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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

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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