Today I would like to share with you my favorite books that have fueled my inspiration and knowledge in belly dance. I believe education never stops, no matter at what level you are as a dancer (teacher, performer) and by all means it extends far beyond classroom (stage). Middle East is a cradle of civilization and has incredibly rich and fascinating history. Although Raqs Sharqi (literally “Oriental Dance”) developed during the first half of the 20th century, knowing some cultural aspects of sophisticated East can do evolve and enrich your dance style to an extend you never thought of.
Some of the books on this list are very easy to read, others are heavy due to abundance of historical facts and take more focus, patience and time. I live by the rule “small things you do everyday are more important than a big thing you do once a year ”. Even if it’s just ten pages a day - by the end of the week you nearly finished a book!
Here is the list:
1. A Trade Like Any Other. Female Singers and Dancers in Egypt. Written by Karin Van Nieuwkerk, published in 1995.
2. Before They Were Belly Dancers. European Accounts of Female Entertainers in Egypt, 1760-1870. Written by Kathleen W. Fraser, published in 2015.
3. Bellydance: A Guide to Middle Eastern Dance, Its Music, Its Culture and Costume. Written by Keti Sharif, published in 2005
4. Cleopatra. Written by Jacob Abbott (Initially published as “History of Cleopatra, queen of Egypt” in 1851). The current edition is published by Enhanced Media, 2017.
5. Egyptian Belly Dance in Transition. The Raqs Sharqi Revolution, 1890-1930. Written by Heather D. Ward, published in 2018.
6. Grandmother's Secrets: The Ancient Rituals and Healing Power of Belly Dancing. Written by Rosina-Fawzia Al-Rawi, translated by Monique Arav, published in 2000.
7. Midnight at The Crossroads. Has Belly Dance Sold its Soul? Written by Alisa Thabit, published in 2017.
8. The Secrets of Egypt – Dance, Life & Beyond. Written by Joana Saahirah, published in 2015-2016.
9. The Voice of Egypt. Umm Kulthum, Arabic Song, and Egyptian Society in The Twentieth Century. Written by Virginia Danielson, published in 1997.
10. Trance Dancing With The Jinn. Written by Yasmin Henkesh, published in 2016.
Please note, this list has been put in alphabetical order and all the reads are equally enjoyable and important! This list is not final and continuously expands. It’s exciting how much information gets revealed nowadays. Some books/documentaries are harder to access, however we have wealth of information available to us instantly!
I hope this list will serve you and inspire you the way it inspired me, or more!
Feel free to share some of your favorite reads with us, so we could learn all together!
Today I am excited to share with you my two favorite belly dance podcasts I enjoy listening and get tonnes of information from. Continuous education on such a specific topic as Oriental dance/Folklore dance is incredibly important, especially, if you perform or teach it. The best way to keep up is to learn from the source, which means you have to travel to Egypt or take classes from master-teachers who lived and worked in Egypt for extended period of time. Since the essence of this dance style originates from this country, visiting it and getting in touch with the culture will transform your dance forever. But what if you don’t have the ability to travel or attend workshops often (Living in Australia is a serious geographical reason!). I have found a solution for myself, which by all means can not replace face-to-face training, however definitely broadens the spectrum of information about Middle Eastern dance, culture, lifestyle and more.
So here are two invaluable sources I get my information and inspiration from. These incredible ladies Iana Komarnytska (Toronto, Canada) and Nadira Jamal (Boston, USA) are contributing their time to create amazing and informative podcasts! Regularly, the most sought-after, experienced dancers from all over the world appear there to share their insights and experiences. In some instances you can even be on a call, ask questions and get answers right off a star! Most of us don’t realise that behind the glamorous and sparkly costumes, pretty dancing and smiley faces we see on social media accounts of super-stars, there are some bitter experiences and struggles going on, so it’s very enlightening! The topics are so different that it doesn't matter whether you are looking to improve your cultutal knowledge, start a business, promote yourself outside of your local community or get a glimpse into Cairo's night life you will find aspects that are relevant to you.
1. Belly dance life podcast is produced by Iana Komarnytska can be found here:
Amongst the guest stars you can hear Sadie Marquardt talking about her educational programs; the incredibly talented Marta Korzun and Julia Farid sharing their dance journeys from the very beginning; The instagram superstar Cassandra Fox about staying true to yourself; Luna of Cairo about the current dance scene in Egypt, Ozgen about Turkish Roman dance and others!
2. Belly dance geek podcast is produced by Nadira Jamal can be found here:
Amongst the guest stars you can hear the legendary dance ethnologist and dancer Sahra Saeeda sharing her precious knowledge of Egyptian dance culture; the beautiful Shahrzad, who currently lives in Egypt shares the insight into her performing life; the incredible Alia Thabit (who’s book “Midnight at the crossroads. Has belly dance sold its soul?” transformed my dance and surely, dance of others) and many more!
You can subscribe to both podcasts as well as join newsletters and blogs to stay in touch with latest updates. I wish you a great time exploring it! Let’s all stay educated and keep dancing!
Belly dance festivals & competitions nowadays is a huge industry that thrives all over the world (Especially USA, Latin America, most of European & Asian countries and, of course, Egypt). Festivals are a great opportunity to fully plunge into belly dance education with world renowned dance teachers. Enormous amount of workshops to choose from, spectacular gala shows, intense competitions, splendid after parties, new connections, new ideas, inspiration and knowledge are far not all the benefits you get to experience if you decide to attend a belly dance festival!
If you want to grow quickly as a dancer participating in such events could be a great investment, although is costly sometimes. The best way to go about it is to buy all-inclusive packages which allow you to attend all workshops, gala shows and include a competition participation fee in all categories. Depending on a size of a festival and a country the festival is held in the fee could be anywhere between AUD $500 to AUD $4000, obviously exclusive of accommodation, transport and meals, but it is so worth it!
For me personally takeouts of each festival I attended were incredible! It was not about how many choreographies you learn, not about whether you win a competition, it was about making new connections, about learning from and performing in front of experienced dance professionals. The most important is to be fully present in the moment, be open and grateful for the constructive feedback you get regarding your performance. When I was at The Summer Bellydance Festival in The Netherlands I was chasing Mercedes Nieto, Esmeralda Colabone and Anusch Alawerdian to get their opinion about the areas I needed to improve in my dance. It was huge for me and I was amazed when Mercedes had given me an overview of my comp number ”Remember that part of your drum solo when you face backstage and do shimmies with “X” step, I think it would be great if you gain more control of your shimmy so you are able to change shimmy speed faster and clearer”. The judges had watched over 40 dancers performing that night and she remembered my piece in details!
Competitions are the most intense part of a festival. Especially at large festivals with over 100 participants things can get delayed. There are occasions when competitions go on till 3 am (that’s in Russia where contests are very popular due to the mentality). If you are attending a large festival and compete you must be ready to wait, sometime for half a day till your number is called out. Normally you are allowed to see the contest, which means you need to be relaxed and confident enough to see your opponents doing their best to win. It was not easy when I had to wait for 6 hours for my entry at the World Bellydance Competition in Singapore in 2015. I watched every single performance before mine. There were mainly Chinese contestants there, who are very technical, disciplined and humble. To top that off it was my first ever belly dance competition and I performed in a pro category. I was totally terrified when it was my turn to perform, but I just surrendered to the stage, as I had done everything possible including months of practice and research. Afterwards, when Khaleed Mahmud was presenting me “The Best Choreography” award I told him it was my first competition. “Well I hope it’s not the last” he replied. I doubted that I am ever to do it again. I was wrong!
The most important, once again, is to keep your mind open, be ready to get out of your comfort zone, enjoy, celebrate and soak as much information as you can!
Here’s the list of largest upcoming BellyDance Festivals and competitions around the world
Cairo Mirage, Moscow hosted by Katya Eshta, 12-19 March 2018 www.cairomirage.com
NYCairo Raks, hosted by Mohamed Shahin, 19-22 April 2018 http://www.nycairo.com
Raqs Of Course, hosted by Randa Kamel and Mohamed Shahin in Egypt 25 June - 2 July 2018 http://www.raqsofcourse.com/new-page.html
Ahlan Wa Salan, hosted by madam Raqia Hassan in Egypt in July 2018 http://www.raqiahassan.net
Miami Bellydance Convention, hosted by Nathalie Zarate in USA, August 2018 http://www.miamibellydanceconvention.net
Cairo Festival Budapest, hosted by Mercedes Nieto in Hungary, 3-6 May 2018, http://cairofestival.com/
Bellydance Weekend, hosted by Martín Salvatierra and Pablo Salvatierra in Argentina, 10-13 May 2018 http://www.bellydanceweekend.com.ar
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