Belly Dance Classes for Fun, Fitness or Serious Study of Middle Eastern Dances


Hey All,

All classes are online and continue for the foreseeable future. I’m doing basic beginning classes in 6 weeks sessions, with 2 weeks off in-between. You can do drop-in, but consider it a progressive series. meaning we build upon last weeks.

The higher-level classes are ongoing.  If you want more info, you can read about it here and if you want to sign up Questions?

If you want to dance, you know where I’m at!

Carnival of Stars 2018


COS 2018 Queen of Egypt Contest
Has transformed into a Showcase.
Last year i was up on stage introducing the contest and espousing the idea of the contest as a concept of living history, much like the Renaissance Faire had started out to be. I also spoke of the long history of BD contests that started here in the US and now has spread worldwide, to showcase new talents as well as promote a culture of dancesport within the BD community.
This year the producers of COS and Amina have decided to let the contest model go realizing it doesn’t align with preservation or presentation of the Golden Era of Classical Styles of Bellydance. Instead of a contest, it will be a showcase, where dancers can share their efforts at the study, embodiment and preservation of the music, musicality and stylings of dancers of the classical era.
Each of the dancers today, whether they are past winners or contestants in the contest, or local stars in the community, put in a considerable amount of effort in study to share with you some of their inspirations from the past.
We are in an amazing time in “our BD history”, so much excellent talent and artistry-on contest stages and Youtube. It has become obvious to some, that the Western talents are now influencing the way some of our Egyptian superstars are dancing or at least choreographing for their Western students!
Today’s dancer is more likely to be influenced by a Russian, YouTube superstar or a contest winner, nothing wrong with that, I’m not attaching a judgement to this, it just is. I too like great dancing!
Not sure why I think of food, except for the obvious, LOL>>>food like cultural dances are a representation of the heart of the peoples in which it was born. But if you think of the popularity of cooking shows & competitions that has created a cult like following of viewers and connoisseurs of food. It’s beautiful, expertly prepared food, sometimes spare in it’s portions stunning in the presentation, but may leave you hungry and unfulfilled. This is what we are used to in dance now.
On the other hand of that “cult- like” following, you might find a chef with a more discriminating palate, who is wanting to satisfy his long time customers who need nourishment and satisfaction in good quality food. Customers who enjoy the camaraderie and celebratory nature of mealtime. He isn’t going to look for inspiration in a chain or even a Michelan rated establishment, he is going to travel to some small town not written about in the travel books and try to reproduce the recipes which aren’t written down and have been passed on for generations. Recipes with only the finest, freshest ingredients, nothing out of a can, untainted by chemicals or fly by trends. Food that is better the 2nd day, plenty to share and you can share in an evening of conversation over. Meals that are Delicious in their simplicity, sophisticated in taste, nourishing to the families and community in which they are served.
Traditionally, the food from Middle Eastern regions took all day in preparation and all evening to consume the food and not only was the immediate family present, but extended family and other members of the tribe.
Today, In reality, they may be purchasing the humus and bread from TJ’s!
And in reality, the 2 analogies of food aren’t true either! They are extremes! How often do your meals look, feel or taste like a cookbook cover, when was the last time you cooked all day and fed a houseful?
When was the last time you had a contest worthy, picture perfect performance, that satisfied you and your audience completely, when was the last time you had a long, luxurious performance that met the appetites of a community and reminded them of home?

Lest, the younger generations of dancers think I’m demeaning or degrading of their dance or style, or romanticizing the past, please take no offense. If you stick around another decade or 2 or 3 you may be bemoaning the current dance scene as well. It seems it’s the natural order of things. As In life as in dance!
Hopefully you can appreciate the subtle nuance, musicality, humour and the joy these dancers are hoping to transmit.

LifeTime Achievements and Public Service Award for Amina Goodyear 2018


I had the honor of presenting at COS this year. In case you missed it!


Carnival of Stars 2018
Lifetime Achievement Award ++++A Lifetime of Service
Noone in our local community or in the US that I’m aware of has made as many important contributions as this artist, educator and promoter. She’s sponsored many world renowned scholars and acclaimed dancers to teach and present their work here in the SF Bay Area.
This artist has been a recipient of several Lifetime Achievement awards including American Academy of Middle Eastern Dance (AAMED) Hall of Fame, Lifetime Achievement from BDUC, Lifetime Achievement award from Isis and the Belly Dance Chronicles.
This icon in our community has hosted many dance and music shows, and some would argue is almost single handedly keeping live music available to Bay Area dancers.
This dance artist who started her career in the 60’s at the Baghdad has continued to share, collaborate, teach, inspire and mentor generations of dancers in the SF Bay Area. We in the San Francisco Bay Area would like to present our own token of appreciation and respect to this generous artist.On behalf of Pepper and COS, it is my pleasure to present this award for lifetime Achievement. Please give a warm applause and Welcome to Amina.

Debke, Debkhe, Debka

Debke or any other spelling similar to this!

Always a happy dance of celebration and community from Lebanon, Palestine, Jordan, Syria and neighboring countries. Of note, Egypt doesn’t have a debkeh per say…they dance balady! Different songs have their own steps, different families dance differently to the same song. People from Ramallah dance differently than other Palestinians and Jordanians and Assyrians have their own debkes.
Considered a folk dance if you will and is done in a line generally doing CCW counterclockwise, starting with the left foot. The leader(on the left) often will twirl a napkin or prayer beads/misbaḥah in his/her left hand raised.

Why debke? Well, as “bellydancers” we don’t really debkeh in our performances, but some of our movements are informed by debke. For some reason(which are a lot of reasons) they end up being intertwined and mixed in with Saidi steps from Upper Egypt. Remember I said Egypt doesn’t have a debke, but dances from the Said, particularly the tahtib often have exuberant steps and phrases that are similar to debke. To make it more confusing, you will see Arabs (regardless of regions) use a saidi like song to debke to. Or musicians play a debke song for a saidi (assaya) dance! (Ya Ein Moulayetin)

In social gatherings, either in a nightclub, wedding or other hafli/celebratory environment, you will see it as a social dance..and enjoy it as such! On the stage, with a debke group, you can expect to see very tightly choreographed and talented dancers.

Either way…check it out in the spirit of play! The next time you see a debke line, join in. the basics a little fancier Ya Ein Mouleyetin Samira Tawfik a famous singer who sang in a Jordanian Bedouin style. You can see her here singing and her dancers are mixing bedouin style dance with a tiny bit of debke. The costuming is not Jordanian, so you can see this is for film only and not indicative of any real dance.

A professional Palestinian debke group, wearing the black and white keffiyah and tabl(drum)

And maybe you saw this debke flashmob at Beirut Airport dancing to famous song Huwara!

A little more casual debkeh line ( I think They are professional)

One of my faves

A dancer’s blog, with some good background.

Balady, Beledi, Baladna or Balady Progression

Example of a Balady Dress with a little Saidi styling to go with

Beledy, baladi, balady…beledy tet, balady, or progression….

However you spell it , it is considered by many to be the heart and soul of Egyptian or Arabic music, a perfect buildup of anticipation to a climatic drum solo or a segue into another folkloric song. It’s a “Must Know” for any serious student of Middle Eastern Dance or music.

It can refer to My country, a rhythm, structure, a style of dance, a style of dancer, a class of peoples, or a section of a traditional 5-7 part cabaret style show in which it is danced usually right before drum solo.

There are progressions that can be categorized as Tet ( which Sahra Saida categorizes as “male” in origin and most likely originating in the Said region of Egypt and further exemplified in Amina Goodyear’s recollection of early lessons with Fatima Akef in the 70’s) where toe touches, taps and saidi like adornments of the accents flavors the progression. It is also characterized by the org (organ in modern times or /accordion way back) creates an accent in the music that begs for movement and in opposition to the common musicality rule of late..down on the down beat which I first heard taught in the 80’s by drummer Souhail Caspar.

There are progressions that can be categorized as Baladi Awad (Woman’s Style, again thanks to Sahra) which have a different feel, that can be easily be felt in comparison to the Tet. Which I won’t try to explain with words as you’ll need to feel both of them to understand!

There are older folk songs like the ones listed below that have the elements of beledy and have been historically part of the 5-7 Egyptian Style Routine, mentioned earlier. You could easily count on any musician from the region and to to know these. I laugh because the whole “routine” of any evening of entertainment with a dancer is no longer happening as the norm, but an exception in the US and many musicians are younger and may not have played music when this genre was popular, included in the dancers show and almost without exception a played in Arabic nightclubs.


Bint Al Sultan (Daughter of the sultan) Ahmed Adaweya.
Ya Hassan ghouli Tet wahada kabir into masmoudi kabir
Beledy Ya Wad/tet
Sheek Shak Shook
Habibi Aiyni
Aminti Billah Beledi Tet

Musical Elements

Taksim or Awwady
you may also see it spelled Taksim, Taxsim, Taxim, or Takasim. It is an Arabic word which means “division”, and refers to the section of music where a specific instrument is playing a solo. The Arabic taqsim is improvised—in a restricted sense—according to traditional patterns, and is almost never played in the same way twice. Musically speaking, any solo instrument improvising in the Arabic taqsim structure is playing a taqsim, including the drum taqsim that dancers usually call the drum solo.
Sekkat Transition
Melodic with drum accents
In traditional Arabic music, this refers to the question-and-answer that goes back and forth between a melody instrument and a drummer.
Medium Maksoum into
Fast Maksoum Sahra says her musicians called it saeria, RanyRenee  calls it ingerara, mine called it fuss(fast) and may go into Fellahi.
Can end with  a drum solo, or slows down and merges into another song.

An Egyptian Musician’s Perspective

A really good example of some of the musical elements of a balady

Hayatim ya hassan a ghouli


Our little class study of a progression

Pure Improv at a wedding





transitions, as in dance as in life



This year is the first time in my  life that dance has taken a back seat in my life. (Because of family obligations) I began Belly Dancing as a teenager, as well as other forms, so that’s a long time now.

After 24 years of weekly classes, 40 years of study next year! I never started in dance with the intent to teach, or with an idea that it would be such a BIG part of my life, even though as a small child it took up hours of my day. I started teaching regularly in my  community because I was getting requests from fellow students that sounded like this…show me that step you did last weekend when you were performing  at…I had been a “working dancer” for many years before i even thought i had something to say as a teacher. My class attendance was  all word of mouth, rarely advertised, I didn’t even have a mailing list for 5-6 years.  Back then i adored, i mean adored (still do) making a 7-10 minute choreography….dissecting  the music, researching the history and sharing it with my dancer friends who came to dance with me. My classes were geared on understanding the music and learning the technique that was needed to dance on that music. Training them to become a working dancer. I also started teaching because I needed to step up my own game, because i was working so hard, 5-6 nights a week, multiple venues and private parties after hours…there were no classes in my area that supported that kind of physicality, or the giving me the information to help me make my shows. I’d take an 1.5 hour dance class, then go home and practice some with music and the technique I needed to perform my  shows. Along with watching a lot of gigging dancers. At that time there were 1/2 dozen or so nightclubs with full bands and a complete dance show, and that was an important part of my dance education.

Change is constant..and I must say I’m enjoying the transition. . It’s been 9 years since the last big nightclub closed in SF bay Area. Gone are the steady stream of parties and regular gigs. I’m not talking pizza parlor, shisha bar, there are still those places to dance in. I’m speaking about night clubs that seat 2-300 people, support a band, cater to audiences from the Middle East.  I consider myself lucky to be part of what i think of the “tween” generation of working dancers in SF. It was right after North Beach Clubs closed with their format of multiple dancers doing 45 minute sets throughout the night. A whole slew of nice clubs filled the gap, along with a ton of talented ,  experienced musicians, anxious to make their club the BEST! So of course they wanted the dancer to look her best. The “tweens” were granted the House Dancer status. That meant you were the only dancer at the venue and showtimes  were at a time that suited me fine 10:30 or 11pm, for the live music venues, preceded by the dinner houses that did a 7:30 and 9PM show. It was perfect! Rarely an audition, it was word of mouth, or if a club or audience member saw you at a party you were hired. Often at least for me, if you were available at last minute when the house dancer was unavailable (maybe she took a party or a gig, calling in sick…which by the bytheby is a nono or injured herself, she was out. Out, finished, khalis..sometimes just showing up week after week, month after month, year after year is the way you stayed working)  Nowadays, a dancer has multiple opportunity to perform but… (there are more dancer generated gigs,  where dancers dance for other dancers than there are more “organic” opportunities. Meaning, a venue that caters to Middle Eastern Audiences, has a Band, that is native to music, and an audience that is paying a dancer to come and entertain for their family or community event. Don’t get me wrong, there are MANY WELL PUBLICIZED EVENTS! Festivals, competitions, proscenium stage events, casual regular events to great live music, where the line can consist of over 20 dancers a night!

Back to format is based on my experiences with a curriculum based on performing for a Middle Eastern Audience. That isn’t happening right now and when the demand returns, the expectations of shows will be different. The people of origin, will be in a different age bracket, with a shorter attention span as their American counterparts have and different expectations of a “show”.

My motto for teaching has always been for Fun, Fitness or Serious Study of Middle Eastern Dance.

I now have a small middle-aged student population that have been with me for years, and with the exception of only a few, have no desire to be on a stage, but continue in their interest in the dance. We still train for show, as if we are performing for a ME audience, cause that’s what I know. When we get younger students in we’re ready to pass it on. We all agree, in all of years in dance and other fitness pursuits, that nothing feels so good as Belly Dance! Nothing moves the nooks and crannies of you body, to amazing music and has such benefits!

So I am considering how to be relevant in my offerings to my dancer friends, some who are wanting to be on stage, others who are trying to maintain an upright, engaged status in life…

I guess my motto remains….

Belly Dance Classes for Fun, Fitness or Serious Study of Middle Eastern Dances

See you in the studio!

Transition definition movement, passage, or change from one position, state, stage, subject, concept, etc., to another; change

Photos above:

My last public gig baring my stomach! Laughing at a selfie, because if I had to take a selfie every time I gigged, I’d never get anything done….and tips of good fortune.











BellyDance in Dubai

Photos, L-R, top-bottom on taken on a i-phone 6 .

Top 3 photos of the “Darth Vader Wand, unknown dancer at an outdoor desert safari, Tannoura dancer at Safari, Warda, me and my BFF partying into the wee hours!

Dubai, one of 7 emirates, collectively known as UAE , is situated on the Persian Gulf. By some reports the work force is 80-90% expats, and from what I saw the professional belly dancers are 100%. Favored are the very petite and very young of course! The small sizes of the majority of dancers, gave the illusion of prepubescent to me, that maybe because I’m getting s little long in the tooth as the saying goes! Although not considered a place of destination for Belly Dance per se like Cairo, there are abundant nightclubs and cabarets featuring full length dance shows, with incredible musical accompaniment and soulful singers. Like Cairo, the shows start late and go into the wee hours of the AM. Shisha and alcohol fueled (but not too much as public intoxication is a no no) is the way to enjoy these evenings. And of course a hearty appetite! The mezzas are divine and generally 2 coursed, hot and cold. In the states I’m only used to a first course, but when in Rome … Or get what I mean!

The Belly Dance shows are what you would expect… Well kind of.

First, it is illegal to tip the musicians, singers or dancers. So no money showers, no tip necklaces, no discreet palm shakes after the show. In addition to no tipping that means that none of the entertainers leave the dance floor. Even during the folkloric section where it’s generally acceptable to even go out into the audience to do a greeting or photo-op with distinguished guests.  Instead, tipping is done by the audience through a token purchase of champagne and it turns out that its cheap champagne! So bottles of champagne are placed on the dance floor with these mega-sparklers and poured either for the singers and band members, but no money exchanges hands.

The dance shows are typical five or seven parts with lots of folklore and every dancer had a gulf dance included in her set, some more vigorous than others. A lot of props were seen, the dancers started their marjence or majency with poi veils, fan veils or Isis wings. An interesting prop, new to me, was the Darth Vader wand! This prop was accompanied by a Saidi  or Debkhe song. The pictures below do not do the prop justice! They expand with an ever changing array of colors, designs and symbols. Ranging to country flags, club name and logo, national icons like Feiruz and Oum Kalthoum, and I swear I saw Sara Palin on one of the Darth Vader Wands…

The dance itself is very fast with a very modern musical interpretation. Which left many audience members reminiscing about Fifi, Mona, Sohair etc… Per conversations overheard at neighboring tables.

If you are looking to take a dance class while you are there, look up Warda. An expat from Brazil, living in the region for well over a decade definitely has the feel for the Gulf.

If you are looking for an adventure and dance and or shopping is your thing, Dubai will be sure to please.


Zar, Ritual and Meaning

MeRedritualZar, Ritual and Meaning.

I have adored spinning since early child hood. Do you remember the feeling of being outside and staring up at the sky spotting and spinning until you dropped in laughter? Maybe you don’t…or maybe the “Merry-Go-Round, Ring- Around the Rosies? …but I, can still feel that sensation of delight in my bones and am smiling with the feelings of that memory right now. Maybe with the change of seasons, I am being drawn to rituals that sustain and ground me, and movement and dance has always played a big part in my life in how to accomplish that sensation.

Many countries have rituals of movement and dance for medicine, self-help, connecting with the Divine, finding your divine or releasing demons of the mind. My favorites are the Zar, Sufi Spinning, and Tarantella, which I’ve had much less experience with, but feel a profound connection because of my Italian heritage.

Most of you may know the ayoob rhythm, but there are many rhythms that are used to induce trance..If you are so inclined might I suggest Yasmin Henkish’s workshops and if that’s not a possibility get her Zar CD, get a hard copy, not a digital download. The text accompanying the CD is a lesson unto itself and a important scholarly work for an inquisitive dancer. You can get that here.
Enjoy a little Inspiration

Shoo-Shoo Amin doing a Zar as part of her nightclub act. I think this is around the late “80’s in Egypt.

This documentary (please turn speakers down, as it loads immediately into a high-pitched sound) from Iran, I had always thought of Zar as an Egyptian phenomenon, and maybe it is an error of the producer of this video to call it as such, but this shows us the boundaries of geography are liquid and dynamic when it comes to ritual.

Whirling Dervish I was exposed to this form of spinning from one of my dance teachers who studied with the Mevlevi when they came to America, I think in the late ’70’s or early 80’s. Prior to that time no women were taught this or included in the ritual in its land of origin. This tongue in cheek essay, gives a good overview with instructions and video links for your enjoyment. Of course, if you ever get to Turkey, you must, must go to see them.

My little Ayoob. This was part of my nightclub show in the ’90’s, and is/was performed after the drum solo as a culmination or the finale  part of a 5-7 part show. I  can still remember the first time this was played for me, of course no rehearsal…not that you can really rehearse, well you can but it defeats the purpose!

Finding a movement ritual, done with intention and mindfulness, is a powerful tool and can give meaning to the mundane.


Of Contests and Competitions



It’s all in the Music

DSC_0333Middle Eastern Dance aka Belly’s all in the music!

I’ve often said to my students, unlike any other dance, our dance is intrinsically tied to the music. Learning music, theory and rhythms is a big part of a serious students journey.
Music facilitates our understanding of the movements. It’s that important. I’ve been very lucky to have had opportunities to work with amazing musicians for extended periods of time (like years) and that experience alone  expanded my understanding of the dance, comparable to the years of efforts spent in the dance studio.
This is why I like to offer live  music opportunities for students who choose the path of performance. For this reason, dances are made to explore music. There is a symbiotic relationship between the two.

Things to remember:

Even if you choreograph a dance to a recording, technical snafus occur. Including, but not limited to:
The DJ plays the wrong song
The electricity goes out
Poor sound system and it’s not loud enough or the applause from your audience is drowning out the music and all your well laid plans.
Your DJ is on the other side of a banquet room and you won’t be able to catch his eye and or he won’t understand your pantomime to go to the next song. If you are dancing right next to him, and he doesn’t understand your language.
Electricity goes out….you have zills right? Can you hum it? A beautiful moment happened a couple of years ago in Acapulco at a dance performance I was attending. The sound system was crap! It was interrupting almost every single dancer and group, some were so frustrated they left the stage, others kept dancing in hopes they could catch the musical cues when the music returned. The organizer of the event and her large dance ensemble  closed the set and of course the music tanked. The audience started humming the piece and the dancers finished the piece, it was magic!

Live music snafus:

Music or songs are different versions than you know
The band played it differently than they did the last time
The arrangement is all wrong
The band doesn’t know it or doesn’t know the finale.
It’s Ramadan and the keyboard player doesn’t want to play for the dancer

No matter how many recordings of the song or music you listen to, or even if you have had the band play it for you dozens of times before, there is no guarantee that it will be played the same way again.

While I generally prefer live music, I’ve been dancing long enough to have had a few musical nightmares.  Really, kind of like, me wondering to myself….what possessed you to become a dancer???

I was working at a nightclub that my regular band and singer had brought me to work with them. It was kind of an interim place until we could get our show back into a club that seated more than 100 people. (The club where we had worked together for 10 years had closed.)
During the transition…I stayed at the old club, while the band went to the new one. Of course all the parties involved knew what we were doing, so there were efforts all around to keep both owners and audiences  happy.
Two weeks went by with fill in musicians I had worked with before. Fun shows, happy audiences and owners. Third week, not so much. In place of the four piece band was a keyboard player with an additional drum pad machine. Nowadays,  the keyboards have drum machines built into them. They are like computers and can be programmed…or so I’m told. This musician had a classical opening piece or majenci, taxim/takseem and a saidi piece programmed in. I was pretty impressed how well the music was going and we were all having a great time. Then he started playing Salamet Om Hassam….and kept playing it. I mean he kept playing the opening verses, over and over again. Over and over again. over and over again.

Over to another nightclub, different night, different keyboard player, who I have worked with before.  Beautiful opening music. I love dancing to the richness of the classical majenci…it’s really for me a show case of art, not just entertainment.  Well, I guess it also is for this particular keyboard player. In the takseem/taxim section of the opening piece, he elaborated. I mean taxim means solo and improvise literally, so I get that, but these are classics!  I didn’t know Korgs could play a jazz solo….His solo went on long enough for the drummer to leave the stage and go to the bathroom.Thankfully, there was a wedding party, where I could occupy myself with pictures and audience interaction.

Another night, different keyboard player. It’s Ramadan, no keyboard player for the show.

Another night club, different band, different state, keyboard player doesn’t show up.

All of these things can and more will happen. Rule number #1, don’t panic. Rule #2, keep dancing, or not!