We got to speak to the amazing, beautiful and talented international belly dance star Shahrzad and learn more about her history and experience as a belly dancer, her practice habits and philosophies, life as a dancer in Egypt, and more...
1. I understand that you have been belly dancing since age 11. What drew you to belly dance at such a young age? Tell us the story of how you got interested in this dance, and how you got started!
Yes, I was really young when I became interested in belly dance! My first exposure to it was seeing an advertisement for belly dance fitness videos on TV. I don't know what it was that drew me in so much but I was hooked right away. My mom got me the videos and a few weeks later I was asking for classes.
2. Can you tell us about your journey as a belly dancer: some trials and tribulations you went through, or some of your biggest wins or proudest achievements?
At this point I have been involved in belly dance for more than half of my life and it has been my main job (other than a few years of pilates work) since I became working age.
Of course just like any other entertainment job or art there are difficulties. To become a great dancer takes a huge amount of hard work and sacrifice, your body will hurt, you will miss time with friends and family, you will face disappointment but in my case it has all been worth it.
The things that have made me the most proud during my career are times when I realize how much I can give back to other people, seeing students come out of classes and workshops feeling empowered and excited to learn and practice more, seeing audience members’ faces light up, these are the times that I am the happiest about what I do.
3. In what ways has belly dance changed you as a person? How has it impacted your life?
I have learned a lot about life through belly dancing and I think one of the biggest lessons has been about self-worth and openness.
In this age of social media, especially in the business of entertainment, it is so easy to get in the habit of spending all of your time comparing yourself to others and judging people in a superficial way.
Once I was able to find happiness and confidence in doing what I loved as opposed to comparing myself to and judging others I was able to look at everyone in a different way, appreciate the positives as opposed to seeking out negatives, open my mind to all kinds of new ideas and learn, meet many new friends, and be inspired by the successful and unique people around me.
4. What are your favorite aspects of this dance today, after all these years of experience in this dance?
I have always loved expressing myself through movement so I am always the happiest when I am just moving freely to the music, be it in class or on stage.
For me when I dance my mind and body are completely taken over by the movement and music, I feel free.
Watch Shahrzad move freely on stage!
5. Are you artistic in other ways? What are other artistic talents you possess?
When I was young I used to draw and paint all the time and learned a few instruments, these days I don't have much time for many things non-dance related but I do like learning to play drums and drawing designs for my costumes.
6. How long have you have been living and performing in Egypt now? Egypt is a place that many professional and aspiring professional belly dancers dream to perform in, and yet it can be a difficult place to survive and thrive in, especially as a dancer. How has your experience been, so far… living, performing, and taking in the culture there? What’s the best thing about it? What’s the hardest thing about it?
I have been in Egypt a little more than 3 years now and It has been an amazing experience. Dance in Egypt is so complex and varied, there is so much to learn and absorb.
The best thing about living and working in Egypt for me is that I am constantly learning in many ways from language to musical knowledge to dance skills due to being constantly surrounded by the culture and arts.
The hardest part is that oriental dance in Egypt is a serious entertainment business and to be successful you must work very hard so your whole life tends to be focused around dance. It can be both exhausting and isolating.
7. What does a typical “day in the life” of Shahrzad living and dancing in Cairo look like?
Every day is different! But in general I sleep very late, until 3pm or 4pm, wake up and eat and take care of emails and online work, hit the gym and run errands (costume fitting, rehearsal, etc.), then come home for a lite dinner and to do my makeup and prepare my costume bag, and then go out to work all night.
8. Your technique is absolutely out of this world! Can you tell us about your regular practice routine? How is it structured, how do you practice, and what do you prioritize in your practice?
Thank you! I do practice a lot but I also cross train and base my workouts on the technique I use.
For example, my shimmies are generally quad-driven so I spend time in the gym doing high resistance elliptical for endurance and weight lifting for strength so I can shimmy for hours without fatigue.
As far as actually practicing dance movements I tend to focus a lot on my basic technique. I always start my practice with drilling my hip and belly moves with music to ensure my quality of movement is maintained.
I think many dancers make the mistake of ignoring their basic technique once they reach higher level classes or get busy with shows but after a while their control and preciseness of movement starts to suffer.
9. What is your biggest advice for a beginner who wants to achieve amazing, controlled and fluid isolations like yours? Or for an experienced dancer who feels they have plateaued in their technique?
Practice practice practice! But make sure you are practicing with awareness. Many people just move blindly without a deeper knowledge of the movements they are executing.
Great isolation and control comes from a high level of body awareness. When you practice try to identify what muscles and parts of the body are and aren't working to create each move and always pay attention to your posture and how it is affecting your movements.
See Shahrzad practicing with awareness below ;)
10. Congratulations on publishing your own album, Bahlem Bi Shahrzad! That is an amazing accomplishment and I have to say, I listen to and dance to it all the time and it’s one of my favorite belly dance albums right now. Can you tell us more about the band, and your process of selecting them and working with them to come up with these compositions? Or alternatively, tell us more about one or multiple songs from the album.
One of my dreams and goals when I came to Egypt was to produce some beautiful music so this album was really a dream come true.
As my first album I wanted to present something really high quality so I decided to go all out and hire a big orchestra and record in a very nice studio.
I hired different singers and musicians for each song to fit the style and mood of the music.
Most of the songs are original compositions that I created with the help of 2 composers but we also threw in some very beautiful but not as well known Tarab songs which I love.
11. What aspect of this dance do you love the most? (Teaching, performing in Egypt, performing at dance events, touring the world, judging competitions, creating choreographies...)
It's hard to choose because I really love to teach just as much as I love to perform and I have found that I need a balance of both to stay inspired and happy.
12. What “genre” of music do you love to dance to the most? (Baladi, megeance, classic, drum solo, folkloric...)
I dance to everything! But I think I love tabla and tarab the most.
13. Who are your favorite dancers, and who are the dancers that most influenced you and your dancing? This goes both for dancers you are simply inspired by, as well as dancers you have studied with.
My favorite dancers are all golden era... Samia Gamal, Nabaweya Moustafa, Naemat Mokhtar... I love these dancers because each had a unique stage presence and very different and interesting steps.
Watch Shahrzad's tribute to Egypt's Golden Era dancers:
14. Hard work vs. talent. What’s your take on this? Is belly dance an innate skill, or can anyone learn it with hard work?
Yes, a lot can be said about natural talent but so much can be learned with the right teachers mentoring you. I think one thing that is most important to being a good dancer is loving what you are doing and being comfortable in your body.
15. You are a very positive and encouraging voice in this dance, even when sometimes the public discourse becomes toxic and negative in our community. How do you steer clear from the negativity and remain positive?
Nothing good can come from bullying, name calling, and fighting on social media. It leaves everyone stressed out, angry, and against each other.
I truly believe that the best way to spread your opinions and thoughts is through positivity and education. If you approach people with kindness and start an open and meaningful dialogue you are much more likely to make a change and putting your energy into sharing the dance in the way you love it the most is the best way to promote the art you want to see within the community.
Focus more on what you love than what you hate.
16. What do you see or hope as being the future of belly dance, in and out of Egypt?
Honestly I have no idea, so much is changing so quickly both in and out of Egypt right now. Audiences and students interests are shifting and evolving all the time especially now with new musical styles (both western and middle eastern) being created all the time and people wanting to move to them.
At the same time I see a growing interest and effort being put into the revival of more classic style belly dance, which of course I love. There has always been a huge amount of variety and evolution within this dance and I’m sure it will be that way forever, who knows what will come next.
17. What is next for you in your dance career? You have achieved so much at such a young age (congratulations, by the way!), and I know there is much more yet to come for you. Can you reveal any of your goals, dreams, or plans for the next 5 years? Or, alternatively, what is the legacy you hope to leave in this dance?
That is really kind of you! Honestly there is so much that I want to do... I am so fascinated by regional dance and music styles within North Africa and the Middle East, I would love to take more time to travel and study and document everything I see both for my own enjoyment and to be able to share and educate about it later on.
I also dream of making a teacher training program not based in a movement curriculum of my own making but based in the physical and cultural knowledge that it takes to make a well-rounded teacher.
As far as legacy goes I don't care as much about being the best dancer ever, I think what I would like to be known and remembered for is spreading knowledge and understanding and making people happy be it from my performing or my teaching.
Thank you so much for your time and generosity in sharing these responses with us, Shahrzad!
We're looking forward to hosting you here in New Jersey at Spring Into Dance 2019 next week, and we are wishing you continued success in Egypt and everywhere you go <3
Can't Get Enough of Shahrzad?
Check out her website
or follow her on Facebook,
Instagram or YouTube
to keep up with all her latest stuff!
Did You Like This Interview?
Did you enjoy learning more about this dancer? What other dancers would you like to see new interviews from? Hit "like" below and leave a comment with your feedback letting us know!
If you liked this article, you can visit our blog map to find other posts about belly dance and other related topics. Or subscribe to our newsletter, YouTube channel, Facebook and Instagram pages to be the first to see more content from SharqiDance!
Today our guest writer and Sha3bi Queen, Aasiyah, dancer and owner of Sehraya Entertainment tells us about this popular genre of Egyptian music, its most famous and influential artists and what to consider when performing to it
Sha3bi: More Than Just "Popular"
Let us discuss something that is very popular in the belly dancing world. It is all over Instagram and YouTube. Everyone dances to it. The music is one of my absolute favorites and I annoy my husband almost daily by playing it ad nauseam.
I am talking, of course, about shaabi. More often than not, when many teachers (western and non-western alike) are asked to explain shaabi, they simply say that shaabi is music that is popular at a certain point in time or that it is pop music. This explanation is oversimplified and misleading.
The word shaabi (شعبي, or sha3bi if read phonetically) translates to “my people” but in the context of musical genres, sha3bi would best be translated as ‘folky’ or ‘popular’. And it should come as no surprise that sha3bi music is housed under the umbrella of pop music.
Adaweya, King of Sha3bi
Watch Adaweya in Action
In this vintage video (1970's?), Ahmed Adaweya sings his popular song Zahma
Beyond Ahmed Adaweya
Long before Adaweya, neighborhoods used to have their local sha3bi guy entertain at parties and street weddings, and singers like Mohamed Roushdy, Mohamed Abd el Motileb, and Mohamed al 3ezaby were recording sha3bi music long before Adaweya. Nevertheless, Adaweya was a revolutionary in the genre, and is the king of the modern sha3bi we love today.
While sha3bi music is of course popular, pop music and sha3bi are not the same. Amr Diab is a pop singer, but he never sings sha3bi. Hakim IS a sha3bi singer who is also sometimes a pop singer. Emad Ba3ror is only a sha3bi singer.
Music style and composition as well as use of language and voice are what distinguish a sha3bi singer from a pop singer.
Sha3bi Music Today
Recently, like all art, sha3bi music has gone through quite a revolution since the glory days of Adaweya. Current sha3bi has been marked by songs like Sigara Bunni (Brown Cigarette) by Mahmoud al Husseni, arguably one of the most iconic sha3bi songs of the past two decades.
Most sha3bi singers now utilize a synthesizer or electronic band over a full band or orchestra (Hakim is a major exception, his band is huge and fantastic!) and many singers are incorporating rap and/or other western style music into their production.
Sha3bi music can cover many things--love, politics, life, marriage, fruit, etc--and can also be full of double entendre. Sha3bi singers often talk about controversial and taboo topics such as drugs and sex, as is common for example for popular hip hop artists here in the US.
Singers like Ahmed Sheba, Abd el Basset Hamouda, and Shaabola are known for their heavy and politically laced songs while Mahmoud el Lithy, Bosy, and Saad el Soghayar generally keep things light and fun.
Some of my favorite sha3bi singers are Ahmed Sheba, Emad Ba3roor, Abd el Basset Hamouda, and Reda el Bahrawy. I also really recommend checking out a truly fantastic sha3bi keyboardist, Abd el Salam.
Watch this video translation of Sigara Bunni:
but ONLY if you're 18 or older ;)
and ready for a laugh
Dancing to Sha3bi Music
As a dancer, it is important to remember that sha3bi is a form of lyricism and music; it is not a dance style. When performing to sha3bi music, the dance form appropriate to use is raqs baladi (baladi dance). Raqs baladi is very similar to raqs sharqi (Oriental dance, more commonly known as "belly dance") in movement, but differs in the delivery and intent.
Most sha3bi tells a story of some kind and it always adds an extra element to a performance when the dancer can add to that story. Many dancers, myself included, prefer to wear a dress or galabeya when performing to a sha3bi piece; however, it is fine to wear a bedlah or cabaret costume when incorporating a sha3bi piece into a full set.
Movement is earthy, raw, and sometimes lazy. It is important to know the song lyrics not only to avoid potential embarrassment, but to be able to communicate the story in the song. At its heart, sha3bi music is expressive and fun. Even when the singer is lamenting about the rage of poverty and inequality in the world, everyone loves sha3bi!
About Today's Author
Aasiyah is a professional Raqs Sharqi performer, instructor, and artistic company director who specializes in modern Egyptian technique.
Known for fusing masculine and feminine performance elements, her authentic style has been developed from years of dedicated study of Egyptian dance, culture, and language.
While appreciative of the classic styles of the past, Aasiyah is constantly pushing to stay relevant of modern Cairo life and the influences it has on the dance.
You can find out more about Aasiyah and follow her work by visiting her website, https://www.aasiyahdance.com/ or her instagram pages, @Aasiyah_Dance and @Sehraya_Entertainment.
Was This Post Helpful?
Did you learn something from this post? Would you like to learn more about sha3bi? Hit "like" below and leave a comment with your feedback!
If you liked this article, you can visit our blog map to find other posts about Arabic music, belly dance and other related topics. Or subscribe to our newsletter, YouTube channel, Facebook and Instagram pages to be the first to see more content from us!
Happy learning, and happy dancing!
Learn About the Genre of Egyptian Music and Dance that Gives Belly Dance Much of Its Essence
Baladi (بلدي, alternatively spelled beledi or balady) means "from the country, "of the country," or depending on the context, "my country," and while in Arabic it can refer to any country or anything from a given country,
when belly dancers talk about it, we are usually referring to the Egyptian folkloric music and social dance styles that evolved when people from Egypt's rural areas started migrating to the cities.
In the larger cities, the folkloric music that originally came from Egypt's rural areas and was played with traditional Middle Eastern instruments such as the ney or mizmar gained influence from the music of Western countries (Egypt was colonized by both the French and the British at different points in its history), and Western instruments such as the accordion, saxophone, keyboard, and others were adopted.
A common style of baladi music called baladi taqsim or baladi progression usually follows a loose pattern in which a melodic instrument such as an accordion, saxophone or ney ebbs and flows as the primary instrument, while the tabla (drum) keeps a steady rhythm in the background.
The music goes through distinct sections: a solo by the primary melodic instrument without any rhythm, a call and response section between drums and melody, a section with slow melody and steady rhythm, and a section where the melody gets faster and is accompanied by faster drums, which eventually build up to a climax or a drum solo.
This structure, of course, is not always followed in this order and not all of these sections are found in every song. The structure varies from song to song. Baladi music is usually improvised, and therefore baladi dancing is usually improvised on top of improvised music!
Watch Fifi Abdo Dance to a Baladi Progression
It's no wonder Fifi has been dubbed "Queen of Baladi"!
Raqs baladi (baladi dance) is, essentially, the social form of raqs sharqi (Oriental dance, more commonly known as "belly dance"). When belly dance was adapted for the stage from the social dances of Egypt and other Middle Eastern countries, and as it has subsequently evolved, elements such as a wider use of space and spacial patterns, arm movements and frames with extended lines, and complex footwork and weight shifts were adopted in order to make it more interesting and visible from a distance, and more appealing to Western eyes and tastes. The two-piece costume that is commonly associated with belly dance was also adopted around that time.
But at its root, belly dance comes from Middle Eastern dances that focus on the movement of the hips, such as baladi, which has a very heavy, earthy and grounded look and feeling. In a way, baladi is like the heart of belly dance... and for that reason, it holds a special place in most belly dancers' hearts <3
Belly dancers study baladi not only because raqs sharqi is so influenced by raqs baladi, but also because often, we perform baladi as part of our performances. It comes up often as sections within the music we use, or sometimes we perform to a whole baladi song by itself, or as part of our longer performance sets that include a variety of musical genres.
When performing baladi on its own, dancers will usually wear a galabeya, the traditional garment worn in Egypt which looks like a long "dress" with long sleeves, like the one Fifi Abdo is wearing in the video above. Or sometimes a more form-fitting, colorful and sparkly galabeya will be worn instead. Or, if the dancer is performing baladi as a part of a full belly dance performance set with multiple songs, the dancer might be wearing the more standard two-piece costume instead.
To truly do justice to our art form, we must understand our music, where it comes from, how to dance to different genres of Middle Eastern music, and how to dress appropriately.
Was this post helpful? Would you like to learn more about baladi? Hit "like" below and leave a comment with your feedback!
You can also visit our blog map to find more posts like this, or subscribe to our newsletter, YouTube channel, or Facebook page to be the first to find out about our next post.
Happy learning, and happy dancing!
Learn About this Iconic Song and the Singer Who Bridged the Gap Between Middle Eastern & North African Cultures
What belly dancer doesn't love Esmaouni?
If you've never heard this song before, today you are in for a treat! And if you are already familiar with it, you are in for a full-on feast, as we're about to take a deep dive into the background, translation and meaning of this beautiful, timeless classic.
So keep on reading, and next time you dance to Esmaouni, notice how it takes on a whole new level depth and meaning for you!
Esmaouni (اسمعوني, alternatively spelled Ismaouni, Esma3ouni, or Isma3ouni) is a classic Arabic song that was released in 1974. It was famously sung by one of the biggest stars of Egyptian music, Warda Al-Jazairia, written by lyricist Sayed Morsi and composed by Warda's husband and popular composer Baligh Hamdi. Its title means "Listen to Me."
The Warda 1974 original was over 20 minutes long, and today there are countless shorter, modern renditions of it by other famous Arab singers and musicians, both with and without vocals.
The Rose of Algeria
Although Warda (1939? - 2012) is now known as an icon of Egyptian music, she was actually not Egyptian at all.
Throughout her life she lived in many countries: France, Lebanon, Algeria, and Egypt--where she married Baligh Hamdi and built her ultimate stardom. In Egypt, Warda performed with some of the most famous Arab musicians of her time, eventually becoming one herself, and she even acted in several movies.
Having been born in France to Lebanese and Algerian parents, Warda did not speak in the Egyptian dialect for much of her younger life, nor was she able to write in Arabic. It was thanks to her demanding mentor--the prominent Egyptian singer/composer Mohammed Abdel Wahab--that Warda learned to sing with an Egyptian accent and write in Arabic script!
Warda's singing "plays on a specific emotional range successfully combining strength and frailty: on the one side will-power, self-assertion, even challenge; on the other side sweetness and a tenderness implying some kind of vulnerability," as beautifully stated by Daniel Caux, a lecturer of Arabic music at the University of Vincennes. This is why so many are infatuated by her music.
She also bridged the linguistic and musical gaps between various Arab countries, making her a truly pan-Arabic icon of her time, which she remains to this date. She sang patriotic Algerian songs during the time of Algeria's fight for independence, she sang songs honoring Lebanon, Egypt and Palestine, and could even sing folk songs from the Arab Gulf.
Nicknamed The Rose of Algeria, Warda was and still is admired and beloved all over the Arab world, where her voice brings joy to people every day through her classic, timeless songs.
Listen to Esmaouni
Now are you ready to listen to Warda singing the original 20-minute rendition of Esmaouni ? Here it is...
"Listen to Me" - The Meaning
When Warda sings Esmaouni, she is telling a story of heartbreak and failed love. You can hear in her voice the pain of having been rendered invisible and insignificant to someone with whom she had once shared a passionate, intimate past.
It was a love that had once felt so deep and real. They had meant the world to each other. But now it is as if he "never knew" her, "never met" her, "never saw" her, "never dealt" with her before.
Repeatedly pleading "listen to me..." the singer is demanding (to her friends? her community?) to be heard. As she tells her side of the story, she is remembering it again herself; feeling again the emotions she had felt during their romance. The passion, the love, the intimacy... and then the anger and the pain from being rejected in such a dramatic, final and public way.
Well, at least that's my interpretation of it! You can judge it for yourself, by listening to the translation below.
So now you get a treat for making it to the end of this post. Watch this video to get an almost word-for-word translation of Esmaouni from Arabic to English.
The version used here is a more modern rendition of Esmaouni, by the amazing Egyptian singer Safaa Farid.
This video includes the original words in Arabic script, for those of you who can read Arabic--as well as the transliteration into our alphabet, for those who can't--this way we can all sing along!
As you're listening to this version, keep in mind that Arabic songs are usually sung using male pronouns, even if the person being sung about is female. This will be the case with this version.
Also keep in mind that certain words being used in the lyrics should not be interpreted literally, but instead as euphemisms for feelings or actions that are passionate or intimate. Arabic is a very expressive language with many layers of meaning that are dependent on context.
Video by SharqiDance
Translation by Ahmed Elswify, International Lighthouse Arabic Academy
Music by Safaa Farid. If you love this song, you can listen to the full version here.
Was This Post Helpful?
I hope this post has been insightful for you, and that it helps you better understand this song so that you can interpret it in an informed and meaningful way. It's hard to truly do justice to classic Arabic music without understanding the words and the stories or meaning behind them!
If you loved this post and would like to see more like it, please hit the "like" button bellow and leave us a comment with your feedback.
You can also visit our blog map to find more posts like this, or subscribe to our newsletter, YouTube channel, or Facebook page to be the first to find out about our next post.
And if there is a song you love and would like to understand better, or if you want to learn Arabic, you can reach out to International Lighthouse Arabic Academy for translations or online classes (and get 10% off with discount code "sharqidance").
Happy learning, and happy dancing!
As the year nears its end, we reflect on one of its biggest overarching themes
It's very easy to get caught up in the fight, in the negativity that surrounds us all when we are spending so much of our time and energy focused on the cruelty, injustice and trauma we have suffered as individuals and collectively as a gender.
This was a difficult, triggering, exhausting year for women in our society; it was a year in which many awful truths were laid bare for us all to see. It was also a year in which our society took multiple steps back, rather than making advances to break the cycle of trauma we continue to fall victim to.
Most of us are still sorting through that pain, through the anger, trying the best we can to make sense of it all, to process it and figure out how we can create a better world for ourselves and a better future for our children. It's easy to look back and feel only helplessness and hopelessness.
But when we reflect on this past year, we have a choice. We can choose to focus on the we battles lost or the extent of the trauma we've suffered and in doing so we can lose ourselves in victimhood, pessimism and anger... or we can choose to focus on the lessons we've learned and the things we've discovered about our true nature, allowing those discoveries to light our path forward.
You see, this year was about assessing the real damage that has been done to us. And the realization of just how much we have all really been through--of just how much we have survived--reveals by extension the true resilience and strength we have been carrying in us all along.
We were woken up to our true nature. And for those who are waking up, there is no amount of societal programming that can take us back to that place we were at before--the belief that we are weaker, incapable, or in any way less worthy than our male counterparts. We won't settle for a society that is built on those beliefs, and now we know we are strong enough to make a change.
So women the world over are stepping into their power and choosing not to settle for a world in which their voice is not heard and their choices are not respected or understood.
We are empowering ourselves to show the world new ways of thinking, acting and being that will create a kinder, more balanced and harmonious future--something all people will benefit from.
And it's possible to accomplish it from a place of love, compassion and understanding, if we do the work of healing ourselves both as individuals and as a collective.
Fear and anger have their place, they serve to help us survive dangerous situations or motivate us to right a wrong. But when we let these emotions outrun their usefulness, they do more harm than good and backfire on us. As Martin Luther King, Jr said, "Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that."
When we do the work to heal ourselves, we find the answers. This is why 2018 has been The Year of the Woman. We were exposed to truths about our society we can no longer accept, and we were shown that we are strong enough to heal and powerful enough to create change. And we are learning how to work together and empower one another to do just so.
That is how we will ascend.
Happy Healing, WonderWomen!
To get what you want, you have to want what you get.
-Paraphrased from an unknown author
There is so much truth and wisdom in this short yet powerful sentence. It is, in a nutshell, the best advice I can give regarding acquiring new skills, building your goal body, becoming healthier, attracting great relationships, progressing in your career, making more money, or just in general creating the life of your dreams!
Appreciating what we already have opens our eyes to notice opportunities that are already available to us... opportunities which are impossible to detect when we are spending our time focused on what we don't have. That attitude of gratitude then goes on to attract more new outcomes that bring us the same feeling, resulting in a beautiful cycle of awesomeness.
As it relates specifically to raqs sharqi (belly dance), this means that if you want to become a better dancer or achieve specific dance goals, the best way to go about it is to not be frustrated by the level you currently find yourself at, not to look at other dancers who are "better" than you and compare yourself to them in a way that puts you down, but instead to fully appreciate where you are at right now, all while keeping your goals in the back of your mind as you enjoy every moment of your journey towards achieving them.
Look at me, your dear author, fully appreciating the fact that I am dancing to this incredible live band on a stage in LA ;)
Does this seem vague, abstract, or too "woo woo" for you?
Then let me put it a bit differently... I'll give you two scenarios, and you tell me which one will lead to more progress for the dancer in question.
Dancer A took up belly dancing classes because she was enchanted by the gracefulness, elegance and femininity of raqs sharqi. But every time she comes to class, she can't help but look around the room and feel horrible about herself. She hates the way her body looks, and she struggles with new steps and movements. When she looks around, she sees that other students are "getting it," which only adds to her frustration. When she sees a professional dancer, there is a nagging voice inside her head that says things like "You'll never be able to dance like that," "you started way too late to ever be any good," or "you're too ugly to perform in public."
Dancer B also took up belly dance because of its feminine elegance and gracefulness. But when she comes to class, she does not focus on what anyone else is doing; she only focuses on herself and her own learning. She appreciates her body and the fact that it is healthy and functional and able to learn this amazing art form. If she does look around the room, it's to appreciate how wonderful it is that all these people are gathered together to learn new ways to move their body and express themselves to complex, poetic music. When she sees a professional dancer, she thinks "I'm so lucky that I get to see this performance" "that'll be me some day," or "I'm so inspired by this dancer!"
If both these dancers take the same exact class, practice the same amount of time, and take the same actions to improve, which one do you think will see more visible progress? Which one will be happier in their journey? Which one is most likely to stick with it longer? I think the answer is so obvious I don't even need to say it!
Still skeptical? Then I'll leave you with this: why not give this whole attitude of gratitude thing a try, starting now? It is Thanksgiving week, after all! Jot down a couple of positive things belly dance has brought into your life. Note a couple of positive things about your own dancing, as it is right now. Lastly, write about the dancers you love the most, and then visualize yourself embodying all those characteristics you just wrote about.
Feel like sharing what you wrote? Post it in the comments below!
If you do this regularly and consistently, you will notice a visible difference in both your attitude and your dancing, and you won't want to stop that beautiful cycle of awesomeness. Bring that gratitude attitude into every aspect of your life, and you will reap the rewards as you see yourself flourishing in every possible way.
I hope you have an amazing Thanksgiving this week.
Background & Breakdown of One of the Most Famous Belly Dance Songs of All Time
Even if you haven't been belly dancing very long, you might have already come across Leylet Hob before. And if you've been doing this for a while, you've definitely danced to it countless times by now!
But how much do you really know about this timeless classic and belly dance favorite? If your answer is "actually, not much" you've got to keep reading this post because it's packed with information about this absolutely must-know composition.
About Leylet Hob
Leylet Hob (ليلة حب, alternatively spelled Laylet Hob, Laylet Hobb, Lailet Hob, Laylet Houb, Lelat Hob, or Leilet Hob) is a classic Arabic song that was composed in the 1960's by Mohamed Abdel Wahab, written in 1973 by Ahmed Shafiq Kamel and subsequently sung by Om Kalthoum. Its title means "Night of Love."
The original song, like many of the Arabic orchestral classics, was an entire concert on its own, at over 50 minutes in length. Today there are countless modern renditions of it by Arab and non-Arab musicians alike, usually around 5 to 15 minutes long, with or without vocals.
Singer, Lyricist & Composer
Om Kalthoum (1904? - 1975) was a legendary Egyptian singer who was--and is to this date--renowned across the Arab world. Her face, name and voice are recognized and loved throughout the region, where she is likely the most famous singer of all time. Such a revered figured she was, her funeral was one of the largest gatherings in the world, attended by around 4 million people. Many of the most famous Arabic songs (and most popular belly dance songs) were originally sung by her.
Mohammed Abdel Wahab (1902? - 1991) was one of the most prominent composers and singers in Egyptian history. He was responsible for composing many of the classic masterpieces that us belly dancers perform to on a regular basis. He introduced Western instruments such as the guitar, bass, accordion, organ and synthesizer to some of his compositions, innovating upon existing traditions and influencing all Arabic music thereafter.
Ahmed Shafiq Kamel was an Egyptian poet who became known as the "Poet of the Two Pyramids" for unifying the two great talents--Om Kalthoum and Mohamed Abdel Wahab-- in his work on Leylet Hob, which became the first of many collaborations between the two.
The Full Rendition
You can listen to the full, 59-minute rendition of Leylet Hob sung by Om Kalthoum here:
Can you spot the guitar, accordion, and synthesizer in this composition?
Leylet Hob is a song of love and longing. You can hear in Om Kalthoum's voice the longing that is felt for an absent lover. It speaks of yearning for that lover's return, where the singer imagines their night together while describing their love in the deep, poetic terms the Arabic language is so well-suited to relate. You can read a full, line-by-line translation of Laylet Hob by clicking here.
One of the most famous interpretations of Leylet Hob is this one by Soheir Zaki, one of the most famous belly dancers of the 1960's-80's:
Soheir Zaki is a classic, timeless dancer. You can read more about her in our Timeline of Egypt's Biggest Stars post.
Laylet Hob is played in the Maqam Nahawand, a type of melody that is perfectly suited to evoke the feelings of love and passionate yearning that this song speaks about.
Some of the rhythms encountered are malfuf, maqsum, baladi (masmoudi saghir), masmoudi kebir, and 6/8. Let's break down* each rhythm by section, using the shorter 8-minute version of Leylet Hob in the Soheir Zaki video above as our reference:
Baladi/masmoudi saghir (0:11-1:09, 1:27-1:52, 6:37-6:57, 7:19-7:40)
|DD| T|D |T |
Malfuf (1:10-1:20, 6:57-7:19, 7:40-8:34)
|D T| T |
|D | | |T | | |
|DT| T|D |T |
Masmoudi (4:02-4:15, 5:51-6:01?)
|D|D| | |D| | | |
|DT| T|D |T |
Guitar solo - no rhythm
Is Leylet Hob one of your favorite classics and go-to songs, like it is mine? If so, I hope this post has been helpful to you.
I encourage you to listen to the hour-long version for study and for enjoyment, and that you hear as many versions of this beautiful composition as you can get your hands on.
What's your favorite version of this song? Which dancer have you seen do the best interpretation of it? Let me know in the comments below... And if you've found this post informative, don't forget to spread the knowledge by sharing it with your belly dance students, teachers, and peers.
Happy learning, and happy dancing!
Leylet Hob/Mohammed Abdel Wahab
Om Kalthoum's Funeral
Mohammed Abdel Wahab
Ahmed Shafiq Kamel
Leylet Hob Translation
Leylet Hob Rhythms
*Note regarding the rhythm breakdown: I am not musically trained, so I am breaking down this song by rhythm to the best of my knowledge and untrained ability. If you are a musician and have any corrections to make to this breakdown or anything to add, please contact me via email.
So your big day is approaching, and the performance jitters are setting in.
You've been working hard to develop your belly dance skills by going to class and practicing at home, but now you'll have to do it on stage in front of a bunch of strangers, and you can't help but feel a little bit scared and overwhelmed.
Don't worry, we've got your back! Simply follow the tips on this post and you'll feel a lot more comfortable and confident in your ability to make this go right!
1. Know Your Music Inside & Out
If you haven't heard your music enough times to be sick of it, you probably haven't heard it enough! There should be no surprises in your music.
Listen to it every day, making sure you know which phrases/sections come after which and that you are able to notice all the nuances and changes in your music.
If you're not there yet, keep on listening!
2. Know Your Choreo Inside & Out
If you're doing choreography, especially if it's in a group setting, you should also know your choreography inside and out. Don't wait until the day before (or worse yet, the day of) to start cramming the entire choreography into your brain.
The week prior to your performance, be sure to run through the whole choreography for at least a few minutes. You can practice the whole thing just twice or three times, as long as you do it every single day you are bound to eventually remember it.
Be sure to notice the parts you are struggling with in your practice, and give those sections extra attention. Is there a transition you are unsure about, or a move or section you consistently forget? Address that with your teacher next time you see her/him, and be sure to give those short sections a couple of extra practice runs.
Your brain and body need time and patience to commit all that choreography to memory, so be patient with yourself and tackle a little bit each and every day.
3. Practice Smiling
We perform the way we practice, so if you're practicing all these movements and steps with a blank face, you will have a totally blank face when you perform.
Your face is made up of muscles just like your arms, legs and torso. You had to teach your feet to step here and there and you had to teach your hips to drop here and lift there, otherwise you would not be able to do any of the steps and moves in your choreography.
Your face works the same way. If you're not teaching your face to smile during this or that section, you can't expect it to do it when you perform.
So put a big smile on your face when you practice! Or, if your performance calls for a different feeling other than joy/happiness, practice expressions that correspond to the other feelings you want to evoke instead.
If you can, it's never a bad idea to record yourself and watch the video to make sure your expression looks the way you intended. You'll be surprised at how many times you might think you're smiling and you're actually not!
4. Do a Dress Rehearsal. Or Two. Or Three!
Make sure you practice in costume at least a few times. You want to ensure that your costume is functional and comfortable. If anything feels uncomfortable, see if you can make adjustments prior to the day of the performance.
Make sure all your important "bits" are in place, and if you feel like anything might, ahem, pop out in unwanted places, definitely make the adjustments needed to prevent any costume malfunctions from happening!
Check all hooks and snaps to ensure they are all secured, and if your belt or any costume pieces move around as you dance, figure out ahead of time how you will secure those pieces in place so you can have everything you need with you on the day of your performance. Large safety pins pinned from the inside of the costume are always a good bet for securing belts to skirts or giving bra bands an extra layer of security.
5. Practice Entering and Exiting
From the moment you appear on stage to the moment you disappear from your audience's view, you are performing. It doesn't matter if the music hasn't started yet or if it has already ended; if your audience can see you, your performance has already started.
So practice entering with a confident smile and dancer's posture and engaging your audience with eye contact from the moment they first see you, until the very end. If you're starting on stage, maintain this carriage until your music starts and through the end of your music and your walk out.
Practice holding your ending pose for 1-3 seconds, taking a bow, and then exiting gracefully.
6. Practice Making and Recovering from Mistakes
Mistakes are a natural part of life. When you're on stage, you might forget a part of your choreography, or you might stumble, or a piece of your jewelry could get caught on your costume or prop... anything can happen!
If you make a mistake during practice, this is the perfect opportunity to practice recovering from it seamlessly and naturally. Try not to frown or sigh when you make a mistake, even in practice. How you practice is how you will perform, so if you "practice" frowning or making noises when you make a mistake, that is what you will do when you perform! Instead, consciously maintain the expression of your piece no matter what happens, even if you make a mistake.
If you have to make something up for a couple of seconds, it's not a big deal. If you're soloing, there is no way anyone would know unless you show it on your face. If you're in a group, you will be able to see someone else out of the corner of your eye to figure out your place in that part of the choreography.
Your mistakes will always feel like a big deal to you, but the audience will most likely not even know. So no matter what happens, you can recover. No matter what happens, life will go on. Just keep going and keep having fun with it!
7. Do a Makeup Dry Run
If you're used to doing your own makeup, you can skip this step. But if you don't normally wear loads of makeup to go out, try doing a makeup dry run the night before or a few days before your big day, to make sure you can achieve the look you are going for and get a sense for how much time you will need on the day of the performance.
If you're not sure where to even begin, makeup tutorials on YouTube are always a great place to start. Just search for "belly dance makeup," or "stage makeup" or even just "makeup" on YouTube, find a look you love and can see yourself in, and follow along with it.
Here is one I like, which achieves a look that works very well for belly dancers on stage:
Consider your venue and lighting. If you will be up on stage with lights shining in your face, "less is more" is not a concept you'll want to go for. More is more! Be sure to line your brows and go heavy on the eye shadow, eyeliner and mascara/eyelashes. Your stage makeup should be heavier than your regular "going out" makeup so that your face and expressions will be visible from a distance.
If, on the other hand, you'll be performing outdoors during the day time fairly close to your audience, you can go a little lighter. Use your judgment :)
8. Have a Checklist Ready
The day before or a few days before your performance, write down a checklist of everything you will need that day. Your checklist should include:
When your big day arrives, give yourself plenty of time to get ready. Estimate how much time you will need to shower, do your hair and makeup, pack up, and drive to the venue. Add an extra 30-60 minutes to that estimated time, just in case there are any last minute issues, mishaps, or traffic.
Try to arrive early so you have time to get to know your venue and space, socialize and settle in. Once you are in costume, if not performing, you should be wearing your cover-up.
10-20 minutes before you go on, make sure to warm up backstage. Do some shimmies and stretches and drill some basic moves or combos from your choreography. Pay close attention to your breathing as you do this. Take the deepest breaths you possibly can, breathing into your belly and releasing any stress or tension as you breathe out. This will help calm your nerves.
After you get off stage, do a quick cooldown. Take deep breaths and do a couple of stretches backstage. Then change back into your clothes, or put your cover-up on before you leave the backstage area.
If there are other performances on the show, try to watch them when you are not getting ready, warming up, performing, or cooling down. Try not to leave the show before it ends or arrive after it starts, it is very poor etiquette to come in only for your own performance and then leave. If you absolutely must leave early or arrive late due to a prior commitment, please make sure your teacher and/or the organizer are aware ahead of time.
10. Just Have Fun!
We know you've worked hard for this moment and that you want to do well. But please, don't forget to have fun and enjoy the moment! Once you arrive at the venue, know that you've already done all you could to prepare and now it's time to let go of all stress, pressure, and expectations and just have fun.
Socialize, make friends and be supportive of other dancers. If you see something you like about someone else's performance, let them know... it could make their day!
Be proud of yourself for taking this step and pat yourself on the back for doing it. Pamper yourself and allow yourself to feel absolutely beautiful. When you are performing, take in and enjoy the attention, love and joy that is emanating from your audience, and reflect this beautiful energy back to them.
Try not to take yourself too seriously. It's just dance, and it's supposed to be fun! In just a few months' time, you will have forgotten most of the choreography but what you will never forget is how you felt when you were on stage. That is what matters the most... and if you allow yourself to feel great, your audience will feel it too!
So have fun and spread the love and joy that is this dance. Enjoy every moment of your journey, even the scary ones. They will feel the most rewarding and keep you coming back for more!
To Dancers and Artists: Advice About Creativity
Your creativity is a gift to be accepted with open arms, whenever she is kind enough to present herself to you.
Don't just accept her when the time is convenient for you, if it happens to fit in with whatever you're doing at the moment, if it's a reasonable hour of the day... no matter what, welcome her right away!
Why would creativity keep knocking on your door, if every time she knocks, you never answer?
Sure, she might be a little clueless about human etiquette, but that's easy to overlook when you recognize that she's here to give you something amazing that will bring you joy, energy, and power!
She's here to help you develop, to help you create!
She's here to solve your problems or just give you a little hint to point you in the right direction... she is one of your most powerful allies!
She has the power to turn your whole life around, if that's what you task her with. She has helped people solve world problems, cure major illnesses, invent tools and solutions that defined history!
What makes you think she can't solve your problems?
Read this mantra if you want to develop love and admiration for your own body
This is my body
There are many kinda like it
(and none just quite like it)
But this one is mine
My body is my temple
My body is my home
This body, the only one I can call my own
My body gives me life!
I must master it as I must master my mind
If I am to master my art
As well as my life
Without me, my body is useless
Without my body, I am useless
I must use my body true
I must work on it each day
Love it, respect and cherish it
In every possible way
And use it to overcome life’s challenges
Dancing through difficulty
Turning life into play
Through depression, stress or anxiety
I will dance
If I feel anger, sadness, or pain
I will dance
When I am tired, bored, uninspired
I will dance
Through rejection, disappointment or betrayal
I will dance
In sickness and in health
I will always dance
I will learn my body’s weaknesses, its strengths, its parts
Its flaws, its quirks and everything that it loves and hates
And I will nourish and maintain my body
For utmost health and function
As long as I live
I am one with my body
Before the Universe I swear this creed
My body and I are the vessels for our art
We are more than survivors of life
We are the masters of our life
We are the saviors of our life
So be it, until the day we die
(This Creed is an adaptation of the USMC's "Rifleman's Creed")
Yamê is a Brazilian-American belly dancer based out of New Jersey, USA.