Middle Eastern Dance
photo by Sherif Alyamany
Oriental Dance (Raqs Sharqi) is also commonly known in the west as “bellydance”, which is a throwback to turn-of-the century Orientalist depictions of Eastern Mediterranean/North African dances. The field of Middle Eastern Dance is so rich with regional styles, and in modern times has become an excellent way for women to get together and celebrate the benefits of dance as workout, art form, and community.
I began to study it in 1993 with Chicago’s Jasmin Jahal, and since then went on to Brazil, where I took between 2-3 classes a week for about four years before setting out into the world and studying with various teachers including Morocco, Dalia Carella, Tamalyn Dallal, Suhaila Salimpour, and the great Mahmoud Reda.
Numerous tours to Egypt and its festivals like the Nile Group or Sphinx Festival meant that my students and I could marvel at the vast array of styles and traditions from Shaabi with Tito Seif or Aida Nour to classical Raqs Sharqi with Hassan Khalil, to the transcendent Zar with Mazahir. Each trip was an adventure filled with culture, history and dance. I can’t wait to go back!
A key breakthrough in my study of Middle Eastern Dance came from Keti Sharif, whose A-Z Bellydance system articulates combos of compatible movements and provides dancers with excellent embodied knowledge of Cabaret, Folkloric, Taqsim, and Theatrical styles. Keti has hosted me in Egypt several times to offer classes and workshops and participate in instructional video filming.
Her own great mentors, Mahmoud Reda and Farida Fahmy, were led by their passion for Egyptian folklore to archive the regional dances of their country in the 50’s and establish the world-famous Reda Troupe.
The Reda Troupe is a prototype for showcasing folkloric dances onstage, since it recognizes the role of theatricalization of the steps and the addition of modern and classical language in order to render dances usually danced in village social settings for stage presentation. I have followed this example in the creation of my own choreographies.
Thus inspired, my Middle Eastern choreographies and workshops always feature a touch of theater. I found that the language of Isadora Duncan is also highly compatible with this approach to Middle Eastern Dance, especially Cabaret and Theatrical, where feeling & gesture can be intensified through the addition of her expressive technique.
In my regular weekly classes live and online, I love to emphasize the imagery of the dance so that
participants can better access the movements and get the most out of the drills and routines.
To join my worldwide class on Wednesdays at 5 PM PST over ZOOM, join “World Dance Journey with Sophia” on Facebook to receive the weekly link.