Dancer Origin Stories is my brand new blog series describing just that: the origins of dancers we love, in all different genres. This spring, the wildly skilled Anais Fatale and I were talking business late one night during her festival, River City Raqs, in Jacksonville FL, and we both thought this would be such a fun series to read. And so it has come to be!
Anais’s story will be featured in a later post. For our debut issue, I am thrilled share with you the origin story of one of the most soulful and moving dancers who I have ever encountered.
Tamalyn Dallal, currently of New Orleans, dances with the grace of someone who is grounded in who she is, and willing to share that with us. I had the pleasure of hosting Tamalyn for a workshop weekend at my studio in Portland, ME (USA), a few years ago. Her depth of experience and her joy in expression always leave me looking forward to the next time.
Dancer Origin Stories: Tamalyn Dallal
Q. What is your first memory of dance? (Social, performance, class, etc.)
A. I was exposed to dances of the 1960’s, such as the Monkey, the Swim, etc., via my older sister. When I was in first grade, I loved to stand on chairs and do these dances in school.
Q. Was social dance or music a part of your life growing up? If so, how?
A. My father had been a swing musician. He played jazz at home, especially dixieland, and sometimes other family members joined in.
Q. How did you first encounter Mid Eastern dance?
A. I took a class because I liked the music, but had no idea what I was getting into. I was so impressed with the students who were in the performing group. Back then they did lots of zils and floor work, as well as extensive belly rolls and flutters. I had never seen anything like it.
Q. What phase of life were you in when you took your very first dance class?
A. After I started taking ballet at 15, I continued with other dance forms consistently: Modern, folk dances, Persian, Indian, Middle Eastern , Flamenco. So once I was drawn into dance, it kept growing to be more and more a part of my life.
Q. What led to you becoming serious about your dance studies?
A. I was often called a “bellydancer” even though I’d only had a few classes, so I felt I had a name to live up to. But when I lived in New Orleans, in the 1970’s, I met Habiba, who was a household name. Her classes were expensive and I was a teenager. I couldn’t afford them, so she took me under her wing as her assistant.
Q. What let you to become serious about Mid Eastern dance?
A. I was a hobbyist for the first 6 years. One day I was decorating a costume at my desk at work, where I worked with refugees. An Opera singer was temping for the secretary. She said she sang her way around the world and knew a bellydancer who did the same- on ships, in clubs, etc. I wanted that life too.
Q. How do other dance styles you have studied inform your primary style?
A. I learned to identify natural ways of movement in bleed and Oriental by learning other dances: I.E., The wrists in Persian dance are also used by some Egyptian dancers, especially from the 70’s to 90’s. And Ethiopian upper body movement comes from the earth. Ditto for baladi. I learned to express with the sternum through Japanese Noguchi Taiso.
Q: Tell me about some of your most influential teachers.
- Habiba (New Orleans) took me under her wing and helped me learn basic movements.
- Mish Mish (Seattle) taught lots of ethnic dances
- Laurel Victoria Gray (Formerly of Seattle) taught me stage makeup and that you can never wear too much jewelry.
- Inzar (Seattle) was co director of the troupe Shahrazad with Laurel. She taught me how to play zils.
- Evelyn Hamsey (Miami) invited us as her students to her home to eat home made Arabic food and watch videos of the famous Egyptian dancers in the early days of video.
- Ramzi El Edlibi (NYC) taught me the way I teach oils today and how to do the 3/4 shimmy the way I teach now.
- Morocco (NYC) has the best advice and insight in the world.
Q. Share the memory of learning a movement that came easily to you…
A. I did bellyrolls in the back seat of the car when I was little because my sister made me. Not as a part of any dance. So when I took up Middle Eastern dance, I already knew how to do bellyrolls.
Q. And a movement that you had to work hard to master…
A. The Nagwa Fouad shimmy. It took me 40 years, but I just nailed it.
Q. Tell me about one “ah hah” moment that you recall, whether technical, emotional, or conceptual.
A. When I was in Africa (Egypt, Zanzibar, Kenya) I danced more earthy than in the USA. When I went to China, suddenly my dance became very skyward. Then I understood that the land in Africa grounds you, and the emotions are expressed in Asia through the upper body: hands, arms, head.
Over time, I found that working with the earth and sky can help all dancers, so a six point system evolved that works like a charm. I discovered how to help people get grounded and how to be more expressive too.
Q. What dance skills translate to your everyday life?
A. Using the six points to improve posture, walk more comfortably.
Q. What everyday skills translate to your dance life?
A. Ethics, sewing and costume design, administrative skills.
Q. What else would you like to add?
A. The dance needs respect; for the dance, hundreds of years of history, the culture it came from, for ourselves, and for our students and audiences.
Q. What do you have coming up that you’d like to share?
“The Dallal Dance Experience” is a program of experiential dance… I will be teaching two-month series in New Orleans in 2017 where dancers learn technique, history, context, and come together to dance and cook together with other classes. It is about the joy and humanity of our dance, yet it also educates and polishes every dancers technique. “The Dallal Dance Experience” can also be done in workshops.
[Editor’s note: Check out Tamalyn’s website to get in touch re. hosting a workshop!]
About Tamalyn Dallal:
Tamalyn Dallal’s 40 year Middle Eastern dance career has been eventful, to say the least. She has been a guest choreographer for the 1995 Superbowl Halftime Show in Miami, Fl., and has performed for stars such as Sean Connery, Michael Jackson and James Brown (to name a few), the president of El Salvador and the King of Jordan.
Directing the Mid Eastern Dance Exchange, a non profit organization, dance school and performing company in Miami Beach, she taught and mentored dancers such as Amar Gamal and Bozenka, Virginia and others. She organized the Orientalia dance festival for 17 years and produced numerous theatrical productions.
Crowned “Miss America of the Bellydance” in 1995, she has performed and/or taught in 41 countries. She was one of the original “Bellydance Superstars”, has written three books, produced two music CD’s of Africa’s oldest band, the “Ikhwan Safaa Musical Club of Zanzibar”, and currently films ethnological dance documentaries; “Zanzibar Dance, Trance and Devotion,” and “Ethiopia Dances for Joy”.