Photo by Lauren Weissler
Photo by Lauren Weissler
We are so excited to post our first interview and it’s with one of our very favorite dancers, Uza Mitra!
We first met Uza a couple years ago through Anahid Sofian’s Studio where she also studied. Uza performs traditional Oriental Cabaret/Raqs Sharqi, Iraqi Dances, Khaleeji and other folkloric styles of the Middle East and North Africa.
TBB: How and why did you start getting into belly dance? And khalliji/kawliya dance?
UM: I always had an interest in all things Middle Eastern and North African. I would show up to punk shows in Moroccan jewelry and Egyptian prints more often than spikes and chains, and I always tried to to turn the “crusties” onto Najat Al Saghira. I used to cut out pictures of belly dancers, and paste and draw them into my sketchbooks. It took me years to finally find the right time in my life to start dancing.
I actually started dancing at home a couple of years before I even decided to take classes. This was mainly because there was a period in my life where I could hardly walk due to severe joint pain. On days when I could move around, I would lock myself in a room for over 4 hours at a time watching old Egyptian films and dancing with the legends. Raqs sharqi at its finest! Eventually, I became more mobile and even healed myself with dance, and through all of this, I somehow became a dancer. When I finally walked into a classroom I was terrified, but I quickly got over it.
The transition of me getting into what we have come to know as “Kawliya” or “Iraqi gypsy dance” was very natural. The dark raw primal energy and rhythms of Iraq sucked me in, and I realized that there was no going back. The dance itself literally took over my life, as if it was my destiny. Since then, I have been researching the many intricacies of Iraqi dance, in order to more clearly understand what is hidden under this umbrella term “Kawliya,” a term that brings heated debate amongst many.
TBB: What’s the most challenging part of being a dancer?
UM: One of my main struggles was coming to terms with the fact that I am an “artist” and not an entertainer. Some people are both, and some people, like me, are one or the other. You are very fortunate if you are both, and my respect goes out to those who are.
I used to compare myself to other friends and dancers who are pros. For instance, I don’t look like this one, or I look like this one, but I don’t dance like them. I’m just not into that club scene. etc. So, where do I belong? On my own path, right where I am, here and now. And I know there are other lone wolves out there too! Here’s a howl for ya!
TBB: Who are your biggest influences?
UM: My biggest influence throughout my entire life is music. I honestly can’t remember a time when I didn’t listen to music. I don’t think I could live in a world without it. It’s as important as the air that I breathe. Nature and magic also play a big role in my inspiration.
Uza also shared some videos with us that inspire her 🙂
UM: With all due respect to Samia, Nabawiya Mostafa steals the show here. I absolutely adore her.
Ali Jowhar’s video for “Omich Ala Alber.” These dancers are amazing, and I bet you can guess who my favorite is.
This is some of the grooviest stuff you will ever see. A serious Syrian get down at a Saria Sawas concert. The 2nd half is the best!
This same thing that happens if you leave me in a room full of Moroccans. Liberation!
“The Anadin Brothers,” dancers from Dr. and the Medics, make a cameo in one of my favorite Cult videos.
Beautiful old goth club montage. I love this Trisomie 21 song too.
TBB: What’s your favorite song to dance to?
UM: I have a secret song by the Iraqi singer Farida that is my favorite song to dance to. I hope to make a choreography one day. It’s just so long, but seems too beautiful to cut.
TBB: How did you make the transition from an amateur to a pro dancer?
UM: I can’t remember exactly how I made the switch from amateur to pro. I think others just started asking me to teach and gig here and there, and then it sort of spiraled.
TBB: What advice would you give to new belly dancers?
UM: If people are just getting into Middle Eastern dance, the best thing they can do is absorb as much technical and cultural information as possible. Also, stay active in your own learning by asking questions and doing background checks on your teachers. Most importantly, don’t get too caught up in other people’s opinions. Even as a beginner you have a life’s worth of experience to bring to this dance. Stay true to yourself always!
TBB: What’s the best advice you’ve ever gotten?
UM: “Even the greatest stars fix their face in the looking glass” Kraftwerk
TBB: What’s the craziest dance related thing that’s happened to you?
UM: I don’t have as many crazy experience with gigs as much as creepy. I tend to have a low creep tolerance, and I’m pretty outspoken. Most club owners don’t like this. An example of a creepy and awkward experience happened when a Moroccan Madame liked my shikhat so much that she tried to “recruit” me.
TBB: If you could meet any Middle Eastern dancer or musician (past or present)who would it be and why?
UM: If I could meet any dancers in the world at any time or place I would want to meet the temple dancers of ancient Babylon. Dancing with them would be my dream.
TBB: What’s your favorite beauty tip?
UM: Embrace your own power and value yourself. People need to learn how to adore themselves from an almost a romantic perspective. Get lost in your own dreams and let it show on the outside. Explore your own style and have fun with it. Don’t ever stop!
If you are in New York, Uza is hosting two workshops coming up next weekend with Iraqi born Assala Ibrahim. For event updates check http://assalainnyc.tumblr.com/ or Uza’s tumblr page http://uzadancernyc.tumblr.com. Click here for Facebook event page
It’s going to be an amazing weekend so you guys should check it out!