Dancer Origin Stories #5 – Shahrzad

This installment of Dancer Origin Stories features the positively magical Shahrzad

Since childhood Shahrzad has been immersed in the dances of the Middle East and North Africa. Now based in Cairo, Egypt, she travels around the world to teach and perform.

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Cairo, Egypt 2015

The first time I encountered her was in 2014, when her performance at the Las Vegas Belly Dance Intensive inspired an immediate standing ovation.

About a year later, I was planning a visit to Cairo and heard that she would be there. She was kind enough to arrange a private lesson for my friends and I. Her teaching skills were deeply impressive and I resolved to bring her to Maine at the next opportunity.

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The time has finally come! This coming weekend, Shahrzad and her partner, Marshall Bodiker are coming to Portland, Maine to teach workshops and perform at the 10th anniversary Springtime Spectacular!

Let’s learn about Shahrzad’s origin story.

 

Q. What is your first memory of dance?

A. Now that I think about it, I cant really remember a time when I wasn’t singing and dancing, I can’t even pinpoint a certain moment because it was always there.

 
Q. Was social dance or music a part of your life growing up? If so, how?

A. My parents were always playing music, all kinds of music, so I was really interested in music from a very young age and loved moving to it.

 
Q. How did you first encounter the dance form that you primarily teach and perform now?

A. I saw belly dance videos advertised on TV!

 
shahrzad01-250pxwQ. What phase of life were you in when you took your very first dance class? 

A. I was maybe 10 or 11 years old. I had recently started home schooling and my parents were very open to letting me explore my interests, so when I saw belly dancing and started asking for classes my mom found them for me pretty quickly. She ended up taking them with me for several years.

 
Q. What led to you becoming serious about your dance studies?

A. My mom will be the first to tell you that I decided I wanted to be a professional dancer almost immediately after starting classes. I was so young, I’m not sure what exactly it was that drove my ambitions, but once I started my obsession with dance really took over my life and I was willing to train and practice as much as it took to get me where I wanted to be.

During my teenage years I tried all different kinds of belly dance but once I started to learn about Egyptian dance and folklore, I was hooked.

I have always been a history nerd so learning about the cultures, traditions, and history surrounding Egyptian (and general North African) dance styles I became really fascinated. The fact that there was a seemingly endless amount of things to learn really drew me in.

Even now after 15+ years of dance I feel like I’m just scratching the surface–and I love it!

 
Q. How do other dance forms you have studied inform your primary style?

A. I have dabbled in lots of dance styles! I’m always training in different Middle Eastern and North African folkloric styles to add to my repertoire but have also studied ballet and Indian classical dance.

 
shahrzad04-250pxwQ. Tell me about one of your most influential teachers. 

A. I have trained with so many amazing ladies, but there are four in particular that I feel had the most influence on me and all in very special ways.

The first is Habiba of Philadelphia. She was one of my very first teachers and was the first person to introduce me to Egyptian style dance and folklore, she solidified my interest in style and really started me on a great path.

Habiba sent me to Nourhan Sharif who strengthened my technique and her rhythm training classes had a huge influence on me, having those classes gave me a great sense of musicality early on.

Nourhan sent me to Faten Salama, a former member of the national folkloric troupe of Egypt. Faten gave me a huge amount of folkloric and oriental training. Having all of that folklore early on was a blessing and shaped my style a lot.

All three of these teachers encouraged me to study with Madame Raqia Hassan when she came to teach classes in the United States. Her technique, musicality, and choreography was so beautiful to me and although it was difficult at first it just seemed to fit my body and felt so natural.

I feel really lucky for the teachers that I have and really respect the fact that they all knew what to give me and also who else to send me to so I would have really well rounded training.

 
Q. Share the memory of learning a movement that came easily to you…

A. Most hip movements were fairly easy for me to pick up when I started dancing. I was really flexible, especially in my hips and back, so I think that helped a lot. I started dance at a time in my life when I was very shy and had low self confidence. I just remember feeling so great coming out of class every week feeling like I was actually good at something.

 
Q. … And a movement that you had to work hard to master.

A. There is one shimmy that I learned first at age 17 and I swear I am STILL trying to master it!

It is a shimmy from Soraia Zaied where you lock your legs together and move both of your knees at the same time instead of back and fourth… it’s hard to explain. At least I feel like I can do it now but it might take a few more years to really do it full speed like she does.

Most hip technique has been relatively easy for me to learn so I really love when I find something I cant do, it gives me something to work towards.

 
shahrzad03-250pxwQ. Tell me about one “ah hah” moment that you recall, whether technical, emotional, or conceptual.

A. This is kind of random but I recently had an “ah hah” moment when I was in the states and dropped into a yoga class.

We did a little shake out at the end of class and the teacher said something to the effect of, “If you watch animals you will see that when they feel stiff or feel tension they have no problem just shaking it all off. As humans we hold so much tension and emotion in our bodies and never give ourselves the chance to let it out.”

It got me thinking about why I dance. When I’m on stage or in class I feel euphoric and the less I dance the more stress creeps into my body and mind. Nothing feels better to me than shimmying for hours on end and I feel like now I finally know why that is!

 
Q. What dance skills translate to your everyday life?

A. Oooo, I’m not even sure how to answer this. I’m a full time dancer so my dance life and every day life are one and the same. Everything in my life at this point circles back to dance in some way so its hard to feel any kind of separation between work and every day life.

Any small amount of time that I’m not doing dance related things I’m usually just curled up at home in bed or on the couch, haha!

But I guess relating to what I said before, dance is really a huge stress reliever for me, the more I’m working the better I feel mentally and physically.

 
Q. What else would you like to add, if anything?

A. Lately I’ve been having some weird ‘How the hell did I get here?!’ moments so it was nice to think back on where I came from and how my dance career started.

 

 

About Shahrzad

Shahrzad has been enchanting the stage since she discovered her passion for Arabic dance and music at the age of 11. Since then, she has immersed herself in a variety of dance disciplines–including Modern Egyptian belly dance and many regional and folkloric dance styles from North Africa and the Middle East. Her professional career started when she was 17, working full time performing with live bands at top venues and events in the United States. Most of Shahrzad’s technique and choreography is influenced by her training in Egyptian dance. She has been mentored by some of the top Egyptian dance instructors in the world including Madame Raqia Hassan, Nourhan Sharif, Faten Salama, Habiba, and many more. She has traveled extensively to do in depth study about music, dance, and cultures from which these arts come from so that she can give students a deeper knowledge of the roots of belly dance as well as its modern uses. Inspired by her interest in teaching, Shahrzad underwent a 2 year Pilates apprenticeship. Now as a fully certified Pilates instructor with extensive training in anatomy and movement she is able to bring a new level of education to her students by breaking down technique in detailed terms right down to what each muscle of the body is doing. Shahrzad currently lives in Cairo and travels internationally to teach.

Check out her website for instructional DVD’s, online classes, and more! http://shahrzadraqs.com/

Cairo Day 3 – Nile Maxim

After Dina’s show the night before (plus that pesky jetlag), I accidentally slept till 3 PM. Elise was up well before, enjoying the view of the pyramids from Yasmina’s terrace. 

View from the terrace


Since the day was gone, we looked towards the evening. Yasmina was able to make a reservation for us at the Nile Maxim boat for a dinner/dance show/Nile cruise. 

The dancer performing that evening was an Egyptian named Galilah. We didn’t know anything about her but we were happy to explore–that’s why we are here! 

Uber took us through the Friday evening traffic to Zamalek–specifically to Sharia (Street) Mohammed Abdel Wahab. 🙂 

Mohammed Abdel Wahab Street on the Nile Corniche in Zamalek

We ordered our dinner, the boat set sail, and the opening musicians began. The keyboard player and singer performed everything from “My Way” to “Hotel California”. 

Next, the live band set up. There was a keyboard player, singer, accordian player, and three percussionists. Before long the tanoura performer came out! 

He spun and spun, with the colorful fabric flying out, and then he lit up in bright LED additions to his vest, skirt, and hat. 

Tanoura in motion


Many of the boat attendees were Egyptian (it seemed, based on bits of Egyptian-specific language here and there) with a handful of Arab and western foreigners mixed in, including an Italian family next to us and more Americans at another nearby table. The boat wasn’t packed but it seemed like a respectable turnout for the show.

At last it was time for the belly dancer! She performed two sets with the live band, in very current Egyptian style–super fun! At the end of her second set, she headed into the audience–and she was a pro at engaging even the most reticent diners. 

Galila with Elise!

The view of Cairo from the middle of the Nile was of course a fun perspective. Zamalek’s pretty white buildings flowed by, as did Cairo Tower and all the bridges. 

Cairo Tower from the Nile Maxim


Eventually we returned to the quai and headed off the boat, ready to catch a taxi back home to Yasmina’s. Due to the recent and sudden devaluation of the pound (as ome condition of an IMF loan) gas prices (among other things) have gone up a LOT, so many taxi drivers don’t want to use the meter. In that case, it’s obviously best to negotiate a price before you get in the car. 

It took a while before we found a taxi at all, and then longer to find one that seemed right. We usually look for an older driver, as they are more likely to know where things are, and hopefully also not be flirty. Things worked out, fair price negotiated, and we had a speedy ride home on the ring road, then time to drink some tea and talk in front of Yasmina’s fireplace . It’s winter here, after all! 

Cairo Day 2 -Part 2 -Dina’s Show

The previous night, Yasmina asked us if we wanted to see Dina. Honestly, it hadn’t occurred to me as a possibility! This is one of many fabulous reasons to stay with Yasmina. 😀

After some research by Yasmina to confirm times and rates, we discovered that it was in fact entirely possible! She has just one weekly public show, Thursdays (well, Friday morning!) at the Samiramis hotel. Yasmina confirmed our reservation and it was a plan!!

After a day our with Nibal, seeing Coptic Cairo, Old Cairo, the Citadel, and the Egyptian Museum, we headed back to Yasmina’s for a 2-hr nap, which was not hard to achieve. 

We called an Uber about 10:30 pm (Thursday night traffic is like Friday night in the US–the start of the weekend) and headed into town. 

The nightclub in the hotel has four tiers for decent views of the stage from everywhere. You can choose different prices based on how close you want to sit. We chose the middle tier price (about $65), and we were fortunate to have a table at the front of an upper tier so we could see well. 

The show started at midnight with three singers performing Egyptian pop songs with recorded music. They had about an hour and a half.

Some appetizers and dips came out fairly early on, though it was too dark to get any photos. (Sorry, Nell!) There were little sausages, pate or foie gras, mini samosa-like pockets, smoked salmon rolls, and some pics of crab, shrimp, and fish. 

A group of four (two women and two men) came in after a bit and sat in the tier directly below us. One woman wore a black turtleneck, pants, and high boots. The other wore a casual someone loose tank top and sort of 90s trendy-again jeans. They both couldn’t get enough of dancing at their table and they were AWESOME. 

The curtains reopened around 2 AM, and there was an 11-piece band on the stage–2 tabla players, 1 giant riqq, 1 frame drum, 1 drum kit, 2 keyboards, 3 male back up singers, and 1 electric bass. 

The singer started offstage, and came out in an absolutely fabulous nude bodysuit with black lace over, sparkles, and spikes on the backs of the shoulders and arms–yes, spikes!–plus a long lace and sparkle train from the back of her waist. She was wonderful! 

At long last it was time for Dina’s show. The curtain opened on a 22+ piece band that enitrely filled the stage. Everyone in the audience had their phones out in anticipation of Dina’s entrance–and then she arrived!! 

Dina’s band at the Samiramis hotel

I was bouncing in my seat with excitement, as you might imagine. It’s really her–right there! Her entrance was everything I could have hoped for. Could not look away! 

Her first costume–cause I know you want to know–was a kelly/seafood green, quite simple and elegant with a  long skirt and graduated slit/swoop, with a heavier gold sequin piece that dangled from the center of the bra and attached to the center front of the skirt. 

After two songs, she exited, and a female singer came out in a gorgeous pink galabeya. Yes, it was time for Taht Il Shibbak! In person!!

Costume number two was an elegant velvet semi-dress, with a vivrant orange/yellow/red bra and teal/forest green skirt with a v detail at the back of the waist. 

Costume number three was a white/black/silver dress with sheer panels and, well, fascinating design. 

Costume number four–and final–and a feat of engineering, indeed, all white and sparkly! 

I’ll screenshot the costumes in the near future! Took some video to document the experience, but really tried to watch more than record…. it’s such a different experience to actually be in the moment. What an incredible night! 

After the show

After the show, we Ubered back to Yasmina’s, since the hotel has free wifi. I had wanted to get an unlocked phone and an Egyptian sim card for this trip so we could Uber more, use Google maps, and look stuff up while we were out, but I just didn’t get to it before leaving. Verizon has a 100MB/100 minutes/100 texts international plan for $40, so I opted for that, using wifi where possible, and the occasional data moment when needed. So far, so good, fingers crossed… (Which, by the way, is not a gesture used or known here, acording to an Egyptian friend.) 

We got home just before the 5 AM call to prayer. Due to excitement and jetlag, I didn’t fall asleep till 8 AM, and then slept till 3 PM. Yeesh. Not terrible to have a day to relax in Yasmina’s beautiful home, however!

Cairo Day 2, Part 1 – Cairo Sites

I slept solidly for almost 6 hours, and woke up before the first call to prayer. Still had nearly two hours before the alarm so tried to go back to sleep with no luck but I’m on vacation, darn it, so I WILL stay in bed. 😉

After a solid breakfast, Nibal picked us up and we headed in to the city. Crossing the Nile for the first time in daylight (too tired post-airport to notice was thrilling. So much water… and… it’s the Nile!! 

Coptic Cairo 

Our first stop was Coptic Cairo, in the south of the city. In the beautiful Hanging Church we saw incredible ivory/cedar/ebony inlay, icons of various saints and martyrs, stained glass…. 

Entrance to the Hanging Church

This Coptic Orthodox church dates to the 4th century AD, though much of the contents are more recent, roughly 12th century. It’s called such because it’s suspended in the top of a fortress tower. There are some clear panels installed in the floor so we could look down and see the areas below. 

Entrance to the Hanging Church

The Coptic calendar counts from 282 AD rather than from the birth of Christ. 282 is when the Romans stopped persecuting the Christians. 

Hanging Church

Next stop, just a couple of blocks away, was the Church of St George, an Armin Orthodox (Greek) church where St George (yes, the famed dragon slayer) hid from the soldiers. 

Church of St George

It’s ornate and colorful, with lots of gilding and beautiful daylight. 

Church of St George

Old Cairo

From there, we walked just a little further to Old Cairo. 

Here there is the church of Abu Serga (Saint Sergis), with original wood from the 4th century AD. Baby Jesus and family hid in the grotto of this site for three months. This year, it was open and we were able to enter! 

Leaving Old Cairo

Citadel

Next stop was the Citadel and the mosque of Mohammed Ali. The Citadel was built by Saladin in the 1170s in anticipation of the Crusaders, but they never attacked it as he stopped them further north. However, the fortress remained a power center for 700 years. 

Inside the Citadel

Also within the walls is the gorgeous mosque of Mohammed Ali. It took almost 20 years to complete in the first half of the 1800s, and Mohammed Ali dies before it was finished. His tomb is within. 

Mosque of Mohammed Ali

Mosque of Mohammed Ali

The views from the Citadel look west, and are absolutely stunning as it’s on a hill–of course, being a fortress!

View from the Citadel

Nibal arranged for the driver to order coffee so it was ready for us when we finished here. It’s like Turkish coffee, thick and strong and amazing. Energy for the Egyptian Museum next! 

Egyptian Museum 

Our final site of the day with Nibal was the Egyptian Museum, a striking purpose-built pink building on Tahrir Square dating from (?). 

I’m so glad that we went to the pyramid/necropolis sites prior to visiting the museum. Having seen in person where many of these ancient statues and tombs came from made viewing them in the museum so much more real and understandable. 

Nibal walked us through about 40 pieces, with history, context, and legend. One of my favorite pieces was the basalt (?) top to the smaller pyramid behind the Bent Pyramid that we had visited the day before. Yes, we also saw Tutankhamen’s famous fold mask, jewelry, and tombs contents. They’re really real!

Photos are currently allowed at the Egyptian Museum but you need a special ticket and we opted out if that. 

After this incredible day we returned to Yasmina’s for dinner and a nap before heading out to see Dina’s show later on….

Dancer Origin Stories #4 – Oreet

In this edition of Dancer Origin Stories, I’m thrilled to feature Oreet. Currently based in Philadelphia, PA (USA), Oreet is a powerful dancer. both physically and emotionally. She has won numerous awards–but more importantly, she will make you feel.

One of my first conversations with Oreet was at an event we both attended, during the creation process for my first DVD. She generously offered insights gained from her experience producing her SharQui belly dance fitness videos, which were so helpful. Her desire to “remind women and men that they are already Beautiful, Strong and that they CAN do it, dammit!” is most admirable, both in intention and execution.

Let’s dig into Oreet’s Origin Story…

Q. What is your first memory of dance?

oreet02-250pxwMy first memory of dance and the moment I knew that I wanted to become a dancer was when I saw American Ballet Theater’s, The Nutcracker, in NYC at the age of 6.

Q. Was social dance or music a part of your life growing up? If so, how?

Oh yes! So from the ages of 6-18 I took tap, ballet and jazz lessons. It was my escape as a child and I loved it! I especially loved and still love the thrill of performing.

As far as music, I was trained in classical piano from the ages 7-16 and even did local competitions. Knowing music has really helped how I hear music for choreography and has helped me in being co-creator of my SharQui Bellydance Club Mix Cd’s.

oreet07-250pxwQ. How did you first encounter belly dance?

The first time I saw bellydance was at a party in Israel (I’m of Israeli heritage) at the age of 5. I loved the coins, the sparkle and the zills!

Q. What phase of life were you in when you took your very first dance class?

As far as dance, I took tap dance at the age of 6 year at a local dance studio where I lived in Long Island, NY.

Now as far as bellydance, I grew up with the art form and took a few classes in Israel. But I would say my first formal training was in NYC at Morocco’s weeklong intensive.

Q. Many dancers took classes when they were little, but then returned to dance as adults. Was this the case for you?

Not the case for me. Dance has always been my career from the beginning. After taking dance classes at my local dance studio until the age of 18, I continued into college with modern dance; received my BFA in Dance and Performance; then moved back to NYC to grow my career as a modern dancer for 10 years.

oreet04-250pxwQ. What (people/phase of life/experience) led to you becoming serious about your dance studies?

You know, I just knew. Once I saw my first ballet performance I was determined.

As far as an event that triggered my seriousness to pursue in college was when I was accepted to be part of a summer dance intensive for kids between 16-18 to experience what it would be like to be a dancer in NYC. The workshops were taught by famous NY choreographers and included classes such as Broadway style dance, ballet, jazz, acting, singing, as well as mock auditions.

Well, at one of the mock auditions I lasted to the end and the choreographer said, “You are too short for the part but you are an amazing dancer. Here’s the number of my friend who’s choreographing a show that needs someone your height!” That’s all I needed to hear.

Q. What let you to become serious about belly dance?

When I fell into teaching bellydance for fitness in 1998 at Gold’s Gym in NYC. (I will tell you more about that below). As soon I started my first class I became serious abut learning everything bellydance!

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Q. How do other forms you have studied influence your belly dancing?

My lines such as arms and feet, posture, turns, and even ideas for movement….

The most important thing is that these other forms have given me the strength to do bellydance. Heck, I think ballet should be a requirement in bellydance practice.

Q. Tell me about one of your most influential teachers.

I loved taking classes from teachers who had a diverse dance background.

I love taking classes from Amir Thaleb for his beautiful transitions. He has a ballet background.

I loved taking classes from Elena Lentini for her musicality and shape. She has Spanish and flamenco dance background.

Q. Share the memory of learning a movement that came easily to you…

Undulations! I’ve been performing undulations since my first jazz class at 6 ears old. Oh remember the “snake” from the 80’s?? That’s a side undulation, lol!

oreet08crop-250pxwQ. … and a movement that you had to work hard to master.

Oh gosh…belly rolls. Still have not mastered them. I don’t think my body ever will. I’ve accepted it. Screw it…onward and upward!

Q. Tell me about one “ah hah” moment that you recall, whether technical, emotional, or conceptual.

So when I was a competitive bellydancer I hired an acting coach, not a bellydance coach, to mentor me. I really wanted to stand out on a big stage, as I am only 4 feet 10 inches tall.

My coach told me to perform as if I am teaching the audience my piece. Use your eyes to teach and make your movement bigger so that a beginner student really sees and understands what you are doing.

Holy crap, from then on, my dancing changed. I teach this concept to my students now.

oreet05-250pxwQ. What dance skills translate to your everyday life?

How I use my core and legs. Specifically when lifting and playing with my 2 small children. Kids are workout!

Q. What everyday skills translate to your dance life?

My administrative skills and speaking skills!

Q. What else would you like to add?

Educate yourself about the dance’s roots. Doesn’t need to be extensive but enough that when someone asks you what this dance is about and where it’s from, you have a nice base knowledge to share.

Now while educating yourself, please, please, still BE YOURSELF. Look, bellydance is simply dance.

Do what makes you feel good. If you want to fuse a little jazz, ballet or other bellydance styles, do it!

Don’t get caught up about doing the right move to a certain rhythm, or doing a drum solo before the veil dance or wearing the perfect costume. When your beauty and passion shines through, people will watch. Plain and simple.

oreet03-250pxwQ. What do you currently have in progress?

The ONLINE SharQui Instructor Training. This training gives you all the tools you need to teach a Bellydance Fitness class that keeps your heart rate up, burns fat, is for all dance and fitness levels and gets people dancing right from the start!

It’s the perfect marriage of authentic bellydance and fitness. I am so proud of it.

The next training is in late October and you can go to www.teachsharqui.com for more info.

Dancer Origin Stories #3 – Tava

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After Tava’s workshop in ME

Our next installment of Dancer Origin Stories features the glorious Tava. I have hosted Tava in the past for workshops at my studio in Portland, ME and I look forward to the next opportunity to learn from her.

Tava has been a professional belly dancer in New York City and the surrounding areas for over 15 years. She’s currently based in Norwalk, CT, where she brings her deep knowledge and caring attitude to her weekly classes, while continuing to perform regionally and teach workshops up and down the East coast.

Her style is classic, timeless, and she brings her entire self to each and every moment on stage.

Now… on to Tava’s Origin Story!

Q. What is your first memory of dance?

I grew up in San Francisco in the 70’s. My mother worked in a restaurant/dance club where I frequently spent time. At night, the DJ would play 70’s disco and funk and I danced with my mother and her friends. At home, the party continued. My mother and I played records and danced to Earth Wind & Fire, Stevie Wonder, & many more. We didn’t have much back then, but I learned early on that when life gets tough, the more one dances, the better.

Q. Was social dance or music a part of your life growing up? If so, how?

tavaveil03-250pxwAbsolutely. Everyone danced. My family would have parties and people turned on music and went for it. My grandparents would clear the floor dancing wildly every chance they got. They were a sight to see. Dance was a huge part of my childhood.

Q. How did you first encounter belly dance?

I first encountered it in preschool when a bellydancer came to give us lessons. I talk about this in my book because it was a very funny moment. The instructor didn’t have enough coined scarves for everyone so I danced with tears in my eyes because I was so upset not to have the right “accessory.”

Q. What phase of life were you in when you took your very first dance class?

My first bellydance class was in January of 2000. Everybody was scared of the Y2K issue. We didn’t know if there would be some kind of technical crisis that would bring the world to a screeching halt.

Once that resolved itself I found myself determined not to put off learning bellydance. I immediately went to class. I should mention that I watched my teacher perform for years before I took her class. We performed in a Variety show together (me…wacky performance art. Her…elegant bellydance).

Q. Many dancers took classes when they were little, but then returned to dance as adults. In your case, what drew to you back to dance?

I stopped dancing in my teens because of body image and spiraling insecurities. I started again a few years later because I was becoming more confident and wanted the outlet for self expression that dance offered.

Q. What led to you becoming serious about your dance studies?

tavasword01-250pxwI always thought it would be a hobby, but my teacher regularly provided student troupe performance opportunities with live music. It was usually Raquy and her drumming students. I also went to see shows almost every night and it was intoxicating to see how the dancer interacted with the bands.

Little by little, I started to perform as a soloist and I was driven by a relentless desire to improve. Eventually, it just took on a life of its own. When I moved to CT, my teacher encouraged me to start offering classes and I discovered that teaching was another genuine passion of mine.

Q. What let you to become serious about belly dance?

The factors that contributed to the cultivation of my career in dance were…

1. Encouragement and mentoring from my teacher.

2. Being a true introvert and loving the release and collaboration that came with dance and

3. I tried to follow a different path (when I worked full-time in Higher Education) but the call of dance grew too strong and I gave up my career to shimmy full-time.

Q. How do other dance forms you have studied inform your primary style?

tavapose01-250pxwI did the usual ballet & jazz dance as a child but gave up ballet first because it was at odds with what gymnastics was doing to my body. Gymnastics training helped me develop strength, coordination and flexibility which I still draw upon in my career.

My jazz teacher really took a chance on shy little me and I was her student from 8 to 17 years old. I can still hear her voice in my head, telling me “chin up…don’t look down!” She was key is helping me learn to polish my movements and keep my fingers from looking sloppy.

Q. Tell me about one of your most influential teachers.

That would be Andrea (Anwar) Beeman in NYC. I still rely on her for advice and feedback. When I was preparing my show for Art of the Belly, I had a private lesson with her just to review my structured improvisation to be sure I was hitting all the marks I wanted to hit in terms of pacing, movement pathways and dynamics. I wound up doing something entirely different in the show (classic me) but I still find it helpful to call upon Andrea and get her honest feedback.

Q. Share the memory of learning a movement that came easily to you…

I honestly cannot recall any movements coming easily to me. My posture was a mess before bellydance. I had terrible swayback and even hip drops looked more like some sort of twerk hybrid.

I suppose, if I had to pick, I had an easy time with upper body isolations. I could move my rib cage all around a lot of thoracic spine mobility. I didn’t realize that was useful until I saw how hard it was for my classmates to move that way.

Q. And a movement that you had to work hard to master.

tavaveil01-250pxwJust one? (haha) I suppose that would be the shimmy. Gymnastics left my knees in less than awesome shape and the movement would leave my patella feeling wonky.

I realized that to protect my joints, I needed to keep the movements small but I was afraid of hurting myself and wound up just freezing. I had countless lessons with Andrea trying to unlock my shimmy but still keep the movement in my knee manageable.

Q. Tell me about one “ah hah” moment that you recall, whether technical, emotional, or conceptual.

Learning the 3/4 shimmy was a brain tease. I finally got it while pushing my shopping cart down the aisle at Food Emporium to the song “Low Rider.” My husband was with me and he saw my mastering the move I had struggled with for months. He was behind me shouting, “YES! YES! You GOT it!” It was awesome.

Q. What dance skills translate to your everyday life?

I stand while I work and do omis, shimmys or undulations while I type. If I sit too long, it starts to hurt. I also get teased for how “gracefully” I wipe down the table with a rag or constantly add little touches to things like getting the mail.

Q. What everyday skills translate to your dance life?

I am a counselor by training and I’ve returned to that field part time. I spent years in what I would call empathy training. I translate that into my performances in terms of an ability to create rapport with audiences using non-verbal methods. I always say that I “take the Psychological pulse” of the room before I dance.

 

About Tava

tavadrum01-250pxwTava Naiyin is a highly regarded professional bellydancer, instructor, choreographer and author of “Little Book of Big Advice: Enlightening Ideas for Bellydance Professionals.”

Tava performs regularly throughout NYC and the tri-state area, she is known for dynamic finger cymbal playing and musicality. Equally at home performing at galas, family occasions, cultural events, in theatrical productions or music videos, she prides herself on having a career with as much variety as possible.

In addition to the “sparkly bits” of her life, Tava has a Masters in Counseling and uses the dance as a tool for building self-esteem and healthy body image for women.

http://bellydancebytava.com/

 

Tava’s 4-Week Online Intensive: Fearless Finger Cymbals (Level 1)

If you love the idea of playing finger cymbals but get discouraged as soon as you try to dance and play at the same time, this intensive is for you.

Join Tava for some effective ear training and musicality enhancing exercises presented in in a light-hearted and fun approach. Over the course of 4 weeks, Tava will send 2 to 3 homework assignments per week with video tutorials & demonstrations. You will also receive articles and inspirational clips so you’ll complete the intensive with greater skill, knowledge, context, appreciation and motivation.

Please note: It is self-paced so don’t worry if you can’t complete everything in 4 weeks. You can view all videos for up to 6 months.

Sign up today! http://bellydancebytava.com/tavas-current-workshop-offerings/

Tava’s Book

tavabook-250pxwLittle Book of Big Advice: Enlightening Ideas for Bellydance Professionals is an essential read for dancers who may be considering a transformation from hobbyist to professional. Tava Naiyin, author and highly-accomplished bellydancer in NYC and CT, writes candidly about her experiences as an artist who has relied exclusively on dance-generated income for 10+ years.

After receiving countless questions from budding dance professionals across the U.S., she compiled her answers and wrote this book to address what she perceived as possible gaps in training.

This book cannot take the place of a mentor; however, it aims to promote industry standards and help bellydance artists determine if they have the right skills and circumstances to turn their passion into a career.

Get the book here! http://bellydancebytava.com/shop/