Bio Page Under Construction .... and always will be!
Ooh it is fun to write this - with the probable certainty that nobody will ever wade through it, except for the people who know the story already and have journeyed along the path with me, but in the spirit of purest self-indulgence ...... Here goes!
My bellydance journey started in 1993 (*do NOT count the years!*) (*No! Stop it!*) with Yasmina at UWA, when I thought I was ever-so-daring in buying my first ever hip belt (a massive gold lamé monstrosity that I love to this day!), vibrating unskillfully (if enthusiastically) in a small glass room with blokes (who turned up ever-earlier each week for the ensuing step aerobics class) suctioned onto the windows by their own pubescent drool.
But bellydancing is one of those things that either makes you "Meh!" or sucks you into the dark vortex of obsession. Sweet sweet obsession. I deliriously and joyfully succumbed to the vocation and bought my first bali scarf, and have never looked back.
I danced with a succession of teachers, including the gorgeous Keti Sharif (ketisharif.com), before she got famous (so *nyer*), and found my bellylicious home with the dedicated and glorious Shaheena and my belly-sisters of the Mystique Dance Academy (bellydancecentral.com.au), to whom I owe so much.
At this point I began to attend festivals and devoured workshop after workshop, usually without any discrimination at all (watching you Dee!!), hungry for knowledge, skill and context of the myriad of styles under the massively-misleading term "Bellydance". I also began collecting like a magpie. Attracted and obsessively collecting ANYTHING that shone, glittered, jingled or shook, including many pieces that never fitted, but were pretty!
After a few years I started to figure out some of the bigger genre subheadings, like "Cabaret" (which I love), "Folkloric" (somewhat less so) (Just being honest! I appreciate the skill of experts, respect the historical and cultural significance of it, adore the dancers who do it well, just very selective of the styles I dance) and started (obviously) to form a slightly-more educated palette and taste for the styles I was interested in and good at (and some I love, but still really suck at!).
I also have heard a lot about the term "Bellydance" and that we really shouldn't be pandering to crass commercial mainstream ideas of shaking your bits at people - but should be using the term 'Oriental Dance' (or a plethora of other alternatives) instead. I am going for clarity here and will discuss this knotty problem on another page.
I also graduated from Edith Cowan University and my thesis (Consumption Patterns of Middle Eastern Dance) made it into an international peer reviewed journal. (*Proud moment*). I would LOVE to go back and expand on these themes as part of my planned PhD, now that I have a bit more of a clue, but that one's going to have to wait awhile.....
It was at this point I moved to Canberra and started my own classes (hugs to you Dale!) and was adopted by the Canberra Dance Theatre as their Belly expert. I drew together a small group of gorgeous dancers and we infiltrated the dance scene of the ACT, performing wherever there was an empty patch of grass and some music. As Canberra seemed at first impression to be a town almost-completely filled with transient young professionals who do little but drink and shop, my classes, my dancing, my girls and the lasting friendships I built during those years were my salvation. They filled my nights and weekends with classes, workshops, sewing bees, performances and road trips and my life with laughter, material stockpiles, champagne, giggles, nappy pins and sweat.
I was also lucky enough to collaborate with a group of other teachers in Canberra (the Hadarah and Harika troupes) and we shared choreography, knowledge, new skills and a lot of laughter together, as we worked to improve ourselves and our dance skills as a group.
At this point in my dance career, I started to flirt with fusion dance styles. While maintaining a deep and abiding love for my Egyptian roots, I became a bit tribal-curious and sniffed around a few fusion styles, like gypsy, burlesque and world dance.
It was also in Canberra that I met the sumptuously skilful TribalFi (Fifi Noir - check her out!!) and was introduced to tribal style in earnest. I'd dabbled in ATS (American Tribal Style) and done several workshops in some of the styles in that sub-genre, but the Black Sheep format (by Kajira) really suited me and I love the multidirectional balance and symmetry it allows, as well as the introduction of the mesmerizing slow style of tribal - requiring more skill and control than I'd ever needed before.
My Canberra base allowed me to then explode into the festival scene of Australia, attending and performing at several festivals, including the Sydney Middle Eastern Dance Festival for the years I was in town, but always returning to Perth for the annual WAMED, which I assert and maintain (nakedly WA-centrically) as the best bellydance festival in Australia. Come on over and check us out!
Just before my sojourn in Canberra was due to end, another dancer who has had a huge impact on my own personal dance journey moved to town. I had gone to Sydney a couple of years before on a Birthday Belly and Bargain road trip and stumbled across this vision of lusciousness at a very odd restaurant in Enmore. I snapped a shot of her sword solo and always wondered who she was and if she ever performed regularly, with the idea of finding her again.
Imagine my delight when Aradia (of Spellboundbellydance.com) moved to Canberra!! Woohoo! And Aradia's imaginative and ground-breaking (not to mention DEMANDING!) new fusion style of Industrial bellydance had a profound impact on my own dance, as well as finding a generous, supportive and inspirational friend who remains on my speed dial at all times! *Girl Crush Alert!*
I had only a few terms of Aradia (not enough under any circumstances!) under my belt when I got a job that would allow me to move back home to my family, and having come for 2 years, and stayed for 4, it was time to go home, as sad as I was to have to leave my girls.
The funny thing was that after an absence of four years, I slotted back into the Perth Bellydance Scene with barely a ripple, and Mystique having gone from casual classes in a small church hall on Kalgoorlie Street, to now reinvented and transformed into the Bellydance Central Studio in Osborne Park. Shaheena (the director) and the girls welcomed me back into the fold instantly (in fact Shahena's first sentence at my Welcome Home party was "So! What are you teaching next term?") and for that I adore them all.
As soon as I got home and found myself new digs, I decided that it was time to fulfil a lifetime's passionate desire to visit Egypt. I'd been in love with the place since my parents took me to see an Exhibition in the Perth Art Gallery when I was about 4 years old. Egypt retained a fascination for me all through my school years, from the romantic visions of sinuous priestesses in diaphenous gowns flailing sistrum rattles on the banks of the Nile in Ancient Egypt, to that stage all kids go through when gross things are cool and I discovered an account of the embalming process, all the way through to my discovery of bellydance in my late teens.
I decided on a whim that it was this year and strolled into a travel agent to see what was what (after many years of research and dreaming) and stumbled out, somewhat shell shocked about an hour later, having booked a month in Egypt for my birthday!! Yay!!
For full (and OMG tortuous details) of my travel adventures, you'll need a whole other website, but suffice it to say that I attended the Nile Group Festival in Cairo and soaked up many glorious workshops with some of the best dancers and choreographers in the world! Mahmoud Reda, the gorgeous Khaled, Aida Nour and Mohammed Kazafy to name a few! I learned a LOT about oriental dance and the people who dance it and the styles and subtleties of variation. It was a steep learning curve!
I spent the rest of that month travelling around Egypt on my own, cruising down the Nile to Aswan and Abu Simbel and back to Cairo, and that also taught me a LOT about the country and the history that I have loved for so long. I bought tons of costumes and books, but a month was not nearly long enough!!!
I went back in 2009 for TWO months this time and attended both the Nile Group Festival and the first ever Sphinx Festival in Cairo, spending time with Farida Fahmy (OMG!) and Mahmoud Reda, and Hassan Khalil and a host of others - but name dropping is just exciting for me to remember, rather than enthralling you. So as well as these two festivals I spent a glorious two months touring about Egypt, touristing, experiencing, researching, and the crowning glory of that trip was a sojourn in the desert with a group of crazy bellydancers, organised by a gorgeous ex-Perth-ite who now lives in the Baharia Oasis (about 5 hours drive out of Cairo). You understand a people a lot more when you see what they see. And OMG.
Anyone going to Egypt NEEDS to have a desert experience. Contact me for Sarah's details. Here endeth that lesson.
Another thing that you may want to consider is learning some Arabic. For my trips, I learned some Egyptian Arabic (one of the dialects of formal Arabic) and it was amazingly helpful, both as a tourist desperately trying to find a toilet and a chemist (in that order), but also as a dancer. Knowing to point to your heart when you hear the word "Albi" in a song, will help translate the musical experience to your audience, as well as show Arabic audiences that you're credible.
So with my new found love of the more intense forms of bellydance, such as tribal and industrial, and with a closer collaboration with the beautiful girls of the Free Spirit Dance Community in Fremantle, WA, I renewed my acqaintance with tribal in a weekend workshop with Paulette Rees-Dennis, who was a member of Fat Chance Tribal (the founding group of ATS dancers) and started the Gypsy Caravan Style. She was amazing. It was a great weekend and reminded me of all that is glorious in the sisterhood of dancers, as well as the wonderful improvisational styles of dance and how transferable those styles are, so you can dance in unison with people from all over the world.
I also started to experiment with the darker stylings of tribal fusion and found delicious things! (*Impending Girl Crush Alert!*).
I got a random email one day from Ma'isah (may-sah) of Raqs Gothique in Melbourne. She had been invited to attend WAMED for some workshops and perform with her troupe, SerpentSkirt, but scheduling and expense prevented this. (purely selfish thought - Thank Heavens!!). So Ma'isah sent out the call to anyone attending WAMED in 2008, to see if anyone was interested in learning a gothic choreography through online video snippets to perform at the WAMED Bazaar as PseudoSkirt!
It sounded interesting and appealed to my ever-whetted appetite for new, spooky gorgeousness. So I responded back to Ma'isah and received the video files over the internet, including choreography, technique and costume and makeup instructions. A full gothic DIY kit to prepare myself for the performance.
I organised a small group of likewise curious dancers and we learned the dance, made the costume, practiced the makeup and finally got together with all of the girls and Miss Ma'isah herself for one big-ass rehearsal (that went for about 4 hours!!) before we took to the stage!
Pseudoskirt was born! Ma'isah is a gorgeous, talented lady with a strong Egyptian dance background and teaches both Oriental dance as well as weird and wonderful fusion styles, such as the gothic in 2008, Steampunk in 2009 and Pirates in 2010. A planned gap year turned into my turn at a Skirt with a blended TributeSkirt in 2011 before Ma'isah was back with Sacrament/Sacrifice in 2012, Haunted in 2013, Maiko in 2014 and Flamenco in 2015. I remain a dedicated and devoted PseudoSkirter and can't wait for next year's reinvention!! And lovingly taught by a talented and passionate dancer, as well as an inspirational and gifted teacher, who could help themselves? *Another Girl Crush Alert*
So there you have it! I love my Egyptian shaabi, baladi and cabaret, and I can't live without my tribal, industrial and gothic either.
I now run classes in both Egyptian and Gothic at the Free Spirit Dance Community to satisfy both sides of my dance-obssesed soul and have created the Sayyida Troupe from my Egyptian Props and Toys class and the darkly delicious Ruffles of Doom from my Gothic Fusion Class.
If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me, coz I can bore for my country on the subjects of Egypt, bellydance, Arabic and anything else mentioned above!!