Sahda, June 2007 By NILA
What attracted you to bellydance, and made you stick to it?
Dance is life! Returning home from a Middle East journey in 1976, I discovered the bellydance craze had hit Vancouver – and knew I’d become part of it. Sometimes I wonder if I would have stuck to Middle Eastern forms if I wasn’t Lebanese, since their stylistic conventions often feel like constraints. But there’s an enormous power in the traditional forms, and they can lead us to diverse avenues of expression and experimentation. I find new stuff emerging from the Middle Eastern/European music scene is terrifically inspiring!
Do you have a favorite style/styles to dance?
Yes, many! I’m still swept away when dancing with Turkish Roman (gypsy) music, inspired by its virtuosity, free and spontaneous improvisation, rich melodies and that romantic, emotional sensibility. These are qualities I value in dance! I enjoy improvising in Turkish styles, but I also revel in distinctive traditional forms: the sparkle of Ghawazee shimmies, the ‘mathematical’ precision of raqs sharqi, the intensity of zar ritual movement. Right now I’m developing a Saidi dance ‘persona’ – going beyond my current understanding of the earthy, flirtatious and sensuous movements of the Saidi, to acknowledge my aging body and incorporate some of that wisdom I’m supposed to be gaining!
How did Earthfire come about?
Serendipity! A convergence of women with fabulous dance talents and stage presence, in a small B.C. town. Swimming after rehearsals, striving for shared goals, respecting each others’ abilities and artistic visions. It all came together when Signy Cohen, of Tofino, asked me if I knew some dancers who could put together a show for their summer festival. Six weeks of intensive rehearsal later, an ensemble was born! The name came later. Though we now live in different cities and countries, we still dance together any chance we get!
Excercise form you recommend to keep in shape for the dance.
Dance warm-ups, strengthening and stretching exercises from a range of dance forms are useful! I try to keep up with exercises developed by contemporary dancers in particular, since they emphasize incredible strength and flexibility. There are so many options to explore – right now, when my research work keeps me sitting at a computer most of the time, I’m finding the intensity of Pilates Reformer work provides a nice balance with Middle Eastern dance.
Who is your favourite all around dancer?
Every dancer that is caught up in the joy of the dance, who is able to lose herself in movement and music.
Books I find myself returning to: Nine Parts of Desire by Geraldine Brooks (readable insights into the complexities of women in Islam); Serpent of the Nile by Wendy Buonaventura (solid historical background of the dance, with great pictures); Skinny Legs and All by Tom Robbins (catches the essence of the dance – and it’s a great read!); and The Creative Habit: Learn it and use it for life by Twyla Tharp (inspiration from one of the great contemporary choreographers of our time) For a nice light read, Keti Sharif’s Bellydance book is terrific; and on the other end of the scale, Dancing fear and desire by Stavros Karayanni provides a sharp postcolonial analysis of dance and identities.
What are your plans for this year/what should we look out for?
So many plans! The highlight of my dance year is the Island Dance Retreat in August, spending 5 days dancing with women from all around B.C., eating Middle Eastern food, working and laughing a lot. This year Bronwyn and I have developed ideas about symbolism to integrate in our team teaching. I also plan to finish my doctorate this fall, so that I will have more time to spend teaching, creating & performing dance – and to visit former Earthfire dancer Ferda at her home in Turkey!