When I initially became interested in belly dance, I was a sophomore in college, roughly seven years ago. At the time, and I suppose throughout subsequent years, I didn’t really have access to classes, so I began my study on YouTube. I found various little videos teaching isolated technique with very little context as to style or origin. I think most of what I found then would be classified as Modern Oriental. Eventually, I stumbled across Tiazza’s Free Bellydance Classes, which were the majority of my early learning materials. I remember her saying in one of her videos that she didn’t teach tribal because her body didn’t move that way. Although she has incorporated tribal style technique videos in subsequent years, that statement stuck with me.
In those early years, I had very little knowledge of Middle Eastern music and a penchant for alternative rock and metal, so I initially classified myself as gothic fusion. I feel a bit silly now for thinking that, but when you’re dancing to Disturbed, you can’t exactly call it traditional. But I was dancing to the music I knew instead of stumbling through the intricate Arabic compositions of which I was largely ignorant. When I tried to actually delve into tribal movement, I quickly realized that, much like Tiazza, my body didn’t move that way. It never felt natural to me. Slinky serpent, I am not.
Things clicked when I first saw baladi for the first time. I don’t know what dancers I initially saw, but everything about it intrigued me. It was just so earthy and beautiful, very natural. I loved the movements, the costuming. It took me a while I find the name of it though, which is frustrating. I wanted to find more of that style, but I didn’t know what it was, and I didn’t have anyone to ask. Once I figured out the word, I ended up buying Ranya Renee’s Baladi program from World Dance New York. That was the beginning of my love affair with Egyptian dance.
I loved the music. I loved the beautiful dresses. I loved the big, loose, gooey movements. I loved the way she talked about it being the dance of the people. Something anyone could do. This was what I had been looking for since I started down this path. The sensuality, the joy, passion expressed in the movement of the body. It was a dance I could get lost in, and I took to it like a duck to water.
The inclusive nature of baladi has always called to me. I’ve never been flashy. I’ve never been one to actively draw attention to myself if I could help it. I’ve never felt like I have a “dancer’s body.” I know that any body is a dancer’s body, but we all experience that insecurity sometime in our lives. But belly dance, and baladi in particular, is the first dance form where I really felt that the shape of my body was perfectly fine.
I see videos of homestyle dancers in Egypt, many of which who are shaped like me, and the absolute joy they exude is infectious. I want to be able to share in even the smallest piece of that. Baladi has become my style. It’s the heart of my dance, and I find myself falling more and more in love with it as I expand into the Sha’abi and Saidi styles. I love these dances that embody the spirit of the people of Egypt, the country that has ignited my imagination.
But that’s a story for another day.
Improvising to Ya Omda by Fatme Serhan, hearing the song for the first time. Sorry for the blurry quality.