So you are Invited to a Wedding.

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I’ve performed in literally hundreds of weddings  with audiences who are Egyptian, Jordanian, Palestinian, Syrian, Persian or Lebanese. There have been some interesting combinations of ethnicitys marrying each other also. An Egyptian marrying outside of their culture to a Samoan. A Jewish Egyptian marrying a Syrian Druze. Needless to say, I know my music and I know how to “do” a wedding!
A musician I’ve worked with (Arab) was getting married and was inviting all of his (older: age and length of acquaintance)  friends as guests and his newer friends to work. So many of the musicians and several other professional dancers I’ve worked with were in the wedding party and not performing. Of course I was excited to attend an evening of great music and dance.  Well, it didn’t turn out as I expected…don’t get me wrong, it was a great party. I’d envisioned a 10 piece orchestra, no, just a 3 piece.  Thankfully they were the most seasoned of the pros there and the rest were in the wedding party and guests. So despite not being a 10 piece orchestra, the music was rocking!

So speaking about the music, the dancers.  The first dancer slayed me, or her choice of music did, literally. She was a lovely dancer…but her music was better suited to drilling in a dance studio than entertaining a discriminating audience. So irritating and inappropriate that it distracted me from any enjoyment of her show.

Enter second dancer, who was also lovely. Her musical choices were dynamic and appropriate for a wedding show. Her musical choice connected every member in the audience to her dance and the cultural traditions in which she was representing.

Some ideas in what not to use in a show for a wedding.

Tarab...enjoying the music as a guest.

Tarab…enjoying the music as a guest.

 Drum drills….anything that repeats for convenience sake, like perfect for the classroom is not what you want to use.
A remix…Even if it’s to a well known song…just don’t.

A 9 minute majenci or opening piece. I love the elaborateness of this format, works great in a nightclub where you have a 40 minute show. When was the last time you saw a 40 minute show? My point, your show is only a very small part of an elaborate evening planned on showcasing the bride and groom.  Save that 9 minute opening for when all eyes are on you and you are a big part of the evening’s entertainment.

Some ideas in what to use..

A short dynamic majenci, yes there are many of them available.  Some are classics or remakes of classics. Using music with multiple rhythms makes your job as a dancer so much easier. Double points if it has a strong beledy or baladi beat, every one can connect to this rhythm, even if they don’t know the name of it.
A classic folkloric song, there are a lot of choices depending on what ethnicity of your audience.  Chances are the parents are involved in the payment of your performance, and if you can connect with the elders in your audience with your musical choice (as well as the women and children)…you’ve got a winning combo.

These are a just a couple of ideas.  Teachers, don’t withhold valuable info from your students, it makes us all look bad in the audience’s eye. Students, if you don’t know, ask.

Belly Dance Tantric or Tantric Belly Dance?

I should probably just call it one of the weirdest things that has ever happened to me in my performance career.  Long before Tantric and Belly Dance were ever used in a sentence before, or used to describe a style.  Which I don’t do, but this experience felt tantric when it happened 25 yrs ago even though I did have moments of eww in remembering it! I was performing at Mammounia in SF in the late 80’s to 2008 when it burned down.  In one of the small rooms..in the “red” room….hot, sticky, smoky, packed with so many people and their excitement, making it hard to hear the music.  Dances and locations like that often have their own rhythm and musical accompaniment even if everyone can’t hear it. Audience’s breath, your breath, sound of the utensils, hand clapping, hand slapping, my costume..my finger cymbals!  I was performing for a group of people who later became some of the leaders in the Tantric Movement in SF so one woman’s response to me isn’t much of a surprise.  A small room often leads to a sense of intimacy that that can be a challenge for a dancer to navigate, but I’ve always manged to protect my boundaries, but this woman’s touch was so unthreatening….one single index finger came up to my bare, damp waist and caught several drops of my sweat and brought it to her mouth and licked it.  I told you, I should have called this post Way Bizarre!DSC06625

17 Books For Serious Study of Middle Eastern Dance

glassesYes, I love to read and I read a lot.

Below is a list of books that have inspired me in different ways.  Some are primarily about Belly Dance, some the crafting of dances, others offer inspiration for creativity.

  • Badia Masabni the Legend by Jodette  This book is priceless in its accounts of the legend.
  • Daughter of Egypt by Marjorie A. Franklin  This is an important book for any serious student of Egyptian Dance. The legacy of Farida Fahmy and the Reda Troupe.
  • Oriental Belly Dance by Kemal Ozdemir  The history of Turkish  kocheks and chengi.
  • The Secrets of belly Dancing by Roman Balladine & Sula This little paperback stays part of my collection for its historical and sentimental value.
  • The Tribal Bible by Kajira Djoumahna The title says it, it really is a Bible!
  • Serpent of the Nile Wendy Buonaventura  A beautiful book, since its first edition, I know their have been some criticisms of the legitimacy of all that has been presented…but.
  • Dynamic Belly Dance by Ramona  I have yet to put this book to use as I rely on my music for inspiration for choreography. But this is a useful tool for fusion dancers etc and me and later date!
  • The Belly Dance Reader by The Editors of GildedSerpent A collection of essays from experts in the BD field. I particularly liked Alia Thabit’s and Venus Marilee Nugent’s offerings.
  • The Art of Making Dances Doris Humphrey The standard college level workbook, the essential nuts and bolts of making dances and staging.
  • Intimate Act of Choreography by Lynne Anne Blom & L. Tarin Chaplin  Inspiration for the Dance maker in you.
  • The Moment of Movement by the above authors Inspiration
  • Maps to Ecstasy by Gabrielle Roth I adore this book, and while it is no replacement for her work in person, it will have to suffice as she has passed away.
  • Doorway to Ecstasy by Sherry Brier Sherry reveals her story of growth as a dancer and offers a blueprint for your own discovery.
  • Dance of Psyche Rhythm of Consciousness by Dr. Christina Fragasso-Kolakouskus Campbell  An intimate look at her relationship and healing which emphasizes the unifying significance of music and dance in our culture today.
  • A Woman’s Book of Power by Karen Andes aka Aruna   uses Dance to Cultivate Energy and Health.
  • a big new free happy unusual life by Nina Wise  While Nina is not a dancer per say, she is a mover and offers big inspirations for dancers.
  • Dances with Veils A Journey to the Divine Feminine by Mezdulene Bliss Mezdulene weaves her own personal story within the context of Belly Dance in America’s timeline.

This is by no means meant to be a complete list, just what is in my pile today!  Any of my ongoing students who would like to borrow, feel free!  You know the drill; a book report when you are finished.

Is it El Kawliya, Qawilya or Kawleeya

El Kawliya, Qawilya or Kawleeya?

Hell, I’m not even sure how to pronounce it yet! One thing I know is that I have had so much fun learning about this dance.  Reading about it, watching YouTube videos, trying to disseminate it in my body.  So you who know me, I’m not a writer.  I made my apology about my amateurish attempts at writing from the get go, when I started this.  But I do love to study dance and I am a note taker. I’ve got notebooks from 30+yrs ago, that I still refer to.  Now, I’m putting it here for myself and you if you want it.
So, first things first.  This dance is not new.  It has been around for longer than I have danced 30++. When I started dancing, most of us didn’t know where Iraq was on the map, never mind know about this dance.  It wasn’t in the news, until the last decade or so.. There were no writings about it or YouTube videos.
The first dancer I saw do this Malayeen. I loved the wild music and hair flipping, but didn’t get it. in 2010 I was seeing Yana  adored her and the dresses she wore with this new style of dance I was learning.
In 2012, I watched her dance live in Eliat, Israel. Amazing!  Too bad the music has been muted in the link. Read a little about it in Amina’s blog and I referenced it here.  Then 2 years ago, found this video. All this time mind you, there were lots of Russian and Ukrainian dancers emulating Yana, that were a delight to see. Last year, I read about an Iraqi woman residing in London, Assala Ibrahim who is the expert and compiled this awesome, fricking video, if you missed the 1st time I linked to it.  Told you I was amateurish! Of course there is this woman, I think of her as an Arab Lady Gaga.  She’s amazing, a chameleon.  Singer, dancer extraordinaire. I don’t know if Lady Gaga is all that ( I don’t know her work, because I’m too busy studying Kawleeya! but I do know about her meat dress). Myriam Fares, this video has been around a few years, and I still adore it and her, she is all kinds of  inspiring to me. FYI, a few Arabs I know,  well everyone over 40, hates her!
Of course there has been an immense amount of coverage of Iraq in recent times as shown in these posts from NYTimes.
Last summer GildedSerpent published Amani Jabril’s observations.
OK girls and boys, homework is over.  Except, I’m so excited to have Sabrina of San Diego come and teach us Kawleeya next month. She is the West Coast expert She is a multi awarded dancer who I consider  the West Coast expert and actually has taught this Iraqi folk dance in Egypt!  How exciting is that.  We’re so lucky.  You students are so lucky I just shared all my notes with you too!

Kawleeya with Sabrina

Kawleeya with Sabrina

Why I can’t stand white belly dancers or do I care

firestormIt’s been a firestorm of opinions, counter articles and rebuttals about Randa Jarrar’s article in the Salon, since publication on March 4, 2014.  It has led to page long threads on Facebook and other social media.  There have been literally dozens of articles! I haven’t been motivated to take part, I don’t really have anything new to say about the subject.  You know, cultural appropriation.  That’s what everyone is really talking about.  You may have heard that term in the media, when there was big discussion and outrage over Miley Cyrus’s misappropriation of “twerking”.  Even though I don’t have any commentary to add that hasn’t been said already, I did want to take this opportunity to use this media firestorm as a catalyst for conversation and further exploration for my students. I’d like you to read these articles, arguments and rebuttals.  See if you can find your voice among the hyperbole and clarify an opinion or gleam an understanding of the debate.  It will give you clarity about what you are learning and performing and what it is you are not.
I’m speaking to my students personally, but I’m sure my sentiments are common to every Belly Dance Instructor who teaches traditional belly dance, regardless of who and what decade your biggest influences are or were.  Below you will find a reading list (in no particular order) and brief commentary from me.  I welcome your comments.

Four Ways to Profit From a Belly Dance Brew-Haha (or any other kind of brew-haha) Julie Eason of the BellyDance Business Academy  Julie has an interesting take on it! I’m not as flippant or as irritated at the media for taking advantage of our dance community’s conflicts for their own gain and she poses a challenge with a prize!

In Praise of Polyglot Culture—and Multicultural Belly Dancing published in the Atlantic. This is a well written counter article to the original, linked in the opening paragraph.

Naked and Articulate Penned by a “white belly dancer”.  Christina author of Enchanted Mirror. She’s finding her way and she has a really nice beauty blog!

Interview with Dr. Laurel Victoria Gray from Bellydance NewEngland  This article wasn’t specifically about the media storm, but she did comment. Plus it was with delight that I was able  to learn more about this highly respected dancer scholar.

From One White Bellydancer to Another Kimberly Mackoy  This tribal dancer gives a  well written and thoughtful response to the original article.

A “brown” dancer responds to “Why I can’t stand white belly dancers”
Author Nazaneen speaks from the perspective of a Persian professional dancer and eloquently expands on some forgotten truths the author of the original author forgot to mention.

Luna of Cairo Always a breath of fresh air with her brutally honest commentary from Cairo, spins the article in a new direction you may not have been aware of.

So to my dear students who may be reading, know that I’m doing my best to represent to you, belly dance in an organic manner in which it was or is performed in its country of origin.  That being said,  it doesn’t mean I will never create a fusion choreography for you. It just means it I won’t use  Oum Koutsom’s music. And if you think you might ever want to use it in an Arabic wedding, don’t OK?

Magic Carpet Ride Checklist before Takeoff!

There have been all kinds of articles , how to’s and blogs about the art of performing belly dance. Read them! They are important! Someone may expose you to an idea that you may never have even thought of, or inspire you in a direction in your dance you may never have considered.

Fueled by your love of the dance you are learning and motivated by the dancers you have seen share their art, you want to too!

More than likely your first experiences will be dancing at community or dancer generated events. You know what I mean, haflas, recitals and festivals. You’ll be dancing for other dancers, among a long line up of other dancers.
You’ve worked really hard, taking regular classes and workshops.
You can step hip in a dozen different ways, snap your hips like no one’s business, undulate and figure 8 in a variety of ways. Your costume is well put together; skirts not to sheer, too long, too short, your belt stays in place and doesn’t limit your movements, your bra keeps your breast contained and stays on. You’ve got the grooming thing happening, hair, makeup, nails.

The Art of Middle Eastern, or Belly or Raks Sharqi is intrinsically tied to the music.  Ahh…dancer girl, this is the fuel for your magic carpet ride and one of the most important elements to your show being successful..You’ve been listening and studying the music, the classic composers, dance music, pop, tarab, shaabi. You can identify regional compositions and know your fusion from  Oriental.  You listen to it with your eyes closed, with headphones on, with the volume up loud and your windows rolled up while you are driving and you dance to it for your dance practice.
You know your music so well, you hear what it tells you to do and you have enough technique to instantly choose from a repertoire of appropriate movement.
“Oh, I’m going to do the choreography that I’ve been working on in class, it’ll be perfect”, you say. OK, you read that thing about the music, and enough technique? Good because you will need to remember that. Even in the best of conditions, enough space, music loud enough, appreciative audience, knowing your dance inside and out there are many variables that can and will happen eventually if you perform long enough.
You get to the event and realize it’s the size of a postage stamp with people all around you, or it’s in a bar, long and skinny or worse yet, no stage, just around tables. Yikes! The choreography your teacher made you is made for a big stage, has long sweeping phrases and staged for frontal viewing.

Think Fast! Adapt your dance to your conditions. This is when you have to use a different set of skills. You have to be that dancer who brings to life that music using your body as the canvas; like a painter who paints a picture.

Improvise! Remember all the technique and musical study you’ve been working on…this is how you apply it!

So that choreography, that you worked so hard on, will be a distant memory as it undergoes a metamorphosis as you dodge waiters, patrons going to the bathroom, or the wandering, enthusiastic, infant of the event hostess! That’s OK, because you know the music and before you know it you have made your own made in the moment dance!

The Art of Belly Dance unlike other dance forms and particularly in this setting (small) is interactive.

It’s going to be three-way between you, your music (even if it is canned) and the audience. “Oh, that’s OK, I’m dancing just for myself”. Well, if you are dancing for yourself, it’s easier to stay at home and do that! Acknowledge your audience! They are sharing this special occasion with you and granting you their attention. This doesn’t mean you have to go around and shake people’s hands (although I have) as you enter, but a smile and eye contact goes a long way in connecting you with your audience.

Don’t forget when that magic carpet ride is over and you are disembarking, to thank your passengers (your audience)! So that they may remember the ride fondly!

You are ready for take off on a magic carpet ride!

Next up….refueling with unleaded, leaded or diesel, refreshments, side trips, checking your passenger manifest and decorating on that magic carpet ride!

This is a very expensive carpet ride...don't worry those white spots are just the flash....this is my 25K ride.

10 Rules of Dance Class Etiquette

terry_green_weddingEven though I’ve been referred to as a drill sergeant by some students, I think I’m a pretty laid back instructor. Admittedly, I adore ritual and symmetry when it comes to training the body and preparing it for dance. I like to explore and energize planes of movement that we don’t get to use everyday. I thrive in playfulness and utilizing gravity and momentum. This is probably my modern dance background peeking through! Some of you come from a dance background while most of you the bulk of your dancing has been social.  Middle Eastern or Belly Dance has a large component of social dancing to it. This fact is important to remember, it is a dance of a culture and it’s people woven into the threads of their daily life.  But my Western upbringing requires a structure to bring it to life for you….so here are some ground rules.  FYI, these will serve you in any dance class of any genre.  They will save you embarrassment, save face and garnish respect from your instructor.

  • If there is a class going on when you enter the studio, please be quiet and allow the class to come to an organic close as opposed forced to close because of your loud chatter and interruptions.
  • Be on time.  If you are late, please don’t start talking to your friend in the front of the class.  Go to the back of the room and warm up and then integrate into class as unobtrusively as possible.  It’s also a good idea to apologize at the end of class for being late.  It shows a measure of respect to your teacher and the other students.
  • If you have a question, feel free!  Just please wait until the music is turned off.  It’s hard to hear you or answer you if you can’t be heard.  If you have a question, ask the instructor.  Why would you want an answer from a student, when you can get it from your teacher?
  • Don’t chew gum.  Park it in your cheek and keep it there.  I’ve been called on the carpet more than once from masters in front of the whole class!  I chew gum while I teach, because I get “cotton mouth” from speaking.  Aside from the aesthetic, it can be dangerous!
  • Respect each other’s personal space.  Whoever got there first, gets it.  Please don’t obstruct another student’s view of themselves in the mirror or the instructors.  If you get there late, don’t expect the class to accommodate your place, go to the back/side of the room.
  • Going across the floor…stay in lines and try to follow the guidelines of the phrase being taught.
  • Turn off your phone!  Unless you need to be available for a sick child or ailing family member.
  • Be respectful of the instructor and other students. Disrespect comes in many forms.  One form is your body language and eye contact or lack thereof. If your instructor is speaking; listen, if she is of the school of continually giving out corrections throughout class and she repeats it 3 times in a row and repeats the phrase or move ad nauseam it might be because  you haven’t glanced in her direction as she is trying to give you eye contact to direct the comment to you directly. One of personal faves (not)!! is the look of disdain.  You know the raised eyebrows, a little snarl, arms crossed or hands at the hips…looking like WTF is she saying or doing!
  • Don’t hesitate to leave the dance floor and take notes.  Instructors adore a thinking and engaged student.

I know I said 10 rules…what can I say?  Told you I was laid back!  Dance On!

Angst, anxiety, nervous, uptight, hyper…

I’m reminded of a blog post that I read from a well-respected dancer, who made the statement that students of dance often make the mistake that their teachers are also their career counselors, marriage and family counselors or life coaches. At the time I thought what a really healthy way to distinguish my boundaries as an instructor. I’m thinking of this post as I reflect on the many times that I’ve observed student’s anxiety interfering with their growth as a dancer. Whether it is the physical consequences of prolonged stress and anxiety that are displaying themselves in her body habits and posture which limit their ability to reap the sheer pleasure of movements in class, or it’s the emotional consequences that have robbed her of any joy, and have only fueled self despair or loathing at her inability to “get it”. So as the years go by, I’m finding this really isn’t working for me. It’s not a very organic or holistic approach to teaching. As some of my students are staying with me for years and yes some decades, I feel like I’m not being a good teacher, (and that gives me anxiety)! if it’s not addressed. Like the police officer whose empathy was captured on video this week giving the barefoot, homeless man a pair of boots. I can’t continue to stand by and witness so much struggle without offering a hand. Anxiety makes everything harder! Ever try to parallel park, when the car behind you is beeping their horn at you, radio’s a blaring, you’re late to an appointment…you get my drift. I’m not talking about that feeling of excitement pre performance that can fuel your dance, or the anticipation of an upcoming event…well maybe I am!! It’s essentially the same thing, except in a tiny way…..those feelings haven’t physically hijacked your body! You are able to use that experience to your advantage. When I say hijacked, I mean that the feelings you have, have stimulated an onslaught of body responses that can sabotage (physically and emotionally) any attempts you might make at engaging or completing a task that you set out to do. I think the problem might lie, that we are all coming from a place of low-level anxiety, that we never give “it”/ us an opportunity to shut down. So it is easily ignited into a state of “fight or flight” or “my emotions got the best of me” state. It’s well documented what anxiety can do initially and what happens to our bodies when it is a chronic state. Increased blood pressure, shallow respiration, increased muscle tension, increase in cortisol, poor concentration etc. occurs immediately, in the long-term it contributes to heart disease and cancer. This statement is so broad, it’s almost misleading and dismissive, I don’t want to list all the ways it can display itself…stress/anxiety can be observed in every cell of our beings. If you think of the science of it…every cell…yea it can be seen by a microscope…No wonder it can affect you so profoundly! In the dance studio, anxiety reveals itself in the frustration you might feel, because you are unable to release the muscle habits and body responses that are a result of a chronic anxiety or stress or of profound concentration. Those body responses and habituations that interfere with a centered, balanced, responsive dancer body. Unlikely, that the anxiety exists only in your head, left unchecked, it will reveal itself in some physical way. It’s the body’s way. So, if you haven’t developed a practice of mindfulness along with your other dance practices, consider it. A practice that combines a mindful breath to keep you centered emotionally can lead to a physical equanimity. A practice of self-examination and observation from the inside out, free from the burden of a critical judgment, can release you from your angst and quiet those inner voices. Taking this practice of observation, free from harshness, clearing out your emotional debris, can free you up for the physical challenges of dance. Starting you on the path of allowing your body to be more aligned with the forces of gravity. So start with your breath, keep yourself connected to your breath… Middendorf or holotropic breath work deeply explore the breath, and are intense studies of their own. Yoga integrates breath with movement. Simple mindful, deep abdominal breathing, is a practice you can put in your pocket and go! My ideal practice combines a lot of those elements. It connects me to my spine, my diaphragm, pelvic floor….my inner vessel. Where my movements originate from. A breath that elongates my spine with inhalation….an exhalation whose destination is my belly and pelvis, reminding me of my base of gravity, initiating the strength of my pelvic floor. A breath that allows me to expand my rib cage without disturbing my upper torso stability…unless I want it to….only if I want to send the pulse of the movement there…in all directions without excessive muscle tension and keep my connection to my inner vessel. A breath that allows my clavicles to broaden, and scapula to slide down to my waist, softening my neck muscles along with it. A breath that allows my sacrum to sink with heaviness towards my heels and the earth. A breath that releases excessive muscular activity in my legs, calves and feet. A breath that allows me to receive the force of the earth up through my arches into my leg bones, relying on their density to support my vessel as it transmits that energy into my pelvis and torso, where my strength emanates from. Here are a couple of links to get you started on the fundamentals of breathing.

http://anxieties.com/gad-step3a.php

 http://ezinearticles.com/?Anxiety-Relaxation-Techniques—An-Abdominal-Breathing-Technique-For-Relaxation&id=3331194

Saudi Dance Khaleegy Resources and Refernces

I first was first exposed to this dance in the nightclubs. Yes, the clubs I performed at. I learned how to do it by watching the men initially, as there was a large Saudi population in SF Bay area in the early 80’s. Later in the 90’s after the Gulf War had the Saudi’s leaving America, I would see many  Yemenis in the clubs, again primarily men. So, in that decade of observing the men dance, I was also able to study and observe dancers a generation before me who had integrated the dance into their oriental routines or as part of their folkloric section. I was seeing an authentic acknowledgment of the rhythm in the majenci…yes some majencis have a saudi section…Set elHosen, Marhajen (depending on who was in the audience) it was either played as an ayoob or a khaleegy. During this time computers became common….can you imagine not having one today!! And I was able to view the traditional dances on-line. I also have had the fortune to study with some great instructors who have lived over there and disseminated the dance for me.
Recently, I worked with a musician who complimented me on my “authentic” Saudi dance during my show…. Ooookaaay, I’m thinking……LOL……time to revisit it, refine in the studio for my dancer friends. I’ve really been in love with some of the Iraqi dances I’ve seen online: but they are performed by non natives and I as much as enjoy them, they are not traditional or authentic. (of note, Iraq is not considered a gulf state, even though it has a coast line, I believe this delineation was made by the oil industry)…
Here’s a little cheat sheet for you dear students , with some well-respected resources.

First check out a map of the region on a map!! These dances are from the gulf region of the Middle East, and each country has something a bit different to say about this dance…
Shira.Net….I tell you this is one of the best resources…. Do a search for Saudi Dance and Khaleegy…you will get song samples, talk about the thobe etc.

Please check out Kay Hardy Campbell at http://www.kayhardycampbell.com/blog.htm.She is a well-respected Middle East specialist, whose work I admire greatly, and you should take advantage of her offerings. Wonderful clips of Saudi dance!
A must read is Amina Goodyear’s Blog describing Hussein’s understanding of Qawliya …very insightful!  http://aswandancers.org/baolekeh5.12.htm

Check out Yana Tsehotskaya on YouTube…lovely Ukrainian dancer I met last year, who does an amazing version of Khaleegy and Iraqi…adapted for stage.

Happy Dancing!

She Dancing through Time

I call her She.  Just like captains of sea going vessels name their boats, or guys name their cars a feminine. I just call her She. She has been with me since before puberty.

I’m a life long dancer. What does that mean? Well, I’ve been making dances for myself and my friends since I was a small girl. When I say small, I mean even before I started school. I was one of those little girls who danced through her house, backyard and everywhere in between and when I stopped long enough to answer the question; “what do you want to be when you grow up”…a ballerina I would scream as danced away!

Well, I didn’t become a”ballerina”, (but took regular classes for 3 years straight in college),which is a good thing, as I would have been long retired now, and my joints wouldn’t be in as good a shape as they are! Through my childhood and adolescence I studied Hula, Tahitian (I lived in Hawaii for a couple of years), jazz and pre-hiphop….don’t what else to call it! I was a cheerleader and a gymnast. By the time puberty rolled around it was becoming obvious I didn’t have a “ballerina” body and was fast losing upper body strength to whip myself around those parallel bars. Didn’t matter, I still loved to dance and continued to study many dance forms throughout the years. In high school, I took a belly dance class, and I was hooked. My first teacher, Lynette  was a partner of Bert Balladine. (No, it’s not Lynette of Gilded Serpent), but they both had a beautiful head of long, blond, big curly hair! Enchanted with her and the dance, I took twice weekly classes from her for 2 years, until she retired. Thirty plus years have passed and I still wonder about her. She then referred me to DeAnn of Dream Dancers and Light Rain fame. Another blond, long, haired beauty! I had the fortune of performing with her troupe for many years and DeAnn was always very encouraging of my continued study even after the troupe disbanded and she quit teaching. She supported me so and encouraged my teaching. DeAnn has been gone since 1998, RIP friend and dancer extraordinaire. So today, I can say that I have taught for over 20 years (and still going strong, Thank You very Much)! I have had the honor of teaching hundreds of lovely women and a few men and some of them have been with me almost all that time!

So, today, I can also say that I have had an amazing performing career! Just imagine, when I started performing, there were no CD’s…we barely had any good cassette tapes. When I mean good…the whole set or side had to be good, to play all the way through. The technology to make a good set via cassette wasn’t easily available. When I started doing private parties, we didn’t have cell phones or a computer for that matter!!! No Google maps, I had paper maps! With no computers, all dance work was word of mouth, or they saw me dancing at a club or a wedding somewhere.

I’ve had the pleasure of entertaining foreign dignitaries, movie stars, and royalty. I’ve had the pleasure of working with my band for over 10 yrs. Yes, they were my band…I didn’t have to rotate or share my nights! I was in what I call the ‘tween generation.  In between Casbah and Baghdad days, where there were several dancers a night doing 40-50 minute sets.  My era, was after that! A lot of club owners were trying to clean house a little after and during all the debauchery of the times! I was lucky enough to work in an era of time where clubs had house dancers. Where my boss would always make sure I was fed, yes dinner and refreshments or even to go containers included.  And safe from any unwanted elements!!It was an era when musicians also had an interest in the music and making a dynamic show for a dancer, after all it was their show too; and if I looked good they did too! When each club closed and another opened (due to economic times) the band, singer and I would be hired by the management. Working with live music in a nightclub environment for appreciative Arab audiences was one of my preferred venue. Even today, I will see some of those customers and out comes the smart phone, where they have downloaded their daughter’s wedding video with me dancing!

At some point, I started to embrace the digital age. Hasn’t been easy! For a couple of years I was thinking I wasn’t smart enough for a smart phone! My mailing lists are now digital, I have a huge digital musical library that gets bigger and bigger. I’ve finally learned how to convert videos for YouTube, have converted most of my cassettes to digital form and have clients prepay via PayPal. I even have  Skype and Face-time students!

Today, five years after I’ve stopped performing regularly (at clubs; there are none left) I still can’t get to bed before 2 am on the weekends! I continue to teach regular classes, choreograph and dance with my student troupe, RaksTerayz and do at a few parties. In addition to my day gig (health care), I teach therapeutic movement (Lebed) to chronically ill patients and my form of “Body Lessons” that I have developed for myself and share my dances for anyone who wants them.

This is a chapter in the story of a little girl who dreamed of becoming  a ballerina and became a life long dancer instead.

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