Taletha's Belly Dance FAQ
There are many things I still don't know, but I've answered the questions below to the best of my ability. Please feel free to e-mail me with more questions. If I can't answer them myself, I may be able to send you to a website that can.
Many people are a bit apprehensive about belly dance. That's understandable! This dance comes from a completely different culture which developed in a completely different way than what we are used to in the West. Many times, people aren't sure it's ok to watch a belly dancer, let alone allow their children to watch! However, children are the best audience members. They enjoy the shiny and brightly colored costuming, the props, and the sounds that come with this dance. I've found that having a child in the audience, watching intently and cheering with glee, is one of the most rewarding things I've experienced. Keep in mind, your three year old hasn't yet been trained to think a bare midriff and moving hips is taboo. Chances are he or she has already seen cheerleaders and music videos more risqué than your friendly neighborhood belly dancer!
For more concerning this matter, please refer to What You Need to Know Before Hiring a Dancer .
MED is not reserved for skinny youthful girls. Dancers get better with age in my opinion. Not only that, but with this dance (which is seen by many as a celebration of the female form) the more you have to work with the easier it is to do. MED is for everyone. That's what makes it so lovely! If anyone in the MED community ever tells you that you are too old/skinny/fat/young/black/white/orange/plaid to participate in this art form, they are a seriously misguided individual.
There is no union for people who study MED. We have no health benefits or retirement packages. In addition to this, learning and maintaining MED is costly. A dancer's costs include classes, workshops, equipment (props, music, make-up) and costumes. Other costs may include studio fees/rent and troupe equipment.
There is no set amount of time one has to study before they can become a professional dancer. HOWEVER, I would strongly suggest checking with your teacher and other dancers in the area. If you feel they won't give you an honest opinion, look around for dancers out of the area who have seen you perform or will do a video critique for you.
It may save you much embarrassment if you get an honest assessment of your level before you attempt to go pro.
There are tons of teachers listed in the Bhuz.com directory. You should be able to find someone in your area.
There are also directories at Shira.net and Oriental Dance.com.
Many teachers offer classes in sessions. Some require you to, "test," out of a lower class. Other teachers will notify you when you are ready to advance. And then sometimes you will have to make the decision yourself.
If you feel it is time to advance, try a higher level class and ask the teacher to tell you if she thinks you are ready. Ask her if there are specific things she is looking for in an advanced student.
Zills, as they are called in Turkish, or sagat as they are called in Arabic (or the more mysterious and exotic term, finger cymbals) are members of the percussion family. They are small cymbal shaped pieces of metal that are attached to the hands and struck together. They are not only used by dancers but in Arabic orchestras as well.
There have been many discussions as to whether a dancer should stick with the gallop pattern or change her rhythm around some. I've been told by a musician that the dancer should play only the gallop pattern and that an actual member of the orchestra would play variations. I personally like to play variations from time to time, but as I am not a master I prefer to stick with the gallop pattern or play along with the rhythm.
It is my humble opinion that a dancer who wants to learn to play sagat should do so after she has become proficient with the basics of the dance. It isn't a bad idea to study some fundamental music theory as well. Below you will find a link to an article I've written about playing the zills. These articles describes what I've discovered works for me. I can't guarantee it will work for you.
At first it may seem the umbrella term, "Middle Eastern Dance," makes it easier to describe the dance. Once you look a bit closer, however, you come to realize there are many different types of dance within this community. While there are definite styles within this dance it is always good to remember that each dancer in turn has her own style. Often a dancer can be influenced by many other dancers and styles to create something all her own regardless of her background or nationality.
Egyptian: Souher Zaki, Nagwa Fouad, Fifi Abdo, Dina, Lucy, Nadia Hamdi, Tamalyn Dallal, Samia Gamal
Turkish: Tulay Karaça, Eva Cernik, Suzanna Del Vecchio
Lebanese: Samara, Amani, Maya, Noura, Howada Hashim, Nariman Aboud, Nadia Gamal
American Tribal Style (Fusion, NOT a traditional Middle Eastern style, but pretty darn cool if you ask me): Rakadu Gypsy, Fat Chance Belly Dance, Rachel Brice
Whether you are interested in learning to dance or just interested in learning about a different culture, you will most likely receive a warm welcome from the MED community in your area. I would recommend Bhuz.com as a start. There you can find musicians, dancers and instructors in addition to a great forum that will give you access to a plethora of knowledge from the international dance scene.
This is something you will have to decide for yourself. Some people will spend years taking classes before they feel they can perform, others are ready to perform as soon as they get the basics and still others don't ever plan to perform. Many teachers will help provide performance opportunities after a certain amount of classes. But keep in mind you can't expect your teacher to read your thoughts. If you want to perform ask her about it.
The word hafla is an Arabic word meaning party. These parties can include food, dancing, music and sometimes drinking. Teachers will often host haflas to give their students a chance to perform in an informal environment.
Don't feel you have to stay with the same teacher your entire life. Each teacher has his/her own strengths to contribute and each teacher has his/her own dancing/teaching style. If you feel the need to move on and learn from someone else, it is your right to do so.
Workshops are usually designed for someone who has a firm knowledge of basic MED. Some workshops will advertise their level, some won't. It's best to contact the workshop host and ask about level.
Many dancers choose to go by a stage name, but it isn't a requirement. Many dancers choose to stick with their real name and it doesn't effect their career at all. Here is one site with a listing of both male and female Arabic names: Ummah.net .
MED won't give you rock hard abs, but it is a great start to a healthier lifestyle. It helps strengthen your muscles and increase your stamina. It won't make you skinny, but there is a good chance it will make you feel better about yourself in general. MED is a wonderful way to learn to express yourself through movement.