Wednesday, October 10, 2007

A Response

I'd like to publicly respond to a comment from a reader, "Charlotte" who's profile is not public, meaning I cannot reply to her personally. Here is her comment on my previous post:

"Laura, I'm having problems with quite a bit of what you said in your post:
First, from your description this is not a brush with "fundamentalism". Fundamentalism is a much more extreme and serious and dangerous condition. Bellydancing is still a questionable "art form", and there is a very very fine line between it being distasteful and it being classy - and I've seen both.

You mention at the end that maybe the nightclub/party scene isn't for you, what did you expect at the nightclub/party scene? The people who frequent that scene expect that you're nothing more than a stripper... Do you think nightclub owners want you to perform there so their patrons can appreciate Middle-Eastern culture? To enjoy Arabic music? Or perhaps, it's more likely to salivate over your shimmies? Why are you surprised? And it isn't the "fundamentalists" only who think that, I've heard liberal Arab mothers say the same thing, as well as cultured feminist white Canadians. I've seen Arabesque dancers perform in wonderful "toned down" choreographies, but I've also seen some performances which were - nothing more than unrelenting displays of "come-hither" sexuality, and the latter left me feeling cold and disgusted.

As for your trip to the Middle East, please remember that what you have been trained in, is nothing more than cultural appropriation at best, and that Middle Eastern culture has a lot more richness and history to it than just hip accents and undulations. And the last time I checked, China isn't a resource on feminism and respect for humanity.

Bellydancing is tons of fun most of the time, but I don't think you should take it so seriously, nor pretend that it is a serious form of art."

Alright, lets start at the beginning. Fundamentalism refers to the strict adherance to a set of fundamental, often conservative principals and beliefs, and an intolerance of other beliefs and an unwillingness to question their own. So in this case, I believe I am correct in referring to this man as such.

Unfortunately, some people continue to performed less-than-classy bellydance routines. Bellydance is very much an interpretation and not a standardized art form so there are bound to be less than flattering interpretations. I can only take responsibility for my own dancing.

I'm not sure if you know what I mean by Nightclubs. When a bellydancer dances at a "Nightclub", it is often the same as an upscale supper club or banquet hall where families and friends go to eat, drink, unwind and enjoy themselves while taking in a great show. I'm not talking about a drug-fueled rave, here. And in case you missed it, I am QUESTIONING the ideal-ness of this venue, not defending it. I myself am wondering how this casual environment showcases the dance. However, I hardly think that a crowd of Arabic families are expecting a stripper, I hope they are more educated than that. My issue is that because we are dancing in and amongst the people, it doesn't show us the same respect and dignity that a theatre show might.

But lets get one thing straight here. Bellydance, while I KNOW it is an art form (yes, I don't just believe it, I know it), does take pride in celebrating female sensuality. And while you may find this "disgusting" some of us believe that sensuality is beautiful, and an expression of our truest nature and ultimately, as Yasmina Ramzy has said, an expression of love. No, this doesn't mean a lascivious and raunchy in-your-face display of sex, but a dignified, powerful and feminine joy at celebrating your innate sensuality.

And I am very aware that some Arabic people as well as Canadians and many other people think that bellydance is nothing more than a woman in a skimpy costume jiggling and gyrating. This is a stereotype we fight everyday. If you have ever studied this dance, it becomes immediately apparent that it is much more. Every time I teach new students, they are always shocked to learn that it is actually difficult, and full of subtleties.

And as for your comment on bellydance being "cultural appropriation at best", this may have some truth to it, but if you have studied this dance for 10 years as I have you'd understand that this appropriation is a sort of evolution and creative process. The Middle East and Western culture have been "appropriating" each other for decades, and bellydancing is one result. "Appropriating" can also be described as "being inspired by" and it is how many art forms evolve. As someone with a degree in the Fine Arts, this is one thing I can say is true in the art world at large.

I am of course aware that the Mid-east has countless fascinating aspects to it, why do you think I've dedicated my life to studying the music, culture, folklore, and dance of this region? I find it unbelievably insulting that you think I shouldn't take it so seriously, and to state that is is certainly not a serious art form. Have you studied the subtleties of an undulation, or attempted the perfect staccato of a hip accent? Attempted to perfectly express a heart-wrenching taqsim? Listened to the heart-breaking songs of Oum Kalthoum? Have you studied Arabic rhythms and maqams? Have you choreographed for hours into the night, trying to express the music through your body in a way that will transport your audience? Have you watched your students blossom from scared and awkward into proud and beautiful dancers?

Maybe then, after just a bit more education and experience, you'd understand the depth and power of this undeniable art form, instead of making a statement after letting a few sub-par dancers cloud your vision. I suggest you check out some of the masters...Aida Nour, Tito, Randa Kamel, Jillina, and our own Arabesque Dance Company, and then see if you can deny that this is ART.

Sunday, July 29, 2007


I have to admit i'm having a bit of a bellydance-related-crisis.

I encountered my first brush with fundamentalism a while ago, I was asked why I "degraded myself in front on an audience" and how would I ever expect to find a husband? And while I think that I explained the dance and my motives pretty well, it was still a bit of a wake-up call.

I'm planning on going to the Middle East to teach English and study dance in the winter, and it's just hitting me now that I can't say that I'm a bellydancer if I expect to be employed, respected and treated as a professional. This really upsets me as I think that being a dance teacher and performer is a wonderful thing, and I'd love to have in on my TESOL resume as I think it really qualifies me to teach there. It seems so ironic to me that the very countries that I have dedicated my life to studying the dances of, are the ones that I can't admit this to! You'd think they'd appreciate someone who is so fascinated with their culture, yet it's places like China that would actually respect this!

Also, it's hard to feel like people appreciate your art when a large portion of our audience views us as some sort of party trick, and assumes that we want to be sexualized. Just last night I pulled up a guest at a restuarant and had him dance with me, and instead of thanking me as he sat down, he slapped my butt. Shocked, I kind of gave the audience an unimpressed look, but I was in full performance mode and couldn't think of what to do. I wanted to come back after I'd changed and give him a piece of my mind, but I just wanted to leave at that point.

This is a serious problem for dancers, people have been fired for stopping a show due to customer harassment. Restaurant owners seem to think it's just a hazard of the job and it's our job to just "go on with the show" and not make any one feel uncomfortable, even if they just grabbed us.

I think that Western men just don't understand how they are supposed to react to a bellydancer. Should they look away? Smile politely? Made crude comments to their buddies? Shake their pelvis wildly at us? Its pretty disheartening after studying this dance for so long and working so hard on being a great performer, so see that a lot of our audiences view us as basically a clothed stripper who is there to embarass, seduce and make fun of the men.

My plan of attack has always been to project my joy and love of the dance and hope that this shines though...but people always project their own experiances and assuptions onto you no matter what you do. I'm starting to wonder if the nightclub/party scene is really for me.


It's been a while

Well it's been about a month and a half since I've updated...eep!

Since then I've:

Headlined at Layali Arabesque at Myth
Had three more seniors gigs
Performed with ADC at the Canadian Arab Federation
Performed at parties/weddings in Oakville, Vaughn, Woodbridge, Maple and downtown
Celebrated my 25th birthday!
Bought two new costumes (sigh)
Negotiated making an instructional DVD (still in process)
Took my course in TESOL so I can teach English overseas next year
Headlined at Layali again
Learned a bunch of new parts for ADC shows
Taught regular classes at Aradia and Arabesque...and a veil variety class.

So it's been busy!

Layali both times was a blast.

I love dancing for a band full of friends...these guys know how to play FOR a dancer and really keep it interactive. Bassam was hearbreakingly amazing as usual, and the second show featured a whole new set of talent, including a really incredible violin player from Isreal. I think I felt better about the first (June) show, I had more time to practice and get ready. The July show was right after my 5 day TESOL course and I was going on 4 hours of sleep and was exhausted. I performed Assaya (cane) for the first time ever that night, and nothing horrible happened! ;)

The Canadian Arab Federation performance was a little crazy, massive crowds, great food, amazing Ethiopian singers... We had re-positioned Nawaem, a, oriental veil number, and the Khaleegy piece. It wasn't perfect, but we made it work! The audience seemed to love it.

It's been a little crazy getting out to all the parties and weddings I've been doing. I don't drive so I've been TTC-ing it out to the ends of the earth, usually it takes me an hour and a half to get to these places. For the most part they've been a complete pleasure. People at parties are in a great mood and are very appreciative. However, interesting situations come up...I've had men waggle thier tonges at me while i'm dancing, kids complain loudly of boredom, guests dying to show me up, clients making me wait an hour and a half to go on, and oh, so much more. You gotta have a thick skin! On the other hand, I've had delighted grandparents dancing with me, big-eyed little kids join me on the dance floor, elderly women's eyes light up, Bride's-to-be learning to shimmy and having a blast, and really heartfelt thanks from almost everyone. It's such a mix of rewarding and trying at times!

I'm in talks with a company about "starring" in an instructional dvd...something for the mainstream market, low key and not too fancy. I'm excited about it because I'm being given quite a bit of artistic freedom and they seem very interested in including the history and background info of bellydancing, and I'm always interested in opportunities to educate people. I am in the process of editing the script, negotiating pay (it's more about the publicity and opportunity, not so much pay), and finding music that we can afford the liscence to. Nothing is signed yet, but it's looking good!

I'm also planning my vaction to Halifax for late August early September, and Monique and I are planning our first "Cabaret Sperpentine" show! I'm also planning on teaching a couple workshops, and hopefully performing arounf town a bit. I can't WAIT to get back to NS and just family and I are planning on going camping and I can't wait!

Well that's what I've been up to!

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Shimmy for seniors?

The lovely Maryfer and I met up on the King streetcar yesterday, and headed off to our show at Lakeside Longterm Care Facility for seniors. I've been booked for a number of seniors homes this summer, and she wanted a duet for this show. When we arrived we were sent to the second floor to be met by a caretaker, Michael. While we were waiting several seniors were watching TV and one was desperately clawing out of her chair, crying "Please...PLEASE!" in a very weak and desperate voice. The caretakers informed me that "that's just how she goes on, she's alright" but still her desperation was very unsettling. I haven't been in a seniors facility since I've seen my grandmother in Halifax, and I had all but forgotten the kind of sad atmosphere that can be inherent in these places. Maryfer was telling me about seniors homes in Mexico and how filthy and poor they can be, and that the Canadian facilities are quite luxorious by comparison.

We were led to a room to change in, and were told that we would be performing to mostly men, as this was "men's night" entertainment. Both of our eyes got all wide, and we're thinking....oh god, have we been hired as a men's novelty here? Are they expecting strippers? Anyway, although normally we don't perform for men-only audiences, these are still seniors and they need some entertainment! And generally, seniors tend to be a very respectful and enthusiastic audience.

As this was a casual show, we walked on first and I introduced us, and gave a bit of a chat about the history of the dance. I tried to be funny but I don't think they were really listening (hearing?) at this point. "Maryfer comes to us all the way from Mexico, and I'm from the exotic location of Halifax, Nova Scotia!" ...not even a smile. Oh well. It turned out to be more of a mixed audience, and they were great. Two of them were very enthusuastic, breaking into applause at a moments notice and really enjoying themselves.

Maryfer and I traded off, alternating doing three songs each. DAMN that girl is amazing! She is so incredibly expressive and her dance was full of joy, playfulness, and a wonderful variety of movement and feeling. We ended it all off with a drum solo "dance-off" style number, and then we taught the residents a little lesson which was mostly for the entertainment of the other guests. It was a blast, really!

I gave my card out to a bunch of the workers who requested it for other shows they had in mind, and then we got dressed and headed out for a delicious Thai dinner before parting ways. It was so great working with Maryfer, and i think our energy and styles really compliment each other in a performance. I hope to do it again sometime soon!

Monday, June 4, 2007

'besque-y weekend

Friday: Rehersal

Saturday: Student Gala and Najwa's wedding!
Braved the madness of the student gala and had a fun time dancing Milaya (cheeky Alexandrian folk-ish dance). We then bolted out the door and into a cab to Najwa's wedding. Najwa is the wonderful female voice behind ASALA's Inte Omri. We were all dressed up in our bestest and then performed Nawaem (big shiny veil number), Yasmina danced a solo, then we performed the end of Inte Omri which was very intense and quite emotional. Yasmina then did a zeffah, and we all joined her to pull the audience up. It was great! Najwa was incredibley generous and had arranged for us all to have the full dinner. It was wonderful to sit down with all the girls and guys all dressed up and just have a nice evening. We then danced the night away with Sulimen on drums adding to the DJ's music. I don't think the men there knew what to do with us...there was a bit of hovering around nervously as well as some staring from afar, and a lot of impromptu dance lessons! Hehe.

Sunday: Teaching and performing in Queen's Park, and the Triple Arabxx Stagette party!
There were no students for my class this day as it was the recovery day from the gala. So Lisa, Maryfer, Yasmina and I all trapsed over to Queen's Park for the drum festival and performed Majnun drum solo to a great crowd. One of the organizers came back and started to talk to us about the possibility of performing in a festival in Tobago! EEeee!

That night was the triple stagette party for Mary, Suzanne and Christina D. We started at Vivance (Joanne's studio) with a wicked potluck smorgasboard, the girls got their makeup done, and then we got some chair/pole dancing lessons which was inevitably hilarious. We all then headed down to Myth for the official party, watched the gorrrgeous Samara dance and got amazing henna done. The best part of this evening was when Emese brought out her "perfect man" costume to perform "Candy Man" and suprised the brides to be with a dance which had them all screaming in laughter. Samara did an adorrrrable Milaya for the second set, having the stagette girls pull three garter's off her upper upper upper thigh.

All in all it was a hilarious and fun evening, the best part being part of an incredible group of wonderful and stunning women, most of Toronto's top bellydancers, all in one room!

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Busy Busy!

I've had a lot of activity these past two weeks. Last week I danced at a birthday party in Richmond Hill for a really great family, lots of adorable kids! It was fun, I pulled up a guy to dance who then grabbed his aunt's cane to dance with. I grabbed it and did a little saidi and balancing which was a real crowd pleaser!

The next day Samara, Lopa and I performed at Besharam, a fun night in the village popular with an Indian crowd. We did a cute burlesque number which was a ton of fun and went over really well with the crowd. It was really fun to work with the girls!

This past weekend was Crraazzy! First of all, I was coming down with something, i had (have) a sore throat, a cough, sniffles and the occasional feverish dizziness. So the weekend line up was as such:

Friday: Practice with other ADC girls, ADC rehearsal, show #1 at Turkish Pavillion in the Carassauga Festival.
Saturday: Show in Brampton, show #2 at Turkish Pavillion in the Carassauga Festival.
Sunday: Teach at Yoga Studio (bellydance), show #3 at Turkish Pavillion in the Carassauga Festival, show at the Bata Shoe Museum to promote my classes at Aradia Fitness.


Anyhoo it all turned out well. The show in Brampton was great. I can't understand why we ALL don't wear gorgeous vibrant sari's and salwars like the women at this party. They looked STUNNING. A highlight of this night was when i pulled up a guy to dance and he started busting out this breakdancing thing! I was so thrilled so we had a little battle during the drum solo....I lost him at the ballet-shimmies-with-an-undulation in a circle...haha.

Carassauga was a total delight, a sweet volunteer drove me there and back every day, made sure I was fed and had plenty to drink. It was great for networking as I met a lot of new people. It was also wonderful to have such a eager and enthusiastic audience...some of them had a very hard time staying in their seats! ;) There were bouts of really rambunctious dancing in the back, people suddenly showing up on stage to dance with me, and even girls chasing me down after the show to ask for lessons! On my last show I was asked to pull the mayor up to dance, and did she ever! No phoning it in here, she really gave it her all! Everyone was very sweet and accomodating, which I've found to be the norm with Turkish people. (I'm DYING to go back) However by the end I was not feeling very well and my balance and energy was not in top form.

Also I had my fortune read from my Turkish coffee (yum!) and she predicted lots of travel, dance, love and success for me. Hurray!

Friday, May 18, 2007


Since losing my retail paying-the-bills job last week, I've decided not to panic (as per my original plan) and do what I came to Toronto to do. Dance!

I'm putting all my energy into getting shows, promoting myself (shamelessly, of course) and trying to do more teaching. It's funny -since I made the decision to really go headfirst into dance work, I've been getting more and more emails and calls from potential clients. I've already got 6 shows booked, and that's just for May! Teaching at Aradia Fitness is going great, and I'm also subbing a lot more at the 'besque and hoping to be teaching my own classes there this summer. I'm presently teaching the Kids Class on a fairly regular's a blast! Their attention span is as short as mine so we have a great time.

Today Samara and Lopa and I rehearsed for Besharam, where we're doing a Bolly/Belly/Burlesque number this Sunday. It should be a lot of fun, I haven't done burlesque in ages! (miss you, Halifax ladies!)

So as part of my shameless self promoting, I've made fancy new business cards and updated my website. I'm going with a purple theme because it matches my new pics, and plus, it's pretty much all I wear. What'cha think?


Oh yeah, I'm using my great grandmother's last name has a nicer ring to it, protects my privacy and announces my Italian-ness proudly to the world! It's pronounced see-LEHN-zee. I'm discovering now that people tend to pronounce it wrong 95% of the time. Here I come, awkward introductions!