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.

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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Dangerous Beauties Fusion Belly Dance!

Don’t let the name fool you, these women are drop dead beauties! Straight from their website…. Embodying the characters of real world femme fatales, this living history belly dance performance tells the unique story of the world’s most powerful women, often too enchanting to be understood and too wild to be bound by love, social hierarchies and rules.  An all-star cast of award-winning international belly dance performers resurrect the nuances of the art of seduction and honor the power of femininity while capturing the essence of historical costuming and dance forms as they define each woman.  Mata Hari, Cleopatra, Salome, Sirens, Elizabeth Bathory, Lillith and others leap of the pages of history books, paintings, and tin types and reach into your heart.
Founding members Surreyya Hada and Nyla Crystal, originally proposed this idea to me several years ago.  Like the “seasoned professional”  I am (read in between the lines)!!  I heaped praises for their idea and heaped encouragement.  Many ambitious  ideas have been presented to me, by students (them), musicians, videographers, concert promoters….I usually just take the “let’s wait and see attitude”.  all the while, I’m thinking, they want me to be someone else!! OMG!  I’ve spent the bulk of my puberty and all my adult life dancing and trying to be more comfortable in my own skin…and I’m supposed to portray someone else…YIKES!!!
Well, I had the pleasure of performing with these lovelies on local turf and had a blast!  Then on the road to Aqaba in January 2012, I broke my bow (whole another tale) and when the ideas of bus rides came to be…well, I bailed!  Despite getting generous reviews, I realized I’d like to milk my creative juices in other ways.  I’ve had this music in mind for many years, and the Dangerous Beauties are the perfect group to bring my choreography to life!!  So while the Beauties are on tour, I’m hanging close to home and making a dance for them, just for them! I kind of fancy myself the private choreographer to the Beauties!  And as soon as they stay in one place long enough, we’ll put this dance together.  In the mean time, Go see this awesome show!! Check out their site, follow on Facebook, read their reviews….They are Dangerous!  Uhh,  yea…so are my breasts hanging out of that costume! Dangerous, I mean!

My Thighs Slapping Together!

On one of those hot summer nights, where nature’s air conditioner had taken the night off….Set the stage.

At the time the Renaissance Fair was still at Black Point and one of the guilds was having a party. I just called them the guild of handsome young buff men in leather and metals! You know the type? Buff, big muscles…vibrant…way before Johnny Depp but that same appealing rogue… ladies, I know you know what I mean!
It was a packed house that Saturday night.  It always was, which I was always amazed at…so out of the way…but they offer a real dining experience suitable for all.  One year there was a review on Moroccan themed restaurants in the San Francisco Chronicle.  There was a comparison between dance shows at Mammounia (where I was) and Pasha (where I would later work) …..the reviewer alluded to something off-color about the dancer at Pasha, I don’t recall exactly what now, but categorized Mammounia’s dancer (me) as your exotic fantasy of the girl next door!! Some weird statement like that, but essentially suggested our place was more family friendly.
Anyway, that night I was headed into the “red room”….remember the small rooms have small speakers.  Those of you who  know me intimately, I always want my music louder….If I can’t hear it I can’t feel it.  I can always tell how challenging it will be by how much noise I can  hear even before I go in.  It was going to be tough, the guests were really loud.
Well they were loud until I  glided into the room, finger cymbals ringing, hips a swaying, all I heard was a collective gasp from all of these effing beautiful men!!!!  OK! said self here I go, and we all proceeded to enjoy my dancing. This is all in silence mind you except for the small speaker, the swish of my skirts on my skin, the tinkle of delicate coins on my bra and belt and zilling.   As the moments wore on and our mutual awareness meshed (that’s really the only way I can describe it)! and the music began to change  to pulsating drumming…my body started to respond. Another sound infiltrated the moment….it took me a moment or two to realize what it was; it was my sweaty inner thighs slapping together as I shimmied!  At the same time I realized what it was, so did my audience…now I had groans accompanying me as I danced!

I want to set the stage.

So let me set the stage…early 80’s…San Francisco, Sunset District close to the beach…where in the summer time patrons would be lined up out the door and down the block waiting to enter into a dimly lit den of richly tapestried rooms; each with their own theme, named for the colors of the prayer rugs draped on the walls where the exotically scented and delicately seasoned aroma of lamb and couscous wafted through the air…where the patina of the low brass tables looked like it was centuries old…where they could enter into the mosaic of experiences that are a traditional Moroccan meal. The ritualistic hand washing with rose citrus scented waters, the tea pouring done from so far away the waiter seems to be in another country….
The patrons who lined up were the up and coming…the artists and bohemians… pre-med from UCSF, the gay crowd pre HIV…..they were the movie stars and Superbowl winners…they were the family next door and the family from the Midwest on their California vacation…
If any of you have worked in this type of place there usually is a big room and several small intimate rooms off of the grand room (Where unfortunately the speakers are smaller, I hate that)!  In the large room you have the center…this is where I learned how to dance in the round…it is the small rooms that taught me to make magic in one place…of course this is is all to taped music…YES, even before CD’s, so you had better have a bag full of cassettes that you liked, the WHOLE side…not just one cut!!

It was one hot evening…you know the ones that are rare in the Bay Area; where natures air conditioning is taking a break for a day or two. A night that that held the heat so much that I sweat as I changed.
I’m sure I’m like alot of people, the summer ignites my sensual side, not in a sexual way, but in a sense way.  My body is literally more open as I am, more receptive to people, their emotions as well as everything around me. This might be particularly true for bellydancers, it’s an integral part of the experience if you are not on a proscenium stage,,,that’s my experience anyway.  In addition to listening to your music and performing, there are other layers of consciousness occurring simultaneously.  Observing the audience, the dynamics between each member of the group, the group dynamics…whose engaged with you, who is shut off from you.  Plus my observation of me, how I’m feeling.  Am I staying open and receiving as much as putting forth, or is it bouncing off the walls and returning to me without touching my audience. Physically I want to stay in an observant mode;  the hundreds…ahh, the thousands of improvised performances  have contributed to my teaching curriculum.
So enough babble, let me tell you about one of those hot summer nights!