Missionary, Mercenary and Bedouin



Jordan Desert

Travel to foreign and exotic places opens my eyes and reminds me of other realities unlike my own.

1/Cold nights in a Bedouin tent, smoking and drinking with the natives.

2/Two Mikes
On the left our bodyguard, whose presence allowed us entry into the most unlikely places, safely. Mike on the right was a minister in a small mid-western town, sent on  a missionary journey by his family and congregation with no return date projected. He had never tasted alcohol and couldn’t wrap his head around two  American women in Jordan, he had to sit when we told him we were bellydancers.

3/No name mercenary. Translated  by our bodyguard about the “arms deal” being made around the camp fire. We gladly shared our alcohol, but kept our charms hidden.

Photos purposely kept raw and untouched…

Note to self, this was almost a year to the day that we had departed from Egypt on the eve of Arab Spring, highlights of news were reports of Mubarak’s trial.


So you are Invited to a Wedding.


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.

Peace On the Nile


Nile January,11,2011Peace on Da Nile

Just days before the revolution, cool, crisp, white bright day in Cairo.

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

Istanbul….She is feeling different.

Istanbul felt different this trip.  The Turkish survived Taksim Square, but were troubled about the recent “mining accident”.
In two unsolicited conversations with employed and modern women in Istanbul, they both voiced an anger at their government. Both of these unrelated women were fearful of changes they foresee happening to Turkey.
I noticed many more women covering their head in hijab, than in past  years.  Our travel agent also recommended the female travelers to cover elbow to ankle. This is different….real different.

Turkey is changing , like all of us.

I took this by accident, I mean i did it on purpose of course, forgetting  it wasn't allowed.

I took this by accident, I mean, I did it on purpose of course, forgetting it wasn’t allowed.

Amateur photographer (and writer that I am), I'm never sure if I will catch the drops.  Success!

Amateur photographer (and writer that I am), I’m never sure if I will catch the drops. Success!

Blossoms, in previous years visits, its either been too hot or cold.

Blossoms, in earlier years visits, it’s either been too hot or cold.

I was glad to see efforts made to preserve these historical masterpieces.  Protection of the silk carpets, no photography with flash.

I was glad to see efforts made to preserve these historical masterpieces. Protection of the silk carpets, no photography with flash.

 Sultan Ahmed Mosque..playing around with a color app!  Hope I don't rot in someone's hell for desecration.

Sultan Ahmed Mosque..playing around with a color app! Hope I don’t rot in someone’s hell for desecration.

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?

GoodBye 2013, Hello 2014!

I don’t know if it’s due to the “grand Trine” or all the planets in Capricorn or if it’s the fault of my seemingly baseline,  genetic “malinconia”; one thing is prevalent to me…it feels EPIC. Yea, caps and all..poignant…..catastrophic, life changing all that.
I’ve felt it since the 1st week of December.
So many situations have taken my breath away since then. You know that feeling you get when you hear something about someone near and dear or remote to you that is so mind-blowing, you have that rapid intake of breath, followed by a little exhale that’s filled with heartache for their troubles. It’s been happening like that for me in rapid succession ….a lot like those weapons that should be outlawed that aren’t.
Seemingly hearty, healthy people felled by illnesses so dire, they could use the situation as script for a weekly hospital sitcom. Too many in fact that I’ve lost count…that bad. Loved ones near and dear, losing best friends, financial security, and emotional equilibrium while others face declining health.
All this happening…while I’m experiencing a clarity and optimism that almost feels alien me. I’ve learned a lot of powerful things and potent life lessons this year. Discarded a bunch of stuff too…literally and figuratively. And I’ve formulated epic plans for 2014 and beyond.
Simultaneously aware of the frailty of life and its temporary nature whirling around my head and heart as it continues to remind me of the thin line we all walk between here and gone.
It’s not all bad mind you! I’ve got 2 great friends who are winning the war on terminal illnesses, teaching me and inspiring others how to live while you are dying as they bid adios  to 2013.

Like I said it feels frickin EPIC to me!
Bring it on 2014!