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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

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SO HERE’S THE DEAL:

In honor of Black History Month we thought we should recognize the wonderful Nakish. Nakish is known as the first African American belly dancer in the US and worldwide. She was also the first and only Black dancer in Bal- Anat in the early 70’s. Her other firsts include being first Black woman to teach at the YWCA (in San Fran) in 1977, and one of the first teachers to ever teach at Rakkasah.

Nakish was born in San Francisco. She was a dancer from a very early age. At 6 she took ballet and later in high school she studied flamenco and modern dance. Although she was studying the Martha Graham technique, she did not want to pursue this in New York after school, where she didn’t know anyone. Instead she went to the San Francisco Conservatory of Dance and studied Modern Dance at City College simultaneously.

In 1962, Nakish explored other aspects of her creativity and went to the Louise Slinger Academy of Fashion and graduated in 1966 becoming an assistant to Patricia of London Design in 1967. Nakish also took interest in stone and gem cutting and jewelry design.

Nakish was introduced to belly dance through her boyfriend who worked at a Renaissance Pleasure Faire as a blacksmith. At first she didn’t’ feel right about participating as a belly dancer because it wasn’t part of her ethnic culture. A year later, she went to watch and saw Jamila Salimpour’s troupe Bal-Anat perform. In an interview with Gilded Serpent, Nakish said, “ Rhea (Rhea of Athens) was performing with her sword. She saw me standing there watching the dancers and came up to me and said, ‘You should be in our group!’”

And so it happened. In 1969 Nakish began studying with Jamila and became the next sword dancer in the group when Rhea left to go to Greece.

In 1973 Nakish left Bal-Anat and began teaching. Although she didn’t really like the nightclub scene she would gig about once a month and she was very protective of her students. She demanded that club owners respect her students, saying that if they were disrespected she would not dance at their club. If they were respected she would pack the house.

In 1983 Nakish was invited by Dr. Bousaini Farid, the President of the Women’s Club in Egypt at the time, to go to Egypt and dance for the Friendship Force International program. She said this experience was her pride and joy. She danced at the Nile Hilton for Egypt’s elite. While she was there she also danced on NYE at the Yacht Club for over 50,000 people, but it was cut short because she had pneumonia.

She stopped teaching in 1993 when she injured herself working on “The Phantom of the Opera” where she worked in the wardrobe department. She does teach the occasional workshop.read more