Do you think this has deterred students from traveling internationally to seek out instruction, and thus, may diminish international communication?


Although I live in a fairly cosmopolitan city, I did have to travel to the Middle East to get the bulk of my training in the early 1980s. The quality of training in most major cities all over the globe is much higher now, so this need is not as prevalent as it used to be. As well, many master-instructors travel to these centers to teach in workshops. For the most part, I think a student can achieve some good solid training at home. For the light hobbyist, this is quite sufficient, but if she or he wants to specialize and dig deeper into the roots of field of study, they may need to travel to a foreign destination where they can study with the artist(s) who have attained what the student aspires to achieve. I guess traveling will still continue for serious students and for teachers, but now, there are more places to go! It used to be that Bellydancers were famous for their international communications because many of us felt alone and isolated in our small cities and towns. In fact, when the Internet was introduced, there was a time in which the Bellydance community was the sixth largest community on the web! Now we can enjoy both worlds, I think—our home community and the international scene as well.

Dancing the Taqsim
I am having trouble trying to master the art of dancing to taqsim. When I see an Egyptian dancer do this, it seems she repeats the same one movement throughout, but I have been taught so many moves to implement the taqsim. Which is correct?

dumbekBoth can be correct, depending upon the artist. I learned from my instructors that the taqsim (solo improvised musical expression without rhythm) is where the dance artist conveys her/his artistic talent. The drum solo is a demonstration of her/his technical prowess, and the rest of the performance is showbiz, which anyone can be taught to do. This is also true for musicians as well. Any musician can play a piece of music but only an accomplished artist with natural talent can play an original taqsim.

Thus, it is the interpretation of the taqsim that separates the dancers from the real artists.

The reason that a Middle Eastern dance artist can get away with performing (seemingly) the same step over and over again for minutes at a time is because to her/him or the Bellydance enthusiast, it is not the exact same step! It is constantly evolving and reacting to the nuances of the taqsim, and in some ways, becomes a clearer interpretation, as long as the observer understands what he sees. Sometimes, many changing steps can be a distraction to the subtleties of what the musician is expressing.

The taqsim is a moment in time where the dancer can forget all the training and can allow an almost trance like state in which she/he explores the emotions being expressed by the solo musician. Whether it is a flow of movement constantly evolving into new shapes or one movement with many nuances, a taqsim can never be repeated—either in movement or music. It is a precious experience locked in time—at least, it was until the invention of the video camera. Ah, but it can never be copied!

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