Bellydancing and pregnancy part 2

This bun is nearly baked.

In the last few weeks I’ve slowed things down, spending more time playing with fewer movements and choosing more relaxing music to dance to. Now the end is in sight I have complaining joints, tired legs and much less energy. Listening to my body has been my motto throughout this pregnancy and it is telling me in no uncertain terms to rest! So I’m putting dance on hold again apart from occasional movements to loosen up if I’ve been sitting down for too long. At a time when it’s an effort to put socks on it’s nice to find that a circle or horizontal eight still feels good.

Before stopping completely I decided to video myself so I’ve got a record of this time (and hey, maybe to encourage any other pregnant ladies out there!). Here it is:

Aziza of Cairo (again!)

Here’s a fab video of Aziza. If you’re one of those dancers who can’t bear Shik Shak Shok give it a go and see if she can rehabilitate it for you. Also noteworthy for having a drum solo at the end, typically understated Egyptian style but WOW that shimmy just blows you away!

Ahlan wa Sahlan 2013

Aleya of Cairo has put together a fantastic compilation from the Ahlan wa Sahlan opening gala featuring Katia, Aziza, Soraya and Dina:

You should definitely watch the whole thing (especially Aziza who is just AMAZING). If you’re interested in seeing how Egyptian-style dancers do drum solos there are a few good examples here: Katia at 1:05, Aziza at 7:20 and Soraya at 10:06. When I was writing a post on drum solos it was quite hard to find decent videos so I was pleased to see this.

Cairo Aziza

As opposed to Portland Aziza, the film Aziza, the piece of music Aziza or any other dancers called Aziza!

Aziza from Cairo is one of the hottest Egyptian dancers at the moment. She teaches at Ahlan Wa Sahlan and travels round the world to teach at other festivals – I hear a rumour that the UK might be on her list for next year…She also models for Sahar Okasha, and I am deeply jealous of her for this 🙂 I first saw Aziza in 2010 when our group went to Casino El Leyl on the Pyramids Road. We’d been tipped off about the fantastic new dancer they had and we certainly weren’t disappointed! She had clear influences from Dina and Randa at that time but I think that now she has a definite style all of her own. There’s an old-fashioned quality to her, the large, soft hip and arm movements, but she also has a lot of strength and drama which is totally modern Cairo style.

Let’s have some videos!
Some Dina influence in the costume here! A video from April 2010.

A more recent video, filmed by Caroline Afifi in November last year. I think Aziza looks a lot more powerful here. Also worh watching for the amount of money which is being thrown!

One more, from December’s Ahlan Wa Sahlan festival. I think most dancers make an extra effort when they’re performing for other dancers.


I first saw Dandesh when she came to the UK with the Farha tour in 2005. I loved her casual dance style, so apparently simple but relying on very precise technique, and her relaxed on stage personality so full of humour. She stopped performing in the nightclubs shortly after that but is now takes part in Egyptian dance festivals. Last year she performed at a party for my student group on our trip to Cairo, which we all loved!

Her party piece is a dance where she mimics the styles of other famous dancers. If you don’t know who most of the dancers are then I guess the joke will be lost on you, but if you do then she is very funny indeed:

She will do different dacners each time but in this clip you can see her dance like Samia Gamal, Tahia Carioca, Soheir Zaki (who you can see laughing in the audience!), Nagwa Fouad, Sahar Hamdi, Aida Nour (also in the audience!), Dina, Fifi Abdo and finally herself. Notice how controlled and isolated her powerful hip movements are when she is dancing her own style.

Dandesh is multi-talented! Did you know she is a lovely singer? Here she is singing “Ya Baladi Ya Wad”:

You can see Dandesh this year at the Farha Festival in Luxor

Drum Solos

Drum solos are for show offs, and I mean this in a good way. Dancers use them to show off their technique and personality. As a very broad rule of thumb, dancers in the West tend to put more emphasis on the technique, whilst Egyptian dancers put more emphasis on the personality.

The sharp beats of the drum invite crisp, precise technique, but it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that everything you do must be percussive and staccato. Give the audience some breathing space with some softer moves, or even some stillness. Try not to overcomplicate things. Daria Miskevich has incredible technique and energy but watch her closely and you’ll see that actually she isn’t dancing at a million miles an hour and throwing in layer after layer of moves. She is varying her pace and using those showstopper moves sparingly for maximum effect.

At the other end of the showing off spectrum, where it’s all about personality, here is Camelia. Camelia is wild on stage, a complete free spirit. She gets away with things that noone else could! She is definitely one of those dancers who divide opinions. She reminds me of a little girl, hyped up on sugar, desperate to be the centre of attention! I love watching her. The drum solo starts at 4:55.

EDIT: This video has been made private 🙁 if I find another Camelia drum solo I’ll update this post.

The eyebrow wiggle! 6:25 if you missed it 🙂 I’m sure the whole performance is not to everyone’s taste, but she is clearly just up there having fun and I admire that.

The rhythms and patterns in drum solos are easy for the average audience to listen to and understand, so it’s nice to be able to play with those patterns in unexpected ways. Personally, I like a dancer who can surprise me and make me laugh. There is no obvious emotion in the music so you need to bring something of yourself to your dance. I’ve seen dancers who perform their (technically admirable) drum solos with just one expression on their face and it just bores me. Most dancers manage to find their own balance between technique and personality. Some of my favourites are Aziza and Asmahan.

Aziza’s drum solo choreographies are always creative and fun:

Asmahan having fun with her musicians. Just watch 🙂 :

You can have too much of a good thing….I have a love/hate relationship with drum solos. The fact that they are so good for showing off the very best you can do in an audience-friendly way means that they get done an awful lot. At some shows it can feel like every second dance is a drum solo, sometimes because it is and sometimes because dancers insist on sticking one on to the end of their music (competitions are particularly bad for this). You’ve just enjoyed some lovely soulful tarab and then you hear the tell tale “tak, tak…” that means a drum solo is about to be committed. After the first couple I’m not thinking “Oh good, a drum solo!” but “Here we go again…is the bar still open?”. It’s a shame when you’ve got lots of very good dancers, but when everyone is doing the same thing it’s just too much. I very rarely dance drum solos at events for dancers for this reason.

But I still like them 🙂 I decided to teach my improvers class about Arabic rhythms this term, which I thought would go nicely with a drum solo choreography, and once I started working on it I found myself enjoying it. I might just have to choreograph a new one for myself. So I’m definitely back in the “love” phase!

Golden Age: Samia Gamal and Zeinat Olwi

I watch lots of YouTube videos for information and inspiration.

(Aside: not instructional ones, as I’ve said in class before free instructional videos on YouTube are worth exactly what you pay for them. If you want instructional videos support the dancers who make them and buy yourself a copy.)

This term the intermediate class are studying the signature moves and style of some iconic Egyptian dancers, so these posts will be an extra resource to supplement what we do in class. I hope other dancers will enjoy the videos too! Two of my favourite channels for dancers in old Egyptian movies (usually referred to as the Golden Age of Egyptian cinema) are lebdancer and TheCaroVan who both have  incredible collections of uploads. It’s worth checking the notes under the videos and reading the comments (how often does anyone say that!) for music and film titles, plotlines and biographical information. All the background information in this post is taken from what they have written.

Samia Gamal

“Samia Gamal was born on May 27th 1924 as Zeinab Khalil Ibrahim Mafouz in the village of Wana el Kess, Her father was a tailor and her mother was Moroccan. When Samia was thirteen she went to live with her sister and brother in law in Cairo. At age 14 she found work at a cloth printing factory and after that she worked in a hospital as a nurse.

When she was 15 her dream of being a dancer came true one day when she was sitting at El Gamal Cafeteria and the son of the owner, Moustafa Gamal, overheard her saying how much she’d love to meet Badia Masabni and become a famous dancer. So Moustafa Gamal told her that he could introduce her to Badia. He arranged a meeting between them. Badia selected the name Samia for her and hired her for a salary of 6 pounds a month.

Samia decided that she would become a great dancer. She firmly believed that dance was like a science that must be learned and that it wasn’t just about shaking the waist and the belly. She asked Lebanese choreographer and dance instructor Isaac Dickson to work with her and train her. She also attended dance school were she learned Samba, Rumba, Tango and Rock & Roll. She also took ballet classes from a foreign ballet instructor named Sonia Ivanova.

Her first film roles were as an extra. Later, Farid El Atrash chose her to star in a film he was producing called Habibi El 3Omr. They were very successful as an onscreen pair and went on to make several more movies together. She made about 50 films in her lifetime.

Samia Gamal married twice. She lived in Houston during her marriage to American Shep King. During that time she danced in 15 states in a period of 16 months and earned approximately 10 thousand pounds, which were seized by her husband. The marriage ended in divorce and she returned to Egypt. Samia Gamal died on December 1, 1994 at Misr International Hospital after a six day coma. She was 70.”

Full text can be found here.


Samia has long been one of my favourite dancers, there is such joy in every movement she makes. She is constantly moving without ever looking busy or fussy – a difficult balance to pull off! That constant movement is not just in the hips, but in the arms and feet as well, notice how many of her hip movements are layered over step patterns. There is a sweet softness to her movements, quite a contrast to the modern powerhouse style of dance in Egypt (although there are exceptions, which I’m saving for a later post). If you like Samia’s style of dance I highly recommend going to a workshop with Eman Zaki, who captures her feeling perfectly and has a wealth of stories about this era.

Zeinat Olwi

“Zeinat Olwi was an Egyptian bellydancer who was born in 1930 in Alexandria. At age sixteen she fled to Cairo where the young Zeinat remembered that she had a female relative who had been rejected and disowned by the family for having become a dancer. Zeinat begged her relative for help and told her she would be willing to work even as a background dancer at Badia’s club. After much convincing, her relative took her to meet Badia Masabni who immediately saw a diamond in the rough, and hired her on the spot. Within six weeks Zeinat was a regular background dancer at Badia’s club.

Not long after, she was performing as a soloist and Badia Masabni increased her salary accordingly. She became well known for her excellent dancing and for her special ability with the assaya. People came to Badia’s club just to watch her perfom and she soon had a loyal fan following. Not long after this, she caught the attention of the media and soon the newspapers were comparing Zeinat with the famous dancers of the day like Samia Gamal and Naima Akef.

She began performing in theatre shows appearing with such famous singers as Abdel Aziz Mahmoud and with groups such as the Shecoco group. She was offered film roles but she preferred to appear in films as a dancer and not as an actress, because she considered herself first and foremost a dancer. She accepted some small acting roles but not leading roles. She appeared in over 22 films and surprised everyone by retiring early in 1965 as a way of protesting against discriminatory laws and against the harsh treatment suffered by bellydancers at the hands of Egyptian police. She tried to form a dancer’s syndicate but was not successful. Zeinat Olwi died in 1988 at age 58 of a heart attack. She had been a heavy smoker. She died alone in her Cairo apartment, where a maid discovered her three days later. The only two people from the entertainment industry to attend her funeral were Fifi Abdo and Taheya Carioca.”

Full text here.

Make sure you read the plot summary for this one so you know why the bride is so unhappy! Zeinat Olwi is a relatively new dancer to me, and there aren’t many videos of her online. I find the combination of the controlled elegance of her dancing and the knowing cheekiness in her expression very appealing. There is more contrast in her dancing than in Samia’s, more use of sharp movements and some very tight, controlled shimmies (Dina wasn’t the first to do them like that!). She strongly favours her left side and is clearly very strong and flexible – look out for her shoulder rolls with a backbend, she makes them look effortless.

Wow! This video is full of excellent advice for any dancer who is thinking about going pro and dancing at restaurants and parties:

I wish it had been around when I was just starting out. I’ve had some great mentors in my dance career so far but it’s always good to get another perspective. You know, I might just buy this – see, it’s true what I tell you in class, I AM always learning!

Celebrating Dance

This weekend I went to Celebrating Dance, a bellydance festival held in Torquay and run by Afra Al Kahira. It’s the first time I’ve been, and I was delighted to be one of the guest teachers. I taught two choreography workshops. The first was to an unusual version of the classic “Inta Omri”, played by the rock band Khalas. I usually prefer to dance to classic versions of Oum Kalsoum’s music (see my videos page!) but this one has such power and drama that I just had to do something with it. Anyway, it’s become a firm favourite of mine and I’m glad to be able to share it with other people. I think the choreography was a bit of a shock to the system for some students in the workshop, but they all tried really hard and got through the whole thing in just two hours. Phew!

On Sunday I was using more conventional music – “Zeina”. I think this song is so beautiful and simple that it would be a shame to dance all over it. Not everything has to go at 100 miles an hour and have 5 different layers at all times! We were able to take our time and really listen to what was happening in the music and think about how that could be reflected in out dancing. For anyone who was in that workshop, here is the video of Samia Gamal dancing to “Zeina”:

Samia Gamal

There was a show on Saturday night featuring the guest teachers: Yasmina, Khalida, Artemisia, Vashti, Emma Pyke, Deborah, Covert Bling, Nikki Livermore, Sara Shrapnell and me! I was slightly disconcerted by the number of vampires in the audience 🙂 but they were all very enthusiastic. I thoroughly enjoyed watching the show.

One of the lovely things about the festival was the fact that everything took place in the same venue, you were never more than 5 minutes away from anything. The hotel is part of a sprawling leisure complex with an old-fasioned air of English Riviera grandeur, very close to the sea – not that there was any time for playing on the beach (although I did sneak in a few lengths of the pool inbetween workshops)! Here’s a photo of the room where Yasmina taught some workshops:

The Arlington room

There was really nice food available, served in time to allow us all to get to the evening events. I’ve never been to a bellydance festival where you can have a three course meal with wine before the show! I could get used to this…. if only Torquay wasn’t so far from where I live!