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/

Why Attend a Dance Festival?

We live in a wonderful time for belly dance. Thanks to the internet, we have instantaneous access to videos of performers from every era and geographical location. We have forums to support each other and to learn. We have access to in-depth articles and online courses on everything from dance technique to history and culture.

Ashraf Kodak's workshop - Camp Negum in Cairo, Egypt

Ashraf Kodak’s saidi workshop at Camp Negum in Cairo, Egypt

We also have an abundance of belly dance festivals! One of the best things about attending a festival is to see and experience *in person* a wide variety of styles and approaches to dance. Since festivals feature a wide variety of teachers–many of them highlighting multiple genres– fans of all styles come together, ideas are exchange and–gasp–real life dancing happens! 🙂

“When I see others dance, I feel like I am dancing with them. I release everything during the shows and really enjoy myself. To me, every dancer has a story and they tell us that story in their dance, the music they pick, the faces and emotions they show. I get to see and feel, first hand, another story that is not my own all of the time. Like watching a movie. Is the dancer sad? Is the dancer happy? Is the dancer conveying a lesson or perhaps adding a personal moment to her dance? It tells me alot about the different artists and I get to catch a glimpse of other stories instead of just watching mine.” – Moira

Las Vegas Bellydance Intensive afterparty!

Las Vegas Bellydance Intensive afterparty!

I love the getting to know dancers from all over the world through Facebook, to get lost in a YouTube rabbit hold for hours on end….  and getting to expand that into a real-life experience is the wonder of a festival.

There are so many to choose from! Some specialize in one genre or umbrella style, like Tribal Fest in California (tribal… obviously), or RakStar (Egyptian focus) in Miami. Some make a point of offering headliners and teachers in many different genres, like the Las Vegas Bellydance Intensive in Las Vegas, and Art of the Belly in Maryland. Some festivals specifically cater to higher-level dancers, and some offer workshops at the beginner level, too.

“I love learning from various instructors in an immersion style which has more of a lasting impact on my dance. They foster a broader community (if they are done right) and I think it’s good to take the pulse of the dance outside of our immediate area.” – Tava Naiyin, CT/NYC

I’ve been to so festivals all over the country–and each has its own character, its own unique vibe.  Soon I’ll be putting together a festival “survival guide”. But for now, I’d like to help you think about attending a festival and figure out what *you* can get out of the experience.

Dancers working hard at River City Raqs

Dancers working hard at River City Raqs

For Beginning Belly Dance Students: 

  • Exposure to different styles of dance: Specialty topics often not covered in regular classes.
  • Different movement explanations from a variety of teachers: Find new gems of knowlege that will help a movement click.
  • Performances in various genres: See what styles speak to you.
  • Performances by both top-level dancers and student performers: Learn what moves *you* in a dance performance. Technique? Emotion? Music? Costuming?
  • Vending at price points high and low: Pick up a special costume piece, veil, or jewelry item that you get to try on in person.

For Int/Adv Students: 

  • Expand your knowledge base: Great opportunity to study topics that you may have heard or or just briefly experienced before–or discover something new!
  • Challenge yourself: Try different styles, learn combos and choreography that are out of your comfort zone.
  • Performance opportunities: Many festivals have open performances sign-ups or show applications. Great chance to try something in front of a new audience!
  • Sharing the experience: Getting to know other dancers and their journeys.
  • Shopping: Now that you have seen a lot of different styles and costumes, you can peruse the displays for the thing that really tickles your fancy.
Rosa performing at Art of the Belly

Rosa performing at Art of the Belly

For Professional Dancers: 

  • Inspiration: Working dancers often deeply benefit from a learning immersion to reinvigorate your own art.
  • Networking: Getting to know other dancers from around the world
  • Performance opportunities: Many festivals accept applications for pro-shows–which often are captured by top-notch videographers!
  • Competitions: Whether for experience, exposure, or glory, competitions can help us up our game.

For Teachers:

  • Add to your teaching arsenal: Bring back gems to share with your students.
  • Remind yourself what it’s like to be a beginner: Try a style that is out of your comfort zone.
  • Continuing education: As teachers, we must continue to learn and grow–or we become stagnant!

Some more quotes dancers I know and love about *their* reasons for attending festivals…

“I attend them because I get a chance to learn from teachers that I wouldn’t normally get to learn from and new techniques that I’ve wanted to try. And I get to reconnect with bellydance sisters!” – Racquel Hagen, CA

“I attend workshop weekends to further my knowledge of the dance. In my opinion, a dancer should never stop learning. There are so many amazing teachers out there, offering expert instruction on so many different aspects of the dance: folklore, musicality, classical, fusion, music theory. When I take a workshop, or a weekend full of them, I’m looking for inspiration and knowledge. To expand on what I may already know, and to learn something new, whether its a full style, or just one small piece of information that I didn’t know before. There is ALWAYS something to learn and take away.” – Yasmin Diab, NV

“To push my own limits, evolve, grow, always improve my art….” – Red Rob, NY

“Meet, take class with and closely observe dancers who I feel I can gain knowledge or inspiration from. Videos are great but in the flesh is better. To learn from fellow participants and energized by their work. To work hard and for long hours so I can feel change take hold of my body. To have an opportunity to dress up and dance for the toughest audience–other dancers!” – Souzan, FL

“I’ve attended enough multi-day workshops (mostly salsa festivals) to realize that I’m not going to absorb everything presented, even if the instructor allows us to record the choreo at the end. What I really take away are the smaller refinements in technique that come from a different instructor explaining a move or giving me feedback, and inspiration from how they approach the dance – the attitude they bring to it, how they present themselves, how they think about it. That’s what stays with me.” – Barb Strom, MA

“I love that dancers from all walks of life, from different geographic regions, can get together and for that time they share the joy, expression and growth that only happens through this very unique dance. That’s what I love.” – Katayoun Hutson, VA

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Rosa Noreen at the Giza pyramids. Photo by Yasmina of Cairo

By the bye…. here are some festivals where you can find me teaching over the next few months!

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Rosa Noreen’s Grace Academy: Helping dancers add depth and dimension to their work so they grow in confidence to take their places on stage and in the world.

Workshops, Performances, Instructional DVDs, Online Programs & Coaching in Belly Dance and Ballet.

http://www.RosaNoreen.com

Into a New Year…

2013.. quite the year! It held a lot of good, as well as some significant challenges.

Yaa Halla Y'All 2013 Dallas, TX

Yaa Halla Y’All 2013
Dallas, TX

The Bad:

– A ruptured appendix. Who gets appendicitis in their 30s? And who walks around for a week (well, hobbles… but teaches a belly dance class!) with a ruptured appendix inside of them?

– Losing the lease on our dance studio and having to close for four months.

The Good:

– Teaching at the Asheville Belly Dance Intensive, MECDA’s Cairo Caravan, as well as workshops in Las Vegas, San Francisco, New Hampshire and Maine.

– Performing in the pro shows at MECDA’s Cairo Caravan, Yaa Halla Y’All in Dallas (one month after said ruptured appendix), and the Las Vegas Belly Dance Intensive.

– Establishing the Grace Academy, an overall mission uniting my various topics and strengths as a teacher.

Rosa's belly dance class

Rosa’s belly dance class

– Bringing my belly dance students to an out-of-state performance.

– Continuing to develop and participate in a wonderful community in my home city.

– Surviving a ruptured appendix and avoiding surgery!

– Finding a new location for Bright Star World Dance, the studio that I co-founded, and adding a new member to our management team, as well as some wonderful new teachers.

 

Rosa Noreen by Jon Reece

Rosa Noreen by Jon Reece

The good most certainly outweighed the bad–but I am most ready for a new year, and some exciting things to come.

Excitement for 2014

– Teaching at the Third Dancer’s Intensive in Atlanta, GA–and collaborating with a musician to bring a new dimension to “Delicious Pauses”.

– Opening the new Bright Star World Dance studio location.

– Establishing a Performance Salon for all levels of belly dancers.

– Hosting a workshop weekend with Amani Jabril of Atlanta.

– Starting a Ballet Basics for Adults class at the new Bright Star location, as well as continuing to teach my local belly dance classes.

Filming an online class!

Filming an online class!

Goals for 2014

– Share the Grace Academy with more people worldwide.

– Release online classes on RaqsTV.com in “Visionary Variations,” “Delicious Pauses” drum solo work, and more.

– Release my next DVD, “Exquisite Lines”.

– Teach more private lessons! I really love helping people one-on-one with exactly what they need.

– Continue to grow our local community and establish Bright Star World Dance as a resource for dancers.