Monday, 28 December 2009

Belly dancing: a dying art?

First published: Jul 23rd, 2009

Traditionalists in Egypt have targeted cabarets that feature belly dancers, and many Egyptians fear that the art is dying.

Acarabee Alley, just off 26 of July Street in bustling downtown Cairo, opens onto a small courtyard surrounded by bars. Up the stairs at the end of the courtyard a belly dancer shakes her hips and smiles at the mostly empty tables in Club Miami. She turns and sways in her bright yellow costume in front of a five-piece band belting out Arabic songs.

At 11 pm on Thursday night the place is quiet, with the exception of a few middle-aged men sipping beer at a table near the bar. While belly dancing has become popular abroad, and for foreign visitors to Egypt, many here have feared its demise as a result of the increasing observance of conservative Islam.

Over the last several decades, traditionalist ideals have been gaining ground in the country once known for its cosmopolitan ways. In the 1990s, when violent Islamist groups were most active in Egypt, the haram (forbidden) combination of alcohol and shaking, skimpily dressed women made belly-dancing cabarets a target.

Nabil Abdel Fattah, head of the sociological research unit at Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies and editor-in-chief of the center’s “State of Religion Report,” says businesses like bars and belly-dancing clubs have suffered because of the Islamization of both the public and private spheres in Egypt. “Belly dancing is outside of Islamic values,” says Fattah, adding that increasing conservatism in Egypt has led to reforms in the role and dress of women and fewer customers for establishments that serve alcohol.

However, in the last few years the country has undergone a soft revolution, where a surge in conservatism for many has coincided with an increasing movement toward Western lifestyles and liberal practices for others.

“There is a new soft revolution in Egyptian society. You can see this trend of new magazines and shops and people returning to belly dancing. There is also a Westernization of the way of life, of the new upper-middle class and businessmen,” says Fattah, who maintains this has happened in tandem with increasing observance of conservative Islam.

Looking back

Belly dancing is the English name given to the art of raqssharqi (oriental dance) or raqsbaladi (country dance). The practice spread throughout the Middle East but took a greater hold in Egypt than the rest of the Arab world, finding its place in wedding celebrations, private and public performances and, most recently, in tourist establishments.

Around midnight, customers begin to take seats near the stage at Club Miami. The clientele remains the same, mostly middle-aged Egyptian men. The band continues to play as the second dancer, Suhayla, takes the stage under a small disco ball. Tamer, Club Miami’s manager, who asked that his real name not be used, says in the winter the club attracts foreigners and in the summer it fills with Gulf Arabs. But most of their clientele is Egyptian.

“We get the rich and the less fortunate,” says Tamer. “Thursday is the busiest day of the week. We start the night at 11pm, but it doesn’t get full before 12 or 1am.” He’s been working in the industry for 10 years and says he’s seen a decline in the number of visitors in the last decade. Despite the influx from Gulf tourists, places like Club Miami are not seeing an increase in customers.

“There are new bars for the middle class everywhere, in Mohandeseen, in the city center and also in hotels,” says Fattah. “This is a new variable and I think it’s related to the economic policy of the state. There is a tolerance now … because [these are] private companies and this is very important economically.”

The next evening, a few kilometers south on 26 of July Street, Ahmed Dessouki leans against a polished wood bar sipping whisky over ice at the Cairo Jazz Club. The 28-year-old architect says he goes out four nights per week, but doesn’t venture to belly-dancing joints or baladi-style bars. “I mostly go to Zamalek bars,” says Dessouki referring to Cairo’s expensive, more Western neighborhood. “I’m not interested in this kind of art.”

The Cairo Jazz Club could easily be in any major American city, with a DJ spinning records in the corner, high-back booth seating and multi-colored track lighting. By midnight there is little room to move as young Egyptian men hold the waists of their girlfriends and mix with foreigners on the tiny dance floor.

“It’s the mentality of the people. We don’t have a big gap between the mentality of Europe and the [United] States,” says Dessouki.

“Almost everybody has a girlfriend. We like to come to this kind of club to spend a nice night with our girlfriends - nothing more.” Dessouki says some nights he and his friends rack up bills of several thousand Egyptian pounds (or several hundred US dollars).

In the 1990s, Western-style bars became popular among some Egyptians and today, in Cairo, Alexandria and in tourist towns like Sharm El-Sheikh, there is no shortage of European - or American-style establishments. The influx of Western-style nightclubs is drawing customers away from the baladi nightspots.

A soft revolution here won’t necessarily restore belly-dancing cabarets to their former glory if young, affluent Egyptians prefer to drop a 200 Egyptian pound minimum charge ($35) to dance to house beats, R ‘n’ B and top-40 music, rather than watch jeweled women shake their hips in an age-old tradition.

“We’ve been affected by last year’s economic slump. Some of our best customers come once a week now instead of every day,” Tamer says. While he notes most of his customers are Egyptian, Suhayla, who has been performing as a belly dancer for years, argues this isn’t the case in other establishments. “It depends. You get Egyptians, foreigners and Arabs,” Suhayla says. “You can find more foreigners in El-Haram.”

Tourists have long filled the seats of higher-end belly-dancing establishments. In tourist cities like Sharm El-Sheikh, dancers perform to almost entirely foreign crowds.

The Egyptian Ministry of Tourism said in June that hotel occupancy rates had dropped to between 66 and 70 percent and some analysts have predicted that the global financial crisis, combined with the recent bombing in Cairo’s Khan El-Khalili market, could result in occupancy rates falling further, even to 50 percent.

The opening of Egyptian society may not be enough to salvage an art form that has had a place in Egyptian society for centuries.

“Most of the people I know who are interested in belly dancing are foreigners and they just go once,” says Dessouki over thumping electronic beats. “Most of my friends are interested in this kind of music - house and trance.”

First seen in Trends magazine.

Source: KippReport

The belly-dancer at the wedding

In Egypt the unusual love--hate relationship with belly-dancing persists amid a conservative culture of veiled women and virgin weddings.

by Yahia Samir Lababidi

At a time when more and more Egyptian women are taking the veil, Cairo remains the world epicentre for those who wish to master a dance that is only a slight variation on the theme of Salome's shedding of her veils. And when, seaside, the bulk of Egyptian women are opting to wade in gallabiyyas (full length traditional dresses), it is not unusual for a belly-dancer to perform at a public venue in little more than a glorified bikini, like a beached mermaid in her glittering, gauzy garb.

The ubiquity and sheer joy of the dance, however, does not detract from the perception of immorality associated with the belly-dancing profession. Egyptians are deeply conflicted about the respectability of the art form. Islamic preachers have gone so far as to proclaim that belly-dancers cannot take part in religious rites, such as feeding the poor during Ramadan or performing the Hajj/Pilgrimage.

An incident illustrating the paradoxically privileged position belly-dancers occupy in society occurred last year. A video depicting one of Egypt's top belly-dancers in flagrante delicto leaked onto the street and internet, following a police raid on the villa of a well-known (and married) Egyptian businessman. A lesser mortal would have perished beneath the heat of such a scandal, especially a woman in a conservative society. Yet, following a teary public apology and a short leave of absence, the Uberdancer bounced back on stage. Moreover, to add legislation to lore--further demonstrating society's strangely protective stance regarding the dancer's status--a new law forbids foreign dancers from practising this local art altogether (a lucrative trade in the city's many nightspots).

A love/hate relationship for the belly-dancer places her in a perceived moral netherworld somewhere between actors and whores. Both actors and dancers, whose testimony was once inadmissible in court, are accorded the same morbid fascination--every twist and turn of their private lives deemed newsworthy--as well as the same contempt. Hishik bishik, slang for all things associated with belly-dancing (and short-hand for tsk-tsk), is actually onomatopoeia: the sound of the shaking belly-dancer, beads and all. It is also used figuratively, as a derogatory term for the shaking of values or the loosening of the moral fabric associated with a dancer's questionable position in the public imagination. What does this say about the people who heartily embrace the dance as a form of self-expression?

The origins of Raqs Sharqi or Oriental Dancing (Egyptians do not call it belly-dancing) are ambiguous. Whether or not it was born in Ancient Egypt, it is widely held that the dance has its roots in fertility ceremonies, meant to strengthen abdominal muscles and ease childbirth. It is as though tapped into the bottomless fund of Earth's energy, its pulsations course through the dancer. The dance itself is a kind of break-dance only more fluid, exhibiting a variety of muscle isolation techniques: rolling the belly, swivelling the hips or making the upper and lower body appear as though they lead independent lives. In many ways, belly-dancing is the anti-ballet. Whereas the ballerina wears her pretty steel-tipped slippers, the belly-dancer is sensuously barefoot. While the ballerina strives for the ethereal and seeks to resist gravity, the belly-dancer is earthy with her feet firmly planted on the ground.

That is the technique, but then there is the inspiration, the wordless ecstasy communicated, the body eloquence. President Anwar Sadat once described a celebrated Egyptian dancer of the '70s, Souhair Zaki, as 'the Oum Kalthoum of dance'. 'As she sings with her voice, you sing with your body,' he said to her. Speaking of the same dancer, Geraldine Brooks put it slightly differently in her book, Nine Parts of Desire: What she did with her body was what a woman's body did--the natural movements of sex and childbirth. The dance drew the eye to the very centre of the female body's womanliness.

The fact that weddings are hardly complete without a belly-dancer is revealing, given the function of marriage as sanctifying the union between a man and a woman who is expected to be a virgin. Costing the family of the bride or groom up to $3000 for a 45-minute performance and widely considered the highlight of the matrimonial event, the belly-dancer's entrance is anticipated with baited breath. And what an entrance it is. Some time past the witching hour, often draped in a sort of a sparkling cape, she shimmies into the room with a manic enthusiasm, heralded and accompanied by the wild beating of drums. Having established her presence and revelling in the power of an intensity inhabited, the dancer sheds her mock modesty veil to reveal herself--a half-naked, shimmering apparition. All anima and daemonic, she then proceeds to stomp on the hallowed ground of the wedding ceremony.

This primeval emotional maelstrom is presented to the enthralled audience and the blushing bride in particular. Women study her intently but with a more guarded enthusiasm than their drooling male counterparts. Having transfixed the audience in a sort of reverse mesmerism--where the snake charms those who have summoned it--the dancer turns her attention to the bride. Weaving and dipping in her vicinity, she initiates the bride into the rites of uninhibited womanhood. 'See the effect I have on the room (and your groom),' she insinuates, brandishing her sexuality. 'That power is yours, too. Your birthright. Celebrate it.' And she's off, back with the crowd; challenging them to take guilt-free pleasure in their bodies, snaking between them, dancing with a deliciously self-absorbed exhibitionism.

Wearing a wedding cake of a gown, the bride must fret: how can I possibly compete with this woman invulnerable to taboo? Having spent a lifetime shrewdly protecting her virtue and a small fortune on the appearance of her dress, she is being upstaged at her own wedding by a woman who seems to care for neither. How can she possibly stand up to this dancer--radiating sex and naked confidence--with her flamboyantly flagrant disregard for the fundamental commandments of Family and Society?

In such a charged atmosphere, belly-dancing serves as a kind of 'licensed murder'. This is Bertrand Russell's definition of war, only the war declared here is on conventional morality and its mind-forged manacles. The force of the belly-dance is a force of nature, perceived as unharnessed and disruptive, hence the fear. The fear is an ancient one: of desire; of female flesh. The belly-dancer's twisting sisters are many and ruinous in mythology and the human imagination: Eve and the Serpent; Medusa (Woman and Serpent fused); Salome (powerful desire); Kali (fierce transcendence); the Sirens (femme fatale); the striptease (look don't touch); and the lap dancer (crude sensuality). All hint at a vision of woman engaged in a frenzied dance of Life and Death, of passion careering out of control, threatening to overwhelm and consume.

It is not without significance that a 1920s law forbade the belly-dancer from showing her navel. Later, in the 1950s, belly-dancing was prohibited in Egypt altogether. The ban was repealed following a public outcry, on the condition that the belly button be covered. Why the belly button? Given it is not a sexual organ, one suspects the significance is symbolic. The belly button is, after all, where the umbilical cord was severed. Is it the scene of the original crime from which people wish to avert their gaze?

'Every vagina has secret teeth, for the male exits as less than when he entered,' says Camille Paglia. Teeth that are razor sharp in a patriarchal society. Vagina dentata, in turn, denotes a fear of devouring origins, as does the offensive belly button. This, it appears, is what lurks at the heart of the ancient anxiety over female sensuality. Hence, trafficking as the belly-dancer does in the heady cocktail of dance and womanhood, creation and destruction, the object of desire becomes a repository of fear and loathing. To accept their spontaneous joy in dance without the attendant sense of sin, perhaps Egyptians might learn a thing or two from Nietzsche's declaration: 'I could only believe in a god who dances'.

Yahia Samir Lababidi, aphorist and poet, currently works as editor for UNESCO Cairo Office.

Source: The Free Library

Thursday, 5 November 2009

DANCE CLASS: The moves, the story, when it's OK to boo

Sid Smith Special to the Tribune
October 16, 2009

Am I watching a story or not? What if I like the flashy parts best? And what's an arabesque and why? Dance newcomer Christopher Borrelli has questions, critic Sid Smith has answers. For a quick lesson on an intimidating art form, read on.

Dance can often strike the newcomer -- especially the male newcomer -- as among the most mysterious and intimidating of art forms.

Tribune reporter Christopher Borrelli, a devotee of cinema and other pop arts, is dating a woman who's a passionate dance fan. This means he has the luck/misfortune of being escorted/dragged to all manner of serious dance concerts. Recently, he questioned out loud what exactly it was he was seeing, what he should look for and what he was missing. With Lar Lubovitch's ballet "Othello" in production through Oct. 25 by the Joffrey Ballet at the Auditorium Theatre, now is a fine time to answer.

1. The question that nags at me whenever I sit through dance is one of narrative. Should I be able to understand the narrative from the dance itself? And if I can't follow the story, am I watching lousy dance? Or is the narrative in a dance closer to, say, the existentialism in a film -- inferred instead of literal?
All of the above. Older dance, like older films, conforms to our conventional Western idea of narrative -- 19th century ballets such as "Swan Lake," "Giselle" and "The Nutcracker" tell clear-cut stories through mime and dance, often in ways that are precursors of silent movies.

But in the 20th century, dance, like other art forms, became increasingly abstract, so that by the time of choreographers George Balanchine, Merce Cunningham and many others in midcentury, dance became a kind of abstract painting in motion. But if there is a story, like "Swan Lake" or " Cinderella," the dance should tell it clearly, and some do this better than others. "Giselle" is a great yarn. "The Nutcracker" is a fairly lousy, muddied one. Dance can provide a great love story like "Casablanca" or an open-ended, mystifying one like the 1960 Italian film "L'avventura." In general, storytelling in dance is more sophisticated now, sharper in "Othello," Joffrey Ballet artistic director Ashley Wheater argues, than in those old 19th century war horses.

2. What is an arabesque? I think I know. But more importantly, why should I care what it is?
Ballet is an assortment of sophisticated techniques and poses developed over centuries, as sublime as yoga and at times as cruel as foot-binding. Every single dancer masters them differently, on a sliding scale, like judo practitioners or kick-boxers.

In an arabesque (there's actually a variety of them), the dancer stands on one leg, while the other leg extends away from the body, with hands, arms, neck and head held in an artful design.

"What you care about in an arabesque is the beauty of the line," Wheater says. "Look from the end of a ballerina's fingertips all the way to the end of her toes in her point shoes, and from the top of her head to the base line of her standing leg. There should be a stunningly beautiful line, like one you might see in a building by a master architect. And it's the simplicity of the line that's beautiful, a simplicity developed through years of training.

"For a woman in particular, you must have an arabesque. You can't be a dancer without it."

3. The handful of times I have attended dance, I inevitably relate better to the unusual -- a piece that feels modern and pop culture-like or simply weird -- than to the elegance and poise of classic dance. Is something wrong with me?
"No," answers Wheater, "the weird and unusual are a reflection of our time right now. In theater and opera, too, people are breaking the boundaries of traditional ideas because it's intriguing. But don't forget it's the line and simplicity of classical ballet that's actually the hardest to achieve."

4. If I can hear the dancer's feet hit the stage, even with a soft thud, which is inevitable, are they doing something wrong? Should I boo loudly?
"Ballet is a silent art form, sublimely married to the music," Wheater says. "When you hear a lot of hard-hitting point shoes, the ladies in the company have not been taught how to soften the noise properly." Ditto a man landing loudly after a leap. Meanwhile, booing is a cherished European response, less so in America. But it was famously employed recently at the opening of the opera "Tosca" in New York City.

"If you have negative reaction to an overall work or interpretation, by all means boo," Wheater says. "Booing loud toe shoes might be a bit extreme, however."

5. Is a graceful move more important than an athletically difficult move? Or is it vice versa?
Both are paramount. Technical fireworks give ballet its circus excitement; beauty, elegance and poignancy give it its soul. In cinema, the montage in "The Battleship Potemkin," the marathon tracking shots in Hitchcock's "Rope" and the filmic cornucopia in "Citizen Kane" dazzle us.

The artfully sketched fallibility in "The Graduate," the bittersweet finales to "Casablanca" or "Rain Man." Who'd dismiss any of them?

6. The last time I attended dance -- Bill T. Jones' Lincoln piece at the Ravinia Festival -- I liked it more than most people around me, who seemed mystified by it. I was responding, I think, to the dialogue, the theatricality, the sheer spectacle of the thing. But does this mean, when it comes to dance, I am like a child who responds better to shiny objects?
It means you're bringing your instincts and paying attention. Jones is a fascinating hybrid figure of postmodern dance, grafting unusual amounts of dialogue, drama, historical fact and biography into much of his work. Dance-theater is a good way to describe his approach, and he makes a great introduction for the dance novice. His Lincoln piece (last month's premiere of "Fondly Do We Hope ... Fervently Do We Pray") wasn't among his finest, possibly explaining nearby audience indifference. But his genius for multi-disciplines is attracting new fans and new understanding of dance. Welcome to the club.

Tribune reporter Christopher Borrelli contributed to this report.

Source: Chicago Tribune

An urban dance degree was the right move for UEL

by Rachel Williams
published in The Guardian, Tuesday 27 October 2009

East London's urban dance degree is booming in popularity, despite the criticisms of purists

Justin Gordon started dancing at the age of seven, entertaining family members with his reggae and soul moves at an endless succession of birthdays, weddings and christenings in Tottenham, north London.

"My family used to have a lot of parties," he remembers. "You either sang, or you danced."

Jessica O'Shea feels like she's been dancing all her life ("Your body just moves and you like the way it moves so you always do it"), but growing up in High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, there was nowhere to learn the sort of street styles that intrigued her, until she and her friends secured funding for their own practice space.

At around the same time, a nine-year-old Annabelle Satchwell was donning embarrassing outfits to enter disco dancing competitions in Luton; in Presteigne, among the lonely hills of the Welsh Marches, Betty Adesanya was being taught ballet, modern and jazz; and in her bedroom in Hackney, east London, Christine Seraphin and her cousins were making up routines to show to their parents.

More than a decade later, put off traditional dance degrees, with their heavy focus on ballet and contemporary, by what they saw as their stuffiness and limited scope, the five were among 12 students who signed up for the first year of the UK's only urban dance undergraduate course, then newly launched at the University of East London.

Here, they are taught not just hip-hop styles like krumping, popping and locking, but also the fundamentals of African dance, capoeira and kathak, a classical Indian discipline.

Purists have turned their noses up at the course, but, now in its third year, its popularity is booming.

UEL claims it is the fastest-growing dance degree in the country: its intake has risen six-fold since it began, and this year more than 300 applicants battled it out for 75 places. During clearing, staff were inundated with calls asking if there were any spaces. A note on the whiteboard above them, as if they needed it, reminded them that there definitely were not.

Senior lecturer Kate Sicchio, a Philadelphian who has been in the UK for five years, explains: "Students are really interested in getting more than one dance style and that it's different from normal contemporary training: hip-hop one day, kathak another. They really appreciate that."

Some within the sector are supportive, but there is inevitable scepticism.

"It's a bit surprising to other HE institutions," Sicchio says. "There are quite a few who find it shocking. They say 'you teach street dance in university, how does that work?' And you say, 'well there's a history and contextual study just as much as in traditional techniques'. And you can actually talk to these artists, because they're still alive and producing work."

The course was born as UEL looked to expand its performing arts institute with a dance degree, and decided that rather than compete in a market saturated with big names, it should offer something a bit different. It took inspiration from its local area. "Rather than setting up a contemporary dance degree, they actually looked to the community and built a degree bottom-up," says Sicchio.

The decision was also based on the philosophy that popular art forms should be more swiftly adopted.

"Academia is always quite slow to wake up to innovation," says Mark O'Thomas, the director of UEL's institute for performing arts development. "It didn't even recognise jazz until relatively late. We felt urban and global dance, the dance that young people are interested in, had no validity at all [in the mainstream]."

Sicchio believes other institutions are less in tune with their students and their target audience. "A lot of them are upset when a lot of their students' knowledge comes from TV programmes that are really popular, but we find that as a way in. If you're really interested in this one style of dance, let's trace it, let's find the history, and how can we blend it with other things to make it even more new and fresh."

In their new studios at Trinity Buoy Wharf, where the perpetually mud-brown waters of the River Lea meet the Essex-bound Thames, Sicchio's students are equally enthusiastic.

Many have BTec national diplomas in dance or performing arts, others have A-levels and some are self-taught. All must audition for a place and take a written test to ensure they will be able to cope with the academic side of the course.

The group of eight third-years show off their skills with a display of freestyling, whooping and clapping each other as they take it in turns to dance solo in front of the group to a soundtrack that runs from Beggin' by Madcon to New Kids On The Block's You Got It (The Right Stuff).

Resting on the studio's sprung floor afterwards, they agree unanimously that their different backgrounds, socially, geographically and in terms of favourite dance styles, make the experience of learning all the richer.

"Because everyone's so different dance-wise, everyone's more open to everyone's ideas and opinions, whereas in traditional ballet everyone's a bit snobbish, I think," says Monique Alleyne, 21.

Seraphin adds: "Contemporary and ballet were something you'd do in a dance school, street was something you'd do in classes. To be able to be on a degree where you're actually studying it, it's quite amazing, actually."

Preet Kaur raves about the variety of styles on offer. "African is about using your whole body: your chest, your back, your legs, your head, everything."

Adesanya, who transferred to UEL after one year of a more traditional dance degree, says the way the students learn from each other is crucial. "I felt like other courses or classes I went to were quite restricting. I wanted to fuse contemporary with other styles.

"Here, it's completely different, it lets you express yourself as an artist more. You're learning so many different styles, you can really develop your own style and flavour and way of dancing. And they respect that as well, which is nice. I think in five years' time everyone will want to come here."

Sicchio says the course is still finding its feet, but believes it could set a precedent for the future as employers demand more diversity from dancers.
"Some people think you must train in one technique and have your core built up. But I think it's about the individual student and not making this cookie-cutter dancer that so many institutions are interested in," she says. "It's really about finding individuals and making them shine."


For a Brazilian Choreographer, Dance as an Obstacle Course

Published: October 21, 2009

In a country where nearly everyone is a dancer, or at least aspires to be one, Deborah Colker still manages to stand out, both for her versatility and her unwillingness to be pigeonholed. Over a career spanning nearly 30 years, this Brazilian choreographer has worked in settings as aesthetically distinct as the Theatro Municipal in Rio de Janeiro, a temple of high art, and the samba schools that parade on the streets a few blocks away during the city’s annual Carnival competition.

“I don’t acknowledge barriers,” Ms. Colker, lithe and blond and brimming with enthusiasm, said in an interview this week as her company was preparing for four performances beginning on Thursday at City Center, its first New York City appearance in nearly a decade. “My attitude is kind of punk, in that I don’t respect rules or dogmas. I like mixtures, the challenges they present, and finding new solutions to old questions.”

Perhaps the most salient characteristic of Ms. Colker’s work since she founded the company that bears her name 15 years ago has been her desire to toy with perceptions of dimension, direction and distance. An early piece, “Rota,” featured dancers performing in a large spinning wheel, like hamsters at play, and another, “Velox,” required them to scale walls as if they were rock climbers competing at the X Games.

“Why must the stage always be horizontal and the dancer vertical?” she asked, and not rhetorically. “Why not use movement to subvert space and question gravity? And so I set about investigating ways to do that, in both the horizontal and vertical planes.”

Her most recent work, the disorienting “Cruel,” features three revolving mirrors with portholes, which enable the dancers to travel through those reflective spaces. And one part of “4x4,” the four-part, hourlong program her 17-member troupe will perform in Manhattan, employs 90 porcelain vases, spaced a little more than a yard apart in a chessboard pattern, as a sort of obstacle course around which her dancers must maneuver.

“Deborah is always working from concepts, and is very interested in things like physics and geometry,” said Donald Hutera, a London-based critic who is co-author of “The Dance Handbook” and has written extensively about Ms. Colker. “Her approach is big and colorful and quite playful, and there’s a physical riskiness to what she does, but that doesn’t mean it’s empty or shallow. She’s trying to place all this scientific stuff in a very kinetic context that is also very entertaining.”

When Ms. Colker’s company was starting, the Brazilian dance establishment reacted to that approach with dismay and even a certain disdain. Tatiana Leskova, a lead dancer in the Original Ballet Russe who trained generations of ballerinas after arriving in Brazil in 1944, initially dismissed Ms. Colker’s pieces as “at best gymnastics,” though she later changed her mind and became a supporter.

But it was precisely the insouciance and playfulness of Ms. Colker’s work that led Cirque du Soleil to invite her to write, direct and choreograph a new show, “OVO,” commemorating that Canadian group’s 25th anniversary. “OVO,” which means egg in Portuguese, is a humorous but environmentally conscious evocation of life and love in the insect world that had its premiere in Montreal in May and will move to the United States next month; it is scheduled to arrive in New York in May 2010.

“This show is about energy, spirit, color and sound,” said Chantal Tremblay, Cirque du Soleil’s creative director. “Deborah’s signature is energy and movement, and that is what she brought to ‘OVO.’ The way she uses her dancers is very direct and physical, and of course we were also interested in her use of the apparatus of wheels, walls and vases.”

Ms. Colker is the first woman to choreograph a Cirque du Soleil show, but she has had plenty of experience directing large dance ensembles in settings outside her comfort zone. For three years in the mid-1990s, Rio’s oldest Afro-Brazilian samba school, Mangueira, hired her to choreograph part of its Carnival presentation, an experience she repeated a decade later with another leading samba group, Viradouro.

“I love and respect the samba and adore Carnival, but it’s not my world,” she said. “Carnival has rules, and I had to respect them, and so it was difficult at times. But it was a very exciting and worthwhile experience. It’s been said that Carnival is a gigantic street opera, and that’s the way I approached it.”

Born in 1961, Ms. Colker was raised in Rio in a family of Jewish immigrants from Russia. Her father, a violinist and music teacher, gave her a grounding in classical European culture. As a child, she studied piano for a decade and played volleyball with sufficient skill and intensity that she was twice named to an all-state team alongside players who would eventually win medals in the Olympics. A serious commitment to dance, however, came only when she was 16, an age when many girls are giving up ballet.

“Dance is very much a collegial activity, and I liked that after the extreme solitude of playing the piano,” she explained. “I had a lot of adrenaline too, a physical energy that I brought from sports, an activity which, like dance, requires discipline, competitiveness and persistence. But I also felt a necessity for creative expression” that volleyball could not satisfy.

“Art is not a question of winning and losing,” she added. “It’s about exploration and experimentation and transformation and discovery, and I take great pleasure in that.”

After studying psychology, Ms. Colker danced with a Brazilian company. Gradually, she also began choreographing videos aimed for MTV and worked for nearly a decade as a “movement director” for some of Brazil’s best-known actors and theater and film directors, helping them with staging and learning to use body language to deepen the impact of texts.

Ms. Colker resumed her piano studies in 1999, and makes extensive use of her musical training in her dance pieces. The “Vasos” section of “4x4” opens with her playing a Mozart sonata, while other segments draw on Eno-influenced ambient sounds, the jazz standard “Some Day My Prince Will Come” and fragments composed by the electronic-music pioneer Raymond Scott.

“Deborah has a sharp and decisive sensibility, and is very attentive to music, about which she is passionate, almost possessive,” the Brazilian singer-songwriter Caetano Veloso, long an admirer of her work, said in a telephone interview from Rio. “Her work is poetic, but never in a diaphanous or ethereal way. She’s a dancer who thinks like a musician, in that the sense of time and rhythm in her choreography is quite accentuated.”

Though its United States appearances have been rare, Ms. Colker’s company often performs in Europe, where audiences have responded enthusiastically to that breezy Brazilian style. She won an Olivier Award, London’s equivalent of the Tony, for “Velox” and another piece in 2001, and was also commissioned by the Berlin Ballet to create a piece for that company.

“Deborah is a Vesuvius of a personality whose work is strong and engaging and connects with people, not just an elite,” Mr. Hutera said. “She can be popular and profound, sophisticated and subtle, carefree but serious. She is always embracing contradictions and embodies a lot of those contradictions herself.”

Source: New York Times

Sunday, 25 October 2009

Portrait of the artist: Mark Morris, choreographer

Interview by Laura Barnett, Monday 19 October 2009 23.00 BST

'Who would I most like to work with? Handel – he taught me everything, and he's not around to take the credit'

What got you started?
Every child dances, and then you learn not to. So I always danced around, and then, when I was eight, I saw a flamenco dance concert – and I was sold.

What was your big breakthrough?
When I made my first dance, which I called Barstow, at age 15. And when my company played at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in 1984, and [the New Yorker's] dance critic Arlene Croce said I was worth watching.

Is there any truth in the old saying: art is 1% inspiration, 99% perspiration?
No, that's nonsense. I don't seek inspiration, and my work is also not a horrible drudgery. So maybe it's exactly 50%.

What's the greatest threat to dance today?
Dance itself. The one reason people don't take dance seriously is because a lot of choreographers don't take dance seriously. Audiences don't want to see the kind of self-indulgent, boring dance that is so prevalent today.

What one song would work as the soundtrack to your life?
Bach's B Minor mass, because there's nothing wrong with it.

Is dance an elitist art form?
If that means that it's not for everybody, then yes. "Elitist" doesn't need to mean wealthy and conservative; it can also mean specialised and rarefied, and that's no bad thing.

Who would you most like to work with?
This is worrisome. If I say somebody who's around today, then I'll get a phone call from their agent. So I'll have George Frideric Handel, because he taught me everything I know, but isn't around to take the credit.

Which work do you wish you had written yourself?
Michel Fokine's Les Sylphides [first staged in 1909]. It's the most gorgeous dance in the world.

What's the best advice anyone ever gave you?
Choreographer Lar Lubovitch once said to me: "You're not going to start a dance company, are you?" It was a warning about how strange and difficult it would be. And that's true – but I like it.

What's the worst thing anyone has ever said about your work?
A dance critic once called my piece The Death of Socrates "inert". Which I found puzzling, because doesn't that mean it doesn't move? I've been thinking about that for the last 20 years.

In short
Born: Seattle, 1956.
Career: Formed the Mark Morris Dance Company in 1980; has also worked as an opera director. His company perform at Sadler's Wells, London (0844 412 4300), 27–31 October.
High point: "Working with [conductor] James Levine on Orfeo ed Eurydice at the New York Met."
Low point: "When a show I directed, Paul Simon's The Capeman, failed miserably."


Saturday, 24 October 2009

Typecast no more?

By Christopher Muther
Globe Staff / October 22, 2009

After a tumultuous few years, Boston Ballet gives its image a modern makeover

In the eyes of Mikko Nissinen, Boston Ballet was facing an identity crisis.

The artistic director of the ballet has introduced edgier, even downright sexy programming - such as last season’s “Black and White.’’ But while Nissinen spent the past eight years pushing his company closer to the artistic edge, Bostonians still thought of the ballet as being staid purveyors of the “Nutcracker,’’ and other “museum pieces,’’ he says.

“It’s important to me that we’re not seen as a museum or a church,’’ he says, “but a living theater that relates to today’s people.’’

Enter Denise Korn. The South End-based brand strategist (and Boston Ballet fan) had been chatting with Nissinen for nearly five years about freshening the ballet’s image and changing how the organization is viewed. Her company, Korn Design, has done image-reconfiguring work for tony hotels and restaurants around the country. She was even enlisted by Northeastern University last year to rebrand the school.

“It was trapped in this corporate package for so long,’’ Korn says of the ballet. “One of our big challenges was to shift the perception of what the Boston Ballet is all about.’’

The strategy for rebranding the ballet all came down to Nissinen’s desire to make the ballet more accessible. Artistically, he’s tried to do this by staging modern dance alongside classics. The company has also introduced a new slate of dancers and survived a very disruptive move from the Citi Wang Theatre to the Opera House.

To give these changes a public face, Korn’s team created a new font for the ballet, and a new logo. Its website was completely redesigned, merchandise updated, posters oriented to feature the words “Boston Ballet’’ as the primary image, rather than pictures of dancers.

Of course, a new typeface can only do so much. Changing the ballet’s image also means getting the company out into the city and chipping away at the notion that dancers are stuffy, tutu-wearing divas. To that end, dancers served as models at a splashy fashion show last month, and they’ll model once again at a Donna Karan charity event next month. They’ve even performed the Boston Celtics half-time show. Last week, we sat down with Nissinen and Korn to talk about what it all means.

Boston Globe: Mikko, I know pretty much all arts organizations have been struggling since the economy hit the dumpster last year. Is rebranding a way to help build an audience?

Nissinen: It’s funny, our organization was thrown into a tailspin after “The Nutcracker’’ was dislocated from the Wang Theatre. It was a huge piece of our business model. We had to re-evaluate our business and go through all kinds of cuts and repositioning. It’s ironic because now the rest of the world is doing it. Last fall, when everything else fell through for everyone else, we were already putting in place the steps for recovery.

BG: Why did you feel you needed to rebrand the ballet?

Nissinen: It felt so corporate, and the environment I’ve been pushing for the organization is definitely not corporate. It was obvious that we had moved in a different direction. After we lost our venue for “The Nutcracker,’’ we didn’t have a chance to focus on rebranding. I felt that the move to the Opera House was going to be a whole new beginning for us. We also have a whole new batch of principal dancers. A really strong, new generation taking over the company at the same time. This was the opportunity to really show a whole new face.

I’ve known Denise for a while. I brought her to the attention of our previous executive director five years ago. I wanted her to work for us at that point. In hindsight, I’m glad it didn’t happen then, because this was going to be better. It is repositioning the ballet on the cultural and social map in Boston.

Korn: This is the culmination of two years of Mikko and I trying to figure out how to introduce this to the city. It’s not about a logo. Sure, that’s the icon. This is taking the DNA of the company and not letting it be buried, but celebrating it outwardly.

BG: Denise, how did you take the edict that these bold changes were happening and translate that?

Korn: The typeface that we used for the end result was hand drawn. It’s called Boston Ballet Sans. It’s a derivative of a typeface called Futura. Which is a classical-modern font. The way that we treat it is very clean and much more contemporary, but it’s still respectful of its roots. We really wanted to show that there really is nothing about the ballet that’s corporate and stuck in a box.

Nissinen: It needed to capture the classical and modern. We do the big classical ballets, but we’re also the only major company that is making a major commitment to modern dance.

Korn: I think the ballet really needed to put a stake in the ground and say, “This is happening here, you need to take note.’’ Because no one else would do that for them. One of our big challenges was to shift the perception of what ballet is all about. It’s a relatively small market. There’s a lot of competition for entertainment dollars, and there’s this huge sports presence here.

Nissinen: That’s another reason why I thought this was important. People in New York know what’s going on with the Boston Ballet better than the people in Boston. Our international tour was amazing. We’re getting that external validation, and I want to bring that external validation back home.

BG: Dancers from the Boston Ballet acted as fashion models at a show at the Liberty Hotel last month called Fashionably Late. I get the feeling that the night was the company’s coming out party, its debutante ball for rebranding.

Korn: We wanted to have a coming out party.

Nissinen: It was the launch for the new image, and a new era. We also wanted to embrace an audience which is not just our traditional audience. We wanted to put the ballet in front of a crowd that’s not as familiar and show the relevancy.

BG: Tell me a bit how rebranding works.

Korn: The process is about discovery, and gaining an authentic understanding about what the DNA is of a certain message or a certain idea. When you’re branding fashion, it’s very different from when you’re branding a pharmaceutical company. We had no idea what this would look like when we started. I just knew that it needed to feel super contemporary and edgy, but not be disrespectful to the past. I honestly believe that the ballet was stuck inside the wrong image.

BG: What is the ultimate goal of the rebranding?

Korn: We worked on this for over a year. The process of getting to the end result was very deep within the organization. There’s the three pillars of the organization: On the stage, in the community, and in the school. We really communicated with all the constituencies throughout the organization to make sure that whatever we ended up with would suit and serve. We have this very robust community online now. The company also has its own ticket sales, which is huge, and we have a platform online to tell the story that is organic and changing and very image-based. The goal wasn’t to make it look pretty and package it nice. The goal was to move the dial on perception and to get people to connect and feel that the organization is open to receive them.

BG: There are other arts organizations around the country that are rebranding. Is rebranding important for going after younger patrons?

Nissinen: I think that is often one of the reasons. People want to refresh to remain relevant. You don’t do it alone with rebranding. You do it with your programming and ideas. This is a communication tool that is hopefully aligned exactly with the product. If you have a stuffy product and you unveil a great new logo, it’s not going to change anything. I think it’s a great tool, but it needs to be rooted in the philosophy of the organization.

Korn: Before we were doing this, I went to Mikko’s performances and I kept saying to him, “This is so magic’’ and “This is so world class.’’ I believed in the product. It was killing me. I told him to let it out and set it free.

Nissinen: For me, there was part of the old logo that left me thinking “What are we, a dancing bank’’?


Tuesday, 18 August 2009

New Labor Moves: Belly Dancing Hits Delivery Room

Connection to Childbirth May Have Ancient Origins; A Shimmy and a Roll

Helping Jennifer Wright through labor in the delivery room of a Columbia, Mo., birthing center in February were her doctor, her husband -- and her belly-dance instructor.

With the teacher, DeeDee Farris-Folkerts, by her side reminding her of the moves, Ms. Wright stood holding her husband while doing the hip circles and pelvic rotations characteristic of the ancient Arabian dance. She had readied a compact disc with classic Egyptian music, but didn't have a chance to play it before her daughter, Aubrey, emerged.

"I danced my way through labor," says the mother of three, who had been given painkillers and labor-inducing medication during her oldest child's birth and wanted a natural alternative. Her husband, Joe Walls, says he learned that belly dancing ‘is more than just entertainment. It has a much higher purpose.’

These days, alternative techniques to ease labor run the gamut from hypnotherapy to "water births" in a large bathtub. But some women disillusioned with routine use of drugs and medical interventions during labor are turning to an unusual solution -- belly dancing. They're restoring the titillating dance of seduction -- frequent entertainment fare in night clubs and Middle Eastern restaurants -- to what they say were its origins in childbirth, while enhancing maternity wards with swirling motions and mesmerising music.

Expectant mothers can choose from an increasing array of prenatal belly-dancing classes and educational materials. The first instructional prenatal belly dance DVD in the U.S. was released 16 months ago, with a pregnant dancer named Naia leading the class.

"Most of the women who come to me have given birth before and they want something different," says Ms. Farris-Folkerts, who typically has three to eight pregnant students in her belly-dance courses.

The belly dance arrived in the U.S. in the 1890s, according to bellydance lore, when impresario Sol Bloom brought an "Algerian" village to the Chicago World's fair and introduced the dancer Little Egypt, who cavorted to improvised snake-charmer music. Incorporating elements of striptease and so-called "hootchie-cootchie" dancing, the belly dance gained its come-hither reputation.

British anthropologist Sheila Kitzinger, author of numerous books on pregnancy, says belly dancing originated as a ritual of childbirth as well as seduction. Among Bedouin Arabs, she says, girls are taught a pelvic dance during puberty to celebrate their budding sexuality and prepare for the physical marathon of childbirth.

Some belly dance moves mirror those of labor. The idea is that the pelvic gyrations help disperse the pain of contractions, orient the fetus and propel the baby into the world. In early labor, when contractions are relatively mild, the expectant mother may find comfort in dancing slowly and hypnotically, using hip circles, crescents and figure eights. As labor gets more intense, the movements may progress to a rapid rocking of the pelvis from side to side – a technique known a the shimmy – to help position the baby correctly and relax the pelvic floor. In the final phase of pushing, a full body undulation known as the camel roll can help the baby move into the birth canal.”

A New York dancer who calls herself Morocco popularised the link between dancing and childbirth in the late 1960s with a firsthand account of a birth and dance ritual near Casablanca. Two decades later, a troupe called the Goddess Dancing was formed in greater Boston to celebrate the roots of belly dancing and teach classes to pregnant women and others.

NB: This article may be incomplete as it is now archived.

Source: Wall Street Journal

Not Your Mom's Lamaze Class

By Elisabeth Salemme / Brookfield Thursday, Aug. 23, 2007

Stefanie Masters , front row, far left teaches a pre-natal belly dancing class to women at the Maternity Mall in Brookfield, WI. Keri Pickett / WPN for TIME

The latest twist in childbirth prep involves jangling sequins and hip-shaking Middle Eastern music. As the growing popularity of belly dancing ripples across the U.S.--helping many a gymgoer wiggle off unwanted pounds--the ancient art form is also being practiced by moms-to-be to stay fit and ease their way through labor. From Georgia to California, dance instructors have started tailoring classes to help pregnant women with their flexibility, strength and breathing. "As soon as we feel pain, we tense up and hold our breath," says Stefanie Masters, who teaches two free classes a week in a maternity store in Brookfield, Wis. "Dancing helps build focusing skills, so as soon as that pain happens, we can breathe through it."

In addition, belly dancing's pelvic gyrations strengthen the muscles that are most important for labor and help position the baby for delivery. A colorful--and often scarf-intensive--offshoot of the epidural-free childbirth movement, undulating workouts have been a hot topic on maternity blogs since last year's DVD release of Prenatal Bellydance, which remains among the top-selling fitness and yoga DVDs on

But is it safe? Yes, says Dr. Sue Kelly Sayegh, associate professor of maternal-fetal medicine at Eastern Virginia Medical School in Norfolk. Low-impact exercise is recommended five to seven days a week during pregnancy. Although Sayegh warns against overexertion as well as fast-paced footwork that could lead to a fall, she says: "The art of breathing while doing other things is an excellent preparation for labor."

Indeed, last month one of Masters' students went into labor during class and gave birth the following morning without any pain medication. Says Masters: "She danced throughout her delivery."

Of course, there are plenty of skeptics, including the mothers of many pregnant belly dancers. "It seems silly to her," Amy Payne, 28, a nurse from Brookfield, says of her mother, who, according to Payne, once believed in only "bed rest and weight gain" during pregnancy. Payne was overweight when she conceived five months ago and says she lost 10 lbs. after she started taking Masters' classes in June. Fellow nurse Kelly Kuglitsch, 29, of Muskego, Wis., who is eight months pregnant, says belly dancing has made her backaches disappear. Another perk: "It makes me feel sexy," she says. "I go home and show my husband my new moves. He thinks it's really cute." Then again, no smart husband would dare say otherwise.


Friday, 24 July 2009

Beauty and the beat

By Fayza Hassan

Oriental dancer'WHILE DANCE THE ALMAHS...': Primitive religious worship, fertility rites, Bedouin traditions, and cross-cultural influences in the Ottoman empire -- all these, singly or combined, are believed to be at the origin of what has come to be known loosely as Oriental dancing.

Regardless of where and when it all started, as secular entertainment, it has embodied for centuries the dreams of men looking towards the East for the fulfilment of their senses.

Researchers concede today that there is more to Oriental dancing than meets the eye, but few have produced serious studies on its various forms. Meanwhile, indigenous varieties have developed. Among these, of course, is raqs baladi, a solo performance originating in Egypt and observed in nightclubs across the Arab world and elsewhere. Because of its association with eroticism, however, this type of dance, commonly practiced in segregated gatherings, in the home -- a reminder of the times when the awalim danced for women in the harem -- has been charged with sinful connotations. Even today, its performance in mixed company is marked with social stigma.

A MODERN TABOO: On the beach of Sidi Bishr, a boy and a girl are walking away from the sea, holding hands. He is barely 15, she almost 12. The white sand is hot under their bare feet and they hasten gingerly across it, helping each other, seeking a spot in the shadow of a cabin on the concrete curb. When they reach it, they stop and look into each other's eyes. Coyly, the girl raises her arms over her head and points her right toe, then lightly goes through the motions of an uncertain pirouette. She is supple and graceful, but somehow, despite the expensive ballet lessons, fails to cut the streamlined figure of a future ballerina. There is too much softness in the profile and roundness around the hips, not enough protruding bones and the laughing blue eyes completely belie the attempt at serious resolve. Unimpressed, the boy gently pulls her by the hand. She giggles and resists, then abruptly snaps her fingers and begins to slowly roll her hips to a silent beat. Her waist marks the quarter tone instinctively, the secret note in Arabic music which has escaped foreign Oriental dancers from time immemorial. She is a natural; "she has it in her blood" as the popular saying goes.

He has stopped and looks at his friend, speechless. In the cabins, holiday makers have interrupted their conversations and card games and are leaning on the railings watching the little dancer, who is by now lost in a private dream, sensually undulating to the rhythm of imaginary sagat (castanets) while humming a popular tune under her breath. Suddenly, the child's mother is upon her. A sharp slap interrupts the performance and the girl is dragged away kicking and screaming.

The year was 1949, and families of the Egyptian bourgeoisie did not take kindly to their daughters' belly dancing talents. Nor had they grown more tolerant 10 years later, when the boy was dispatched on an extended trip to Europe with clear instructions to forget his childhood sweetheart. Upon his return, he married a girl who met his parents' standards of propriety. The girl was married soon after, to a man who was not informed beforehand of his bride's ability.

IMPROMPTU PERFORMANCE: Dancing is one of the favourite pastimes of ordinary Egyptian women who learn the art practically with mother's milk.

In her book Serpent of the Nile, Wendy Buonaventura, who teaches and performs raqs baladi herself, recounts an unrehearsed show to which she was treated on the banks of the Nile in Aswan: "[A] little girl in a galabiya, which reached like a nightgown almost down to her ankles, had been standing there... staring at us. A tiny figure with a tangle of dark hair, she could not have been more than five or six years old. Suddenly she came to life and began dancing, rolling her hips and saucily shaking her bottom at us. Raising her arms above her head, she imperiously snapped her fingers, her face full of glee, while some of the other children clapped out a rhythm for her. Then she came down to the bottom of the steps and held out her hand for money."

TRAVELLERS' DELIGHT: In most conservative societies, female dancing is considered the most shameful form of entertainment, partly for its alleged sensual undertone and partly for its -- usually unjustified -- link with prostitution. It has been practised almost continually in Egypt, however, at weddings and mawalid, in nightclubs, and, for the more popular performers, in concert halls and theatres. "Belly dancing" shows were one of the most important tourist sights from the 19th century on. "Many travellers preferred them to the Pyramids and the Nile," writes Karin van Nieuwkerk in A Trade Like Any Other.

In June 1834, however, Mohamed Ali issued an edict forbidding public female dancers to work in Cairo. Travellers had to journey south in order to see the celebrated almahs. They came with recommendations from their predecessors to look for famous performers such as Kuchuk Hanim, Safia of Esna, Hosna El-Tawila of Luxor and Aziza of Aswan. Several tourists obtained permission to have the dancers perform on their boats. Lucie Duff Gordon recounts in one of her Letters from Egypt that an Englishman had caused problems by insisting that the female dancers at the party perform naked. He roused quite a ruckus when they refused.

Other travellers, however, reported that not all dancers were as shy. One dance, especially popular among tourists, was called the wasp or bee dance. In this variation, according to one discreet chronicler, the bee, supposedly hidden in the dancer's clothes, was "found" before the last garment was parted with. Flaubert seems to have been more fortunate in his quest for the erotic/exotic: he claimed that Kuchuk Hanim and Aziza of Aswan treated him to an authentic striptease after having blindfolded their musicians.

'PIMP PASHA': Earning a living was not always easy for a dancing girl, even after Mohamed Ali's ban was eased. In the 1860s, Khedive Ismail increased the taxes on performers, causing Duff Gordon to comment in 1866: "I saw one of the poor dancing girls the other day... and she told me how cruel the new tax on them is. It is left to the discretion of the official who farms it to make each woman pay according to her presumed gains, i.e. good looks... By instituting this tax... Ismail earned himself the nickname Pimp Pasha."

Dancing girl
Farida Fahmi
Nagwa Fouad
Nahed Sabri
Badi'a Masabni
From top : ghawazi by E Prisse (1848); dancing girls (circa 1924), from Lehnert and Landrock bookstore collection; Farida Fahmi; Nagwa Fouad; Nahed Sabri; Badi'a Masabni
WHO IS WHO: There has been a great deal of confusion among foreigners as to the terminology designating the various types of dancers, and definitions have been developed by foreign travellers that often puzzled the indigenous population.

According to van Nieuwkerk, Chabrol and Villoteau, who visited Egypt in 1822, made the following distinction: "In the first place, there was a group of awalim (singular alma or almah), learned women or female scholars. Their main activity was writing poetry, composing music, improvising and singing... [T]hey also danced, but only for women. They often played instruments to accompany their songs and they were greatly valued for their mawwal [improvised laments]."

Savary, however, seems to have been the first foreigner to adopt this description of the almah in 1787: "They are called savantes. A more painstaking education than other women has earned them this name. They form a celebrated community within the country. In order to join one must have a beautiful voice, a good possession of the language, a knowledge of the rules of poetry and an ability to spontaneously compose and sing couplets adapted to the circumstances."

Foufa El-Fransawi, who began her career as a folklore dancer with the Reda Troupe and now concentrates on teaching the rudiments of raqs sharqi to interested amateurs, comments: "Foreigners got it wrong; the word alma simply means teacher and is used to designate older dancers who train and manage the careers of younger dancers, for a fee at first, and a commission later when they obtain contracts. Dancers in the past came from the lower classes. Girls were traditionally not taught to read and write, let alone compose poetry. Dancers learned among themselves to accompany their dances with simple instruments; as for the mawwal, it is an old song form passed from generation to generation, which children learn at home. How could travellers who spoke the language imperfectly know if they were being treated to an improvisation or to an old folk song whose words were well remembered by the indigenous population?"

El-Fransawi, however, agrees with the travellers' definition of the ghawazi, gypsy-type dancers who followed the mawalid. "They have almost disappeared today," she says, "except perhaps in the very old mawalid in the countryside, where one can sometimes observe a group of them performing."

THE DANCERS' DEN: With the beginning of the British occupation in 1882, a nightclub district developed in Ezbekiya Gardens, complete with theatres, restaurants and music halls, offering various types of entertainment. Some European performers appeared in these establishments, but they were chiefly the province of Egyptian musicians, singers and dancers.

It is ironic that Mohamed Ali Street, named after the ruler who had banned dancing girls from Cairo, became notorious during this period for its pleasure palaces. From there sprang generations of performers who passed the trade from father to son and mother to daughter.

The most famous baladi dancers of the 20th century, such as Na'ima Akef, Tahia Carioca and, more recently, Lucy, were born, or at least went to live there because it was the place to be for a dancer who wanted to work regularly.

DANCING ON THE SCREEN: "As Egyptian movies began to rely on music and dance scenes [in the 1920s], the nightclub and theatre became familiar settings for the film narrative.

Real-life prejudices against dancers, singers and even male musicians were part of the narrative as well," writes Marjorie Franken in Images of Enchantment.

Hollywood exerted a great influence on film nevertheless, and "its fantasy of Oriental dance filtered through and was taken up and unconsciously parodied by Arab dancers in their desire to emulate Western behaviour and modes of fashion," adds Buonaventura.

ENTER BADI'A: The first Egyptian cabaret, the Casino Opera, was opened in 1926 by Syrian actress-dancer Badi'a Masabni, who offered among other forms of entertainment an extremely popular women-only matinée.

With an eye on her Western clientele, Badi'a decided to broaden the scope of baladi dance, comments Buonaventura. "Until then, the upper torso and arms had not played a particular role in baladi. Traditionally, the arms were simply lifted and held. Now dancers began using them to describe flowing, serpentine patterns of movement."

On Badia'a's extended stage, performers also began to explore the use of space, whereas they had previously performed more or less on the spot.

Another of her innovations was the use of veils inspired by the milaya laff, a specialty of Alexandrian dancers. "The manipulation of gossamer veils... was the creation of Western Oriental dancers at the turn of the [20th] century."

Traditional dancers used to perform in their everyday clothes, and the idea of a special dance costume is a purely Western Orientalist creation.

THE DIVAS: Both Tahia Carioca and Samia Gamal trained with Masabni before going on to become the most celebrated dancers of the century. Samia Gamal was the first to break with the custom of dancing barefoot. She wore high-heeled shoes on the stage -- perhaps, as one observer commented, "to prove that she could afford them."

High heels gave a different emphasis to the dance, which was further altered by the introduction of choreography (as opposed to the traditional improvisation) pioneered by Masabni's dancers. It is during this period that raqset al-hawanim (the "candelabra dance," a number inspired by Alexandrian folklore, in which the dancer performs with a seven-branched candelabra ablaze on her head) became popular.

El-Fransawi recounts that Tahia acquired her name after seeing a film in which the Brazilian dance Carioca featured. She asked Zaki, her drummer, to practice a similar beat on his tabla, and introduced it in her performance. From then on, she became known as Tahia Carioca and he as Zaki Carioca.

THE DEPRESSION, AND AFTER: Masabni's sala (dance hall) flourished in the 1920s and '30s, and she eventually moved to the famous Casino Badi'a in Giza, a stone's throw from the bridge previously known as the Pont des Anglais and which was promptly renamed Badi'a Bridge.
Even during the depression, nightclubs thrived, attracting a foreign clientele as well as affluent Egyptians, but the persistence of economic hardship seemed to spark a reorientation based on religious principles. A new attempt was made to clean up the nightclubs.

In 1932, the Ezbekiya police used the law prohibiting "scandalous acts in public" to prevent belly dancing performances. Sala owners became very clever at devising ways of evading the police, especially since foreign dancers protected by the Capitulations were not only allowed to carry on normally, but also to sit and drink with clients if they so wished.

A NEW ORIENTATION: By this time, however, dancers were no longer carving their careers out in salas and nightclubs. With the advent of cinema, they became known not only to the Egyptian public at large, but to an international audience as well. Many, like Tahia Carioca, Na'ima Akef, Samia Gamal, Hagar Hamdi, Nagwa Fouad and, today, Lucy or Dina, reached a degree of fame that would have been unthinkable had they remained confined to the old venues.

"Carioca made the transition to the movies in 1940," writes Franken, "and became known for her subtle and elegant style of dancing. She helped establish the cinema dancer as the good-hearted cabaret performer but later moved beyond this stereotype.

"Opposite Tahia Carioca in some of her 'woman of the people' roles, was another dancer who made an explicit contrast between acceptable female social dance [dancing at home for one's husband or in gatherings attended exclusively by women] and dangerous, seductive, illicit dance. Nagwa Fouad brought strength and energy to her roles as the prostitute who dances to seduce the husband of another woman.

"Samia Gamal... had perhaps the most refined screen image. She added more expressive hand movements, almost balletic in form, to the hip and torso movements of belly dance.

"Naima Akef was a dancer's dancer. Born into a family of entertainers, she was more than a belly dancer. Her performance of tap-dance and Latin and European dance forms allowed her to deviate from the stereotyped Oriental dancer role."

A BRIEF REPRIEVE: The second World War brought a new boom to the salas, and to belly-dancing in general. Hikmat Fahmi is said to have danced for Hitler and Mussolini, while Amina Mohamed was rumoured to have travelled to Libya to dance for Goering. Pyramids Road, which had remained almost rural until then, was developed into a new and more luxurious nightlife district.

It was not to live long, however. In 1951, a new article was added to the law on public places, forbidding performers to sit with the clientele, or to eat, drink or dance with them. On Black Saturday, Badi'a Masabni's sala was among the arsonists' first victims. Nasser's socialism, too, brought about a reappraisal of Arab culture. Belly dancers, viewed as a blemish on the image of upstanding womanhood, were to be shunned, while folk art, music and dance glorifying clean-cut, wholesome Arab culture were revived.

A NEW IMAGE: "Farida Fahmi, principal dancer of the Reda Folkloric Troupe, epitomised the sweet Egyptian girl, the bint el-balad... She was extremely popular in Egypt throughout the 1960s and 1970s," writes Franken. "Farida Fahmi presented an image that was the antithesis of the risqué belly dancer so popular in films... [perceived] as a female in an alternative role, suggesting modern images and possibilities for postcolonial Egyptian society."

Blended with local dances, then, and divested of its femme fatale connotations, belly-dancing could achieve respectability. "When the Reda troupe achieved a measure of success," remembers El-Fransawi, a member of the original group of 12 dancers, "Ali Reda scoured the country in search of old dances and costumes. From these inspirations he devised his choreography."

SPIRIT, NOT TECHNIQUE: Foreigners who came to learn Oriental dancing found the folklore-type dance far too difficult, she explains, and it was never a popular form with them. They had heard of belly-dancing, and this is what they had come to learn.

This particular form came to Egypt via the Ottoman Empire and was one of the favourite spectacles of the sultans. The dancers moved only the muscles of their belly and often performed lying down on the floor -- hence the sexual connotations that remained attached to the art as a whole.

Picked up in Egypt, the dance was reinterpreted at various stages. New elements were introduced periodically, many borrowed from Western dances, others from folklore. There were the purists, like Soheir Zaki, and the innovators, like Samia Gamal.

All, however, shared one trait, El-Fransawi believes: "They had Arabic music and dance in their blood. As soon as they heard the music, they began to move as if something very deep inside them was awakened by the beat. Dancing was as normal as breathing to them and it brought them complete happiness. This is something that foreigners will never be able to feel, no matter how proficient they become. I can teach technique, but only the dancer possesses the power to permeate her movement with the ruh (spirit)."

Nor is El-Fransawi impressed by the crop of new dancers, no matter how astronomical the prices they may command. "Only Lucy is a natural. The others may be good, but they don't have the 'feeling'," she concludes firmly.

Wendy Buonaventura: Serpent of the Nile, Women and Dance in the Arab World, Saqi Books, 1994
Lucie Duff Gordon: Letters from Egypt, Virago, 1986
Karin van Nieuwkerk: A Trade Like Any Other, Female Singers and Dancers in Egypt, The American University in Cairo Press, 1996
Sherifa Zuhur, ed.: Images of Enchantment, Visual Performing Arts in the Middle East, The American University in Cairo Press, 1998
Mustafa Darwish: Dream Makers on the Nile, The American University in Cairo Press, 1998

Source: Al-Ahram

Sikidim, sikidim

By Tanya Goudsouzian
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly
6 - 12 July 2000, Issue No. 489

It was as though one had been propelled centuries back in time, to the tent of a wealthy tribal patriarch who was giving one of his many daughters in marriage to a worthy young camel herder. Ebullient young girls in shimmering, beaded bustiers jiggled and whirled about in their diaphanous skirts before a spellbound audience. On the evening of 27 June, however, there were no camels in sight. The audience comprised mostly veiled matriarchal characters and subdued middle-aged men, as well as a sprinkling of foreigners eager to sample "authentic Arab culture."

The Ramses Hilton was the chosen locale for the costume show that was part of the week-long festival of Oriental dance organised by well-known dance instructor Madame Raga'i. The elaborate -- and eminently seductive -- ensembles on display were the handiwork of Amira El-Qattan, a tall, graceful woman with bright orange hair, who stole the show in her skin-tight black gown the moment she strutted into the hall. The evening stretched on for some seven hours, but what kept the audience locked in place were rumours that the organising committee held some tantalising surprises in store.

The spectacle began at 8.00pm with the celebrated Reda Folkloric Dance Troupe members performing a zaffa, the traditional wedding procession consisting of song and dance. Then the lights were dimmed and large screens placed at both extremities of the room presented a brief historical of Oriental dance. Revered figures such as Tahia Carioca, Samia Gamal and Soheir Zaki reappeared in the prime of their youth on celluloid to show what the art was all about: communication and improvisation. Today, many people take the dance at face value, and equate it with the ever-popular American strip show. To put it bluntly, it must be understood that it is not about selling oneself, but about grace, agility and an ear for the subtlest titillation of music. Of course, time passes, music changes and so does the dance. This was a point emphasised by Soheir Zaki, famous in the 1970s and 1980s, who was in attendance and spoke to Al-Ahram Weekly.

Samia Gamal
Tahia and Farid
Lucy  and Suheir Zaki
Comparing styles
Natasha Atlas
From top: Samia Gamal; Tahia Carioca and Farid El-Atrash; Dina; Foufa in London in 1970; Lucy and Soheir Zaki: a demanding jury; comparing styles; Natasha Atlas, the songbird who took Europe by storm

(photos: Sherif Sonbol and Al-Ahram's archives)

"A dancer has an ability to make both quick and slow movements. Back then, the music allowed for the dancer to show all her abilities," said Zaki. "Today the music is too fast."

As the screening came to an end, the DJ began spinning some popular Middle Eastern beats and in bounced the jaunty models garbed in gaily-coloured frocks. El-Qattan's collections were modelled by young women who had travelled from the four corners of the globe, including Australia, Japan and Italy, to partake in the series of workshops to be given by the country's most masterful dancers during the week-long festival. It might sound like a scene straight from an illustrated copy of the Arabian Nights, but it looked more like Mardi Gras with some of the ladies boasting cascades of gold locks, tattoos and a few excess kilos.

Just about the time they made their appearance, I made my disappearance -- under a swarm of photographers who, like moles, scurried out from their dark corners towards the light, nearly blocking my view. What I could discern, however, was that the collection was divided into themes, some inspired by legendary women such as Sheherazade and the Queen of Sheba. The Sheherazade costumes had a mystical quality, with halo-like shades that left a hazy trail behind them and coupes fantaisistes ; the Queen of Sheba line could best be described as regal, ornate with jewels, ruched shoulder bands and rich colours. El-Qattan also brought in some modern looks, such as tie-dye and floral Carmen-like prints.

The girls left the stage and a hush spread throughout the hall. The first surprise was to be revealed. The backstage door cracked open and a slight figure in a diaphanous black outfit with gold trimmings stepped out. She was none other than the toast of Paris, Natacha Atlas. There was no mistaking those features: a tanned complexion, slanted eyes elongated with black kohl and a mesmerising gaze. When she began to sing, she uttered French lyrics but her enchanting voice followed an unmistakably Oriental melody. Atlas recently relocated to Egypt to find her roots. Born in Belgium to an English mother and a (technically) Egyptian father, the songbird has taken Europe by storm with a style than can only be compared to that of the late great ballad singer Dalida. In my opinion, the audience did not do her justice in their applause. Perhaps the proportions of her reputation have not yet reached the country, or perhaps an audience more likely to worship Umm Kulthoum can never really appreciate the likes of Atlas.

After her performance, the jiggling young ladies returned once more, wearing another series of El-Qattan concoctions. At this stage, the audience was visibly exhausted from watching amateurs imitate Oriental dance. Lucy's performance came just in time. Lucy had made her initial entrance as a guest alongside Soheir Zaki, amid flashing bulbs. But somewhere along the line, she discretely retreated backstage where she traded her slinky backless black gown for a chi-chi Oriental deux-pièces.

Lucy's style can be dubbed the Perrier of belly-dance. She is an acquired taste. She makes no effort to captivate the audience with eye contact or coquettish gestures. She simply gyrates to the beat -- but such a precise gyration. Through the grape-vine, I learned that Fifi Abdu, the reigning queen of the country's movers and shakers, had been asked to perform. When she informed the organisers that her price would "depend on the number of heads in the audience," she was shimmied off the list of performers.

Lucy's performance was a few notches higher in the class department than what Fifi could have provided. Barramching! Lucy's hips jolt to the right. Barramching, ching, ching! Lucy's hips jut-jut-jut to the left. Her expressionless face cracks a smile as the audience begins to appreciate her physical rendition of the music played by a live band. She dances as though she is singing, sometimes extending her arms upwards, miming a soprano. She reappeared for her second sequence dressed in a sizzling red concerto gown -- albeit, one exhibiting more cleavage than any conservatoire would allow -- and short auburn wig. For her final sequence, she emerged in a translucent black and silver dishdasha with a cane in hand. Here, she paid homage to Soheir Zaki who was sitting in the audience. "Up," she gestured and a gushing Zaki obeyed, giddy at the prospect of dancing before an audience again. It was a sentimental scene when the two ladies danced in embrace.

When Lucy's number was up, the guests were told they could finally approach the buffet. By now it was past midnight, and everyone was famished. I had to fight my way through the throng with a fork for a morsel of chicken kofta. When I returned to sample the desserts, not only had the serving dishes been wiped clean, but "they have eaten the spoons too," quipped one unfortunate guest. Back to our respective tables. The pièce de resistance was about to make her way on-stage.

Dina is the quintessential belly dancer. This fact cannot be disputed. With a mane of jet black ringlets down her back and a cleavage virtually bursting out of her bustier, she appears as though she has been peeled off one of those Orientalist paintings they peddle in Khan Al-Khalili "art" shops. All she has to do is stand there, and the male audience is satisfied, as the smiles plastered on faces attested, even when she had left the room to change between sequences.

But she is anything but immobile. She is full of expression, flirty, mischievous and suggestive. She shakes about with a broad infectious smile, dragging her legs and her arms in wide motions like a gypsy dancer. She has a few gestures that constitute her trademark, like when she makes eye contact with some hapless gent in the audience, then points to her navel. When his eyes follow, she erupts in laughter and goes on with her business.

Her costumes are another matter. For her first sequence, she sauntered on stage in a candy pink outfit, reminiscent of the one worn by Barbara Eden in the 1960s hit series "I Dream of Genie." In her second sequence, she wore a blue iridescent butterfly-shaped bustier and a floral print cache-maillot wrapped around her hips. The third sequence, she came out dressed in a fire-engine red slip-like costume, shredded at the hem. What is remarkable about this woman is the fact that mere months have passed since she gave birth to her son Ali and she is in better shape than some unmarried women. She may come across as the bimbo of belly-dance, but this would be, quite literally, a show. Dina holds a master's degree in philosophy and is well-travelled, having lived in Rome for many years. A closer look at her performances and one clearly detects a calculated image.

When I left the hotel, it was past 2.00am. Dina was still dancing -- in a fourth ensemble, black with gold trimmings. Every single guest was still in place. The magic of Oriental dance has not been lost, despite growing fears that Westernisation (or globalisation) will erode local culture.

"Arab dance must be spread," said Soheir Zaki, when asked what she thought of foreigners taking on the dance. "The whole world should appreciate it." But can they ever really capture its essence?

Source: Al-Ahram

Monday, 11 May 2009

Belly Dance as a Means of Dance Therapy

Published: February 03, 2007
Writer: Nadia De Leon

The Healing Powers of Middle Eastern Dance

The concept that Belly Dance can be healing, that it is a fine form of exercise and that it fosters the general well being of women, is and has been widely accepted, since its origins in the Middle East all the way to contemporary dance studios in the
U.S. This fact is easily confirmed through many lines in books about the history and sociology of Middle-Eastern Dance, as well as by the vast number of websites that talk about Belly Dance as a healing tool for today's women.

There is not a single book completely dedicated to Belly Dance's therapeutic qualities, in fact there are not many books generally dealing with Belly Dance at all. Nevertheless, there are plenty of the materials on the Internet with anecdotic information in the form of journals or casual articles. These sources talk about personal experiences of how practicing Belly Dance brings many physiological and psychological benefits. The scope of all these sources only goes as far as Belly Dance's healing powers, but it does not address Belly Dance utilized as Dance Therapy. By this I mean that although Belly Dance is used widely as a form of informal therapy, I have not been able to find material regarding its use in a strict format of physical or psychotherapy, by a therapist, much less following the parameters and foundations of professional Dance/Movement Therapy. Even so, I did find enough material to confirm many aspects of said "healing powers" of Belly Dance, which I explore in detail below.

Physiological Benefits

Because Belly Dance is an aerobic exercise, practicing it regularly burns calories, helping dancers regulate body weight, and improves cardiovascular fitness, which in turn prevents respiratory complications, as well as heart disease. Belly Dance is a strength-and-conditioning exercise for many muscles, such as the quadriceps and hamstrings, and all the muscles of the shoulder, arm and wrist involved in arm movements. Belly Dance especially strengthens the muscles of the torso: the abdominal, pelvic, lumbar and gluteus muscles, which in turn improve the dancer's posture. It is well known that good posture is the first step for a chain of many physiological benefits for the human body. Because Belly dance improves both cardiovascular fitness and posture, it also develops appropriate circulation and regulates breathing, which in turn augments the oxygen levels in the blood, and prevents circulation and digestion complications.

The stretching and strengthening of all the muscles involved in Belly Dance, as well as the cardiovascular work out, help relieve muscle tension. Mastering the complex and layered isolation movements of Belly Dance constitutes an intense training of neuromuscular paths, which in turn improves the dancer's coordination. There are many testimonials that affirm that the frequent practice of Belly Dance eases and prevents menstrual pains, as well as strengthening the muscles and improving the fitness endurance of women in preparation for giving birth.[1][2] Finally, I must refer to the very interesting testimonial of a woman who found Belly Dance to be the best therapy to help her deal with Hypothyroidism helping her feel "fully alive and healthy" [3], as well as a Belly Dancer who was diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and found the dance helpful to her physical condition[4].

Psychological Benefits Because Dance/Movement Therapy is a form of psychotherapy, I focused my research on the inherent psychological benefits of Belly Dance. Many of the psychological benefits of practicing Belly Dance often are both cause and consequence of the holistic approach of Belly Dance's philosophy, theory and techniques. Belly Dance is an art that blurs the solid and somehow arbitrary lines that Western culture and society places between mind and body. Belly Dance helps the women who practice it to experience harmony by overcoming the polarity of thinking about themselves as fragmented pieces of spirit versus flesh, and thoughts versus emotions, by seeing themselves as "whole women". Interestingly enough, the science of Dance Therapy also shares this holistic approach, by blurring the lines between mind/language and body/movement, by uplifting movement as a valid form of expression, and by showing that not only neurological maturation, experiences and learning cause change in movement behavior, but that change in movement behavior can also change the psyche. Consequently, practicing Belly Dance, and the whole of its movement vocabulary, so foreign and novel for Western women, "rewires" women into a state of all-encompassing emotional well being. It connects the core of their identities in womanhood, in loving their bodies, and in being comfortable with their femininity and sensuality. And it does all this collectively, with a group of other women who shower acceptance on each other.

In my opinion the first and foremost benefit of the practice of Belly Dance is the fact that it cultivates a positive body image and boosts self-esteem.[5] From that fact stem many other psychological benefits. The positive body image built through Belly Dance is based on the acceptance of the image of ourselves in the mirror, on the courage to dance in front of other people, and on the milestone of revealing our bellies. This is all possible because Belly Dance is a dance that reveres the female body in all shapes and sizes.[6] The personal appreciation of self-identity and enhancement of self-esteem has roots in the Dance/Movement Therapy concept that asserts that people must be comfortable in their bodies in order to move their bodies. I found that many Belly Dance instructors, who are not therapists, unknowingly and instinctively apply the Dance/Movement Therapy method called Body-Ego Technique, a predominantly nonverbal educational and therapeutic approach to establishing, reestablishing and/or maintaining body image and self-identity by learning and experiencing a variety of goal-directed physical movement patterns.[7]

Another important psychological benefit of Belly Dance, often underappreciated, is stress relief. The benefit of practicing Belly Dance periodically may lay in the simple fact of dedicating some time to ourselves. Belly Dance is an exercise and art particularly suitable to fulfill the role of a space and time to look for inner peace and harmony, such as that of meditation, and other currently popular options such as yoga and taiji. Many women who practice Belly Dance affirm that after a class they feel completely cleansed, with renewed energy and patience, grounded, and that Belly Dance class is the one time in which they can leave all their worries outside the door and rejoice in an activity they personally enjoy. This particularly helpful in today's Western society were women are expected to rise to the expectations of professional success without undermining their roles as nurturers, wives and mothers. Stress is the cause of many psychological and physiological afflictions women suffer today, and Belly Dance's value to counterbalance life's stress cannot be overestimated.

In my research I found articles, quotes, and anecdotes of women who experienced Belly Dance as emotional healing while recovering from breast cancer or uterine cancer. I found it fascinating because all these women from the U.S. to Australia, who had very different personal experiences with cancer, all shared something in common: they had undergone either mastectomy or hysterectomy surgeries.[8] There is some information regarding dance therapy being used all over the world to enhance the recovery of cancer survivors in plenty of oncology centers and hospitals all over the world.[9] Nevertheless, something distinct stands out: when the type of dance being used for this healing therapy is Belly Dance, the survivors/dancers are almost always women who went through a surgery that makes them feel "less of a woman", a surgery that undermines their personal feelings of femininity and their identity as women. No wonder these women choose Belly Dance over other dance forms to help them heal from such experiences!

Belly Dance is also used as a means of therapy for eating disorders. The reason for this is very obvious: most people suffering from eating disorders have a distorted body image with which they are not satisfied. As explained above, Belly Dance is an optimal art and exercise to build a positive body image and befriend our own bodies. Additionally, Belly Dance is not an art form that venerates slim bodies, or demands uncommon extraordinary abilities from the dancers' bodies. It is a dance that not only values, but also needs and longs for curves. It is a dance built with movements that come naturally to women, and that run smoothly through the human body. I have not been able to find information on Belly Dance utilized as the main therapy form for the treatment of eating disorders. Nevertheless, there is plenty of information about women who found Belly Dance helpful in healing from and overcoming anorexia and bulimia.[10]

Like many other enjoyable forms of exercise, Belly Dance is an exceptionally useful therapy to help treat depression.[11] The release of endorphins affects the brain chemistry, improving the dancer's mood. Practicing Belly Dance also heightens creativity, lowers stress, and helps regulate metabolism and sleep patterns, all factors that affect clinical depression.[12] Belly Dance is practiced in a comfortable non-threatening environment. A proficient Belly Dance instructor is supportive and puts little pressure on her students. All of this results in student's feelings of fulfillment and improvement of self- confidence.

The last topic I would like to address is the usefulness of Belly Dance as a healing process for survivors of sexual abuse. Belly Dance teaches women how to embody their sexuality, how to overcome shame, and how to love, celebrate and be proud of their bodies. Belly Dance is a reaffirmation of the beauty and sacredness of love, sex, passion, pleasure and fertility. Additionally, Belly Dance, as any other art form, can be a way to express anger and other inner feelings.[13] Although it may take years for the healing process to occur, Belly Dancing has helped many women resolve their issues with sexuality and their own bodies.[14]

Belly Dance is a valid means of therapy through movement. It obviously has the power to touch women's emotional core, and generate change, evolutions and revolutions in our psyche by connecting us to a higher archetype of femininity. Getting in touch with this inner power through Belly Dance starts a healing domino effect that runs like the fertile overflow of a river, gently running through the dancer's body, mind and spirit, flooding them with well being and strength.

[1] Vargas Dinicu, Carolina (Morocco), Belly Dancing and Childbirth, Sexology Magazine, 1964.

[2] Vargas Dinicu, Carolina (Morocco), Giving to Light- Dancing the baby into the world, Habibi, Winter 1996, Vol. 15, No. 1.

[3] Stricklin, Pat. "Belly Dance to Inspire Healing" Column #4, Belly Dancing as Healing Dance, June 2002,, as of October, 2005.

[4] Amy. Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Belly Dance., as of November, 2005.

[5] Stricklin, Pat. Belly Dancing and Cultural Influences on Body Image., as of November, 2005.

[6] Delilah. Reviving Ophelia Through Belly Dancing " Can belly dance offer young women a more positive self image?", as of November, 2005.

[7] Salkin, Jeri, Body Ego Technique; an educational and therapeutic approach to body image and self identity, Charles C. Tomage Publisher, Illinois, U.S.A., 1973.

[8] McAghon, Monica. "Danse Orientale for Mastectomy Recovery". Healing Dance Testimonials,, as of October 2005.

[9] Clay, Jean. "Danse Orientale aided my recovery and renewed my joy for the gift of life". Healing Dance Testimonials,, as of October 2005.

[10] Izzo, Kim; Marsh, Cere, Belly Dance- Overcoming Bulimia, Filmakers Library, NY, 22 min. video.

[11] Lafata, Lorraine. "Belly Dancing as a Healing Dance", 2000, as of October, 2005.

[12] Lara (Clinical Psychologist), Psychological Benefits of Belly Dancing,, as of November, 2005.

[13] Maria, Anna "Embodied Sexuality & Female Power" Column #3, Belly Dancing as Healing Dance, March 2002,, as of October, 2005.

[14] Lipschitz, Lucy. How Middle-Eastern Dance gave me recovery., as of November, 2005.

Source: Associated Content