Can you give me a brief history of your background in belly dance performance? And teaching?
I started learning belly dance in South Africa at the age of 20, and tried my hand at Egyptian and Turkish styles, delving into some of the folkloric styles of the Middle East as well. My teachers encouraged me to hone what they said was ‘natural talent’ and got me performing and teaching under their direction. I quickly rose up in the South African belly dance scene and soon began hosting my own workshops and growing my reputation. In 2008 I immigrated to New Zealand and was asked to start a belly dance class at the Auckland Council, and soon I was running so many classes and performances that I couldn’t do both my job as a Senior Business Analyst, keep up with the demand for belly dance and have a life! So I decided to write a business plan for starting my own dance business, which I opened up in February 2010 and have been operating successfully since. Here are some of past year’s Performance Highlights for Phoenix Belly Dance:
What are your earliest memories of belly dance (performing or watching a performance)?
When I was a young girl, about 12 or 13 I witnessed my first belly dancer at a Moroccan Restaurant in South Africa, she was mesmerising and so graceful and I knew I had to try it out for myself!
Can you describe a bit about the particular styles/ traditions of belly dance?
“Belly dance” covers a wide range of ethnic and cultural dances that originate in the Middle East including countries such as Turkey, Egypt, Iraq, Morocco, Greece, most Persian Gulf countries, and more. The most popular styles found today are the Turkish Orientale and Egyptian Raqs Sharqi (meaning dance of the east), which include a multitude of regional styles, for example, Egyptian belly dance encompasses Saidi (a folk dance from the region of El Said), Baladi (a common dance of the people), Zaar (a ritual dance to dispel evil spirits), Melayya Leff (from Alexandria), Shaabi (local street dance in Egypt), Ghawazee (gypsies of Southern Egypt) and more!
An interesting development in belly dance is the introduction of Tribal style which began in North America as a way of standardising belly dance costuming and movement vocabulary and has become its own style of belly dance performed only with groups (or ‘tribes’). Trbal Fusion has sprung from Tribal style and is as varied as any Fusion dance can be!
Most importantly is that belly dance is very connected with the music, and in its traditional form is best performed with live orchestras.
What style do you perform/teach and why?
Egyptian Raqs Sharqi is my main teaching style as the technique is very clear and crisp which gives dance students a great foundation to explore different styles thereafter. I personally began learning Turkish style and later moved onto Egyptian, and found that Egyptian technique was a lot stricter and controlled and focused on muscle control which helped me immeasurably and enhanced my Turkish styling as well. When I teach classes I will usually focus on core Egyptian technique but will also always spend time on a folkloric style or prop to educate students on the cultural nuances of the dance we learn.
What are the benefits of belly dance as you see them?
Belly Dancing has the unique advantage of improving people’s lives across multiple areas including physical, emotional, mental, social, community, and education.
Is belly dance best performed as a solo or group piece?
Classic Oriental Belly Dance is designed to be performed as a soloist, but many of the folkloric styles suit group performances better.
Does belly dance teaching and performance differ in NZ do you think compared with other countries? In what way?
Yes definitely, belly dance is relatively small in New Zealand, but the community here is passionate about what they do and incredibly friendly! This allows for a lot more collaboration, but also means there are less opportunities to learn from international teachers, performances, and students. It is exciting to be part of an emerging dance community for me as a practitioner as I am part of the influencing group that will shape the new generation of belly dancers, which means I have a serious responsibility to my students and the wider community!
What overall do you love most about being a belly dancer?
Every day is a good day! I love the people I share my experiences with and I get to do what I love on a daily basis!