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Hey Guys! So I’m late to the game with this one – but tomorrow  Ahmed Hussien is having a workshop in NYC  –   FACEBOOK PAGE !!!!!

ALSO his 3rd annual Spring Immersion is coming up in March! If you want to take class with a fantastic teacher and hang out in Southern California (like I do btw) then you should definitely mark your calendar!

Want to learn more about Ahmed? Read this short interview he did with The Belly Blog! 🙂

TBB: Being that you started dancing so young, what is your first dance memory?

AH: My first memory is dancing on the old Opera House in Cairo Egypt that was built in 1886. And I danced as the only child in the Don Juan ballet representing the Cairo National Ballet.

TBB: When did you know that dance was something you wanted to pursue as a career?

AH: Being that young, you don’t make a decision. I started the academy when I was 8 years old.  So it’s not a decision that I made but was a decision was put in front of me. I was guided and encouraged by an older cousin. He saw something in me. He noticed that I was very talented and active. He suggested that I needed to be placed in a program with either in music or dance, something. So I went and applied to the Higher Institute of Ballet and was accepted.

TBB: How has your ballet background influenced your classical oriental style? From where else do you draw inspiration?

AH: All formal dances relates to each other. And they all also have the basic form from ballet. It gives you grace, lines, flexibility and provides you with musical interpretation. Grace is the most important quality that ballet training can provide dancers. Music gives me the inspiration. There is nothing to draw inspiration from without the music.

TBB: What is the most difficult challenge you’ve had to overcome as a dancer? How did you grow from it?

AH: Maybe not finding the right music, the right venue, the right stage, poor lighting and/or sound. You learn by adapting to different situations. The show must go on. I came from Egypt and I adapted to life in the US. Adaptation is what you do in dance.

TBB: What has been your favorite moment in your dance career?

AH: Being on Broadway. I learned a lot about how things work. It was a once in a lifetime opportunity  to experience the processes of auditioning, planning, creating choreography, costuming. It’s amazing to see your final work on stage.

TBB: What is your favorite song right now?

I don’t have a favorite song. There is so many pieces of beautiful music and I like them all. I feel like it’s not fair to select one over the other.

 

Fair enough Ahmed! 

 

Learn more about this great dancer on his website!

 

 

Last month I traveled to D.C. or my aunt’s 60th birthday. My aunt and cousin have both taken/ are taking classes at the famous D.C. belly dance studio, Sahara Dance. My cousin spoke so highly of Sahara’s well known owner Rachel, that I decided to send her a message to see if she would like to meet up for an interview. Lucky for us, she said yes! yay!

We decided to grab coffee at Whole Foods and sit and chat/interview. Let me just tell you – this woman is amazing! Not only is she the founder and director of Sahara Dance, she is also the director of both of Sahara’s dance ensembles, Raqs Sahara and Raqs Caravan East, she created an intensive teacher training program, and…oh yea – she’s an incredible dancer!

The path that led Rachel to creating Sahara dance included learning from some of the best. She studied with both Autumn Leah Ward and Yousry Sharif as well as Sahra Saeeda (whom she also did a dance enthnology tour with in Egypt), Yasmina Ramzy, Haida, Faten Salama, Aida Nour, Jillina and others. All of this training allowed Rachel to cultivate her own vision for belly dance. She focuses on community, mindfulness, celebration of all body types, and developing belly dance as an art form.

I really can’t say enough good things about Rachel. When I was editing her interview I couldn’t stop smiling watching it – she’s just such a warm person, so wise and articulate, warm and sweet, humble, inspirational and incredibly cool. I hope you guys enjoy getting to know her as much as I did.

For more background info on Rachel visit the Sahara Dance site.

*disclaimer – the filming quality is a little low budget, content quality is high ;)*

TBB: How did you get started in belly dance?

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rrPlZ-K5dgI]

TBB: What type of belly dance/ME music speaks to you the most?

RKB: I love Egyptian dance, I love Egyptian music, I like a lot of different types of music that fall into the belly dance genre or can easily be adaptable to belly dance movement, but  Egyptian is my first love.

TBB: What is your favorite song right now?

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IIn7FIexx8I]

Listen to White Flag by Gorillaz feat. Syrian National Orchestra :

[spotify id=”spotify:user:1272124796:playlist:5E0SMWQXJWsrhXiXo5tXa5″ width=”300″ height=”80″ /]

TBB: Who were some of your belly dance mentors?

RKB: Autumn Leah Ward  is my first teacher and probably my largest influence and then from there Yousry Sharif is certainly a big part of my dance training, Yasmina Ramzy, Sahra Saeeda, Hadia, and then going to Egypt and studying… there are a lot of influences, but those I think would be primary.read more

 

“Brothers of the Baladi are the ‘real deal’ –– a fresh take on an ancient idea“ –The Beat Magazine

Unique is the perfect word to describe the grammy nominated band Brothers of the Baladi. Their style is one of a kind, “the quartet combines traditional acoustic Middle Eastern instruments and songs with western instrumentation, exotic rhythms with familiar grooves and vocals in seven languages (Arabic, Turkish, Farsi, French, Spanish, Armenian and English) to create a unique and highly rhythmic dance music.”

Brothers of the Baladi is headed up by the multi – talented and very cool Michael Beach, who in addition to providing the lead vocals, plays doumbek / Arabic tabla, mizmar, mijwiz, def, riq and davul. The band also includes talented musicians J. Michael Kearsey, Clark Salisbury, and Charles Pike. Michael credits composer/ conductor, David Amram and the Middle Eastern band Sirocco as some of his/the bands influences. Brothers of the Baladi has also had the chance to collaborate with artists like Moroccan born Tariq Banzi and drummer Michael Shrieve.

Learn more about the history of Brothers of the Baladi here.

LISTEN!!!!! BELLY BEATZ PLAYLIST: BROTHERS OF THE BALADI 

Brothers of the Baladi has been going strong for 30 years and dropped 11 albums!

I had such a hard time putting together this playlist because all the songs are so good!!!!

[spotify id=”spotify:user:1272124796:playlist:6xKLzCcfNghcoaD9d72OlB” width=”300″ height=”80″ /]

You can also buy their music here 🙂

And don’t miss Michael’s solo album – Hands of A Thousand Dances

[spotify id=”spotify:user:1272124796:playlist:2GUmcd6aXCn2TD7YuaLu5e” width=”300″ height=”80″ /]

 

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A couple of weeks ago, on September 11th actually, I got the chance to head over to Queens and interview the fabulous Ranya Renee. Ranya invited me into the apartment she shares with her two adorable cats appropriately named Samia and Mona. We sat down in her living room decorated with a wall of very cool masks, mirrors, and beautiful/funky pieces of furniture like a sea shell encrusted table. We started chatting and before I knew it over an hour passed! So I’m sorry for the delay in posting this interview, I had to figure out my iMovie situation – I’m not the most technologically savvy. Before we get started, here is some background on Ranya: Ranya moved to NYC in 1992 to work as a theater director. She ended up spending more and more time belly dancing and eventually it became her number one focus. Ranya specializes in Egyptian style and is known for teaching theatrical performance skills and for her “Breathwork for Performance” method. Ranya has taught and danced all around the world and come out with several instructional dvds. I feel very lucky to have gotten the chance to pick Ranya’s brain and learn more about her. Without further ado…here is my interview with Ranya Renee…

TBB: How did you get started in belly dance?

RR:

Check out some of the dancers/choreographers Ranya studied with! Serena Studios Gamila El Masri Ghassan Fadlallah – this link just has a tiny bit of info, and you can watch one of his choreographies here. Ramzi El Edlibi and read more about him here.  Bobby a.k.a. Ibrahim Farrah Yousry Sharif Shareen El Safy Sahra Saeeda Shoshana

TBB:  What was your experience gigging?

RR:

TBB: When did you decide that Egyptian style was the way you wanted to go?

RR:

Check out some of the greatest NYC dancers that Ranya was able to study with: Dalia Carella Aszmara Elena Lentini Serena 

Ranya discusses learning Arabic and how it affected her dancing.

  [youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HnxWfOm4WmM] Simon Shaheen

The first time I saw Aszmara dance was at Je Bon in NYC. I had never seen a dancer like her before. She came out, super high energy, playing her zills so fast that my mind was blown. She completely owned the stage, and it’s so hard to describe, but she made watching her an experience. Nothing she did was expected, it was so incredible. With over 35 years of experience under her belt, Aszmara brings grace, strength, confidence, power and passion to the stage. If you haven’t seen her dance yet you’re definitely missing out!

Lucky for you, she has a workshop coming up in just a couple of days, so please check out the info here! 😀

Take class with Aszmara!

And now for the interview….

TBB: How did you get started in belly dance?

AS: It all started on a dare from a friend who had a free pass from General Foods for a 10 week Belly Dance class at the local White Plains YMCA. She asked if I wanted to come with her and when I declined she countered, “Are you afraid?” “Of course not!” I exclaimed!  So on that dare I went to class and immediately fell in love with the music.  Then I saw the movements and I fell head over heels.  Over 35 years later, I am still falling head over heels, learning more, experiencing more and sharing the love and joy of this most beautiful art form.

 

TBB: Who were your most influential teachers and why?

AS: There are so many influential teachers throughout my dance life. Elena Lentini has to be top of my list – throughout her career she has pushed the boundaries of typical Belly Dance to extraordinary areas of expression.  She constantly inspires by her looking at things in a different way and has inspired me to go beyond the typical trappings of Belly Dance.

There is the late Alan Danielson, a modern teacher of the Limon style, whose courage, technique, lyricism and musical expression are carried with me.  The lyric nature and odd time signatures of his teaching fit so well to the music and expressions I strived to convey; his technique has kept my body dancing strongly and safely.  Alan’s courage was shown when one year after his heart transplant he returned to teaching and performing in concerts. Sadly, we lost him this year but we had so many extra years because of his transplant.

Souren Baronian and Haig Manoukian.  These two musicians I toured with for so many years taught me more about music than a Doctorate Degree ever could!

And finally, Roberta Koch, my dance partner in SaZ Dance Theatre from 1900 – 2010.  Together, we created visions that used Oriental Dance movements as a base and expanded to so many new horizons.  She taught me to be braver than I thought I could ever be in dance.

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Badaweyah Kareem is an NYC based dancer, choreographer and teacher. Raised in the midwest, Badaweyah spent much of her life performing on the stage in some way shape or form from the time she was just six! Over the years she has been a violinist, stage actress, and night club blues singer. Her love of music and performance brought her to NYC. Here she spent some time researching Bedouin and Berber culture and was re-introduced to classical Egyptian music and then to belly dance. Now she performs frequently in New York and has even performed at Lincoln Center. She has also danced at the Ahlan Wa Sahlan Festival in Egypt!

The first time I saw Badaweyah dance was last year at an event called Pandemonium hosted by Jerry Bezdikian. Badaweyah mesmerized me with her unique and authentic style and stage presence. There is so much depth to her dance you can sense the history behind it, even in her name, which translates to Bedouin in Arabic. A couple months ago, I got to know her better when we worked together at the Theatrical Belly Conference, she had the best stories to tell (which she will share with you below) and I learned so much just from listening to her. I got to see Badaweyah perform again more recently and knowing more about her, it was even easier to see how much passion and soul she brings to the dance. This past Saturday, I was lucky enough to be able to interview Badaweyah in person, so watch below!!!!

Also take a peek at Badaweyah’s webiste!

 

TBB: HOW DID YOU GET STARTED IN BELLY DANCE?

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LpoaqtThMqw]

 

Learn more about the Tuareg People

 

 

Learn more about Morocco a.k.a. Aunt Rocky 

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I first saw Alia dance at JeBon, a restaurant in NYC, a couple of years ago. I was completely captivated. Alia has a really special way of drawing her audience in and mesmerizing them with even the smallest movement. Everything she does is so smooth! She is a dance veteran and a former student of Ibrahim Farrah. She has also been inspired by Elena Lentini, Dunya McPherson, Azza Sherif, Tamalyn Dallal, and Leila Farid. Alia is an accomplished dancer and teacher who has danced on three continents, in six countries, and fifteen states.

Alia is  also the creator of a cool concept/ online motivational tool called the 90 Day Dance Party Challenge. When I found out about it, I jumped at the opportunity to participate. In this challenge, Alia asks you to dance for 20 minutes everyday, to any type of music. She sends the most amazing prompts and inspiration ( or love notes as she calls them  🙂 )  your way to get you going. My favorite part was getting the love notes, it is so apparent how much time and thought Alia puts into each one.

Being a part of the dance challenge, and seeing Alia dance, sparked my curiosity. I wanted to learn more about her, and luckily I got the chance!

Listen to Alia’s interview above and read along below, where you’ll also find links to some of the things she talks about AND… Listen to her playlist :D. 

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 “I grew up in a very diverse atmosphere but was always taught to honor my roots, this is what I bring to dance and what is evidenced in the shows I produce.”

 

On the 15th of last month, I was lucky enough to be included in Kay Kizi’ah’s event: Katrina’s School’s Out Hafla Summer Edition. It was the first time I ever really got to spend time with Kay, who is very prominent in the NYC bellydance scene. She is a talented, passionate dancer and such a warm and sweet person.

In addition to dancing, Kay has been working at a high school for eight years as a special education teacher working with emotionally disturbed children. She has also been an adjunct at the College of New Rochelle for six years, teaching courses in the Psychology Department.

In fact, her event, which included 17 performers, was also offered as a part of a summer college course called “Dance as a form of Cultural Expression”. This course is 6 credits, matriculated, and was the first Middle Eastern dance course offered at The College of New Rochelle. The course, taught by Kay, was offered last year and became SO popular that despite budget cuts, it was offered again this year and recieved double enrollment!

Kay has her students approach the study of Middle Eastern dance from theoretical, cultural, spiritual, historical and practical angles. They study the history of the dance, learn basic movements, interview dancers, write poetry, and view clips of the great stars like Fifi Abdo and Nagwa Fouad. Attending shows, like the Summer Hafla, is an important part of the course. Students get to see dancers of different ages, genders, sizes, and races express themselves and dance in a way that is true to them and their own style.

I was so impressed with the organization of the show, the line up of dancers, and with how amazing and chill Kay is, so I approached her about an interview, and lucky for me – she said yes! 

So…here goes!

TBB: How and why did you get started in bellydance?

KK: I was a middle school teacher, and one of my colleagues wore a low key hip scarf to work. I liked how she walked with it on and I asked her what it was. She invited me to class, and as usual, I was hesitant, but it sounded like fun. I passed on it the 1st Friday night and the next one I said, ” Ok, I’m going.”

TBB: What is your favorite bellydance style?

KK: Definitely Egyptian!  To me it’s about the music. There are so many instruments and hidden layers, so many dynamics and I really feel at home when I hear it.  I used to say “I like that song” for instance: Alf Leyla, Princess of Cairo (Princess of Cairo on iTunes), Bitwannes Beek (Bitwannes Beek on iTunes) and people would say “That’s Egyptian.”

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image                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         Photo by Lauren Weissler

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