Bellydance A-Z


Bellydance A-Z

Bellydance A – Z is a glossary of terms for bellydance students to use as a reference guide. These are terms commonly used in the dance community, which includes Arabic musical terms, basic rhythms, regional dance styles, and other cultural information needed to get a foothold into the world of Bellydance.

You’ll notice I give examples of different spellings for several of the words. This is because Middle Eastern languages have different alphabets than the Roman alphabet that the English language is based on. Different people will spell these words differently when translating using the Roman alphabet. All the variations are legitimate spellings for the same word.

Arabesque1. an ornamental design consisting of intertwined flowing lines, originally found in Arabic or Moorish decoration. 2. In ballet, it’s a posture in which the body is supported on one leg, with the other leg extended horizontally backward. 3. The Bellydance Arabesque is used to describe a 4 count traveling step, in which the dancers travels, 1,2,3, hold on 4, slightly lifting the the unweighted leg off the floor and extending it backward.

Asharah Beledy – (Also known as Beledy Progression or Beledy Taqsim) Arabic musical term. The music begins with a slow taqsim (meaning “improvisation” – see “taqsim”), and then typically follows a dialogue between the solo instrument and the tabla (drum). The full band joins in, progressing into a faster paced rhythmic build-up, typically ending in a drum solo.

Assaya – stick or cane used in Egyptian folk dances of Upper Egypt (southern Egypt), known as the Said. Traditionally, the Saidi men carried large staffs (see Tahtiyb) with them which they used as weapons, and eventually a folk dance developed where the men would mock fight with the long sticks. Women then began dancing with canes as a way of playfully imitating the men’s dance, and eventually raks al assaya, or “cane dance” developed into a distinct women’s dance.

Assuit – also known as Tulle-bi-telli. It is commonly called assuit after the city of Assuit in Egypt, where it is made. It is a textile of cotton or linen mesh with small strips of metal woven into the fabric in beautiful patterns, with its origins dating back to ancient Egypt. Other spellings include assuite, asyut, assyut, asyute, and azute. Tulle-bi-telli translates roughly as “net with metal”.

Awalim – (singular Almeh) female dancers of Egypt, who also sang and played musical instruments. Originally, the Awalim only danced for the women of aristocratic households, unlike the Ghawazee (see Ghawazee) who danced outdoors and in different venues. Awalim were highly regarded entertainers in their heyday, up to the turn of the 20th century. In the early days of “bellydance” in Egypt, dancers were either Awalim or Ghawazee. The term, Raks Sharki or Oriental Dance (see entries), didn’t come about till the early 20th century as the dance became more modernized.

Awwady – In Arabic music, this refers to the free-form improvised instrumental solo that has no underlying rhythm. This is often used for the opening few phrases of music played for a belly dancer, and it is then followed by the fast- or medium-tempo entrance music.

Ayoub – Arabic 2/4 Rhythm
Drum Pattern: Dumm (rest-rest) Tak, Dumm (rest) Tak
(see Dumm, Tak, Ka, entry)

Bedlah – literally means “suit”. This refers to the beaded two piece costume that bellydancers wear for performances. This style of costume was created in Egypt in the early part of the 20th century by, Badia Masabni, famous dancer and casino owner.

Beledy – (also spelled Balady, Baladi, Beledi) adjective meaning native, indigenous, of the country, rural, comparable to English folk, with a lower-class connotation. It can also apply to many other things that are considered native, rural, rustic or traditional, for example beledy bread, beledy rose, beledy dance. It is also an Egyptian musical style that came about at the turn of the 20th century in urban Cairo. It’s also common to hear bellydancers refer to the 4/4 rhythm, Masmoudi Saghyr, as “beledy”.

Beledy Dress – Traditional long dress worn for women’s folk dances

Beledy Progression – Referring to an Arabic music style. Western term for Asharah Beledy (see entry for Asharah Beledy)

Beledy Taqsim – Arabic music. Another term for Asharah Beledy or Beledy Progression (see Asharah Beledy).

Belly Dance – (bellydance or belly-dance) also known as Middle Eastern Dance, Arabic Dance, or Raks Sharki – loosely meaning Oriental Dance, is an ancient art form from the Middle East and North Africa. Belly dance developed and became highly stylized in Egypt in the early part of the 20th century. It also became very popular in the Egyptian movies. The term “belly dance” is translated from the French term “danse du ventre” which was applied to the dance in the Victorian era. It is something of a misnomer, as every part of the body is involved in the dance; the most featured part being the hips. In common with most folk dances, there is no codified naming for belly dance movements. Some dancers and dance schools have their own terminology for the movements, but none is universally recognized.

Chiftitelli – Turkish rhythm in 8/4 time. (Also spelled, Ciftetelli, Tsiftetelli, Shiftaatellii, Ciftetelli, in Arabic called Wahda Kabira, Wahada Kebira, Dar e Noss, Sheftetilli). Today a faster version is called Sonbati. Chiftitelli is also the Greek term for bellydance, not referring to the rhythm.
Drum pattern: Dumm rest Tak Tak rest Tak Tak rest

Dabke – Also spelled Debke. Levantine Arab folk circle dance, performed in Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Palestine and Israel. Dabke combines circle dance and line dancing and is widely performed at weddings and other joyous occasions.

Def – (also Daf) Middle Eastern frame drum

Dumm – Tak – Ka – Sounds made when striking the Tabla (see Dumbek). “Dumm” (also spelled Doum or Dum, pronounced “doom”- a deep sound) is the dominant hand on the middle, or “sweet spot” of the tabla. “Tak” (brighter sound, also spelled Tek) produced with the dominant hand striking the rim. “Ka” – is produced with the recessive hand striking the rim.

Dumbek – (also spelled Doumbek) Hourglass-shaped Arabic drum. Also called Tabla, or Darbuka, depending on the region of the Middle East.

Fellah – Arabic meaning, peasant, farmer, or agricultural laborer. A Fellahin could be seen wearing a simple cotton robe called, gallabeya.

Fallahi Rhythm – (peasant) Arabic 4/4 rhythm
Drum pattern: Dumm Tak Tak Tak Dumm Tak Tak

Gallabeya – traditional Egyptian and Sudanese garment native to the Nile Valley (see Fellah)

Ghawazee – (or spelled Ghawazi, singular is Ghaziya) Dancers of Egypt: a group of female traveling dancers of the Nawari people, sometimes referred to as “Gypsies”. The term Ghawazee in Egypt refers to the dancers in rural Egypt who have preserved the traditional 18th to 19th century style of dancing. The most famous family of the Ghawazi are the Banaat Maazin of Luxor Egypt.

Habibi – meaning “my darling” or “beloved” in Arabic, and appears in many Arabic song titles and lyrics

Hafla – Arabic meaning, party, get together (also spelled khafla). Outside of Arab speaking countries, many bellydance teachers will sponsor a Hafla for their students and/or the dance community. They can be small gatherings with open floor dancing, or more elaborate events with live music and solo and group performances, as well as vendors selling their wares.

Iqaat – The rhythmic modes of Arab music are known as iqa’at (singular iqa’). They consist of regularly repeating sequences of beats, with each beat represented by one of two different types of drum stroke: the Dum and the Tak (see Dum, Tak, Ka)

Jeel (also known as Al Jeel, or Geel in Egyptian Arabic)- Arabic pop music, modeled after foreign rock and roll, and pop music. Al Jeel became oriented around dance pop.

Kanoun – (also Qanun, Qanoun) is a string instrument played in much of the Middle East and Central Asia. The Kanoun is made of wood, fish skin, nylon cords and metal keys. It looks similar to a dulcimer.

Karsilamas – pronounced carshulamah, is a folk dance spread all over Northwest Asia Minor and carried to Greece by Asia Minor refugees. The term “karsilamas” comes from the Turkish word “karşılama” meaning “face to face greeting”. It can also refer to the 9/8 Turkish rhythm counted 2,2,2,3.

Khaleej – or Al-Khaleej, is an Arabic word for Gulf, meaning anything from the Persian Gulf/Arabian Peninsula

Khaleeji – Also spelled Khaleegy or Khaliji. Western bellydancers use this term to refer to the styles of music and dance from the Persian Gulf/Arabian peninsula. One of the main characteristic of the dance is tossing of the hair. The traditional costuming for this dance would be a Thobe al Nashal, which looks like a elaborately embroidered caftan, with beading, pearls and sequins. Bellydancers typically use the term Khaleeji Dress, or simply, Thobe (dress), when referring to the costume worn for the dance instead of thobe al nashal. The Arabic name for the dance is, Raks Al Nasha’ar (“hair dance”) or Raks al-Nashaat (“hair tossing dance”).

Layla – (Also spelled Leyla) Arabic meaning Night, plural – Layali. There are many references to the night in Arabic lyrics and poetry. Nighttime is very magical. Layla, Leyla, Lailah, or Laila, is also a popular girl’s name in the Middle East.

Malfuf – (Arabic meaning wrapped, also called Laff – meaning Wrapping) Arabic 2/4 Rhythm. Also spelled Malfouf. Drum Pattern: Dumm (rest) Tak Tak

Maqam – is the system of melodic modes used in traditional Arabic music which is mainly melodic. The word maqam in Arabic means place, location or position.

Maqsoum– Arabic 4/4 rhythm. Also spelled Maksoum, Maksum – (divided; also called Wahda w Noss- one and a half), it is similar to masmoudi saghyr, except that the second dumm is replaced by a tak.
Drum pattern: Dumm, Tak (rest) Tak, Dumm (rest) Tak

Masmoudi Khabir – (Big Masmoudi) Arabic 8/4 rhythm. A slower version of masmoudi saghyr. Also spelled masmudi, masmoodi.
Drum Pattern: Dumm Dumm (rest) Tak Dumm (rest) Tak (rest)

Masmoudi Saghyr – (Little Masmoudi) Arabic 4/4 rhythm, typically referred to as “beledy” by some bellydancers.
Drum pattern: Dumm Dumm (rest) Tak Dumm (rest) Tak
(Embellishment: Dumm Dumm ta ka Tak Dumm ta ka Tak)

Mawwal– A vocal improvisation in Arabic music. The singer demonstrates his skill with non-metrical improvisation on a poetic narrative text and melody.

Megeance – (magancy, majenci, mejense, or mergence) Also known as the Oriental Entrance. It is the first song of the bellydancer’s show when she makes her grand entrance to the stage. It comes from the word emergence. The entrance music is a complex composition, meaning the music can have various rhythm, tempo, and mode changes.

Meleya – (also melea, malaya) a modesty wrap worn by urban Egyptian women up until the early 20th century. It can also refer to the meleya dance. See Meleya Luff

Meleya Luff – (also spelled Malaya Leff, Melea Laf) An Egyptian character dance that is fun, lighthearted and flirty depicting a beledy girl wearing a meleya (modesty wrap). The dance can be a girl from Alexandria (Eskandaria or spelled Iskandaria) or urban Cairo depending on the music.

Mizmar – in Egypt it is a single or double reed wind instrument. It has a high pitched whining sound. In Turkey it is called Zurna. In other countries such as Lebanon, Palestine, and Syria, it may be known as Zamr. Mizmar is also a term used for a group of musicians, usually a duo or trio, that play a mizmar instrument along with an accompaniment of one or two double-sided bass drum, known in Arabic as Tabl Beledy, or simply Tabl.

Muwashahat – Arab musical form. The Muwashahat genre is inspired by tenth century court poetry of Arab-Andalusia, developed when Arab intellectual and artistic culture flourished in Spain.

Ney – (also spelled Nay) is an end blown flute that figures prominently in Middle Eastern music. The ney is an ancient instrument that has been played for 4,500 – 5,000 years.

Oriental Dance – see Belly Dance and Raks Sharki

Oriental Entrance – The first song of a Bellydancer’s show. See Megeance

Oryantal Dans – The term and spelling for Oriental Dance/Bellydance in Turkey.

Oud – A musical instrument that is a form of lute or mandolin played in Arabic countries. Oud is also the word for wood in Arabic. There’s also the fragrance oil known as oud (or oudh), it comes from the wood of the Southeast Asian agar (aquilaria) tree. Many intoxicatingly beautiful Arabian perfumes and incenses are made with oud.

Oum Khaltoum – Legendary singer of Egypt. Her birthdate is unknown, approximately born 1904 – died February 3, 1975. Known as “The Star of the East” and “The Voice”, she was known for her extraordinary vocal ability and style, Oum Khalthoum was one of the greatest and most influential Arab singers of the 20th century. Every serious Bellydancer should know the music of Oum Khalthoum. Other spellings, Um Kalthum, Om Kalsoum, Oumme Kalsoum, Uum Khalthum, and more.

Rakkas – Arabic word meaning, “the male dancer”.

Rakkasah – Arabic word meaning, “the female dancer”.

Raks – also commonly spelled Raqs (Pronounced “rocks”) Arabic word for “the act of dancing”.

Raks Al Assaya – Arabic meaning, “Cane dance”. See Assaya

Raks Al Beledy – Arabic meaning, “folk dance”

Raks Al Balas – Water jug dance – folk dance of Egypt

Raks Al Kawliya – (or Raqs Al Kawleeya) Iraqi “gypsy” dance. An energetic dance with wild hair tossing movements.

Raks Al Nasha’ar – Hair dance (see Khaleeji)

Raks Al Nashaat – Hair tossing dance (see Khaleeji)

Raks al Shamadan – Candelabra dance. The candelabra or shamadan is balanced on the head while dancing. The dance was made famous by Shafiqia al Koptia (Shafiqia the Copt), the most famous Awalim (see entry for Awalim) of the late 19th century in Egypt.

Raks Sharki – Also spelled Raqs Sharqi. Arabic meaning, Dance of the East, or Dance of the Orient, translated as Oriental Dance. In America we call it “Belly Dance”.

Riqq – (or Riq) Arabic tambourine

Sagat – Term for finger cymbals in Arabic. Also spelled zagat, sagaat. See entry for Zills

Saidi – This refers to anything of the Said region of Egypt, such as Saidi music, Saidi dance, Saidi people, Saidi food, etc. The Said is also known as “Upper Egypt”, located in the southern part of the country. Raqs al assaya (the cane dance) originated in the Said. Also spelled, Saidee, Sayeedi

Saidi Rhythm – 4/4 Rhythm from Upper Egypt
Drum Pattern: Dumm Tak (rest) Dumm Dumm (rest) Tak

Samaii – A musical form in classical Arabic music

Samaii Thaqil – Arabic 10/8 Rhythm
Drum pattern: Dumm (rest-rest) Tak (rest) Dumm Dumm Tak (rest-rest)

Shaabi – Arabic meaning, folk, or popular of the people. It is also a musical genre, known as “Egyptian street pop”. It first became popular in the 1970’s by the godfather of Shaabi, Ahmed Adaweya. Shaabi lyrics use the language of the streets of Cairo, full of working class slang and double entendres.

Shamadan – A candelabra used to balance on the head while dancing. See Raks Al Shamadan (also spelled Raqs Al Shamadan)

Sufi – A Sufi is a person who practices Sufism.

Sufism – mystical Islamic belief and practice in which Muslims seek to find the truth of divine love and knowledge through direct personal experience of God.

Tabla – Arabic drum. See Dumbek

Tabl Beledy – or simply Tabl. In Arabic music, it is a double sided bass drum played in folk music. See entry for Mizmar

Tahtiyb – Men’s folk dance of Upper Egypt done with large staffs in a mock fighting manner – see Assaya and Saidi entries

Takht – A small ensemble of Arab musicians, often including oud, kanoun, nay, tabla & riqq.

Tanoura – The whirling dervish of Egypt. The whirler wears a colorful skirt, each color representing each Sufi order. The word may also refer to the dancer, traditionally a Sufi man. Tanoura is associated with Sufism and is performed at Sufi festivals, but it is also performed by non-Sufis as a folk dance or concert dance. In Egypt it is not uncommon to see a Tanoura dancer as one of the opening acts before the Bellydance show.

Taqsim– also spelled “taxim”. Arabic musical term for the improvisation of a solo instrument.

Tarab – Traditional Arab music has an intimate ambience and aims at evoking “tarab”, or ecstasy, in the performers and listeners.

Thobe – Arabic word for “dress”

Thobe al Nashal – Ornate dress worn in women’s khaleej dancing. See “Khaleeji”

Tulle-bi-telli – Net fabric with slivers of metal woven in indicate patterns. Arabic meaning “net with metal” see Assuit

Undulation – Term used by Western belly dancers to describe the flowing bellydance movements of the hips and torso, such as figure eights, circles, belly rolls, etc.

Veil – The use of a veil in Bellydance was added in the early part of the 20th century in Egypt. As the dance became more modernized and moved to the professional stage, more traveling steps and turns were added, as well as a veil. Before then, the dance was done in small coffee houses, private homes and moulids (religious festivals). In the Middle East the veil is used for the bellydancer’s grand entrance to the stage (see Megeance), not as a dance within itself as is performed in the Western world.

Wahda Khabira – 8/4 rhythm, also known as Chiftitelli (see Chiftitelli). Also spelled Wahda Kabira, Wahda Kebira.

Wahda w Noss – Arabic meaning “one and a half”. It is also another name for the 4/4 rhythm known as Maqsoum (see Maqsoum)

Ya Laylee – Arabic meaning, Oh night! The vocal improvisation, Mawwal (see entry), is also referred to as “Ya Laylee” when the singer sings of the night (Ya laylee, Ya layleeeee, ya, ya ,ya, Layleeeee…Oh night, Oh night, Oh, Oh, Oh night!)

Zaar (or zar) – a custom that involves an individual (usually female) possessed by a spirit. The zaar ritual releases the individual of the spirit, or protects them from the spirit, through ritual music and dance. Observed in Egypt, Sudan, Somalia, southern Iran and other parts of the Middle East.

Zaghareet – A high-pitched ululation done with the tongue. It is a sound of celebration associated with weddings, parties, and other joyful occasions in Arabian countries. American bellydancers like to zaghareet at dance events to show appreciation for a dancer’s performance. However, in the Middle East, zaghareet is not a show of applause at music and dance performances. It’s celebratory when getting good news, or at a joyous event, for example, “as the bride and groom entered the reception hall, they were greeted with loud zaghareet from the guests.” Singular is zagharoot.

Zeffah – (also zeffa, zaffa, zaffah) Arabic meaning “procession”. Traditional procession leading the bride through the streets from her home to her new life with her husband. The procession traditionally involves dancers and musicians, as well as family and friends leading the bride. Nowadays, the zeffah is done in a banquet hall, hotel, or other facility where a wedding would be held.

Zeffah Al Arousa – Arabic meaning “procession of the bride”

Zeffah Rhythm: A slow rhythm accompanying the bride’s walk, during the wedding procession.
Drum Pattern: Dumm ta ka tak tak dumm tak tak

Zills – Finger cymbals played by bellydancers – Turkish zils. “Zills” is the most common term for finger cymbals used by bellydancers in America. Also see Sagat

Zurna – (also spelled Zorna) Turkish wind instrument. See Mizmar

My Mission Statement


ZZ_70s_hi_res_with_logoThe art of Raqs Sharqi won my heart in the early 1970’s. It has led me on many amazing journeys around the world and has allowed me to live out my vision as a dance artist, choreographer, teacher and mentor. After 4 decades I am still in awe and humbled by the beauty and magic of this timeless dance, the deliciously hypnotic music, and the transformational journey it has taken me on. I feel it is my calling as a teacher to pass along my knowledge to my students. It is my duty to educate, mentor and guide the dancers who walk through my door. It is my passion to help them find themselves within the dance. My mission is not to create fantasy and feelings of false accomplishment, but to wipe the glitter from the eyes of the student and help them truly grow as creative beings.

What is a Master Teacher?


zzprofile12_with_logoIn an age where “branding” is important in self promotion, I keep seeing the term, “master teacher” used a lot. It’s made me wonder about that term and why it’s used so much in bellydance advertising.

A celebrity dance star, is not necessarily a master teacher, whether a local star, or touring workshop star. They may have developed amazing dance skills and good teaching skills, but that doesn’t mean they are a master at teaching dance. Perhaps they are a master of marketing and not such a great dancer or teacher? Many dance stars love developing a following of admirers. If that’s ok with you and you like being part of a fan club and are just having fun, then great! But, if you want to take your dance to new heights, make sure the dancer you are following really cares about advancing their students.

Many students and dancers are drawn in by the glamour, glitter and fame that some dancers acquire. They may feel that somehow by being in that dancer’s presence, that their “magic” will somehow rub off on them, if they attend their workshops or classes. Not that the information isn’t valuable and dance worthy, but one has to ask their self, “what am I getting out of this in the long run?”

Do I just want to say I studied with this person because they are famous? Am I deluding myself by thinking I will get famous somehow by copying, or attaching myself to this dancer? How is this moving me forward in MY dancing?

Master teachers have the highest expectations of themselves for being exemplary teachers. They are experts in their field. They motivate students to set and strive for the highest expectations of themselves. Their purpose for teaching is not to have a fan club, or to make clones of their self. Master teachers exemplify ethical standards, have a passion for teaching, and believe all students can learn. They have respectful classrooms, and foster and maintain the respect of their students.

Maybe a master teacher isn’t for you. If you just want to have fun and find a community to dance with, there’s someone out there for you. Find a teacher that is supportive and nurturing, and who cares about their students. Good teachers create a positive learning environment.

When choosing a teacher, think about your dance goals and what you want to achieve. It’s a journey, have fun searching! Attend workshops, local dance classes and performances, AND PRACTICE! Building your dance skills is definitely a process. It’s not going to happen overnight. Nope, there’s no magic pill.

Can’t find a good teacher? Many teachers such as myself, teach on Skype or have other online classes. Just watching videos of dancers isn’t enough. Don’t fall into the YouTube syndrome. Don’t get me wrong, YouTube is wonderful! You can see dancers all over the world! It can be very inspiring and has value, but it’s not the way to learn dance. Dancers need the guidance of a skilled teacher. Nothing can replace that.

Lose the Label


Zahra_Holidays_1When did we start dividing oriental dancers into categories? Why is it so important to pin down her (or his) bellydance style, and put it in a box and put a label on it?

With so many genres under the vast umbrella of “bellydance”, we have to identify what it is the person is doing these days, I guess. I don’t mean regional folk styles of Middle Eastern dance, or fusion dancing, I mean the style of bellydance. What ever happened to being just a good old bellydancer?

I am, and will always be an Oriental Dancer. I worked for decades in Arabic, Greek, Turkish, Armenian, and Persian restaurants and nightclubs – AS A BELLYDANCER. I didn’t suddenly become a Greek bellydancer because I was dancing in a Greek restaurant with Greek musicians, and so on. A good dancer has to be versatile and understand the audience she is performing for, and the style of music she is dancing to. The music determines how a dancer feels. The music guides your movements, your emotions. The music is what is driving the style in which the dancer is dancing.

For instance, if we compare famous Egyptian dancer’s styles, such as Samia Gamal, Naima Akef, Fifi Abdo, Aza Sharif, Dina, Camelia, Dandash and many others through time, they all have very different dance styles, but they are all Egyptian dancers. It’s their feeling for the music, and their background in dance, for instance some have, ballet, and folkloric training, etc. Their style is their own personal style.

Trends come and go also. The popularity of a dancer can influence up and coming dancers to imitate them, causing more dancers to follow the trend, in not only movements, but costuming, mannerisms, and so on. Dina and Rhanda Kamal’s styles are both a prime examples of this type of copy cat trend by foreign dancers. Westerners are especially compelled to copy famous dancers, even down to their postural quirks, thinking they are being “Egyptian” (or Turkish, or whatever). It’s embarrassing, people!

Regional folk dance styles as well as traditional folk music also influence the bellydance styles in different countries, for instance Lebanon’s folk dance is Debke. Debke is very rhythm driven, with stomping, and jumping type steps, and many Lebanese dancers have a very fast, rhythm driven, jumpy style. However, not all Lebanese bellydance styles fit that M.O. Here again, we have the box with the label on it. Check out the famous Lebanese dancer, Dina Jamal on youtube, her style is what I would call Classic Oriental.

By the same token, Turkish dancers are known for having a “wild, fast and crazy” bellydance style, but check out the lovely Turkish Oriental Dancer, Nesrin Topkapi,

Again, regional folk styles can affect a dancer’s personal style, depending on their background, for instance, many Turkish bellydancers also have Romany background.

One last thing…what the heck is American Cabaret? I understand it refers to an older style of oriental bellydance show that was more popular in the 1970’s, but, the word “cabaret” in the Middle East refers to a low class place. You would never call yourself a “cabaret dancer”. You would be telling people you are a very low class dancer and work in low class places. They might think you are a prostitute.

I understand we are in America, and we use different terms, but I am a dancer from the 1970’s and I never heard that term till recent years. “American Cabaret” is just an older style of bellydance show, it’s not an American innovation.

Educating oneself is very important in personal growth. Continue to train, developing good oriental technique, and personal style. Let’s stop the copy cat syndrome, and lose the labels.

Glitter and Gratitude


Zahra_Holidays_3I’ve been staring at my dog, Indigo (“GoGo”), for the last 10 minutes. She’s sleeping on the couch by the Christmas tree and there’s a tiny sprinkle of gold glitter stuck to her sweet, jet black, Labrador face.

It’s not unusual for glitter, sequins, and various other kinds of bling to be stuck to my dog, my husband, or anywhere else in my house. It’s normal, I hardly notice anymore, but tonight as I look at GoGo’s peaceful face, shimmering in the glow of the twinkle lights, I couldn’t help but feel so grateful. Grateful for all the obvious blessings in my life, my husband, wonderful family, good health, a roof over my head, and all the things we take for granted in our everyday, busy lives. I am grateful for all my students past and present, teachers, mentors, dancer friends, and my workshop sponsors over the years. I am so grateful for a life of glitter.

Maybe that sounds funny, dance is a lot more than putting on a costume and applying glitter. It’s years of hard work and dedication. I guess that goes without saying…or does it? Oriental dance is not a fantasy world of playing dress up, it is a cultural art, the dance of a people. It is a beautiful dance form that can be enjoyed by anyone of any ethnicity, whether for exercise or just for fun. Middle Eastern music is rich and deliciously intoxicating, truly transformational. No wonder so many women and men from all walks of life, from all over the world are drawn to it!

These days with such mass global appeal, and so many uneducated teachers, desperate attention seekers, and the need for instant self gratification, it’s easy to get swept away by the masses, and lose sight of the true art. If you want to learn an art form from another culture other than your own, respect the art and the culture it comes from! There’s nothing wrong with having fun, we all love fun, just don’t let the glitter blind you.

I am grateful I have had the strength to stay true to my art. Through blood, sweat and tears, I’ve forged ahead. It can be a lonely road sometimes, but I don’t mind. This Holiday Season as I venture into the New Year, as always, I will will vow to stay true to oriental dance. I will wear my glitter like a badge of honor, because I earned it.

Stay strong my friends. What are you standing up for in 2015?

Finding Your Voice In Dance


ZZfulllengthHappy Valentines Day! I can’t believe it’s been a year ago today since I’ve written in my blog! Time seems to fly by so quickly!

I don’t consider myself a writer, I think I do “ok” when I have something to say, but in general I’ve never been very good with words…that’s why I dance. My dance voice is loud and clear to me in my mind and body, which is very gratifying to me. But it got me thinking of how I can help other dancers find their artistic “voice”.

The key to finding your voice comes from within. It is vital to your expression as an artist. A dancer must learn to create from the core – from a well deep within. It comes from detaching yourself from your ego, separating yourself from your “story”, knowing who you really are. Connect with your spirit!

It’s not easy, you have to dig deep and be willing to go there.  Only when we look beneath the veil and wipe the glitter from our eyes can we start to see the truth. Dance is hard work physically, but it is also about letting go of fear and self doubt. Fear of not being good enough, fear of what others think of us, fear of not fitting in, fear of failure…fear, fear, fear. Get rid of the fear! It often involves freeing yourself from the fear of the outcome and just being in the moment! Face your fear and self doubt with love and understanding, turn it into artful expression. Listen quietly, little by little your dancer voice will begin to emerge!

I will end my blog today with some of my favorite dance quotes.

Come Fairies, take me out of this dull world, for I would ride with you upon the wind and dance upon the mountains like a flame! ~William Butler Yeats

To dance is to be out of yourself. Larger, more beautiful, more powerful. This is power, it is glory on earth and it is yours for the taking. ~Agnes de Mille

When you dance, your purpose is not to get to a certain place on the floor. It’s to enjoy each step along the way. ~Wayne Dyer

We’re fools whether we dance or not, so we might as well dance.  ~Japanese Proverb

There is a bit of insanity in dancing that does everybody a great deal of good.  ~Edwin Denby

It takes an athlete to dance, but an artist to be a dancer.  ~Shanna LaFleur

I don’t want people who want to dance, I want people who have to dance.  ~George Balanchine

Dancing with the feet is one thing, but dancing with the heart is another.  ~Author Unknown

Dance till the stars come down from the rafters
Dance, Dance, Dance till you drop.
~W.H. Auden

 Dancing is like dreaming with your feet!  ~Constanze

The truest expression of a people is in its dance and in its music. Bodies never lie. ~Agnes de Mille

Dancing faces you towards Heaven, whichever direction you turn. ~Terri Guillemets

Dancers are the messengers of the gods. ~Martha Graham

Love And Dance


It’s Valentines Day! The day of love! The day we celebrate the people and things we love in our life. I am lucky to have so much love in my life. I love my husband, Michael, and my dog, Indigo, and all my family, friends, students and of course I love my dancing.

To me, my dancing is love. Dance is not only the way I express myself, it is the way I send love into the world. In some naive part of my mind, I imagine all that loving dance energy flowing out into the universe, turning into pure love for all eternity. I know it may seem silly, but I imagine it and hope it makes a difference somehow.

The love of dance has to be shared freely, without condition. Every breath, every step, every movement must be a giving, joyful experience. Life is a dance! Dance is life!

True love is not, petty, jealous, possessive, needy, draining, and fearful. It’s giving, joyful, passionate, nurturing, and compassionate. I view dance very much as I do love. It is a relationship that needs to be nurtured and nourished. It is a relationship between ourselves and our art, it is a relationship with our dance community, and it is a relationship we have with our audience.

When a dancer asks me how they can take their dancing to a higher level, besides obviously improving technique and performance skills, my question to them is: What is your relationship with dance?

Is your relationship a rocky road filled with drama? Ah yes, the dance world is filled with drama! Let’s face it we have to deal with some dance drama from time to time… and drama in our lives in general, but how much of it are you getting sucked into? Do you find yourself drained and exhausted by it? How much time is it eating up when you obviously have more important things to do (like practicing!)? How often is it happening?

Do you have a lonely relationship with dance? Do you feel dance isn’t loving you back? One sided relationships aren’t good at all. Maybe you’ve had some bad experiences and you’ve convinced yourself no one likes your dancing so you avoid looking for another restaurant gig, or it’s causing you to avoid dance community events, making you feel like your stranded on a desert island.  Whatever scenario it may be, we all have bad experiences. One bad apple (or a few) can spoil the whole bunch, that’s for sure.

Self love is the key. When you value your own self worth, you teach people how you expect to be treated. Surround yourself with supportive, like-minded people who value and respect you. By doing this you will see a big difference in the people you attract into your dance world and into your life in general. There are many people out there who think YOU are the perfect dancer for their event, or who think YOU are the most fabulous teacher in the world, or the PERFECT new member of their dance troupe.

There are a lot of wonderful people in our dance community. The world is a much smaller place these days. You can reach out to a number of great dancers and teachers around the globe for mentoring and support, no matter how isolated you may think you are.

A harmonious relationship is hard to come by, in the “real world”, and in the dance world. We have to work hard at it. You get out it what you put into it. We get a little bruised sometimes, but we just have to pick ourselves up, brush off our sequins and apply more glitter!! Don’t let bad experiences diminish your love for your dancing.

As dancers, we want so much love and attention, but what are we giving? In order to get love, we have to give love. We have to open our hearts and share our passion, release our dancer soul! Share the love and watch the magic unfold!