Exciting news! I’m off to China next month to represent UK bellydance!
Yes, in three weeks time I’ll be experiencing the biggest bellydance festival in China. And in China they certainly do things big!! The lineup is awesome - stellar names from Egypt, America and Turkey: Fifi Abdou, Rachel Brice, Didem and yes, a lot more. And they’ve invited representatives from every country, so there will be a truly international crowd there, making the most of the gala shows, haflas, workshops and bazaars. Plus of course the unparalleled opportunity for global bellydance networking.
It’s that last element that really made my mind up for me. To be honest, stellar line ups are what I do in my own festival (Shimmy in the City). Last year Dina, Aziza of Montreal, Orit and Gazafy; this year Raqia Hassan, Tito, Aziza of Cairo and Nour. So it’s not that I’m blasé about seeing great artists perform, it’s just that there’s no reason for me to travel five thousand miles for the pleasure.
No, the big thing for me is the opportunity to discuss current trends in bellydance with an international crowd. And in an environment where I’m not running around organising everything. Most excitingly for me, I’ll not only be performing in one of the gala shows, I’ll be giving a talk on my new bellydance style.
And my new bellydance style is what is exciting me beyond measure right now!
The brief I gave myself was to come up with a style that could help bellydance cross over to the general public. You can read my reasoning here. And I’ve spent the last six months working experimentally with my truly marvellous new company of dancers to create something exciting and inspiring. It needed to have its roots firmly in traditional bellydance - I’m not a fusion dancer and I have no desire to create a fusion style. I needed to see all the core bellydance vocabulary in there - to my mind it’s not bellydance if it doesn’t have camels, snake arms, eights or shimmies. But I wanted something else too - I wanted fire, drama, emotion and maybe even some storytelling. And I wanted my dancers to leap and soar and spin. To go beyond our usual bellydance boundaries, both emotionally and physically.
Thankfully, in my company I have five dancers who are wonderfully strong and flexible - not only bodily but in their open mindedness and their enthusiasm to embrace every challenge I throw at them. Agata, Caasi, Chantel, Itziar and Maelle are five of the very best dancers in London right now and I’m incredibly honoured and thrilled that they’re helping me realise my vision.
But it’s not just about amazing performance dance - about excellence on stage - I also wanted to create something that every bellydance student could enjoy. As I say in my earlier blog posting, I’ve struggled for years with the concept of authenticity - trying (and ultimately failing) to be more Egyptian, when honestly I’m as English as they come. I increasingly felt that, in the process of trying to be something I was not, I was losing the truth of myself as an artist. And I knew I couldn't be the only dancer who wanted to express herself through bellydance without trying to access a middle eastern personality.
I believe that traditional bellydance has something very special to give and I wanted to capture that in a new way, a way that would feel more Westernised (and therefore possibly more natural to a Western dance student) without losing the essential nature of bellydance. And, most gratifyingly, as I started to develop my new style and introduce elements of it into my classes, my students at all levels seemed excited and inspired by some of the things I was teaching them and the choreographies I was creating.
So where am I now? So far, with my company of dancers we’ve created a very contemporary theatrical style that’s looking amazing, I’ve gone a little way towards developing an oriental style that feels right, and now I’m working with a group of my London advanced students on an upbeat pop number. I’m showcasing the new style at the Saturday night gala show at Shimmy in the City in a theatrical piece performed by my new company, and the aforementioned pop number by my student group.
I ought to be intimidated by the fact that I’ll be showcasing this new style in front of none other than Raqia Hassan, who created the Modern Cairo style which took the bellydance world by storm more than a decade ago. But I know the Egyptians well enough to know how open minded they are and how generously they embrace new ideas in bellydance. And to be honest, it’s the Egyptians who have been most enthusiastic every time I’ve performed something a little bit different in the past.
I’ll never forget being in a question and answer session in a workshop with Fifi Abdou. Someone asked her what she thought of tribal fusion, with the clear inference that the questioner disliked the style herself and was expecting Fifi to be negative about it too.
“I love it” said Fifi. “I think it’s wonderful that dancers around the world are taking bellydance and developing it. It’s amazing to us that you love bellydance so much that you want to make it your own.” I tell you, Fifi had an even firmer grip on my heart from that moment on.
I’m so grateful to all my dancers who are on this journey with me and who are being so open and enthusiastic. If you’re coming to the Saturday show at Shimmy in the City I hope you enjoy their performances and I’ll be teaching a workshop in the style on Sunday from 12.30-3pm. If you’d like to try it out for yourself, you can check out the details and book for the workshop here.
I can’t wait!