Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Tribal Fusion and Egyptian Cabaret, what's the difference?

No matter which style you prefer, or what you call them, you have to agree that bellydance is becoming more and more divided into these two categories, each with its own strong identity and style. In this post I won't be dealing with the complex politics that surround these issues, nor do I plan on defending the legitimacy (or awesomeness) of either. That's a whole 'nother topic.

Often I think there should be a "bellydance for dummies" style summary for beginners who are trying to understand the complex world of bellydance which they are entering. Below is a chart I made a while ago to try and come up with a quick "cheat sheet" to help beginner dancers understand the difference. I would LOVE any feedback as this is a HUGE topic! Let me know your thoughts.


Tribal Fusion



Dark, Mysterious, Powerful

Sensual, Expressive, Playful


Middle Eastern Folklore, Modern, hip hop, Indian, Spanish, and African dance, the list goes on.

Middle Eastern folkoric and social dance, Russian ballet, golden era Hollywood movies and tourism

(in a nutshell)

Carolina Nericcio developed American Tribal Style (ATS) an offshoot of bellydance and world dance involving group improv using established combos and cues. Suhaila Salimpour developed her own technique out of middle eastern cabaret and modern dance using complex muscle control and isolation. These created a technical base for individual expression and freedom of style. Dancers like Rachel Brice created interpretations which have been emulated the world over. Tribal Fusion is considered by some to be the evolution of bellydance, and is experiencing a huge creative boom where almost any kind of fusion is being explored.

Middle Eastern folk and social dance was adapted for the stage by the national folkloric troupes of Egypt, (The Kowmeya and Reda Troupes) encouraging national pride and tourism. The “Oriental” or cabaret style seems to have originated in the mid 1900's mainly by Badia Masabni in her Cairo "Casino Opera", again powered by tourism. Russian ballet dancers were brought in to teach poise and elegance. Hollywood movies and American theatre exotized the dance and the Middle East, and in turn influenced the dance and costuming. Americans and dancers the world over have since created their own styling to suit their individual character and audience.


Rachel Brice, Jill Parker, Zoe Jakes, Mardi Love, Sharon Kihara, Mira Betz... Canada: Audra Simmons

Samia Gamal, Tahiya Karioka, Dina, Randa Kamel, Aziza, Tito, Jillina... Canada: Yasmina Ramzy, Hadia


Strong, proud, controlled, arms are higher, hips heavy.

Poised, relaxed, hips heavy, upper body elegant.


Folkloric/gypsy to Industrial, urban-primitive to minimalist. Leg and cleavage not as common. Influences of world dance layered in a gypsy-like collection of treasures. “Melodia” pants, antique jewelry, large hair ornaments, coin bras and low belts with medallions and tassels are common. At this point anything goes!

Feminine and sensual. Beaded bra and belt sets with flowing skirts, now common is the embellished lycra skirt and matching bra. Legs, stomach and cleavage are often artfully shown. Sparkling jewelry. Elegant beaded dresses with cut-outs are also an option. Folkloric costuming is individual to the region.


Anything you can imagine including sword, zills (finger cymbals), fans, fire, "Spanish" skirts, trays….

Veils, assaya (cane), shamadan (candelabra), zills…


Anything. Popular choices are interpretive, electronic with world music influences, strong drum beats, mysterious and dark. Circus and vaudeville elements are becoming popular. Beats Antique, Solace, Amon Tobin, Balkan Beat Box, Pentaphobe, Karsh Kale and Cheb I Sabbah, Mosavo...

Arabic music which can be instrumental, upbeat and catchy or slow and expressive, can be very powerful and beautiful, runs the gamut of moods. Uses instruments such as dumbek, nay, quanun, accordian, mizmar, oud, etc. Famous singers are Oum Kalthoum or Farid Al Attrach for the classics; and Saad El Sogheer, Hakim, Nancy Ajram, Tarkan, Amr Diab and Warda etc for upbeat pop music.

Why try this style?

Mysterious and powerful, this dance gives you freedom of expression, and is impressive and exciting to a western audience. Learn muscle control and strength. Costumes are creative, fascinating and exciting. Express your individuality!

Sensual and exciting, cabaret is considered more authentic and traditional, with a rich history and culture to explore. Express all of your emotions from joy to heartbreak. Learn muscle control and poise. Costumes are beautiful, sparkling and elegant. Express your femininity!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

New Blue Bella!

My Bella finally arrived! Adjusted a couple hooks and it fits beautifully. I was so happy to find a Bella on Bhuz in a color and style that I like. But you know what they say, "you have to sell Bellas to get Bellas!" ....I just don't think I can part with my ruby red was my first real pro costume! SOB! I can keep it for now, right? RIGHT?

Monday, October 4, 2010

Dancing With The Girls

I've had so much fun doing duet and trio shows this summer. A gig is always more fun when you're going with a friend. It feels safer of course, travel is less mind-numbingly boring, and any difficult or ridiculous situation is always hilarious, rather than making you upset or annoyed.

For example, here are Samara and I turning what could be an intimidating venue into a movie set.

Context: We are asked to change in a bathroom and I am getting the most out of the situation. Samara is standing on the edge of the bathtub taking my photo. No one got hurt. True story.

In a group, any problem is creatively solved. In this photo, Saba improvises her costume (as I cleverly forgot to pack her costume change, a matching red outfit). She becomes the gypsy-esque star and Yzza and I are her back-up dancers. Crisis averted!

Waiting time "backstage" becomes much more productive.

In other crazy stories, nothing went wrong at this show with Maryfer! I am not making this stuff up folks.

Oh, and no we're not changing in a public washroom (bellydance purgatory), but were actually given an entire "spare" ballroom including a staff washroom. That's how you do it.

And here I am NOT lighting anything on fire with my Shamadan. SUCCESS!!

And finally, walking through a giant complex of banquet halls from the changeroom to your show is about 300% more entertaining.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Moroccan Tent show

Last night I performed at what I was told was a "tent party" for a client on a "tight budget".

...It turned out to be the most opulent engagement party I've ever seen. The tent was on the front lawn, draped with fabrics and filled with candles and moroccan lanterns. There was a fabulous Arabic band who I wish I could've stayed and listened to. The drummer played with my CD which was great. I changed into my costume in the house which was an incredible mansion which reminded me of "Beauty and the Beast" for some reason.

Yeah, like that.

The clientele was Arabic and Afghan so I wore a veil wrapped like a sari under my bra and around my torso. I was able to use the "pallu" (loose end that hangs over the shoulder) like a veil, so it worked out nicely. Here are a couple pics that my wonderful boyfriend/amazing gig assistant took with his iphone.

Here I am with hand candles, the video boom above me:

And with the sword, which turned out to be the hit of the evening:

So it turned out to be a great evening. This is a great reminder that no matter how "tight" your client's budget apparently is, you should stick to your guns and charge what you're worth. After all if they're hiring entertainment they either can afford it or they can't. I doubt the caterer, band, security, and decorators are giving them a discount!

Happy dancing,
Laura xoxox

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Photoshoot with Ritesh Das

I had such a wonderful photoshoot with Ritesh Das last week. I chose to work with Ritesh not only because of his wonderful photography, but because he is such a warm-hearted, fun, fascinating person. Not just a photographer, Ritesh is Toronto's tabla master. His group the Toronto Tabla Ensemble create incredible world music that I actually listen to all the time! As a "fellow Gemini" (as Ritesh would say) we get along famously.

I tried not to let my photography background take over and make me a nightmare micro-managing client...which turned out to be easy as Ritesh did a fabulous job!

Here is a sneak preview of our shots, check out my website gallery or Facebook Page for the full report!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

New Sahar Okasha costume!

SO excited! Finally had this beautiful designer costume tailored to fit perfectly. Hopefully pro photos will follow soon, but here's a sneak peek I couldn't help but share!

Yes, that's my poor roomie in the background, trying desperately to live a bellydance-free life.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

A Bellydancer’s Guide To Gigs

After an extremely unpleasant experience with a recent show, I found it helpful to refer to an old article of mine as a reminder to always stick to your guns and demand fair treatment; from the very first contact with the client until you leave. I hope this is helpful and that some of you can avoid unpleasant situations in your future! And for you potential clients, perhaps this could clarify a bit of the industry for you.

A Bellydancer’s Guide To Gigs
How To Make A Living And Still Like Yourself In The Morning

Originally published in Mid-Bits Magazine, Winter 2009. Edited Sept 2010.
By Laura Selenzi

After my last article about the Arabesque Pro Course (published in Mid-Bits, Fall 2008), I began thinking about how much I had learned about the business of bellydance. Four years later, I now perform and teach regularly in Toronto and many of the issues discussed have come up for me. Although it was intimidating at first, I’ve found that insisting on respect and high standards has left clients pleased and impressed. Yasmina Ramzy’s resolve to change the public’s view of bellydance to that of an art form has stuck with me as I attempt to make a living in this industry.

The profession of bellydance is a highly misunderstood one, to say the least. When I inform people of what I do, “I study Middle Eastern dance” (because, to say I’m a bellydancer right off the bat always sends eyebrows through the roof and evokes much nudging and tittering, of course…) the reaction is usually one of intense curiosity and surprise –and occasionally shock or skepticism. “What do you actually DO?” they ask. Well…besides teaching and dancing with Arabesque Dance Company, the sort of shows I do are vast in range.

The classic is of course the Arabic wedding. Then there’s the usual restaurant show. There are also bridal showers, birthday parties, children’s parties, baptisms, fundraisers, corporate events, television and movie appearances and more. On the other hand there are dancer-created events such as stage and theatre shows, studio “hafla’s” (parties) and gala events. However, it’s the events where the general public hires us that I’m interested in discussing.

How do these people find me? Many find me through the Arabesque Agency, which is where I gained an understanding of fair pricing, professional ethics, and more. I also receive a number of requests from my website and other sites where I list myself. Some come from recommendations from previous clients and other entertainers. One of the main things I find myself doing is educating clients about hiring a bellydancer. I would say at least 95% of clients have never done this before and are looking to the dancer for guidance.

The major hurdle I run into at this point is price. I will absolutely not go below my standard rate unless there is a very compelling reason, ie: for charity or an event that will absolutely lead to a significant amount of future business. This is why most dancers charge less for recurring restaurant bookings – they promise a reliable weekly income and the prospect of contact with new clients. Private events are a one-off and do not give you as much exposure, so charging more is appropriate. Standard rates (charged by professionals and popular agencies in Toronto) are $125 and up for a recurring weekly show, and $200 for a private event downtown. Most of my shows are farther outside of the downtown core, and normally run at about $250-$350 depending on location. Arabesque lists the pricing scheme very clearly on the agency website.

So why all this talk about pricing? As I mentioned earlier, this is the biggest hurdle in booking gigs and dealing with clients. I lose about 50% of the potential clients who call me when they hear my price. “Oh ok…I’ll talk to my husband and get back to you.” And…they’re gone. Or “Well my friends niece said she’ll do it for $50, why do you charge so much more?” I feel its important at this point to mention that you are a seasoned professional who takes the dance seriously and have put years of time and money into your training, and it shows. People often thank me profusely after shows, mentioning another event where a non-professional danced (often a family member or friend who has taken a couple lessons, people have too often been embarrassed by hiring someone like this) -they are thrilled to see a real pro. If people want something decent, they will pay for it. I’m not going to argue with clients here. I pleasantly state my case, and thank them for calling. There have been many times when I could have really used that $150 to help pay the rent, but I have stuck to my guns.

I’ve overheard Yasmina Ramzy’s struggles in the Arabesque Agency as she attempts to convince clients no true professional would charge $150 for a private event and yes, her dancers are educated about Arabic music and culture, and yes they are stage-worthy and attractive. Clients have had way too many bad experiences with inexperienced dancers who use inappropriate music, props and costuming, etc. and are now nervous about hiring again. As I mentioned in my last article, one of the wonderful things about bellydance is that it is welcoming to all women; but in the case of commercial gigs, most clients want a dancer who is young, fit, and attractive.

The real problem with pricing is when other dancers charge below the standard rate. Some state they love to dance and would happily do it for less or for free (some even go so far as to suggest that being paid for your art implies you love it less). Some say that they are still inexperienced and don’t feel right charging the standard rate, or are simply trying to beat the competition and get more shows and experience. The issue here is that this devalues us as artists and professionals. If one dancer charges $100 for a private party, the client then feels that this is the “real” price, and the next time they or their friend tries to hire a professional, they think we are trying to rip them off. So no one wins here, the public will now insist on a lower price for everyone. So when you are “ready” to charge the full price, no one will want to pay it. (This of course goes for teaching rates as well.) If you are just starting out and don’t want to charge the full rate, dance for charity events, fundraisers, students gala’s etc. until you do feel ready. Performing for the public before you’re prepared not only lowers the bar of the entire art form, people will remember you as such and you want to present yourself at your best.

In many cities bellydancers charge much less due to factors such as high competition and low market price. Arabesque ran into the same problems in Toronto originally but began to slowly raise the fee, encouraging others to do the same. Soon it was clear that those clients who were discerning were willing to pay for the best. In price checking other dance entertainers such as hip-hop and bollywood, you may notice that the rates start around $300 for private events. Why do we charge less?

Another issue I have come up against, and that the Arabesque Agency has to deal with frequently is the client who wants to hire dancers as “ambience”. They want a pretty girl in a costume to dance around behind musicians, on a podium at a club or to hostess an event. Now while this may sound like easy money, and maybe even fun, it is an area in which to tread cautiously. Why? The problem is that we are being treated as a backdrop, like a prop. In this case dancers are rarely treated with respect. If they want a model in a costume, they should hire one.

The issue of being treated as artists is a big one. Of course a major part of our role is as entertainers and not always as a serious artist, but we still need to represent the art form fairly. Interacting with the audience is one of the joys of bellydance, however it certainly brings up its share of problems. A good example is tipping. I personally don’t feel comfortable with strangers tucking money into my bra or belt, or touching me at all for that matter. My way of dealing with this is to smile and take the tip in my hand and tuck it into the side of my belt myself. It is a difficult subject as the tradition of tipping the bellydancer is a part of Arabic culture and most people have the best of intentions. Usually they just want some sort of interaction and to compliment you. My issue is that the most well known image of a dancer accepting tips in her costume is…you guessed it, the “exotic dancer”. And we have fought for too long to separate ourselves from this image to risk appearing as something we’re not. I find that people are often relieved that you have saved them from not knowing the appropriate conduct here.

In the case of audience members who are intentionally disrespectful, lewd, or distracting it is best dealt with swiftly. You may need to talk to the owner before hand, making it clear that you will not continue your show if such behavior occurs. It is a challenge to keep the polite patrons happy and appear cheerful while attempting to tell off a drunken letch. If the organizers are not dealing with this for you (as they should) the best approach here is to make a bit of a joke out of it, embarrassing the jerk and making the rest of the audience laugh. Slapping a wayward hand and wagging your finger is a simple example. People love to see that you can stand up for yourself. I think it’s important to mention that if you ever feel threatened or uncomfortable it is fully within your rights to leave. Never stand for that kind of treatment as you are setting an example as well as looking out for your own safety. While it’s sadly true that some organizers may be upset with you after this, do you really want to work for people like that? Most will be overly apologetic and embarrassed.

In conclusion, I believe we should dance with a conscience and an awareness of the greater affect of our actions. Obviously none of us can be perfect and may occasionally find ourselves in less than ideal situations. A good question to ask ones self is, will I feel proud or ashamed after this choice? Will showing up for a surprise “bellygram” at this office make me feel proud of my art form, or humiliated? Is allowing this person to shove a $5 bill into my bra cup going to make me feel uncomfortable or gracious? Is charging less for this gig going to make me feel badly, or is it appropriate? If you are honestly asking yourself these questions it is hard to go wrong. For whatever your answer is, if you are being true to yourself, then you are being true to the dance itself.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Updated Galleries

Just updated my Performance and Studio Galleries on my website! Take a look: Gallery

For more updates, photos, news and more, join my facebook group!

Double Veil and Drum solo

Newest video! My improvised performance at "Serpentine Circus" in Halifax Nova Scotia on June 26, 2010. Music is "Crying Angels" by Said Mrad and Khatwet Serena by Hossam Ramzy.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Incredible Headpieces

I am obsessed with headpieces right now...I'm looking at creating one for the upcoming Serpentine Circus show using braids, wire, feathers, silver chain, coins...ok I haven't really decided yet, but I do have a big stash of creepy fake hair waiting for me in my living room. My outfit is brand new, a top I made for an Inversion show, with amazing ruffled pants from Maral and a bunch of amazing silver goodies from my stash. And it's WHITE! I never, ever wear white so this should be interesting. Maybe I won't even spill anything on it by June! It could happen!

Moving on, here are some of my most exciting finds for inspiration from the world of the internets.

Butler and Wilson


Another angle of the Gaultier piece

Nicole Richie


McQueen, I'm kind of obsessed with antlers too...I'm gonna do it! Try and stop me!

Unknown designer

Lucian Matis

Chanel Moscow

??? !!!

Peacock Blue...the initial inspiration for all this

Styling by Nadia Lev

Sunday, May 9, 2010


Haysa, Arabesque's latest drum solo from our show OUM is up on YouTUbe in all it's glory!! woo!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

The Massage Job Shuffle!

Some people have asked me where I'm currently working doing massage, so here's the scoop.

After graduating I tried out a couple places which turned out to be less than ideal. Working in a condo with a physiotherapist turned out to be very slow and a bad set-up. Working at a new gym/wellness center was also very slow, but I loved my co-workers and the big bright space. I also tried working one day a week at a small Chiropractic clinic just two blocks from my house, but an unpredictable schedule and dingy work environment meant I eventually moved on.

We can't all work in a location like this...

I eventually found my place at a gorgeous and warm place in High Park where I now work with naturopathic doctors and other alternative health care practitioners in a great neighborhood. They haven't had an RMT in a while (they were very successful when they were there in the past however) so it seems its a matter of getting the word out and things should get rolling there.

Then I had an interview at an amazing multi-disciplinary rehabilitation clinic at Yonge and Davenport. Everything sounded fantastic but I would have to go through a second interview and I didn't know if I could even accept the job, what with my other two positions. Despite me regretfully turning down the second interview, the owner pursued me and said just to come in and chat.

Talking with her helped me put everything in perspective. What do I want out of my career? A chance to grow and learn, to be challenged, to work as a multi-disciplinary team, to help people reach their goals, and yes, to be able to pay my rent!

I realized that as much as I had loved my first job at a gym, I just couldn't achieve those goals there. So when I was offered the other job, I took it. I was sad to leave but it seemed to be the best decision. The new place offers an amazing opportunity to work with the owner who has 31 years of experience and regularly works with Olympians, and some other truly incredible therapists (physio, acupuncture and pilates) in a wonderful system where everyone works together to help the patient get back on track. It's the ideal inter-disciplinary environment. That, and it's crazy busy.

If you'd like to know the names of these places and see their websites, check out all the details on my website!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

March Massage Article

How Massage Works to Relieve Pain

The Massage Manual- March editionPosted in the March |LIVE|BODY monthly newsletter

Most people will tell you that massage helps to relieve their pain and tension, but how exactly does it do that? Your body is a very complex instrument and works in ways even the most educated scientists cannot understand. Through research and clinical trials we have come to know a little bit about how exactly massage therapy relieves pain. After being asked this exact question by a client and being a bit stumped on how to explain it, I set about writing this article to break it down.

One of the most basic ways it works is the increase of circulation. An RMT will always have the deep, broad strokes going towards the heart to encourage healthy venous return. The light sweeping strokes and deeper kneading act like squeezing a sponge in water; fresh blood and lymph flow back into the area as the pressure is released. Lymph carries white blood cells and is the highway of the body's immune system. Encouraging lymph flow helps to literally flush out toxins and bacteria.

Another way that massage reduces pain is though the nervous system. This works in multiple ways. Manual touch releases your natural painkillers such as endorphins and mood-enhancing serotonin as well as reducing the amount of cortisol, the stress hormone. When a muscle or tendon (the part of muscle which attaches to the bone) is kneaded and stretched, it activates a part of the muscle called the muscle spindle. This structure communicates with the brain, which reads the change as being excessive tension, and it tells the muscle to relax. Effectively, this "tricks" the brain into releasing the muscle. A clear example of how this works is how quickly and effectively a massage therapist can release a spasm or a "cramp".

One more way that massage therapy works through the nervous system is by the gate control theory, essentially "distracting" your brain from the pain. Your brain is constantly receiving pain signals (among others) from the injured muscle, but it can only process so much information at once. Manual therapy sends its sensations to the brain faster, effectively distracting it so you don't feel any pain, sort of like how scratching an itch or rubbing a bruised elbow works. Certainly this is somewhat temporary relief, but it can actually de-rail the escalating cycle of pain. In the long run, the less pain signals your brain receives from the muscle, the quicker you will experience relief, and the less likely it is that the pain will become chronic. This is one reason why regular massage is more effective than sporadic treatments.

In addition to these effects, massage has been proven to increase restorative sleep, increase relaxation and decrease stress, all of which have a surprisingly large effect on your pain sensitivity and healing.

For more information, check out these informative links:

How Does Massage Work?

Effectiveness of Massage Therapy for Chronic, Non-malignant Pain

Massage Better Than Relaxation Therapy for Fibromyalgia
Take care of yourself,


Wednesday, February 3, 2010

February's Massage Article

Winter Footwear...Beware!

The Massage Manual- February edition

Posted in the February |LIVE|BODY monthly newsletter

I have to admit that I check out peoples feet. On the subway, on the street, I can't seem to help myself. The most cringe-inducing thing I see has to be the lack of support people are giving to their feet and ankles. Flip flops are the summer culprit, and in winter the worst is the soft moccasin boot, like Ugg and Emu boots. The lack of support both in the ankles and the arch of the foot can cause painful conditions such as plantar fasciitis and "shin splints". The flat sole of the shoe allows the foot to pronate (the arch to fall) - meaning you have no shock absorption. The impact is then absorbed into your ankles, your knees, your hips and even your back. So, can lack of foot support be the cause for your back and knee pain? Absolutely.

I see the same problem with women's high heels. I often have to stop myself from approaching people and begging them to invest in some supportive footwear. What I see is their feet wobbling and inverting (foot turning in) as they put their weight down, often the stiletto heel wobbles on every step. This puts incredible strain on the ligaments on the outside of your ankle and the muscles in legs. When you buy heels make sure they are stable, walk around the store and ask a friend to see if you are wobbling or if your ankles are turned in or out. If you wear heels everyday you will have shortened calf muscles and an over-lengthened tibialis anterior (on the front your shin) causing walking in flat shoes to be uncomfortable.

Take a look at the sole and heel of your shoe. If you see wear significantly more on the outside, you are likely supinating your foot and straining your "ATFL" ligament on the outside of your ankle. If you see more wear on the inside you are likely pronating and loosing your arch support. Seeing a podiatrist and getting some proper insoles means you can wear your favorite shoes and avoid the wear and tear on your body. A massage therapist can help you interpret these wear patterns, and asses your feet, ankles and related joints to get a picture of your biomechanics and help you improve any muscle imbalances. Often the hips, legs, and feet will need treatment to loosen tight muscles, release painful knots and lengthen connective tissue. A strengthening program for the over-lengthened muscles will help support your joints, helping you adjust to your new proper biomechanics much faster.

Be nice to your feet - take care of yourself.

Monday, February 1, 2010

January's massage article

Posted in the first |LIVE|BODY inaugural monthly newsletter this January!

Post holiday stress isn't the only reason to get a massage this winter. Your muscles are on high alert in the cold weather, contracting to conserve body heat. Ever notice that the second you step out in the cold your whole body tenses up, your shoulders are up in your ears until you can get warm? That day to day tension adds up (especially if you sit at a desk all day). A combination of massage treatments and regular stretching can be hugely beneficial.

Another great reason massage treatments can be beneficial this season are the winter blues. Lack of adequate sunlight, dreary, freezing cold weather and the inability to be outside more often can really get you down. Massage has been proven to improve mood and even help relieve clinical depression in some cases when combined with a full treatment plan.

Take your health and happiness seriously and take care of yourself this winter.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Costume Inspiration

Wasted some perfectly good time on the internet today looking at pretty, pretty things. I like to collect images like these to inspire me when I'm putting costumes together. Enjoy!