Recently, my first belly dance teacher wrote a blog post about how she was no longer going to call herself a belly dancer, her dance company didn’t perform belly dance, and her school didn’t teach belly dance. Reading that made me realize just how strongly I believe I am a belly dancer, that what I do is belly dance and that I’m a part of a larger group who loves belly dance in one form or another.
I started learning, and then teaching, traditional ‘Egyptian’ style belly dance at the school of my first teacher. I soon discovered and became greatly interested in Tribal Fusion, after seeing Rachel Brice dance at a local event where my first teacher’s dance company had been asked to be the opening act, which she agreed to after much heavy lobbying and cheering on my part.
One thing led to many others (that’s a whole other series of stories), and I left that school and teacher, and started taking workshops all over the United States with Rachel, and others such as Suhaila, Carolena, Heather Stants, Mardi Love, Sharon Kihara to name a few, as well as sponsoring those same instructors to teach workshops in Toronto. At home, I worked hard on my own, trying to practice and integrate lessons from my new teachers as I developed my technique, and decided on content for my classes. As I did so, my personal style developed and I began to create dance pieces for myself and eventually for my new dance company, Lavish.
When you say you’re a dancer, inevitably you’re asked ‘what kind’ of dance you do, and frequently asked to further describe the style of dance. My response has been varied, but was always been that I do a form of belly dance. It started as just ‘belly dance’, then changed to ‘tribal fusion belly dance’, and it’s currently ‘modern belly dance’. But always belly dance.
I feel that because no matter how the dance pieces end up looking visually, no matter how my arms or hip circles may differ from the current mega-star from Egypt, no matter how electronic, metal or abstract my music choices are, my movement base is embedded in belly dance. Period. The smallest pieces of movement, the foundation, is belly dance. It’s the root of the movement, so to me, my dances are always belly dance.
Belly dance has fascinated me completely. Belly dance has given me inspiration to start to dance, to practice, and to create. It inspired me so much that I opened a studio. It inspired me to work hard enough that I have become a good teacher, and I think I can confidently say I’ve become a leader in the field. This is despite starting to dance at age 29, and being slightly larger than Barbie. Belly dance has given me an outlet to express myself in ways that I’ve never been able to before, despite my degree in Fine Art and being involved with the Arts since my early teens. I am a professional belly dancer, teacher and choreographer.
I do categorize myself as an artist, not only a dancer. As an artist, I’m always striving to be able to describe what and how I do what I do. It’s important for me to be able to define my style, my goals, and my work. It’s with this clarity that I’m able to move forward, and to have new ideas, concepts and methods reveal themselves. It’s not magic, it’s work, but I think it’s imperative if I’m going to continue to make dances, and to be an effective teacher.
Though my path has taken me away from traditional belly dance, it still remains the prominent style both locally and in a wider sense, and as a result I think of myself as connected to it in many ways. I have often reflected on the style of dance I initially learned, and the language my first teacher and others use to describe their dance style. Words like ‘tradition(al)’, ‘mysterious’, ‘ancient’, ‘real deal’ and ‘authentic’ are commonly used. My dance style contrasts both visually and ideologically from those descriptors, so when I created my studio’s two tag lines, “Modern belly dance for modern women” (2008) and “The future of the ancient art” (2010), I felt that they were a way for people to understand that I WAS belly dance, just not in the same way that the local community and many others defined themselves.
I often hear that people don’t think I belly dance at all. I suppose I understand that because my work is filtered, layered and mixed with many other things that create an aesthetic that I’ve consciously worked to build, and that is unique to myself and those involved with The Dark Side Studio. But, if you come to a class at the studio, you’ll notice we teach belly dance technique. Belly dance technique along with aspects of Music, Dance and Art in order to provide students with a fully rounded, university style arts education with a focus on creating artists who are belly dancers.
And whether they dance to Abdel Halim Hafez’s Sawah (my all time favorite Arabic song, from day one) or to Sohn’s Tempest, is their personal choice. The commonality we have, the commonality all of us have, is a passion for the dance. A passion for belly dance, in whatever form or style it ends up being. And I’m not going to pretend it’s something else, call it something else, or deny it. It’s belly dance, and I’m a belly dancer.
The Dark Side Studio