Friday, 30 December 2011

Israeli researchers: Belly dancing good for women's health

A recent Clalit Health Services study reveals belly dancing leads to fewer visits to family doctors, a loss in weight, and an increase in general health among women.
By Dan Even

Belly dancing traces back to ancient Egypt, where they were used as part of religious ceremonies. Historians posit that Napoleon’s soldiers, who were exposed to belly dancing while in Egypt, brought the idea back with them to the nightclubs of France. It seems, however, that the issue goes well beyond entertainment, into the realm of health.

A recent Clalit Health Services study under the direction of Dr. Clara Friedman at the Lichtenstein clinic in Kfar Saba, examined the effect of belly dancing on women’s health. The study included 129 participants, whose average age was 49, from belly dancing workshops in central Israel.

The final figures, published in an Israeli family medicine journal, revealed that belly dancing contributed to fewer visits to family doctors. Before they began attending the workshops, 53.6% of women visited a family doctor at least once every three months. However, after the workshops, the rate went down to 7.3%. Due to the workshops, most of the participants (92.7%) decreased their visits to once every half year.

At the end of the year-long workshop, where the women belly danced for two hours a week, their general health assessment rose by an average of 5.54 points to a total 9.09 points, on a scale of 1-10.

Furthermore, the women’s’ average body mass index (BMI) went down from 25.34 units, and approximately 70% of them described a decrease in their weight. According to the researchers, belly dancing is “a safe and pleasant form of physical exercise that has a positive effect on both physical and mental health.”


15 Truths About Being a Professional Dancer

Posted by Melanie Doskocil

Last week my friend, Mr. Dolce, who is a language arts teacher at Van Buren Middle School in Albuquerque, NM told me about a list he had found on the web that some of his students were discussing in a round table type format. He read the list, called 16 Harsh Truths that Make Us Stronger, to me over the phone and I immediately knew I wanted to see it for myself. The original list was written by Marc and Angel (of Marc and Angel Hack Life). As a ballet teacher I felt inspired by their list to write 15 truths about being a professional dancer. Some are adapted from Marc and Angel's list and some come from my own experiences. If you haven't looked at Marc and Angel's site, I highly recommend it. They have many inspiring posts.

1. Dance is hard. – No dancer ever became successful riding on their natural born talents only. Dancers are artists and athletes. The world of dance today is akin to an extreme sport. Natural ability and talent will only get us so far. Dancers must work hard and persevere. Dancers give years of their lives plus their sweat, tears and sometimes blood to have the honor and pleasure of performing on stage

2. You won’t always get what you want. – We don’t always get the role we wanted, go on pointe when we want, get the job we want, hear the compliments we want, make the money we want, see companies run the way we want, etc, etc. This teaches us humility and respect for the process, the art form and the masters we have chosen to teach us. The faster we accept this, the faster we can get on with being brilliant. We’ll never be 100% sure it will work, but we can always be 100% sure doing nothing won’t work.

3. There’s a lot you don’t know. – There is always more a dancer can learn. Even our least favorite teachers, choreographers and directors can teach us something. The minute we think we know it all, we stop being a valuable asset.

4. There may not be a tomorrow. – A dancer never knows when their dance career will suddenly vanish… a company folds, career ending injury, car accident, death…Dance every day as if it is the final performance. Don’t save the joy of dance for the stage. Infuse even your routine classroom exercises with passion!

5. There’s a lot you can’t control. – You can’t control who hires you, who fires you, who likes your work, who doesn’t, the politics of being in a company. Don’t waste your talent and energy worrying about things you can’t control. Focus on honing your craft, being the best dancer you can be. Keep an open mind and a positive attitude.

6. Information is not true knowledge. – Knowledge comes from experience. You can discuss a task a hundred times, go to 1000 classes, but unless we get out there and perform we will only have a philosophical understanding of dance. Find opportunities to get on stage. You must experience performance firsthand to call yourself a professional dancer.

7. If you want to be successful, prove you are valuable. – The fastest way out of a job is to prove to your employer they don’t need you. Instead, be indispensable. Show up early, know your material, be prepared, keep your opinions to yourself unless they are solicited and above all be willing to work hard.

8. Someone else will always have more than you/be better than you. – Whether its jobs or money or roles or trophies, it does not matter. Rather than get caught up in the drama about what others are doing around you, focus on the things you are good at, the things you need to work on and the things that make you happiest as a dancer.

9. You can’t change the past. – Everyone has a past. Everyone has made mistakes, and everyone has glorious moments they want to savor. “Would you keep a chive in your tooth just because you enjoyed last night’s potato?" Boston Common TV Series. Dance is an art form that forces us to concentrate on the present. To be a master at dance we have be in the moment; the minute the mind wanders, injuries happen. If they do, see #12.

10. The only person who can make you happy is you. – Dancing in and of itself cannot make us happy. The root of our happiness comes from our relationship with ourselves, not from how much money we make, what part we were given, what company we dance for, or how many competitions we won. Sure these things can have effects on our mood, but in the long run it’s who we are on the inside that makes us happy.

11. There will always be people who don’t like you. – Dancers are on public display when they perform and especially in this internet world, critics abound. You can’t be everything to everyone. No matter what you do, there will always be someone who thinks differently. So concentrate on doing what you know in your heart is right. What others think and say about you isn’t all that important. What is important is how you feel about yourself.

12. Sometimes you will fail. – Sometimes, despite our best efforts, following the best advice, being in the right place at the right time, we still fail. Failure is a part of life. Failure can be the catalyst to some of our greatest growth and learning experiences. If we never failed, we would never value our successes. Be willing to fail. When it happens to you (because it will happen to you), embrace the lesson that comes with the failure.

13. Sometimes you will have to work for free. – Every professional dancer has at one time or another had to work without pay. If you are asked to work for free, be sure that you are really ok with it. There are many good reasons to work for free, and there are just as many reasons not to work for free. Ask yourself if the cause is worthy, if the experience is worth it, if it will bring you joy. Go into the situation fully aware of the financial agreement and don’t expect a hand out later.

14. Repetition is good. Doing the same thing over and over expecting a different result is insane. – If you keep doing what you’re doing, you’ll keep getting what you’re getting. If you keep doing the bare minimum of required classes, don’t complain to your teacher when you don’t move up to the next level. If you only give the bare minimum in your company, be happy staying in the corps. If you want to grow beyond your comfort zone, you must push yourself beyond your self imposed limitations.

15. You will never feel 100% ready. – Nobody ever feels 100% ready when an opportunity arises. Dancers have to be willing to take risks. From letting go of the ballet barre to balance, to moving around the world to dance with a new company, from trusting a new partner to trying a new form of dance, dancers must have a flexible mind and attitude as well as body. The greatest opportunities in life force us to grow beyond our comfort zones, which means you won’t feel totally comfortable or ready for it.

Source: Ballet Pages

Sunday, 24 July 2011

Strictly Dancing

23 Jul, 2011 04:00 AM

From dancing with the stars to spangly sequinned bras: Sarah Harris steps out into those syncopated suburbs and gets a case of the cha cha chas.

TALK about a statement pregnant with possibilities. “Belly dancing saved my life,” Debra Ford says, “it’s as simple as that.”

Flashback to May 2006. “It was a head-on collision at 200km/h impact, because we were both doing 100.

“It flipped my car three and half times and it skidded on its roof God knows how far down the road. I was hanging from the roof with a broken neck, which they had to piece that together with a wedge out of my hip, two screws and a plate.

“I also suffered a C2 fracture, L5 fracture, three pelvic fractures, a broken wrist and totally smashed ankle, which got pinned under the accelerator and the brake.

“They kept me in emergency for 17 hours because they were convinced I had major internal injuries. It was only after my husband told them I was a belly dance teacher they moved me on to a ward.”

There are few better qualified to talk about the rehabilitative power of dance than the woman behind Mystical Rose Belly Dance. Students attending her Woodend and Darley classes range from an 83-year-old who can still touch her toes to a serving police officer.

Senior Constable Karen Turner would certainly stop traffic in her dance costume.

“Not all my colleagues know,’’ she says.

‘‘But I have been belly dancing for 10 years. It is great exercise and it’s fun. Sometimes exercise gets a bit monotonous, but this is more interesting. Because we do troupe every couple of weeks, we learn a new dance and it keeps the brain active.”

Cynthia Sherwell describes belly dancing as liberating. “ I have two teenage boys and one day I looked in my wardrobe and everything was black. I had this real need to get back to being a girl, and I have found since doing this that my overall confidence has increased.”

Setting foot on the dance floor for the very first time can be daunting, especially when you are not even three, but Hayley Armstrong, principal of Werribbee’s DanceMax School says they key is to make it fun.

“We start classes from two-and-a-half. The babies are gorgeous, so adorable, and they can do a lot more than you might think. They end up being leaps and bounds ahead of other kids their age because of having that motor development a little bit earlier.

“We do some competitions, but for us it is more about the kids enjoying their classes and getting a feel for the music.

“We do all styles, but we like to keep it fresh and current. Our hip-hop classes are booked out and we have about 25 boys at our school, which is sort of unheard of.”

Boys in hoodies and skinny low jeans are a far cry from the classic image of a ballerina en pointe.

Genevieve Projkoska, director of Point Cook Performing Arts, says that in spite of the popularity of other dance styles, most professional dancers begin at the barre rather than breakdancing.

“Ballet is really the starting point for anything. That’s true even if you have a more theatrical kind of child who wants to do jazz and tap and that kind of thing, because all those styles have techniques that come from ballet.

‘‘I think that is why ballet will always be important to any dancer.”

But ballet it is not just twirling prettily.

“I think people are looking for traditional values, especially with young children. Ballet builds confidence and friendships. It teaches children that if you put effort in you get results, and the a lesson applies to all areas of life.

Courtesy and discipline is part of ballet training that will help them later on — maybe not being prima ballerinas but being nice people in business and not afraid to work hard.”

American-style cheerleading might seem a million miles from Swan Lake, but as the fastest-growing dance sport in Australia it also offers valuable life lessons in building teamwork and trust.

“It is a sport that requires lots of energy, increases your fitness and confidence, develops discipline and introduces you to lots of new friends,” Sonia Roarty, Cheer Factor head coach and director, says.

Cheer Factor’s brand new Tullamarine gym complete with nine-metre tumble trampoline and fully sprung matted floor is a measure of how the sport is growing, driven by the Bring It On movies and more recently the Hellcats TV series.

But it was the recent appearance of KLD X-Treme Air Force on Australia’s Got Talent that had the phones ringing.

The combination of dance, gymnastics and weight-lifting is attracting a growing number of boys.

“Many people don’t realise that boys were the original cheerleaders, the girls only stepped in when the lads went off to war,” Sonia says.

“The co-ed squads in the US have more boys than girls, and they are big strong boys. They are not there shaking pom poms, they are doing all the lifting and the power tumbling.”

Fit is an understatement when describing the professional dancers working for Victoria Petrolo’s company Dance City Productions.

The Craigieburn mother started dancing when she was five and had a career that took her overseas.

Then she started her own company, which specialises in Latin American entertainment and offers choreographed shows as varied as Moulin Rouge, Chicago and Studio 54 Disco.

Dance City Productions provides the shimmy and shake for a host of corporate clients including Telstra, Foxtel and the AFL.

For the past six years Dance City’s Elegua Latin Spectacular groups have been the resident floorshow at the Copacabana in Fitzroy.

Last year Victoria booked 639 dancers including her equally talented sister Belinda, who in 2005 took out the Salsa Tropicana national professional competition with dance partner Alex Espinosa.

Cuban-born Alex, also a Hume resident, is a well-regarded and sought-after Latin teacher and dancer whose talent has taken him around the world.

He is one of the few who make a living as a dancer, appearing in stage shows including The Bar at Buena Vista across three states in the past month.

Many others still have to work day jobs to pay the rent.

“I have so many people come to me who think they can dance,” Victoria says.

‘‘But I won’t have anyone on my books who hasn’t had dance training since they were young.

“A talented, properly trained dancer makes it look easy, but a lot of people don’t understand how many years of work have gone into making it look effortless.

“I used to train six days a week and teach on top of that.

“I would say to young dancers you can definitely make a career of it but you have to be 100 per cent dedicated. The work doesn’t come to you, you have to chase the work. If you get a musical job you are doing it six nights a week. You have to go to the gym, you have to practise, you have to eat properly.”

But the rewards are great. “I am one of the lucky people on this earth — getting paid to do what I love best,” Alex says. “For me dancing is like breathing or eating. Dancing is life.”

Source: Wyndham Weekly

Saturday, 21 May 2011

Boycotting Israel, one shimmy at a time

By Ahmed Maged
First Published: February 12, 2007

CAIRO: At a time when Israel’s efforts to normalize cultural relations with Egypt continue to be stymied, the last thing anyone could have imagined was voices of protest coming from the belly.

Quite literally.

Egyptian belly dancers recently unanimously refused to participate in a festival for oriental dancing that was organized last week in the Israeli coastal city of Eilat.

Akhr Saa, one of the oldest and most widely-circulated of Egyptian weeklies, has highlighted the issue, saying that after Israel was turned away at the Cairo International Film Festival and the Alexandria Film Festival , Israeli cultural envoys had been desperately trying to woo Egypt’s dancers.

When Israeli cultural authorities honored late veteran belly dancers like Tahia Karioka, Samia Gamal and Naima Akef by giving their names to different halls in a hotel in Eilat during the dance fest, they had hoped Egypt’s dancers would be swayed.

The majority of the 3000-strong participants were Israeli, who had shown up side by side with another 130 from Greece, US, Russia, France, Japan and Costa Rica, said the weekly, stressing that despite the fact the festival was entirely devoted to oriental dancing, not one Arab belly dancer was present on the scene.

The weekly inquired if those deceased belly-dancers would welcome such a move had they been alive. But today’s artistes refused the festival’s invitations despite the offers and lures.

Talking to many bell-dancers about the issue, the weekly quoted famous belly-dancer Lucy as saying that the festival’s management had left her a message on her answering-machine saying: “why do you take such a hostile attitude and turn down our invitation?”

Lucy added that one time she had turned down an offer of $10,000 per hour against taking part in one such festival.

Dina, who remains one of the biggest figures in the field and the most well-known for attending belly dancing festivals worldwide, told Akhr Saa that she was invited to inaugurate the festival and train six Israeli girls in return for a large amount of money but she refused, saying: “let them dream on.”

Retired belly dancer Nagwa Fouad said that to accept the invitation was next to impossible because her mother is Palestinian.

Fifi Abdou said that she had been receiving offers since late president Anwar Sadat’s presidency but had never even thought about it.

“It’s a general stance taken against Israeli policies which are aimed at massacring women and children,” said Fifi.

Source: Daily News Egypt

Friday, 4 March 2011

La Danse du Ventre

"a good belly dancer must express life, death, happiness, sorrow, love and anger... but above all she must have dignity."

Written by Elias Antar
Photographed by Burnett H. Moody

The final blast of a tangle of electric guitars at full volume reverberated through the "Maryland" nightclub, incongruously set in the middle of a children's playground in Cairo. With a crash of cymbals, the lights dimmed and the lead singer of the rock band shuffled forward and muttered laconically into the microphone: "Showtime."

Chairs scraped in the darkness as the Arab orchestra filed in and settled down. The packed room hushed expectantly and the musicians launched into a spirited introduction, the reedy music almost as loud but somehow less aggressive than the assault on the eardrums by the rock group. A spotlight flashed on and caught the curvaceous figure of Soheir. Zaki, already a blur of sequined blue veils and long black hair. For the next 40 minutes Miss Zaki delighted the audience with a highly creditable rendition of the belly dance, that ancient and—in the West—much misunderstood Arab art form.

Miss Zaki, who comes from a town in Egypt renowned for its beautiful women, is one of the Middle East's handful of belly dancers who have risen to the top of their profession. Endowed with all the right physical attributes, Miss Zaki has an extra asset that has helped her widen her following: she has a smile that is not seductive or sexy but just plain sweet. This has made her popular with women, as was obvious on that soft spring night in Cairo. Normally, Arab women watching a belly dancer take on a resigned but faintly disapproving look while their menfolk nod their heads to the rhythm, clap their hands in time with the music or indulge in nights of fancy. The women at the "Merryland" were relaxed, responsive and in good humor. They smiled back at Miss Zaki as she shook her breasts, rolled her hips and gyrated her midriff, all with that sweet smile on her face. It was hard to realize this was the "belly dance" that in the West still has strong overtones of vulgarity and licentiousness.

This is not to say that belly dancing is recommended children's entertainment. But neither is it nearly as revealing as the striptease nor, as performed by Miss Zaki, in any way sleazy or degrading. The only thing she took off was a shoulder wrap, dropping it to the floor at the beginning of her act. The rest of the time she wore the traditional costume: a bra and floor-length skirt slit at the sides to allow freedom of movement. In accordance with a somewhat self-defeating Egyptian government regulation, Miss Zaki covered the area between bosom and hips with a filmy gauze that did nothing to hide her figure. The regulation was meant to introduce modesty to the dance, but the girls have gotten around it by making the covering so sheer that it enhances rather than conceals the anatomical feature after which the dance is named.

To the throb of a hand-held drum that is the heartbeat of the belly dance, Miss Zaki swayed, twirled and undulated around the floor, expressing herself with sinuous movements of arms and legs, rotating her hips upwards, sideways and downwards again. Though the name implies an emphasis on the abdomen, that part of the anatomy is in fact only one element in the dance. A good dancer uses arms, head, legs, breasts and hips to form one pleasing whole, emphasizing each part as the tempo of the music requires. Miss Zaki, who has a fine sense of rhythm, blended well with the music. Halfway during her performance, she put on sagat, little brass finger cymbals which she clapped together to counterpoint the rhythm. The performance ended, as it usually does, with a few pirouettes and a bow, and the spotlight went out even before Miss Zaki left the floor.

Not all dancers, of course, perform as pleasurably as Miss Zaki or for the same type of audience, which that night was mostly Egyptian middle class with a sprinkling of tourists. The belly dance, in one form or another, is performed almost everywhere in the Arab world but for a number of reasons is associated mainly with Egypt. Indeed, most of today's dancers come from Egypt, with only a very small minority being native Lebanese or Syrians. Estimates vary, but there are about 500 dancers in Egypt, while Lebanon has perhaps only a couple of dozen performing in the famous nightclubs of Beirut, and even some of them are Egyptians. The profession has the same pyramidical structure as show business everywhere. At the bottom are vast numbers of beginners or mediocrities who perform in waterfront caf├ęs, one-horse nightspots or native theaters in the boondocks. Higher up are those who by dint of hard work, some talent and a favor or two have managed to work their way to the lesser known cabarets of Cairo, Beirut and Damascus. At the very top are perhaps half a dozen like Miss Zaki, who appear in the best nightclubs, have starred in films and command top fees.

Perhaps number one in the Middle East is Nadia Gamal, a 32-year-old Alexandrian of Greek-Italian parentage who now lives in Beirut. She began her show business career almost 20 years ago and with an impressive single-mindedness has become an internationally-known star. Miss Gamal's approach to her profession is a formidable combination of superb talent, energy, intellect and dedication, and her performance of the "oriental dance," as she insists it be called, is simply beautiful to watch. In Egypt there is Miss Zaki, 25, who comes from a conservative family which at first opposed all her efforts to become a dancer. To shame her into abandoning her ambition, they often beat her and even shaved off her lustrous waist-length hair. But she broke away and one night in an Alexandria nightclub, when she was 11, a television producer spotted her well-developed figure and offered her a job.

Two other dancers in Egypt have an equal claim to fame. Nagwa Fouad, 30, has been a dancer for almost 15 years. She too ran away from home, and with an attractive figure and considerable talent, worked her way to the top. Right there at the pinnacle alongside Miss Fouad and Miss Zaki is Nahed Sabry, 34. Formerly a secretary, she started relatively late in the game at the age of 26. But Miss Sabry's flashing dark eyes, stunning figure and exuberant dancing style quickly brought her fame.

The nature of their occupation makes belly dancers a particularly catty lot who disagree over everything, including the origins of their art. Indeed, no one really knows how and where the belly dance started. Some people maintain it began with the pharaohs, pointing as proof to tomb paintings showing dancers dressed in transparent veils. Most Egyptian dancers are tempted by this theory, but grudgingly admit the drawings in the pharaonic tombs depict movements and positions that are too stylized to have any relation to the fluid motions of the belly dance. Miss Zaki does not think it began with the pharaohs but neither does she care very much. "I just like to close my eyes, feel the music and dance," she says with a shrug.

Egyptian officials at the Ministry of Culture and National Guidance prefer to emphasize folk dancing as being more in keeping with Egyptian tradition than belly dancing. Cairo newspapers regularly scold "the belly dancing cult" and one straitlaced columnist, railing against the undiminished popularity of the dance, recently wrote: "There are belly dancers everywhere. Why on earth is that? Are we introducing a new type of art which could be called the navel-shaking civilization? Let us get tough about all this nonsense and clean up our arts."

Reflecting this opinion, belly dancing receives no government encouragement or assistance, is mentioned by officials with a frown, and is attributed to the Turks, who ruled Egypt for 400 years. Turkish officials, less inhibited in such matters, enthusiastically agree. "Of course it started with us," said one emphatically. "Everyone knows that." That is arguable, but there is no doubt that belly dancing is widespread in Turkey today, most dancers coming from Sulukule, the old Gypsy quarter nestling under the walls of Istanbul.

"The Turks have nothing to do with it," insists Miss Gamal. "All they did was to introduce the sagat." She says belly dancing originated with the Phoenicians, the ancestors of present-day Lebanese. It was performed by virgin maidens about to be sacrificed to the gods. Later in Arab history, Miss Gamal says, women in harems, trying to attract their masters' attentions, found the belly dance a most effective way to get their message across. Over-romanticized accounts of this version brought back by western travelers in the 19th century led to the unfortunate reputation that the dance has in the West.

Wherever it originally came from, there is no doubt that the fountainhead of belly dancing in this century was the "Casino Opera" in Cairo, right across the square from the ornate Egyptian state opera house. Casino Opera was founded in 1927 by Badia Massabni, a gifted and enterprising young woman of Lebanese parentage who was then married to Egypt's leading playwright. Using such innovations as an electrically-operated rotating stage, Miss Badia presented vaudeville acts, comedies, and singers. And, of course, dancers. It is fair to say that Miss Badia, now 78 and owner of a dairy farm in Lebanon, started dozens of dancers on their way before she sold the Casino in 1950. In the early days, they did not appear singly but in a kind of chorus line, with Miss Badia in the front singing, clapping the sagat and occasionally dancing herself. Those who had particular talent made it to the front row and eventually stardom. Miss Gamal, as a child, used to perform western dances with her mother at Casino Opera. One night she found herself alone on stage and, overcoming her initial fright, began belly dancing. "Miss Badia was so happy that when I finished she came on stage, kissed me and gave me ten Egyptian pounds, a fortune in those days," Miss Gamal recalls.

The most famous alumna of Casino Opera is Tahia Carioca, the premier belly dancer in the Arab world for almost two decades. Miss Carioca, whose very name has become synonymous with dancer, wore a full-length gown which revealed nothing and danced in the center of the floor. With only the minimum of locomotion, she sent audiences into raptures of delight. "In those days they thought I was sexy because I danced with my mouth slightly open," recalls Miss Carioca. "Truth was, I suffered from asthma and had difficulty breathing, so I kept my mouth open for extra air." Miss Carioca retired in 1956 at the age of 37, went on to a successful career as a movie star and now has her own theater company.

Miss Carioca's dancing style successfully bridged the gap from an older version of the belly dance to the type now practiced by Miss Gamal, Miss Zaki and most cabaret dancers. The old school, which stressed muscular movements while almost standing still, stemmed from the type of dancing practised by the awalem, which literally means "those who teach." What the awalem taught, to uninformed couples, was what to do on the wedding night. Most weddings were attended by two or three awalem, who stimulated the groom and gave rather broad hints to the bride. Education has lessened the demand for awalem, but they still appear at weddings in the more populous parts of Cairo and other Egyptian cities. Even well-to-do couples have a dancer at their weddings, just to maintain tradition.

The third type is usually seen at local celebrations and feasts. It is generally improvised, a well-endowed woman tying a scarf around her hips to accentuate their movements and dancing in her ordinary ankle-length dress. Men sometimes take part, accompanying the movement of the women, by rapping the head of a cane on the floor. The type foreigners usually see is that featured in nightclub acts such as Miss Zaki's, where the accent is equally on muscular control and locomotion.

What qualities should a good belly dancer have? "Dignity," says Miss Carioca with unquestioned authority. "She must express life, death, happiness, sorrow, love and anger, but above all she must have dignity." Miss Carioca concedes that a belly dancer must also be sexy, "but it must not be vulgar or blatant." Miss Gamal, whose approach to the art is perhaps more cerebral than that of her contemporaries, basically agrees. "Belly dancing is essentially an expression of femininity," she says. "It must, among other things, suggest sex, but it must do so delicately, hinting rather than asserting, and it must always be in good taste. It is definitely not just a matter of exposing the flesh." Miss Zaki is somewhat less articulate. Flashing that sweet smile, she expresses her feeling for the dance simply as a mood to which the music lends rhythm. Miss Fouad's opinion is that sex is in the ears of the beholder. "When the music becomes sinuous, then the dancer seems sexy; when it's not, she is not," declares Miss Fouad, intimating that there is no need for the dancer to worry about it.

Miss Fouad got into belly dancing by escaping from marriage. Her parents wanted her to marry a cousin, she didn't, so she ran away from home in Alexandria and went to Cairo. She tried to become a singer, but Egypt's leading composer told her unequivocally that her voice was terrible. "But your figure is the best I've ever seen in my life," he went on, and she soon became a dancer, appearing first in a film he was producing. Purists now claim that Miss Fouad, 34 films and countless live performances later, has abandoned the true belly dance for something not quite definable. They say she relies on gimmicks such as bells attached to her wrists and a candelabra with 13 candles balanced on her head, the high point of her nightly act in one of Cairo's biggest hotels. Miss Fouad admits she has attempted to introduce "new elements" into belly dancing but maintains that the results are gratifying.

Miss Gamal argues that there is no need for such accessories as a candelabra and her opinion seems valid if only because of her impressive professional background. While going to school in Alexandria and later in Cairo, she studied classical ballet for 11 years. An American tap dancer taught her acrobatics. She studied the piano for three years and choreography for two years. "Any woman can shake her body and call it belly dancing. But I know what I am talking about when I say it takes a lot of work and dedication to be a top oriental dancer," she declares. Apart from her accidental performance at Casino Opera, Miss Gamal did not start out as a belly dancer. She performed Russian or Hungarian folk dances. One night in a cabaret in Lebanon, however, the belly dancer on the bill became ill and Miss Gamal was more or less pushed onto the stage to replace her. She gave such an expert performance that the audience went wild, and she soon switched to oriental dancing.

Her decision was wise. In the years since, she has become perhaps the only internationally-known belly dancer from the Middle East. She has performed all over Europe, including Austria, Finland, Spain, Portugal, Italy, West Germany, France, Switzerland, Greece, Turkey and Cyprus. She has also appeared in Iran, India and Ceylon and earlier this year made a highly successful tour of Venezuela. (Language for her is no problem; she speaks, reads and writes seven.) And at home, one of the high points of her career was when she danced at the Baalbeck International Festival in 1968, a month-long annual event which that year also featured such artistic luminaries as Herbert von Karajan directing the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra.

Miss Gamal is so self-confident that she asserts that she can perform a belly dance to non-Arab music, such as Latin-American rhythms. But she concedes that only Arab music and instruments can give oriental dancing its full breadth of expression. She has mastered the ten kinds of tempos for oriental dancing, rhythms with such tongue-twisting names as mouwashah, makloubeh, oughrouk, and masmoudeh. Some are fast, requiring nimble footwork and enormous energy; others are slow and seductive, highlighting muscle control and liquidity of movement. "The change of pace and sequence depends on the audience and their reaction, and also on the mood of the particular time and place." Even in the cold atmosphere of a television recording studio, Miss Gamal is outstanding. At one recent taping session, the crew broke into spontaneous applause after her nine-minute dance, a performance in which she shook everything from her hair to her fingertips and which left her bathed in sweat—and her face radiant with pleasure at the tribute from those hard-bitten professionals.

Miss Gamal's current ambition is to write a kind of "teach-yourself-oriental-dancing" book, in which each step and each sequence would be set down and clearly explained as in other dance instruction books. If that is successful, she may open a school when she retires. There is no formal instruction available for belly dancers at present. Most pick up the art by watching established dancers and take it from there. Ibrahim Akef, an Egyptian who comes from a famous family of acrobats, runs a dancing class in Cairo in which he gives instruction to a few aspiring dancers but it is not a school in the formal sense and certainly cannot match the experience provided by the old Casino Opera.

Belly dancing demands a certain amount of self-sacrifice, especially where marriage and children are concerned. Many dancers have unhappy married lives because, in a society that prizes child-bearing, they refuse to have children for fear of spoiling their figures. For this and other reasons, there is a high divorce rate among belly dancers. Another burden is the need to constantly watch diet and the scales for signs of flabbiness or overweight. Miss Zaki, in fact, drinks a small glass of pure lemon juice every day. "It keeps my weight down," she explains, a grimace replacing her sweet smile. Miss Gamal loves to ride horses and swim, but cannot find the time in her busy career.

But the sacrifices are, for dancers in the top category, more than amply rewarded, something that is important in a profession where few women can continue beyond the mid-thirties. Dancers on contract with fashionable nightclubs make between $100 and $200 a night. For appearing at private parties, a star can demand—and get—as much as $1,000 for a 20-minute performance. With additional income from movies and television, most good dancers lead comfortable lives, complete with fashionable homes, sports cars and all that goes with them. Which perhaps explains why another graduate of Casino Opera, after more than a decade out of show business, is preparing to make a comeback—at age 47. "She'll never make it even if it kills her," said one prima donna, with questionable logic but unmistakable venom.

Elias Antar, an Associated Press correspondent based in Beirut, is a regular contributor to Aramco World.

This article appeared on pages 4-11 of the September/October 1971 print edition of Saudi Aramco World.

Source: Saudi Aramco World

Friday, 11 February 2011

Spiritual dance fashion trends

By Sara Shea
Info Guru,
Sunday, September 26, 2010

The most ancient form of dance known as spiritual dance, can be found in thousands of cultures around the world.

Today, some of these ancient spiritual dances are re-emerging in the world of contemporary dance, coupled with new interpretations, emerging dancers and modern spiritual dance fashion.

The earliest spiritual dance ceremonies and rituals can be traced to Africa. Rhythmic dances from Uganda and Senegal were used during times of celebration. Warrior dances, wedding dances and harvest dances utilizing the concepts of poly rhythm and total body articulation were native to Senegal, Ghana and the Congo. Each dance was made unique from other celebrations with spiritual dance fashion and styles of jewelry and body ornamentation.

Native American Navajo Indians also practiced spiritual dances such as the Fire Dance and the Grass Dance to achieve altered states of reality and enhanced consciousness.

The whirling dances of surfi or “dervishes” in ancient Persia and Turkey were also believed to be a path toward enlightenment.

Even the practice of yoga, which dates back to over 3,000 years ago, began in India as form of spiritual dance that incorporated particular movements, postures and breathing techniques to achieve physical health, meditation, and spiritual enlightenment.

In the United States, one form of spiritual dance in particular has gained great popularity and attention. These spiritual dances, known as plantation, slave or sorrow dance originated with the black slaves who were brought into the southern states from the west coast of Africa during the time of slavery.

During the tumultuous period of slavery in America, many slaves were forbidden by their owners to speak in their native languages. The slaves responded to their hardship and grief through music, song and dance. Despite their bondage, slaves took comfort in reconnecting with their roots by practicing, cherishing and passing down the ancient spiritual dances they had learned from their ancestors in Africa.

Many historians even claim that these early spiritual songs and dances of the slaves lay the foundation for jazz, blues and gospel in America.

In the decades after the civil war ended, as blacks migrated from the South to the North, black pride began to grow. Spiritual dance fashion evolved, with an eye on the past, but a celebration of freedom of expression and acknowledgment of a rich heritage. Black dance and black music evolved to become one of the most highly valued forms of entertainment in America.

Early choreographers such as Katherine Dunham and Alvin Ailey strived to preserve the art, history, technique and spiritual power so unique to spiritual slavery dances rooted in ancient African culture. These pivotal dancers and choreographers helped to found the earliest black spiritual dance troupes and dance theaters dedicated to celebrating African-American heritage. Today many of these dance troupes travel the world, performing in traditional clothing or colorful dance wear.

Without a doubt, these ancient spiritual dances of African cultures have re-emerged in America as powerful forms of artistic expression, and have continued to gain popularity as entertaining and educational forms of cross-cultural communication. These spiritual dances, which have the power to transcend language serve to connect us to our roots, revealing insights into past cultural histories.

Source: Info Library

Sunday, 6 February 2011

The Last Egyptian Belly Dancer

Rich Saudis are transforming Cairo's entertainment scene.
by Rod Nordland
May 31, 2008

Abir Sabri, celebrated for her alabaster skin, ebony hair, pouting lips and full figure, used to star in racy Egyptian TV shows and movies. Then, at the peak of her career a few years ago, she disappeared—at least her face did. She began performing on Saudi-owned religious TV channels, with her face covered, chanting verses from the Qur'an. Conservative Saudi Arabian financiers promised her plenty of work, she says, as long as she cleaned up her act. "It's the Wahhabi investors," she says, referring to the strict form of Sunni Islam prevalent in Saudi Arabia. "Before, they invested in terrorism—and now they put their money in culture and the arts."

Egyptians deplore what they call the Saudization of their culture. Egypt has long dominated the performing arts from Morocco to Iraq, but now petrodollar-flush Saudi investors are buying up the contracts of singers and actors, reshaping the TV and film industries and setting a media agenda rooted more in strict Saudi values than in those of freewheeling Egypt. "As far as I'm concerned, this is the biggest problem in the Middle East right now," says mobile-phone billionaire Naquib Sawiris. "Egypt was always very liberal, very secular and very modern. Now ..." He gestures from the window of his 26th-floor Cairo office: "I'm looking at my country, and it's not my country any longer. I feel like an alien here."

At the Grand Hyatt Cairo, a mile upstream along the Nile, the five-star hotel's Saudi owner banned alcohol as of May 1 and ostentatiously ordered its $1.4 million inventory of booze flushed down the drains. "A hotel in Egypt without alcohol is like a beach without a sea," says Aly Mourad, chairman of Studio Masr, the country's oldest film outfit. He says Saudis—who don't even have movie theaters in their own country—now finance 95 percent of the films made in Egypt. "They say, here, you can have our money, but there are just a few little conditions." More than a few, actually; the 35 Rules, as moviemakers call them, go far beyond predictable bans against on-screen hugging, kissing or drinking. Even to show an empty bed is forbidden, lest it hint that someone might do something on it. Saudi-owned satellite channels are buying up Egyptian film libraries, heavily censoring some old movies while keeping others off the air entirely.

Some Egyptians say the new prudishness isn't entirely the Saudis' fault. "Films are becoming more conservative because the whole society is becoming more conservative," says filmmaker Marianne Khoury, who says Saudi cash has been a lifeline to the 80-year-old industry. From a peak of more than 100 films yearly in the 1960s and '70s, Egyptian studios' output plunged to only a half dozen a year in the '90s. Thanks to Saudi investors, it's now about 40. "If they stopped, there would be no Egyptian films," says Khoury.

At least a few Egyptians say Saudi Arabia is the country that's ultimately going to change. "Egypt will be back to what it used to be," predicts the single-named Dina, one of Egypt's few remaining native-born belly dancers. And it was a Saudi production company that financed a 2006 drama that frankly discusses homosexuality, "The Yacoubian Building." Sawiris has launched a popular satellite-TV channel of his own, showing uncensored American movies. He's determined to win—but he's only one billionaire, and Saudi Arabia is swarming with them.

Source: Newsweek