Dancer Origin Stories #1 – Tamalyn Dallal

Dancer Origin Stories is my brand new blog series describing just that: the origins of dancers we love, in all different genres. This spring, the wildly skilled Anais Fatale and I were talking business late one night during her festival, River City Raqs, in Jacksonville FL, and we both thought this would be such a fun series to read. And so it has come to be!

Anais’s story will be featured in a later post. For our debut issue, I am thrilled share with you the origin story of one of the most soulful and moving dancers who I have ever encountered.

Tamalyn Dallal, currently of New Orleans, dances with the grace of someone who is grounded in who she is, and willing to share that with us. I had the pleasure of hosting Tamalyn for a workshop weekend at my studio in Portland, ME (USA), a few years ago. Her depth of experience and her joy in expression always leave me looking forward to the next time.

Dancer Origin Stories: Tamalyn Dallal



Tamalyn Dallal at Rosa Noreen’s Springtime Spectacular in Portland, ME Photo: Jon Reece

Q. What is your first memory of dance? (Social, performance, class, etc.)

A. I was exposed to dances of the 1960’s, such as the Monkey, the Swim, etc., via my older sister. When I was in first grade, I loved to stand on chairs and do these dances in school.

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

A. My father had been a swing musician. He played jazz at home, especially dixieland, and sometimes other family members joined in.

Q. How did you first encounter Mid Eastern dance?

A. I took a class because I liked the music, but had no idea what I was getting into. I was so impressed with the students who were in the performing group. Back then they did lots of zils and floor work, as well as extensive belly rolls and flutters. I had never seen anything like it.

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

A. After I started taking ballet at 15, I continued with other dance forms consistently: Modern, folk dances, Persian, Indian, Middle Eastern , Flamenco. So once I was drawn into dance, it kept growing to be more and more a part of my life.

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

A. I was often called a “bellydancer” even though I’d only had a few classes, so I felt I had a name to live up to. But when I lived in New Orleans, in the 1970’s, I met Habiba, who was a household name. Her classes were expensive and I was a teenager. I couldn’t afford them, so she took me under her wing as her assistant.


Tamalyn Dallal in Rosa Noreen’s Springtime Spectacular Portland, ME. Photo: Jon Reece

Q. What let you to become serious about Mid Eastern dance? 

A. I was a hobbyist for the first 6 years. One day I was decorating a costume at my desk at work, where I worked with refugees. An Opera singer was temping for the secretary. She said she sang her way around the world and knew a bellydancer who did the same- on ships, in clubs, etc. I wanted that life too.

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

A. I learned to identify natural ways of movement in bleed and Oriental by learning other dances: I.E., The wrists in Persian dance are also used by some Egyptian dancers, especially from the 70’s to 90’s. And Ethiopian upper body movement comes from the earth. Ditto for baladi. I learned to express with the sternum through Japanese Noguchi Taiso.

Q: Tell me about some of your most influential teachers. 

  • Habiba (New Orleans) took me under her wing and helped me learn basic movements.
  • Mish Mish (Seattle) taught lots of ethnic dances
  • Laurel Victoria Gray (Formerly of Seattle) taught me stage makeup and that you can never wear too much jewelry.
  • Inzar (Seattle) was co director of the troupe Shahrazad with Laurel. She taught me how to play zils.
  • Evelyn Hamsey (Miami) invited us as her students to her home to eat home made Arabic food and watch videos of the famous Egyptian dancers in the early days of video.
  • Ramzi El Edlibi (NYC) taught me the way I teach oils today and how to do the 3/4 shimmy the way I teach now.
  • Morocco (NYC) has the best advice and insight in the world.



Tamalyn Dallal at Rosa Noreen’s Springtime Spectacular in Portland, ME. Photo: Jon Reece

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

A. I did bellyrolls in the back seat of the car when I was little because my sister made me. Not as a part of any dance. So when I took up Middle Eastern dance, I already knew how to do bellyrolls.

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

A. The Nagwa Fouad shimmy. It took me 40 years, but I just nailed it.

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

A. When I was in Africa (Egypt, Zanzibar, Kenya) I danced more earthy than in the USA. When I went to China, suddenly my dance became very skyward. Then I understood that the land in Africa grounds you, and the emotions are expressed in Asia through the upper body: hands, arms, head.

Over time, I found that working with the earth and sky can help all dancers, so a six point system evolved that works like a charm. I discovered how to help people get grounded and how to be more expressive too.

Q. What dance skills translate to your everyday life?

A. Using the six points to improve posture, walk more comfortably.

Q. What everyday skills translate to your dance life?

A. Ethics, sewing and costume design, administrative skills.

Q. What else would you like to add?

A. The dance needs respect; for the dance, hundreds of years of history, the culture it came from, for ourselves, and for our students and audiences.

Q. What do you have coming up that you’d like to share?

“The Dallal Dance Experience” is a program of experiential dance… I will be teaching two-month series in New Orleans in 2017 where dancers learn technique, history, context, and come together to dance and cook together with other classes. It is about the joy and humanity of our dance, yet it also educates and polishes every dancers technique. “The Dallal Dance Experience” can also be done in workshops.

[Editor’s note: Check out Tamalyn’s website to get in touch re. hosting a workshop!]

About Tamalyn Dallal: 

Tamalyn Dallal’s 40 year Middle Eastern dance career has been eventful, to say the least. She has been a guest choreographer for the 1995 Superbowl Halftime Show in Miami, Fl., and has performed for stars such as Sean Connery, Michael Jackson and James Brown (to name a few), the president of El Salvador and the King of Jordan.

Directing the Mid Eastern Dance Exchange, a non profit organization, dance school and performing company in Miami Beach, she taught and mentored dancers such as Amar Gamal and Bozenka, Virginia and others. She organized the Orientalia dance festival for 17 years and produced numerous theatrical productions.

Crowned “Miss America of the Bellydance” in 1995, she has performed and/or taught in 41 countries. She was one of the original “Bellydance Superstars”, has written three books, produced two music CD’s of Africa’s oldest band, the “Ikhwan Safaa Musical Club of Zanzibar”, and currently films ethnological dance documentaries; “Zanzibar Dance, Trance and Devotion,” and “Ethiopia Dances for Joy”.




Cairo Blog Day 7: On our own in Cairo! Khan el Khalili, Tanoura, Belly Dance Show

On our fifth day in Cairo we ventured out into the city without a guide for the first time! However, we had Alanah with us and we were meeting up with Gina so we weren’t exactly unchaperoned.


On the agenda was Khan el Khalili, a tanoura show that Nibal recommended, and finally a belly dance show–Egyptian dancer Sahar on the Blue Nile boat!

After a nice, relaxed morning, we caught a taxi near Alanah’s house around noon and headed to Khan el Khalili.

Instead of taking the main roads the whole time (don’t worry, we were indeed going the right direction!) the taxi driver took us through the City of the Dead. This is an enormous Muslim cemetery which we have driven past many times, but this was the first time we entered.

In every Muslim cemetery in Cairo there are above-ground tomb-houses (not unlike European cemeteries–but Egyptian style), not grassy expanses like in the US. Many of these are also populated by live people–not just the dead. Families often have arrangements with people who live there in exchange for taking care of the tombs and preventing the graves from being robbed, which can happen for medical purposes or for material gain.

So, if you didn’t know otherwise, you would simply see a dense community of quite formal-looking small houses, complete with satellite dishes and laundry drying out the windows.


Eventually we arrived at our destination, Khan el Khalili market once again (and for the correct taxi price–yay!) We found our way back to El Fishawy cafe, and ordered some delicious lunch…. plus tea with mint, of course!

The pashmina vendor was relentless. Others have been persistent but this guy just would not take no (la’!) for an answer so we pulled out some functional Arabic words that we had learned: “Helas” (“be done”, essentially) and finally Masalaam (“goodbye”)… which finally worked.

Soon Gina joined us and we started our wandering through the tiny and exciting streets of the old market. We all had various goals… I was in search of a tea set.


We found a shop with various metal lamps, pots, trays, and more… after figuring out some rates we wandered on, planning to return later after comparing.


A bit further on, we found a place selling tea sets with an owner who was not overbearing. The further we looked the more fun stuff we found, single glasses out of full sets, perfume bottles, and so much more.

After a couple of hours of browsing, we were famished. Then appeared at the end of a street (we had pretty much done a loop, returning to an area near the entrance of the market) the beautiful Nagib Mafouz cafe! It is a beautifully decorated and very quiet oasis in the middle of the market… quite a contrast to the outside. It is also wildly overpriced. But, hey, we are tourists after all, and very much in need of refreshment.

By overpriced, I mean this: at El Fishawy we paid about 80 le (maybe less?) or about $10 for a dish of fuul (bean dip), five falafels, five pieces of bread, and a round of tea and coffee for us all. (Yes, locals certainly pay less…) At Nagib Mafouz cafe, we paid 180 le or about $22 for an order of baba ganoush and drinks/juices for all six of us. Not bad at all for US prices but quite high for Egyptian prices.


I had sahlab, a thick hot milk drink with coconut and nuts and raisins to mix in. So delicious!

The cafe also had free wifi–like gold! We learned from Nibal that, unfortunately, Sahar was not going to be dancing that night after all. Darn!

Meanwhile, I also heard from Shahrzad, an American dancer who was in town for the Ahlan Wa Sahlan winter session, that there was a show that evening at the Nile Fairmont, a 5-star hotel on the Corniche. Soraia usually dances there but she is currently on break so Kawakib would instead be performing. I had heard great things about Soraia but Kawakib was a new name to me. However, we were up for the experience. We hadn’t seen any dancing yet, and the hotel nightclub experience was exciting!

After a bit more shop wandering, it was time to head to the tanoura show!! Gina knew where to go so she led us directly there, across a street, around a corner, and down an alley to an unmarked arched wooden door.

From there, Gina and Alanah headed home, so we were on our own for the rest of the night! A bit nervous but hooooopefully now with enough experience to find our way around for the rest of the evening.


The tanoura show was inside of a huge stone hall, which we have since learned was the courtyard of a former shopkeeping establishment. The area where the show was held was where the animals would hang out during business hours while their owners were doing business outside. The place is three very tall stories high, and each level is lined with doors. It is stunning!

Oum Kultum singing Enta Omri played over the loudspeakers as we waited for the show to begin. Heaven! We hear her voice drifting out of every corner in Cairo…. That is a wonderful thing!

Finally the show began. This was a first for all of us, and it certainly won’t be the last time! Wow….

The musicians first introduced themselves musically, including my favorite, the enthusiastic toura (giant zills) player. The number of sounds he can get our of two metal disks is just mesmerizing to me!

A group of 10 or 12 male (all performers in this show were male) dancers/practitioners then came out, joyfully filling the stage. They were dressed in long white robes with green sufi vests over them. (There is probably an official term for this attire… let me know if you know it!)

Then the first whirler came out. He started to spin, and the other performers made various changing formations around him, weaving around the stage. This man whirled for probably 45 minutes, with the music and dance around him.


In the second half, there were three whirlers, one in yellow and two in green, in a choreographed or lead/follow formation, with at least 4 or 5 different skirt layers making spectacular colors.

The music and power and ecstacy is not communicated by what I have written. So far…. I hope that you can come to Cairo and experience it yourself!

After the tanoura show we were elated–but gathered ourselves and went back out into the alley, past a large local outdoor market and around a mosque to a main street to find a taxi.

We know to look for a specific official black and white taxi, and to be sure it has a meter that gets started as soon as we get in the car. But first we need to tell them where we are going and they can decide whether or not they want to go there. Of course, we can also accept or decline.

We found a taxi that looked good, and told him we were going to the Nile Fairmont. He was at first confused… then Dorothy said Fairmont Hotel. His face lit up and he said, “Ah, Fairrrrrrmont Hotel!” and we took off. We learned that we need to get much better at using an Egyptian accent with English words. But our first solo taxi ride in Cairo was a success!!


Entering the fancy pants Nile Fairmont Hotel we suddenly felt terribly underdressed! However, the staff was very kind, leading us to a table right next to the stage. On stage when we arrived about 10 PM was a wonderful 7-ish-piece band with a female singer in beautiful black robes with gold and red accents, singing Oum Kultum classics. Couldn’t ask for a better start!

See a video of this singer here!

The next act was a pop/shaabi singing duo (a woman and a man) accompanied by a man on keyboard. While these performers were entertaining for a few songs, their act went on for close to two hours…


Finally, a bit after 1 AM, the dancer’s band took the stage. There must have been 12-14 musicians, including oud, accordion, and so much more. So thrilled! The show went on till nearly 3 AM, two full sets with a costume change.

Here’s a short video of Kawakib!

Since the hotel had free wifi, we decided to try Uber to get home. Since it was very late, we didn’t want to wake Ahmed with a phone call for directions unless we had to. (This is normal taxi behavior here.) The Uber arrived promptly… but I had chosen the wrong address since the real one wasn’t on Google maps. Sigh… They were expecting a phone call but still!

We arrived home happily exhausted…. zzzzzz…….

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


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!


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.

Cairo Trip Day 3, Part 3: Hallah Moustafa’s Workshop

I tried on my first Hallah costume at Sabrina’s booth at the Las Vegas Belly Dance Intensive in 2013 (where, coincidentally, I am teaching in Sept 2015!) and promptly fell in love. The workmanship is exquisite. The designs are unique and elegant. The bras are pure magic. So, visiting Hallah’s shop was most definitely a Cairo trip priority for me.


We got word through Nibal that a mutual friend was already there. Our Northeast US group meets Texas in a shop in Cairo run by another American from Washington state!

Our van took us back to Giza, while we again marveled at the way traffic works, and wound down some neighborhood streets onto a dirt road off the pavement road off the main road, all of which are lined with balcony-bedecked building with views of minarets everywhere.


As we entered the shop, where we were warmly welcomed by Hallah and her assistant, Mona, we passed tables filled with costumes in various states of creation. Piles of assuit, chiffon and beads, awaited requests or a moment of inspiration.

We ooohed and aaahed our way to the foremost room, where the finished costumes hung on display. What else to do but try them on? And boy, was that fun! We settled on our favorites and our custom modifications, and set a date for our return fittings.

Cairo Trip Day 3, Part 2: Khan el Khalili


Vendors were still getting set up when we arrived at Khan el Khalili market. Prayers were playing out of different shops, incense burning here and there. Cats prowled the narrow pedestrian streets. I quickly lost my bearings but Nibal knows the place like thw back of her hand and she expertly led us towards our first stop… Yasser’s costume shop!

The building’s facade looks like a fairytale place… but it’s real! Yasser’s shop is two narrow levels of belly dancer heaven. Gorgeous hip scarves,  swords and costumes adorn the walls. A big pile of saga (finger cymbals) was in the corner by the door–and I snagged a set of toura, the giant finger cymbals at least 4″ in diameter that are played in bands by musicians.


We climbed up the second floor (or first floor as they say here) where the ceiling was just a few inches above my head, and started to dig through bags and bags of individually wrapped costumes, looking for colors and sizes that might suit. Yasser had not yet arrived so his assistant set aside the costumes we liked. We would return later to try them on and get the prices. Karen and I both left some piles on the picturesque bench in the upstairs window.

Next stop: Isis Bazaar! Each belly dance shop has a completely different character and they specialize in different products. At Isis I found a whole bunch hip scarves to bring back for my students and other local dancers, and the others found various costume pieces, wings, and more. Luckily we were able to leave out bags there to pick up later!


After that much shopping and new sensations we were famished. Nibal took us directly to the perfect place: El Fishawy cafe. Princess Farhana had highly recommended this place so I was excited to go there!

It is the most picturesque outdoor cafe imaginable. People carrying big pallets of bread on their heads stride right through, vendors offering henna, sunglasses and tissues come past, but it still feels private and cozy. There are mirrors in elaborate frames everywhere, reflecting light into the spaces and making th alleys seem both more crowded and more open than they are.

We opted to have Nibal order the food for us. We got fuul (a bean dish), baba ganoush, falafel and more, accompanied by fresh pita bread and my very favorite thing–Egyptian red tea with mint!! If you know me, you probably know of my tea obsession. I was over the moon! And, yes, I brought home two boxes of tea!


After lunch, we went to Mahmoud’s veritable palace of wonder. Three expansive floors of granite and wood, filled with racks of bedlah, skirts, folkloric costumes, hip scarves and more.

After marveling at the vintage photos and fun stuff on the first floor, I climbed the stairs and a pink and turquoise Noussa practically screamed my name. I tried it on, and it was a near perfect fit. After saying a big YES (me to the Noussa, rhe others to various other wonders), Mahmoud’s tailors materialized and eyeballed the alterations we needed. A short while later our costumes were ready to go!

By now it was getting late… Time to leave the market behind and head to Hallah Moustafa’s workshop back in Giza… squeeeeeeee!