Bint al Balad: Hitting My Stride

When I initially became interested inPicsArt_04-06-12.56.00 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.PicsArt_04-06-01.01.34

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.

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Nada el Masriya in Tulsa, April 14, 2018!

Come join us in Tulsa, Oklahoma the weekend of April 14, 2018 for some fabulous workshops taught by Nada el Masriya of the Egyptian Dance Academy of Toronto, Canada! Early bird pricing has passed, but come join us for an Egyptian extravaganza!

The option to pay at the door is available, and if you can’t take all of the workshops, just pop in for one or two! It will be worth it.

Midtown Tulsa Belly Dance always puts on wonderful workshops. You won’t be disappointed!

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Can’t make it to the workshops? Come join us for a spectacular show featuring dancers from Oklahoma and the surrounding areas, and, of course, Nada el Masriya herself. Oh, and me! I’ll be there too!

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Yalla!

My Journey to Belly Dance

Hello, my name is Evryn Amar. This is my first time writing anything for a public audience, so if things are a tad awkward, just bear with me! I’ll get the hang of this soon enough.

I guess I’ll get the elephant in the room out of the way. I have mild Cerebral Palsy. This has made my experience with Irish Dance – interesting, to say the least.  My disability is part of the reason why I left to pursue a different dance form, though jigs will always have my heart.

I actually began Irish Dance long ago, around the age of thirteen. My teacher at that time showed very little mercy to the girl with the wonky leg, and because my bones were young, I was actually able to force my feet into position. This was painful, and pressured by my teacher, even though she meant well and was very kind. Every week I sat there, legs as straight out as I could muster, while my feet were pressed down as close to the floor as I could bear. Over time, my training paid off and I went on to actually place in a county Feis, or Irish dance competition. Really, I only stopped because of the crazy commute from my hometown to the studio. I loved it very much, even though I looked very different from the average dancer onstage. It was through the support of my mother that I was able to rise above the self-consciousness so well. I missed it terribly.

Years later, my mother passed away. At twenty-four I got married and moved to Oklahoma, where I found the local Irish Dance Academy. I was so excited, after years and years I would be able to pick up where I left off and dance again! I would honor my mother’s memory by stepping onto the stage once more.

If only it had been that simple.

The perfect Irish Dancer keeps their back straight, arms to the sides, legs and feet working wonders against the floor. When one of your legs naturally turns inward, nailing those steps becomes an incredible challenge mentally, physically and emotionally. My heart was in the dance, but the body I saw dancing in the mirror didn’t match my classmate’s steps. I felt so graceful in my mind, but in the mirror I was all over the place. One can imagine how this messed with my head, being surrounded by classmates that had much more precise form. My teacher was very understanding, and let me fudge movements if absolutely necessary, but honestly, who would want to do that? I hated it. This wasn’t at all like how it had been when I was little. I felt alone, even though I had the full support of my husband. I felt very different. Imperfect. Finally, I had had enough, and stopped going all together, with only one recital under my belt.

Far before and during this time, my best friend Simina had been prodding me about trying out Bellydance. I was intrigued by the idea, but again, the old shadows of my wonky leg reared up. I still attended a few shows, watching, getting an idea of what this new world was all about. I watched my best friend shine on the dance floor, confident through any fear, embodying the music in ways I had never seen before. It was magical. I wanted to try it! During this time I had been struggling mentally for a while, fighting depression and terrible body dysmorphia. This didn’t stop me from attending my first workshop, though.

I was utterly mesmerized by the sheer variety of people at that workshop. People of all shapes, sizes, age and ability were there, dancing in their own skin. Pretty soon I came into contact with Aalim Bellydance Academy, and honestly my life took quite a turn. Suddenly I had the choice to hide my legs or show them off, depending on the costume. Suddenly, I could employ the rest of my body in the dance. I could feel the music again, this time with all of my being. I began to see myself as beautiful, for the first time in a long while. There would be other challenges to come with this new art, but I know that my mother would be proud as punch to see me where I am now. I would love to be able to return to Irish Dance at some point while I continue with Bellydance, but for now, my ghillie shoes sit patiently on the shelf, until the day I’m ready to return. With two showcases with Aalim down, I know that there will be many more to come.

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My well-loved ghillies together with my newest hipscarf.

The Language of the Dance: Learning Arabic

PicsArt_03-31-04.11.28In the course of learning belly dance, you tend to pick up a smattering of Arabic words and phrases. Hafla, baladi, habibi, Saidi, maqam, as well as a plethora of other music and culture-related words. I’ve always found the language beautiful. I remember that when I was in college, we had many students from the Middle East in the Engineering and Education departments and I enjoyed listening to them speak to each other in the cafeteria or the hallways, even though I could not understand them. There’s just something musical about Arabic that always intrigued me.

I’m not exactly bilingual, but I’ve always had a knack for picking up language and sounds that aren’t native to English. I had a strong interest in linguistics in college, which I would have minored in if they offered it. I learned to write in the International Phonetic Alphabet during a Phonetics class. We had several Arab students in that class as well, so we were able to learn about some of the sounds found in their language that weren’t found in ours.

I’ve gone down the language learning road before. There’s the obligatory language class from High School that we all had to take. I ended up taking German because I have German ancestry, and it seemed easier than Spanish (although Spanish would have been 100% more useful). I can’t say I made much headway then, as there wasn’t much interest. Last year, I picked it up again, using Duolingo as my primary learning tool. I brushed up enough that I could probably survive a trip to Germany and not die if no one spoke English. But, I have to say, there’s no real passion in me for that language.

I had considered trying to learn Arabic before. I can’t remember when exactly, now. We, as dancers, are encouraged to learn the meaning of the music we dance to. Some say we should learn the language or at least acquire translations for our songs so as to avoid inappropriate interpretations or accidentally dancing to a vulgar song for a native audience. I don’t know that there were many online resources at the time I was looking then. It was before I’d started brushing up on my German, and I found the Arabic alphabet thoroughly intimidating, being so different from what I was used to.

This past month, however, I’ve found a new wave of motivation to give it a go. I attended Sahra Saeeda’s Journey Through Egypt level 1 course in February, which sent my anthropological interests into overdrive. I want to understand my music and this beautiful language, so that I can learn more about Egyptian culture, both related and unrelated to dance. With my phonetics background and the knowledge that I can master a new alphabet, I’ve jumped headfirst into this new endeavor.

I picked up a textbook on Egyptian Arabic last month, and in the last couple of weeks, I’ve picked up some beginners workbooks to help me along. My phonetics class utilized a workbook, and I really like that style of learning. Duolingo doesn’t have an Arabic course yet, but they have one due to launch in August, which you can most certainly bet I will be using heavily.IMG_20180223_145559_874

I have to say, however, the most amazing resource I’ve found so far is the YouTube channel of Dr. Imran Hamza Alawiye, the author of the Gateway to Arabic series, Arabic from the Beginning, and a number of other Arabic language learning tools. He has a series of video lessons that walk you through some of his books as if you were taking a live class with him. I haven’t purchased his books yet, but I’ve already learned so much from the few videos I’ve watched, that I’ll certainly be grabbing them in the future. I’ve almost mastered the alphabet already because of his videos. His teaching method is wonderful and I highly recommend his materials if you are interested in learning the language.

I think this time my studies won’t taper off, because I feel far more passionate about learning this language than I did German. German was mostly just a way to pass the time when it got slow at work, but Arabic is an integral part of this dance that I love so much, and that will keep me motivated.

Ma’as-salaamah!

 

New Adventures

Assalaamu ‘alaykum, fellow raqstars, I’m Simina from some town in Arkansas, USA you’ve never heard of. I must confess, I’m a bit of a nerd, and that totally applies to my dance life. I sometimes feel the need to share my nerdiness with the world, so I have decided to start this wonderful little project, so I can gush about my love of Egyptian dance, music, culture and language. I’ve even conned my best friend, Evryn, to come toss her two cents in from time to time.

The tagline reads “Stories of the Unconventional Dancer.” Being a self-taught dancer, I think I come at things from a decidedly different point of view. I sometimes lament my lack of access to formal dance classes, but I have always thrived in an independent study environment, so hopefully I can illuminate the various pros and cons of that learning style as well as discuss the challenges of being a delightfully squishy dancer.

Costuming is an absolute chore, I tell you.

My lovely Evryn is also unconventional as a dancer with cerebral palsy who initially came from an Irish dancing background. I’m certain she’ll have some wonderful stories about studio life and troupe dancing that I don’t have as a soloist. Seriously, I can’t even begin to do choreography and I admire those that can.

Welcome to our sparkly corner of the internet, and I hope you enjoy reading our stories and feel inspired to share your own.

Here is one of my favorite performances of mine from the Vanessa of Cairo Dance Weekend in Tulsa, Oklahoma, June 2017.