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/

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Cairo Day 4 – Khan el Khalili, Muezz El Din  & Tanoura 

Time for our first solo day out! We got a taxi to Bab Zuweila, hoping to find the tentmaker’s souk, then visit Khan el Khalili. 

Bab Zuweila is one of the three gates still standing from the walls of Cairo. I’m not sure of its exact date, but it’s around 1000 AD. “Bab” means door or gate. 

Even though we were in the area, we didn’t manage to find the tentmaker’s souk, but we did find a mixed market on a winding pedestrian-ish street through an archway right near Bab Zuweila. It was going in generally the right direction for Khan el Khalili, so we went in.

There really isn’t any such thing as a solely pedestrian street… there will be scooters, tiny trucks, possibly donkey carts, and hand-pulled carts no matter what, and everyone goes with it. You need to be assertive to get anywhere, but not rude. Sort of like the subway at rush hour, but without the angst and body contact. (In the metro there are women-only cars, so that’s another story, but on the street physical contact is avoided.) 

Went we came out through the archway at the end of the street, some college student-age girls were sketching the architecture. 

We were at a busy two-way road with a fence down the median, and I recognized Khan el Khalili, the old market, on the other side. Yay! We walked a ways till we found the tunnel under the road, and came up in front of Al Hussein mosque on the other side. 

We settled in at El Fishawy with tea, coffee, and temayya (Egyptian felafel) sandwiches. This cafe is set on a mirror-covered passageway near the sort of front entrance to Khan el Khalili. It’s one of my favorite places to sit! 

El Fishawy

Tea and coffee at El Fishawy

After our refreshing lunch, we found our way to Mahmoud’s shop… it’s practically a palace of belly dance heaven! Four floors of hip scarves, jewelry, folkloric costumes and bedlah, all granite and marble… and quiet!

The view from Mahmoud’s

Next, following Yasmina’s map, we found our way to Sharia (Street) Muezz El Din. Wow!! This street is lined with beautiful mosques from medieval times, and, of course, vendors including a silver area and a copper area. 

Sharia Muezz El Din

Sharia Muezz el Din

Our destination was the Egyptian Textile Museum. Just 10 le to enter, this museum is filled with ancient pieces of cloth, starting with textiles found in the tombs of Pharaohs! Mummy bandages with writing, finely pleated dresses, funerary cloths… The threads are so very fine! The written info next to the pieces was very helpful. Even after visiting the tombs and the museum, it’s still hard to understand that these are real bits of fabric that are so old–not statues made of stone.

Unfortunately, we had only about 45 minutes before the museum closed. I’m looking forward to returning and seeing more! I hear there is assuit in this museum, too.

Exiting onto Sharia Muezz el Din at sunset was magical. The street, with all its textures and patterns, glowed pink and orange! 

Bashtak Palace

Sabil Kuttab on Sharia Muezz el Din

Sharia Muezz el Din

It was time to recharge so we headed to Nagib Mafouz cafe. This spot is an heavenly spot of calm in the middle of the intensity of Khan el Khalili. Plus, they have really nice restrooms–a precious find!

I ordered sahleb, a hot milk drink with rosewater that is thickened with sahleb root powder (or corn starch or arrowroot, depending on your access), and topped with nuts, raisins, coconut… It’s so warming. It’s winter here in Egypt so it’s the perfect drink for this season. (50-65 degrees Fahrenheit feels warm compared to Maine, but people here are feeling chilly!)

At Nagib Mafouz cafe

After a nice and relaxing sit, we wound our way out of the market, across the street via the tunnel, and around the corner to Wikalet al Ghouri for the tanoura show.

This is one of the most incredible ongoing (three times a week?) events here in Cairo. Each performer is absolutely absorbing to watch individually, and the group as a whole moves as one. 

The building is from the 1500s, a former hostel for merchants. There are four floors surrounding a courtyard. Each floor is lined with doors, creating a really cool setting for this show. Musicians stand in the spaces between the pillars on the second floor, and the dancers and more musicians use the raised stage set up beneath. I wrote more about it last year, here… I’ve been so looking forward to attending again! 

Wikalet al Ghouri

Photos are allowed, but no video, and they actually police it, telling those filming to stop. It’s so nice to be in the moment rather than trying to document. 

Tanoura at Wikalet al Ghouri

After the show, we caught a taxi back home to Yasmina’s and to rest…. ahhhhh…. 

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….

Cairo Trip – Day 1 – Pyramids 

Yesterday’s 24+ hours of travel was long but it went smoothly. Flights were on time, luggage arrived quickly, and Nibal was there to meet us at the airport with a great driver to take us to Yasmina’s place in Giza. We were walking zombies and fell asleep after a cup of tea and a struggle with figuring out the time. 

Due to this confusion, set our alarms an hour earlier than necessary, for half an hour after the first call to prayer, which sounds out from multiple mosques simultaneously at 5 AM. But that meant a leisurely morning and a good breakfast thanks to Yasmina before Nibal picked us up at 8:30. The mist started to clear so we caught a glimpse from the terrace of the Great Pyramid emerging before heading out. (Squeeee!)

Morning in Giza

Saqqara 
Nibal took us first to Saqqara to visit the step pyramid and surrounding tombs and temples. I had visited last year but found that a retuen visit made everything seem more real and since it wasn’t all brand new to me I could retain a bit more! 

The step pyramid is the oldest of the pyramids, from roughly 2400 BC. It’s 66 meters high and currently being restored. 

Saqqara


The surrounding tombs at ground level have beautifully detailed relief work, and some even with color, depicting motion and life–including a panel of dancers!


Titi’s tomb is a short descent into the ground via a small shaft. Inside the high ceiling is entirely covered in relief stars, and the walls in hieroglyphics detailing his good works and other such things related to his life and place in the afterlife. There was a large class of 10-year-olds visiting from a local French school so I had fun eavesdropping on the kids and teachers… It was really great to see so many more tourists present than last year! 

Dashur

After 3 or 4 hours exploring the grounds at Saqqara, we headed for Dashur to see the Red Pyramid and the Bent Pyramid. 

The Red Pyramid is made of red granite, hence the name. We decided to go inside, which I had previously avoided doing to my claustrophobic fears. To enter, you climb steps 35 meters up the side of the pyramid, then enter a 3.5-foot-high shaft and decent 65 meters, so you end up quite far underground. 

Ready to climb down into the Red Pyramid!


I was afraid the air would be hard to breath and I’d be stuck in a tiny space with no way out but the way I got it. It was quite warm and a bit stuffy inside but nowhere near what I had feared. 
Turns out, there is an incredible echo chamber inside! It’s maybe 15′ wide and 25 long (this may be way off, and that’s one of 3 chambers inside) but really, really high with stepped sides. Any sound you emit just lingers in the air… dreamy!!

Inside the Red Pyramid at Dashur


Climbing back up was way more taxing than climbing down–shockingly enough. 😉 The stiff breeze at the top was most welcome! 

The Bent Pyramid site has been newly opened to the public. Previously you could just view it from afar but now you can walk around its base–and see another (less well built and hence crumbling) one on the far side. The Bent Pyramid started at 54 degrees but the realized partway through construction that it would be too heavy at that height so it was changed to 43 degrees, which is the ideal angle at which successive pyramids were built, if I remember right. 

At the Bent Pyramid at Dashur


The walk in the desert was refreshing, however wobbly our legs from the Red Pyramid climb…. Sun and wind and incredibly old human inventions. 

Giza

Our last site of the day was the famous pyramids on the Giza Plateau. With a quick stop at Felfela for some pita sandwiches, we were refuled and ready to try to wrap our minds around more stuff! The sun was starting to set, with a large red sun peeking put from the clouds. 

There was 180 years between the Bent Pyramid and the Great Pyramid at Giza. The Great Pyramid is 146 meters high and took roughly 20 years to complete. The stones are not cemented; they are held together by their weight and engineering. It’s the last remaining one of the 7 wonders of the ancient world.

The Great Pyramid at Giza

The smaller of the big three at Giza is about 60 meters high, just a bit smaller than the step pyramid at Saqqara. The six smaller ones were for queens. 

After a drive to the panorma above were we can see 6 of the 9 pyramids at this site, we went back downhill to the Sphinx juuuust before the monument closed up for the night. The Sphinx is 22 meters high and carved from a single piece of stone! 

Check our the Sphinx’s tail detail!


Back home to Yasmina’s for a delicious dinner, typing of this blog, and now sleep. Tomorrow out plans are to visit the Egyptian Museum, the Citadel, and Old Cairo with Nibal. Then home to gather ourselves and spiff up before heading out to see Dina. 

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/

Dancer Origin Stories #2 – Lauren Zehara Haas

Our second installment of Dancer Origin Stories features a many-faceted woman who I greatly admire. Many of us have followed her travels around the globe, explored her fabulous Belly Dance U website, or participated in a Hafla for Humanity

Lauren Haas, currently based in St. Louis, MO (USA), gave up belly dance for a few years to pursue a dream she had long held: to travel the world! After spending nearly three years staying no more than a month in places from Peru to Istanbul to Malaysia, Lauren has returned to St. Louis, where lucky locals can now take belly dance classes with her once again!

Now, read on to learn about Lauren’s Origin Story…..

Q: What is your first memory of dance? 

lauren01-250pxwA. I remember taking a ballet class at age 6 and being very disappointed because there was no twirling in our first class. We just moved our feet and arms around.

Q. Was social dance or music a part of your life growing up?

A. My family didn’t dance or play music, but my mother was a huge fan of dance, including world dances like Indian and belly dance, so we saw a lot of performances, both live and on television.

I used to lock myself in my room as a preteen and dance to pop music, and as soon as I was old enough (around 13) I started going to baby discos.

Q. How did you first encounter belly dance?

A. My mother gave me her tickets to a local hafla. I didn’t actually like it at first; I don’t think I realized I was seeing mostly student performers, and I didn’t quite “get it.” Later, when I saw a professional show, I was hooked for life, and now I enjoy watching students and pros alike.

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

lauren04-250pxwA. My very first classes were tap/ballet at age 6, but I didn’t stay long. I was terrible at sports and disconnected from my body due to PTSD, so I never tried dance classes as a teen or young adult. I was 35 when I found my way to my first belly dance class.

Q. What circumstances drew you into dance as an adult?
A.
I needed something in my life that was just my own, away from work and raising my children. I also needed to be active. Dance was supposed to be a hobby for me, and a way of getting active.

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

A. I was infatuated with belly dance from the first time I saw my teacher, Warda of St. Louis, perform. But I really fell in love when I went to a workshop and realized that women who’ve been belly dancing for 20 or 30 years were still studying, still learning, still growing. The depth of this dance surprised me.

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

lauren06-250pxw.jpgA. Belly dance is informed by folk dances from around the region. I’ve studied dances from Egypt, the Gulf region, Turkey and North Africa.

I’ve also taken some ballet workout classes to improve my carriage, lines, and strength. Tangentially, I’ve taken Polynesian and Bollywood classes and loved them both.

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

A. I’ve just finished doing a weekend of workshops with Raqia Hassan and Aziza (both from Cairo, Egypt). Raqia is a powerhouse, who has reinvented the dance over the last two decades. I just love her style and her approach.

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

A. All sorts of torso articulations felt very natural to me from the beginning, while others were struggling with them. That gave me early confidence.

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

A. Barrel turns! I don’t know why they were so hard for me. Even private instruction didn’t help. Now I can finally do them, and I love them.

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

lauren02-250pxwA. I remember watching a dancer (Vashti of Texas) perform. As the drama of the music built to a crescendo, she made her movements smaller and smaller, until just her hips and abdomen were responding to the music.

I was drawn in until my whole world consisted of a spot just below her navel, and it seemed like the music was emanating from her body. Exquisite.

Q. What dance skills translate to your everyday life?

A. My awareness of my body, and connection to it, have increased tremendously. I am much more present with myself. I’m not as accident prone, I don’t spill things as much. I’m more aware of tension in my body and can let things go more easily.

Q. What everyday skills translate to your dance life?

A. To be a professional belly dancer is to be self-employed. All my skills from running other businesses, from bookkeeping to marketing, have been useful to me as a dancer.

Q. What else would you like to add?

lauren05-250pxw.jpgA. The most surprising and wonderful thing about belly dance is the dancers themselves. There are some egos in the business, of course, but on the whole they are the most intelligent, creative, interesting women I’ve ever met. This is true of long-term students as well as pros.

I’m honored, as a teacher, to bring these women together in my studio and build a community for them, and I think that community is even more valuable than any dance skills I might be able to teach them.

About Lauren

I’ve been dancing for over 15 years in the St. Louis area. It’s been a marvelous journey. I’ve danced in hookah bars, taught in universities, worked on a cruise ship out of Dubai, and taught at the Las Vegas intensive. I’m no longer doing restaurant or party work, but I still teach and write about belly dance. I’ve never stopped loving it.

Website: http://www.laurenzehara.com/

About Hafla for Humanity

haflaforhumanity-250pxwHafla for Humanity is a global fundraiser that brings bellydancers around the world together to raise money for women in the Middle East who are in desperate need. This year’s H4H benefits Yazidi women and girls who are escaping ISIS after being captured and held as sex slaves.

We need more events! If you can organize something on or before September 24, no matter how small, please join us at haflaforhumanity.com.

Grow Your Belly Dance Business!

bellydanceu-250pxwIn addition to her own teaching and writing, Lauren has is publishing a line of books!  (bellydanceu.net/bellydance-books). She is currently working with Amity Alize, who is a CPA as well as a very successful studio owner and event producer, on a series of business titles especially for dance teachers.