Sunday, 8 July 2012

Belly Dancers in Egypt Worry About Possible Islamist Takeover

Prohibiting Women’s Dancing Ends a Once-Sacred Art

By: Kamel Saleh posted on Wednesday, May 23, 2012
Translator: Naria Tanoukhi

Fears of an Islamist takeover in Egypt are not only limited to the secularists, leftists and moderates. They have now extended to a large segment of intellectuals and artists, notably dancers.

Katya, a belly dancer, performs at an oriental dance festival in Cairo June 27, 2006. (photo by REUTERS/Tara Todras-Whitehill )
There are clear indications that some are terrified at the prospect of a rise of Islamist fundamentalists to power. One Egyptian dancer called Sophia expresses her concerns, saying it would not only affect her, but the tradition of belly-dancing as a whole.

Another dancer named Sama al-Masri discusses the issue more equivocally. She defends the Muslim Brotherhood, claiming that the Brotherhood will support her art career. She says she “knows a group of Salafists and Brothers personally, and they treat her with utmost kindness, tenderness and humanitarian compassion without displaying any worldly desires,” as she put it.

The contradictory positions of Sofia and Sama are reflective of the concerns of large segments of Egyptians. Some have grown worried as the Islamists and Salafists have made their positions increasingly clear through a number of actions, including the prosecution of actor Adel Imam for some of his movies. Some of them have also demanded that dance and kissing scenes be cut out of all Egyptian films.

This has resulted in some ambiguity surrounding the future of arts in Egypt should the Muslim Brotherhood take the presidency. One observer raises the question: “How can a revolution be on the right track if women are prevented from dancing?”

Some link dancing to the concept of ​Eve’s ​seduction of Adam in paradise. Others liken it to the old game of snake charming, where a magician plays the flute and a snake emerges out of his basket, swaying. Others refer to the original snake, which sowed the seed of disobedience against the divine directive forbidding the picking of fruit from the tree of life.

Dance — which, according to mythology and cultural heritage, has played a dynamic role in  human societies — took on divine characteristics through its exercise in rituals at temples and holy places to please the gods. However, in our present era, dance has become an art in and of itself, with diverse schools and special garments. Let us not forget the dancer that seduced Enkidu in the myth of Gilgamesh, and the high price paid by John the Baptist after Salome asked Herod, King of the Jews, to behead him after having danced for him. Here in particular, it cannot be said that “a dancer has never won over a Prophet.”

Thus, along this path, dance gradually moved from being a sacred ritual to a human ritual. It is to a large extent similar to what happened to the art of poetry, which broke away from the literature of priests and the sacred texts to take a separate, human path.

Is it possible to separate the tenets of utilitarian philosophy — which dictates that humans are constantly seeking pleasure and the avoidance of  pain — from that  pleasure brought about by dance? The female body must sway to a rhythm, which leads to pleasure — including the pleasures of sight, hearing, smell and, sometimes, touch.

The Islamists have no right to ban the arts produced by humanity. They also have no right to empty religion from worldly aesthetics. Like other arts, there are both sublime and lowly forms of dance. It is the same with religions, which, throughout history, have entailed interpretations, readings and behaviors that were sublime and served higher purposes, while at other times serving as justification for lowliness, bawdiness and murders for despicable purposes.

Therefore, it is no exaggeration to say that dance is an original human act. It is a legacy of the civilizations that have accompanied man in all times and places, especially in Egypt, whose forefathers, the Pharaohs, were as keen to draw dancers on the walls of temples as the gods and kings.

Source: Al-Monitor
Original article in Arabic: As-Safir (Lebanon)

Saturday, 7 July 2012

TIPS: Making the Most of Your Classroom Experience (by Mirah Ammal )

Good tips, with the bellydance student in mind...

Maybe you've just started taking dance, or maybe you've been studying for years, but in any case, you've decided to brave the exciting world of group dance classes. How can you make the most of your classes and see improvement in your dancing? A few important tips:

1) Pay attention what your instructor says to the whole class. Treat corrections or clarifications directed at the group as though they could be directed at you personally, and look for ways to adjust your own body/dancing. Generally, in a group class if an instructor makes a broad comment, it means that many or all of the people in the room can use hearing it (some to a greater extent, but most everyone can get something out of it.)

2) Develop a thick skin. When your instructor corrects you, she’s not picking on you. She’s trying to help you get better! Sometimes she may be trying to help you correct a critical flaw, but sometimes, she may see you’re very close to getting something well and she’s trying to help push you to the next plane. It’s hard to take correction or criticism, but it’s the only way we can get better. Avoid making excuses, and ask for clarification if you're not sure what she's telling you.

3) Seek out feedback. Ok, so now you’ve worked on thickening that skin…now ask for the tough feedback. Don’t just fish for compliments, actually ask to know how something is going and (if you’re ready for it) let the instructor know you’d appreciate her honest assessment. (Remember, not everyone takes feedback well, so your instructor may be a little nervous about hurting students' feelings or angering people. Letting her know you *want* honest feedback lets her know she can give it to you, and that helps you get better.)

4) Avoid moving up a level for social or ego reasons. Be sure your technique development matches your class level. When in doubt, ask your instructor’s opinion. Also, when moving up, consider taking two classes simultaneously for a session or two—one at the lower level (where you feel confident and can continue to really master techniques)—and one at the higher level where you will feel challenged. This is good for your technique, and it can help for you emotionally. When you move up to the next level—to a class populated at least in part with people who’ve taken that level before—you may feel clumsy, awkward all over again. But in your old class, you’re the old pro.

5) Try not to compare yourself with others. Everyone comes to the dance with a different set of experiences, different strengths, and a different biology. Every dancer had her movements she struggled to get, and some that came to her easily. Be patient, give yourself permission to not be perfect right away, and remember, it's not a contest.

6) Train your eye for detailed observation. Train your eye to watch movement carefully. Notice where your instructor places her weight. Which muscles are working and which are relaxed? What are her hands, feet, arms and hips doing? And how is what you're doing similar or different? Being able to observe the details and observe specifically what you need to correct in your movement is the first step toward being able to do the movement properly.

7) Recognize that the darkest hour is often right before dawn. Sometimes you’ll hit plateaus where you feel like you’re not moving forward quickly or at all. That’s ok. We all go through periods of this. Also, recognizing what you’re doing wrong is a huge step toward being able to do it right. So, when you see what you’re doing wrong but your body won’t correct it just yet, don’t despair and don’t give up—change is coming!

8) Practice ALWAYS! Practice in the shower, the office, the grocery store, or anywhere you go. Not all practice needs to be a serious 60 minute concentration session. The shower is an excellent place to practice your undulations. Pumping gas? You can get several minutes of shimmy practice! Waiting on line at the grocery story? Dainty hip-drops! Alone in the bathroom at work? Three-quarter shimmy and Tunisians! Look for little moments throughout the day when you can practice the moves you're working on. A few seconds here and there (tummy flutters on a conference call….) can help you get better, and can give you a lift during the day. (Note: if you're too weirded out to dance at your own local grocery store, go to the Chicago Ave. Kowalski's in Minneapolis. They're used to it by now.)

9) If you don’t know what the most important parts of a movement are, ask. I once substituted for a Level 1 class that was working on a choreography. They were doing very well, but at one point in the dance, the ladies did something I can only describe as "the chicken walk". I watched, baffled, for several moments. Then it hit me. Their instructor had shown them a walking movement…but they'd focused on her kicked-up foot (a particular stylization of hers), not the "core" of the movement (which was in the core of the body). They were so focused on this stylization that they had missed the actual movement entirely! It was an understandable error (and easily fixed), but it serves to illustrate the point—recognize what the important parts of a movement are, and what is just optional stylization. You'll never be worse off for asking, and one question might prevent hours of public chicken-walking.

10) Take classes from more than one instructor. Of course you'll develop a taste for your favorite instructor and it's good to have a primary relationship, but if there's more than one instructor in your area, take advantage of your good fortune! Different teachers have different styles and methods, and you can learn from them all. Plus, sometimes you can hear the same comment 500 times from one instructor, but simply hearing it in a different voice makes it hit home. So challenge yourself to try out someone in addition to your regular instructor (and be wary of instructors who don't want you to go to anyone else!)

(c) Mirah Ammal, 2006

Source: Mirah Ammal's website

Friday, 29 June 2012

Adina Gamal Shimmies Her Way Out of Belly Dancer Stereotypes

June 27, 2012
By Bonnie Caprara

Belly dancing. Cabaret dancing. Burlesque dancing. They all evoke visions slim, seductive and exotic women whose movements glide through a room, stirring the visions and souls of wanting men in a seductive, teasing way.

They’re the fantasies of many women, too. Housewives. Students. Even teachers like Jeanine Wilson.
They’re fantasies of the women they want to be.

“When I went through my second divorce, I was looking for things to do to make myself happy,” Wilson says.

However, Wilson put off her exploration into belly dancing for a month “I thought I’d be the only African-American and the only big girl in the class,” Wilson says. “But I’m not a quitter. I believe in seeing things through. After my first time, I thought, ‘Wow! I did this. I did this as well as anyone else.’”

Not only did Wilson see things through, but as her alter ego, Adina Gamal, she and business partner, Zaniah Amairah are tantalizing audiences as teachers and performers of Detroit Shimmy.

After several years of learning, Wilson brings a philosophy to primarily belly dancing that speaks to non-Middle Eastern women or women with perfectly proportional bodies.

“I am constantly trying to help the girls because I know what they’re going through,” Wilson says. “You strive to be the best dancer that you can be with belly dancing. You are too beautiful no matter what size you are.”

Since taking up belly dancing, Wilson has dropped from 280 pounds to 226 pounds in a regimen that also includes dieting and water aerobics. And since she and Amairah have taught and encouraged women of every size, shape and color to embrace, accept and express themselves through belly dancing and other forms of dance, what had once been a hobby is now a busy performance schedule, which has included performances at Ferndale Pride and River Days.

As for breaking down the myths that professional belly dancing is only for slim Middle Eastern women, Wilson says, “The people in the Middle Eastern community really love me because I can really dance … I’m not doing it to get anyone hot and bothered, I’m doing it for me.”

Source: The Urbane Life

Monday, 28 May 2012

Egypt: Owner of belly dancing TV station arrested

Published: May. 17, 2012 3:27 PM ET
By SARAH EL DEEB, Associated Press

CAIRO (AP) — Egypt's vice police on Thursday arrested the owner of a belly dancing TV station on suspicion of operating without a license, inciting licentiousness and facilitating prostitution, a security official said.

The station, ElTet, broadcasts videos 24 hours a day of scantily clad belly dancers giving sultry performances to live in-studio music. Available on satellite TV for more than a year, the station has gained a dedicated following, in part because it shows a quintessentially Egyptian art form that has grown increasingly inaccessible for many people in the country, having been largely relegated to expensive clubs and hotels as the country has grown more conservative in recent few decades.

Still, mothers and grandmothers traditionally teach young girls belly dancing at home, particularly by watching old black-and-white movies that made earlier generations of belly dancers household names in Egypt.

Early Thursday, Egyptian vice police raided an apartment in central Cairo where the station's owner, Baligh Hamdy, had been running the operations and recording most of the videos, the security official said. Police confiscated tapes and video equipment and arrested Hamdy.

The official said Hamdy would record the videos and send them over the Internet to his partners in Bahrain and Jordan, who would in turn broadcast them on the station's satellite TV, making it accessible in Egypt and elsewhere.

The raid was prompted by complaints from viewers, the official said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief the media.

Besides the belly dancing, the station also carries advertisements for sexual enhancement products and matchmaking messages.

Hamdy is accused of airing ads that offend public decency, the official said.

While Egypt has grown increasingly conservative over the years, many rights groups fear an Islamist political class growing in influence may push for more censorship and use laws that vaguely define offending public decency to clamp down on the arts and freedom of expression.

Source: Associated Press

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Randa Kamel of course - Interview with the Egyptian Star

Tutor 1: What does it feel like when you're dancing?
Billy: Don't know. Sorta feels good. Sorta stiff and that, 
but once I get going... then I like, forget everything. 
And... sorta disappear. Sorta disappear. 
Like I feel a change in my whole body. 
And I've got this fire in my body. I'm just there. 
Flying' like a bird. Like electricity. Yeah, like electricity.
Billy Elliot (2000)

This interview was not possible without a help. Some weeks ago Mohamed Shahin gave me a chance to write few questions to Randa and he did the interview himself in Arabic, than translated to English and sent to me. Most of the pictures here are from Dave Halley who gently gave me the permission to publish on the post.
Randa Kamel is an internationally acclaimed Oriental dancer and teacher with a following across the globe. She trained and toured for several years with the world-famous Reda Troupe before going solo.
Her first highlight was at the Cairo Meridien, were she shared a week with - no more than - Fifi Abdou. After the Sheraton closed the nightclub Randa moved to the Nile Maxime

Her unique and energetic style of belly dancing is legendary - her shimmies have been described as 'earthquakes'. Randa's worldwide success has led to her opening dance schools in Egypt, Brazil and France. Her performances feature in a series of DVDs and she has started her own fashion label designing high quality costumes. She continues to dance and teach in Cairo (Randa Kamel of course) and in cities around the world.

"When I see dancers present my dance
 or my culture in the wrong way 
I feel bad about it.  I want to scream out
 loud and say “No this is wrong!"

IZ - To be a star in Egypt you must to have a talent like you have. You have this special gift that makes dancers unforgettable. Do you believe that you are already a legend in the Egyptian Belly dance history?
Randa - I wish to God to be like that.  But the audience is the critique for that.  I can’t answer this question for myself.  What I can say is that I work hard, very hard, and I love what I do, and of course I would love to be considered a legend one day. 

IZ – Which dancers have been influencing your dance or who inspires you the most?
Randa - Since I was very young, I loved the dance and it captured my soul.  Everyone predicted I would become a belly dancer.  At this time, I adored Samia Gamal.  She was my fairy tale  because she was dancing beside Farid Al Atrash.  I was one of his biggest fans and I would love to be Samia Gamal for dancing beside him. Samia Gamal always inspired me with her elegance in the dance, in addition because she has a high sensitivity to music which I always like to have that in my work. I also love her hands, shoulder movements and facial expressions.  As I grew I started to appreciate Naima Akef another beautiful dancer.  Until now even when they show movies on TV with Samia Gamal and Naima Akef my family excitedly calls me to tell  they are on TV. Until today I derive inspiration from both of them.   I watched so many times their performances that I know exactly all the steps they are doing during the scene

photo by Dave Halley
IZ - Sometimes I hear people say: “Randa is from the old school, she dances with the heart”.  Do you think the dancers are actually missing spontaneity and/or electricity?
 Randa - There is no old school or new school in dance, the most important thing is feeling.  Oriental dance without feeling is not oriental dance and this is what a lot of people are missing.  When you go to see a technical dancer with no feeling, she can lose her audience because she can’t capture no one without feelings.  In Eastern dance you are not a machine, there is no 1-2-3-4.  When you miss the feeling and the soul then you are not producing belly dance you are just dancing.  Anyone that became a star if receives a gift from God.  He gives the feeling, talent and charisma of dance.  This is not about Egypt, this pertains more to people abroad.  Every time I travel I speak about feeling as being the most important part of this dance.  You must also understand the music and have the lyrics translated so you must to know what you are dancing too.  

When I teach I explain the feeling and lyrics of the music.  It's one thing when my students can learn the technique and it’s completely different when I turn around and face them and they can see my emotions and expressions.  I see people that think they are belly dancing, but they are not.  They are far from being belly dancers because they don’t have feelings in their dance.  Belly dance is way bigger than this, you as a dancer need to present all that you have.  If you have only technique the audience will be bored within 5 minutes of watching you.  You must to have technique, feeling and expression, you must to have the whole package to perform the real Oriental dance. 

"There is no old school or new school in dance,
 the most important thing is feeling.   
Oriental dance without feeling
 is not Oriental dance and this 
is what a lot of people are missing."

IZ - When you are not dancing with your body are you dancing with your mind?
Randa - Everywhere I hear music I dance.  Yes I always dance with my mind. My life is only about my son, my family and the dance. I could be sleeping at night imagining movements.  I jump out of my bed dancing with my body.  When my family see me doing this they think I am insane.  Even when I’m driving, walking, or going to my daily life the dance is in my body.  If I don’t dance with my body I’m always dancing with my mind.   

"I see people that think they are belly dancing,
 but they are not.  They are far from being 
belly dancers because they don’t have feeling in their dance.

IZ - What makes you passionate about dance?
Randa -There is nothing specific that I can say that made me fall in love with dance.  The dance is in my blood. I guess I must have been born with it.  I love dancing so much because I really had a hard time with my family about my choice to be a professional dancer.  The obstacles I had to face with wanting to be a dancer have made me more passionate about it. 
When I was younger my family used to beat me because came to my neighbors houses and dance at their weddings and parties.  I was born in a very conservative city called El Mansoura and it’s so difficult to be a dancer in a conservative city.  I really don’t have an answer about why I love dancing so much but if you want to make me happy, just put on music and I will dance. There is something also which I always remember: When I was a child, I would go to parties and sit to watch everyone dance.  I always loved it when people came to me and begged me to dance.  It made me feel loved and appreciated, and maybe those are the reasons why I am so passionate about dancing. 

photo Dave Halley
IZ - Which music style do you like to perform? I have heard you like more of the Classics such as Um Kulthum. Why?
Randa - When I first started performing I loved dancing Um Kulthum and any music that was difficult to dance too.  I always picked the music that was more difficult so people would say that I had an excellent knowledge of music.  After a while I started dancing balady style* and I felt in love with balady also.  (accordion and tabla musical progression  considered balady).  Then I started dancing modern oriental and felt in love with that as well.  So basically, I’m in love with the whole package of Oriental dance music.  I love Um Kulthum specifically because everything in her songs is beautiful: the lyrics, the music,  there are much feeling inside or something unusual about her songs that just grab at my heart.     

IZ - What do you feel right before going on the stage?
Randa - It’s different every time and changes with who I’m dancing for and what I’m dancing to. There is a difference when I dance for dancers, or when I dance for regular Egyptian people. Each audience requires me to be a different performer and if I make them happy I am happy.  

"To be a great teacher,
 you must be TAUGHT how to teach.  
 You have to know what you are doing, 
you must know how to present the proper 
information in the correct manner. 
 This also requires a talent, just as dancing
 and performing require a talent."

IZ- Do you notice anything different when you dance outside Egypt?
Randa - When I dance outside of Egypt I feel like I’m a messenger of my country and my culture.  I want to present my message about the country where I’m from in the right way and I take it as a huge responsibility to be true to my culture.  When I see dancers present my dance or my culture in the wrong way I feel bad about it.  I want to scream out loud and say “No this is wrong”.  On the other hand if I see dancers present the dance in the correct way I feel like I’m flying and I’m so happy

IZ – What is Randa like offstage? What makes you happy?
Randa - I’m like anybody.  I’m a very simple person, most of time I am at home with my son and my family.   Sometimes I go out with my son and that makes me happy. What I really love to do is go back to my birthplace and spend time with my childhood friends, this really feels my heart and soul.  I usually consider this my vacation time, and the other thing that makes me happy is to be successful in my career and my personal life.   

IZ - What do you believe is the future of Egyptian belly dance in the coming years?
Randa - My opinion is that Oriental dance IS Egypt.  There is no difference between the two.  Egypt will always be considered the mother of Oriental dance and the land of Oriental dance.  About the current political problems, I think this is a temporary situation and will not change the history or the future of belly dance. 

IZ - Being a belly dance performer with a live band, does this make you a good teacher or does teaching require a different talent in of itself?  
Randa -  Dancing with live music is not enough to make you a good teacher and it certainly doesn’t give you the proper skills to teach.  To be a great teacher, you must be TAUGHT how to teach.  You have to know what you are doing, you must know how to present the proper information in the correct manner.  This also requires a talent, just as dancing and performing require a talent. You must not be a person that takes from the dance, you must add to the dance.  You must leave your own fingerprint in the dance.  Not every performer can be a good teacher, and every good teacher may not necessarily be a good performer. Please keep this in mind when you are considering who you learn from and when you decide to teach. 

"Belly dance is way bigger than this,
 you as a dancer need to present all that you have.  
If you have only technique the audience will be bore
within 5 minutes of watching you.  You must to have technique, 
feeling and expression, you must to have the whole package
 to perform the real Oriental dance."

IZ - Who do you consider an Egyptian Star? Why?
Randa - Egypt is full of stars, some stars have passed away and some that are still alive.  There are too many stars to name, Samia Gamal, Naima Akef, Tahaya Karioka, Nagwa Fouad, Nahed Sabry, Fifi Abdou, Dina, there are too many to name. For example a dancer I know a lot about Samia Gamal, she’s a real star because she really loved what she was doing and she added a lot to Oriental dance.  She had her own signature style that she created and she worked really hard and studied for.  She gave so much to this dance for so many years.  Every star that I mentioned also had their own signature style and that’s why they are considered stars and legends of the dance.    

photo Dave Halley
IZ – There are rumors that so many foreign dancers are in Egypt because not enough Egyptian dancers, where are the Egyptian dancers? And - do you think there will be new Egyptian bellydance Stars in the future?
Randa - First of all, Egypt is for everyone to dance it’s not only for Egyptians.  It’s normal and I’m happy to see foreigners dance in Egypt.  But we must consider how much real Egyptian dancers are loosing their jobs because the owners of some venues prefers the cheapest person to work at the place.  Now, most of the boats are full of foreigners and the Egyptian dancers are forced to go to lower class venues on Haram street and they are getting really frustrated.  But still there are many Egyptian dancers and of course I believe there will be new Egyptian stars in the future.  This will not be the end of Egyptian stars.  The dance is in the blood of Egyptians, must be new Egyptian stars in the future. 
Source: Oriental Limelight 

Dancing With No Arms or Legs

This was so inspiring, I had to share it: A quadruple amputee from Oregon dances at NYC's prestigious Juilliard school.

Source: ABC News