Researching and continuing to learn from new teachers around the world extends my mind in two directions - back to the roots, and out into the branches. It’s very important to stay rooted, so my personal style has a firm footing from which to grow.
The first style I learned is called American Cabaret (or AmCab), initially a product of the supper clubs of the US coastal cities. It’s particularly known for propwork such as veil tricks and sword balancing. The video below is a choreography by the superstar Aziza of Montreal, master of the silk veil - I love her stuff! Here I’ve mixed her choreo with improvisation in raqs sharqi in the Egyptian style, thus showing two of my major influences.
I wish I could remember who told me that, because it’s so true. I have learned more in a few years of teaching than I did in 15 years of hobbyist training and performing.
I’ve always enjoyed researching topics, the feeling of discovery is simply fun for me - but the stakes are higher when you teach. I threw myself into understanding all the components of various styles I had learned, so I could transmit them more effectively.
You don’t know what you’ve got, til it’s gone! Dancing in the Bay Area meant there was always an amazing teacher, show, festival and workshop nearby - just about any time you could want. While the caliber of talent was palpable, I didn’t always fully appreciate the opportunities I had.
For example, this is me at a workshop with Raqia Hassan, starmaker of Cairo. Most people need to fly to Egypt to get this experience!
Life in New Zealand taught me that I had been incredibly fortunate to see and learn so many things. It was time to share whatever skills I could.
My first step was to systematically go back over what I knew, and figure out what was what. As a fusion dancer, I naturally let styles blend into my typical response to music, but that would only confuse a beginner.
There’s a big difference between knowing how to do something, and knowing how to teach it! I read curriculum books (Katayoun’s is pictured here), took courses with some of my favorite experts to see how they explained it, and developed my own lesson plans.
I decided it would be best to lay a foundation of classical, traditional, and social dance styles, in addition to fusion for experienced students.
My first several terms of teaching focused on different places and times. This helped both me and my students explore the key differences between styles that made bellydance what it is today. One of my favorites was Sai’idi folkloric dance.
This cane choreography uses the song “Luxor Baladna,” referring to the Upper Egyptian city where raqs assaya (dance of the cane) has especially deep roots.
This 2019 hafla is the first time I performed with my own student - Juliana did an amazing job after only 4 months of study!
While I’m always learning dance from new teachers online, I’ve decided to also get ahead of the curve a bit by listening to the current top hits from Egypt. This develops my ear, and my beginners loved the pop choreography I made for them! Once you start listening, it’s really very fun and catchy.
As Zara recently explained, it’s also important to seek out the Egyptian dancers, because they are underrepresented in their own art - at least when it comes to good pay, quality venues, and international attention. This has to change - I’m following more native dancers from various “source” cultures, not only to see how it’s done, but to hear their voice in the industry.
It’s a privilege to have access to special costumes for distinct styles, especially here in New Zealand where shopping is more limited. However, it’s important to understand not only the appropriate music and movements, but also culturally relevant costuming.
Anything that doesn’t have all of those things (matching moves/props, music, and costuming) is fusion, which can be hard to spot if you don’t have much exposure to dance trends!
Left to right, this is a galabeya for some traditional Egyptian dances, a modern raqs sharqi two piece outfit, and an American Cabaret set complete with silk veil. Almost all obtained second-hand in NZ :-)
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