Monday, December 22, 2008

Winter Undulation Workshop

Come for three hours of strength focused undulation work including spinal undulations, arm and hand spirals (snake arm variations), wavelike descents to the floor, belly and oblique rolls, and rooted full body undulations. The evening will include a short combination. Bring veils! Bring quarters!
Wednesday, January 14
6-9 p.m.; $40
CUNY Graduate Center
365 Fifth Avenue at 34th Street
For information on this

Please note: This is part of a workshop series before Ranya and I teach our regular Graduate Center classes beginning on January 28. Information on other workshops is forthcoming! For information on other Graduate Center belly dance workshops and series, you can also, contact or 212-817-8215.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

The Arabian Nights, circa 2008

A new British translation of The Arabian Nights: Tales of 1,001 Nights, translated by Malcom C. Lyons with Ursula Lyon, has provoked commentary in England. As always, I've found Ahdaf Soueif's writing on the topic to be most thoughtful. In her London Times Book Review, Souief compares the approaches of Western scholarship (nailing down details: what, where, when, whom) to Arab scholarship (thematic analysis and folkloric tradition) of these famously fiesty texts. Soueif also provides her own story about when she first encountered the stories of Scheherezade as a child and compares various other translations. This most recent translation, according Souief, is intentionally less "orientalist" and as result "less sparkly." Is this the trade off?

While trawling the Internet, I also came upon a wonderfully obsessive blog dedicated entirely to 1001 Nights. An English Ph.D. student, naturally: Journal of the 1001 Nights.

Tuesday Drum Soloists!

Beautiful dancing! Show all your friends! You can post comments here if you wish, but not on YouTube.

Friday Drum Soloists! look beautiful dancers!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Portraits: Medieval Festival at Fort Tryon

These beautiful, moody portraits come from our rainy day gig via a rambling Festival photographer. Swati is on the left; I'm wearing the flowers; Nature follows. If anyone has group shots please send them my way for sharing!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Belly Dance Books for Belly Dancers, Part 1

This initial list of belly dance books comes after the request of several students anticipating upcoming holiday reading time. These books are specifically belly dance oriented. I'll post a second listing for books with a related but wider scope:

Wendy Buonaventura's dramatically illustrated Serpent of the Nile:Women and Dance in the Arab World documents the history of belly dance from the time of Napoleon and Flaubert up to the book's publication in the early 1990s. Though the text is now dated, there is still no better collection of pictures and prints. Grandmother's Secrets: The Ancient Rituals and Healing Power of Belly Dance is part memoir and instruction by Rosina-Fawzia B. Al-Rawi. The writer, raised in Iraq and Lebanon, presents dance as a soothing and grounding practice, an act of grace, tradition, and female transmission rather than a learned and studied performance art.

Dunya's memoir, Skin of Glass: Finding Spirit in the Flesh follows one dancer's soul search through dance including childhood classical training and Juilliard, vivid reflections on New York City's experimental dance scene in the seventies, and years of intensely focused Sufi meditation and personal redefinition along with traditional her belly dance experiences. Dunya's poetic sensibilities draw directly from the Sufi texts she has integrated so deeply into her life. Read for both her dance and for her poetry. (Dunya is one of teachers and proudly helped edit this book and heard it in its nascent stage!)

Donna Carlton's historical text, Looking for Little Egypt , considers the formally documented entrance into the United States via the Columbia Exposition in 1893 in Chicago.
Finally, Gilded Serpent constantly updates reviews on books, video, and music and articles. I'll post another booklist soon with fiction and non-fiction. Happy reading!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Sufi Dance Meditation

This weekend I attended one day of Dunya's Dance Meditation weeklong workshop. Those of you in my classes know how much I admire this woman's work. She is so eloquent and gracious and deeply studied in her art. The day included six hours of stretching, trance work, and chanting. The room was packed and Dunya creates a well intentioned and down to earth tone reflected in the interactions of all her students. She's speaking in Queens at an event organized by CUNY dancer Alexandra Sanchez. Go if you can on Saturday, November 22, at the International Resource Center, Flushing Library, 41-17 Main Street in Queens. 718-661-1294

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Review: Reading Modern Arabic Literature

A review by the great translator Denys Johnson-Davies in Al-Ahram Weekly discusses more than the important publication of A Brief Introduction to Modern Arabic Literature. He addresses briefly that tricky subject of how names from other cultures ought to be translated into English and questions if such things matter....a short, interesting review and the text itself looks worthy.

Obama Raqs!: Remember to Vote

For those of you who couldn't attend, we raised $900 for the Obama campaign and here are some photos from the event posted on by Ken Stein Also, Punk Dolphin took great photos as well that I can't drag to this site. This is the link to one. The dancers below are Nadia Moussa and Amantha. Go to for more including Alura with candles, Keesha, and Amy Staub. Thank you, photographers! Everyone vote!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

OBAMA RAQS! Belly Dancers for Obama

Join some of New York's finest dancers in a benefit for Barack Obama. Because you know he needs the support a bunch of bellydancers!

Friday, October 24th: doors open at 7; dancing from 8 and 10 at Je'Bon Noodle House,15 St. Marks Place, East Village. 212-388-1313. Reservations suggested; tell them you are coming for the downstairs belly dance show. $10 cover goes to the campaign; there is also a table minimum. (Take the 6 to Astor Place or R/W to Eighth Street) The great lineup includes Nadia Moussa, Thalia (that's me), Ranya, Andrea Mistress of Bioluminosity, Alura, Amantha, Mark Balahadia, Leela, Melissa Voodoo, Tandava, Najla, Amy, Zahira, and Anarkali.

If you can't make the event but wish to donate, please visit the link:

Monday, October 6, 2008

"Belly Dance with Dina" and Prince of Shaabi

In NYU Level 2 classes , we are currently getting a work out with a fast veil piece to "Ya Bahiyya" on Cairo Caravan: Belly Dance with Dina from Hollywood Music. In NYU Level 1 Classes, we are working on Saad's "Bel Arabi" from his Prince of Shaabi album. The links from this post were simply the first I found; you may find the tracks elsewhere. Enjoy!

Resources for Zaar Dance and Ritual

Because we were discussing and breaking down zaar movements in class last week, I recommend this clip which has some good narration and description from the Maryland based There is footage of a traditional zaar ritual, cabaret zaar movement, and a US styled ritual interpretation.
Also, please look at the contextual information provided by Mazaher, a Zaar troupe in Egypt (pictured above) I was fortunate to see a few times in 2007 . Finally, though the entry itself is a little flimsy, Wikipedia has good cross-listings for deeper research not available online. Look under "zaar" if this link doesn't take you there.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Sisters of Bast '07

More photos from last year's Medieval Festival at Fort Tryon. If there are photos from this year's rainy even, send them my way and I'll post.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Take the A Train: the Festival is Still On!

According to latest reports, the Medieval Festival at Fort Tryon is definitely happening as scheduled and the A train is running; it's running local after 168th St. Whoohoo! Please come by.
Here is the link for the latest weather updates:

Friday, September 26, 2008

Medieval Festival at Fort Tryon Park

Come join me and the Sisters of Bast at Fort Tryon Park on Sunday, Sept. 28 (rain date Oct. 5). This free event features musicians and dancers in costume and Medieval era gear performing from 11:30 a.m. - 6 p.m. at Fort Tryon, near the Cloisters Museum in the upper upper West Side. For rain date information:

Directions: take the A train to 190th, follow the crowd and you will find yourself at the entrance to the heather garden where the Festival begins. The bad news is: the A train is scheduled for maintainence and there will be shuttle bus service at the end. This could be amusing considering the Medieval types who will be on board, but will definitely take longer so plan accordingly.

Performance times: The Sisters of Bast will perform with me, Scheherezade, and Scott Wilson at the Riverside Market State at 1:30 p.m. and 3 p.m. I'll also perform at the Unicorn Forum at 12:30 and the Pageant Wagon Stage at 5 p.m.

It's free and lots of fun. There are craft and supply vendors and zany food stuff and drinks. Please come and say hello!

Monday, September 22, 2008

Sisters of Bast at the Medieval Faire 2007

This year's Medieval Festival at Fort Tryon Park (the Cloisters) is this coming weekend. To inspire this year's Sisters of Bast, I'm posting photos from last year's show. In the above photo we are waiting to go on behind Barbara Benary, Rocky Danziger, and Rami Nasser. Below are group photos featuring Carrie, Allison, Mila, Lauren, and other cats. Thank you all so much for dancing with me. More photos coming....

Dahesh Museum Collections Go West

For those missing and/or wondering about the Dahesh Museum of Art formerly located in Manhattan, two shows are on view on the west coast. In a general overiew of "Oasis: Western Dreams of the Ottoman Empire" newly opened at the Tacoma Art Museum, Dr. Flora Edouwaye S. Kaplan, Director of Dahesh Museum of Art offers this comment, “European and American painters, photographers, and sculptors of this movement represented others in Eastern settings. Their dreams, fancy, and fascination with accuracy would later be seen as ‘Orientalism,’ a relatively crude criticism for complex and unequal relationships between artists and their subjects everywhere.”

The idea of a "fascination with accuracy" as a justification for Orientalism has always interested and disturbed me. "Accuracy" certainly creates an orientalish quagmire: who defines accuracy, subject or observer, particularly when the subject is given no voice? I do miss the Dahesh Museum though. Their Napoleon exhibit is at the Frye Art Museum in Seattle.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

"Mahmoud Darwich: As the Land is the Language"

Simone Bitton's documentary about Palestian poet Mahmoud Darwish offered striking photographs and film footage from throughout the late poet's life and career including the expulsion of the Palestinians in 1967, his early fame (gorgeous man, always smoking), political imprisonment, and life in exile in Russian, Tunisia and Paris (a city he claimed to love because he didn't speak French). Crowds of people attended his readings, some of the crying and mouthing the words, others sleeping. The landscape of Palestine and Jordan also takes a lead role in this documentary with sweeping shots of the Dead Sea and Galilee and closeups of Darwish's return later in life. Darwish's comments on love (he believed "institutionalized" love would interfere with his need for isolation), his poetic attraction to the sea (the first rhythm experienced by humanity), and his explanation that the word for poetry in Arabic language is equivalent to the word for "home," speak to his obsessive commitment to his art, legacy, and, perhaps, his fame. The soundtrack was mostly Marcel Khalife and included "Rita," one of Darwish's love poems to his first love.

Ghada Amer: Love Has No End

Ghada Amer's exhibit " at the Brooklyn Museum is worth the trip all of the way to Eastern Parkway, Brooklyn. This well established Egyptian born artist has been working in Paris and the US for many years. She's gained much attention for her embroidered images of women in pornographic poses with thread raked across them as well as her male and female straitjackets embroidered head to toe with "Barbie Loves Ken" and "Ken Loves Barbie"; all are on view. Drawings from her earlier works that sexualize Disney characters including Princess Jasmine and Alice in Wonderland, reminding me of my vague discomfort watching "Aladdin," glaring stereotypes and all, during one of last summer's language classes at AUC . More interesting to me were Amer's later works, also thread and text-based, such as "The Reign on Terror," showing different international emblems of power and terror and neutral toned embroidered works of Arabic script, dictionary definitions of "Peace," "Love," "Freedom," and "Security." In the midst of the bright colors of her other pieces, these works seem plain but when stepping closer to the pale thread on pale canvas are more elaborate and involved, drawing sense to the meaning of the words. Ghada Amer will give an artist's talk at the museum this Saturday, September 20, 2-4 pm. The exhibit runs through Oct. 19 (Pictured is a performance piece: I Love Paris.)

Friday, September 5, 2008

Belly Dance Class Registration Information

Belly dance classes begin next week at NYU and the CUNY-Grad Center! :
Tuesdays and Thursdays (NYU):
Beginning: 4:30-5:25 p.m.
Intermediate: 3:30-4:25 p.m.
Wednesdays (Grad Center):
Beginning: 6-7:30 p .m.
Ranya teaches Intermediate: 7:30-9 p.m.

Fridays (NYU):
Beginning: 3:30-4:25 p.m.
Intermediate: 1:30-3:25 p.m.
To register at the CUNY-Grad Center call (212) 817-8215 or email
To register at NYU, go to Coles Gym, Tuesday through Thursday, Sept. 9-11. Visit the website for more information.

Email me for information on any class:

Friday, August 29, 2008

Olana: Orientalist Mansion in Hudson (NY)

During my month at the Millay Colony, I've taken in so much: Shakespeare and Company (Othello), Tanglewood (Kronos Quartet and the Beaux Arts Trio), Jacobs Pillow (Maureen Fleming, one of my teachers), in addition to the previously mentioned trip to the Clark Art Museum and Mass MoCa and Olana.

The American landscape painter Frederic Edwin Church built Olana, a Moorish style mansion between 1870 and 1890, a house originally intended to be a French style manor but redesigned after a fashionable trip to the Middle East in the 1870s. Church also landscaped the grounds to created sculpted or planned views at every turn of the road to his house on his 126 acres of land. Intricate woodworking from both the Middle and Far East and Arabic script appear throughout the interior rooms and the colors are certainly evocative of Orientalist inspired colors I saw in Egypt and the above the front door of the main entrance there is a sign of Welcome in Arabic. Everything is intermixed with Victorian era taste and fashion, former high society schtick which is so much what Orientalism seems made of.
Church's early fame came from his contributions to the very regional "Hudson River School" But, like Orientalism, this aesthetic lost favor and Church never regained his earliest level of recognition. Though he continued to paint scenes inspired by the Hudson and his many travels to the East collecting many foreign works of art, Olana, the house and grounds became his artistic focus in later life. It's gorgeous and not too far from NYC. Go!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

More on Darwish

More and more on Darwish is floating by my desk. In The New Yorker, an interview with one of his translators and friends, Fady Joudah. Also, a republishing of a 2003 essay by Issa J Boullata in the literary arts journal Al Jadid. (Added August 29: Fady Joudah again with poetry in the Kenyon Review.)

12th Annual Arab Music Retreat (South Hadley, MA)

Leaving Williamstown, we drove through winding roads and hairpin turns through the brilliant greens in the Berkshires to Mount Holyoke College where Simon Shaheen's Arab Music Retreat was having a their annual concert. Rain and darkness made us late though we did hear the faculty performances of works by Zakariyyah Ahmed, Dr. A.J. Racy, and Muhammad 'Abd al-Wahhab. stayed awake until five in the morning visiting, watching music and dance, and walking along the misty stream, and after four hours of sleep, sat in on a morning singing class hashing out: "Muwashshah Ana Min Wajdi Ana." Anyone interested in Arab music or dance should certainly consider this annual event. (photo: stream in night fog if you can't tell!)

The Clark Museum (Williamstown, MA)

On Friday, August 15, I drove with my friend Ranya to Williamstown to visit the Sterling and Francis Clark Museum. In 2000, this venue hosted the well-received “Noble Dreams, Wicked Pleasures: Orientalism in America, 1870-1930.” (Great catalog.) Among famous works in the museum's permanent collection are Jean-Léon Gérôme’s “The Snake Charmer” (very pale, very male) printed for many years on the cover of Edward Said's Orientalism, and John Singer Sargent's “Fumée d'Ambre Gris (Smoke of Ambergris)” Lush, evocative, exquisitely detailed, and large, these works certainly reveal more about the artist's role and perspective than the actual subject, a reminder of how artistic vision always reflects its era and how easily one can see these limitations in retrospect. Also at the museum: "Like Breath on Glass: Whistler, Inness, and the Art of Painting Softly," subtle, almost monotone works popular at the end of the 19th and early 20th century, just before World War I when interest in Orientalist art was waning in the United States (slightly later than Europe). Misty rivers, winter landscapes, moonscape over the open sea, and, even in the peopled scenes, loneliness and blurry light.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Palestinian Poet Mahmoud Darwish Dies

Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish died last Saturday, August 9, after surgery. Among posted tributes are: Ahdaf Soueif's contribution to the Guardian UK, Democracy Now's Aug. 11 broadcast, Germany's Deutsche-Welle (their photo used here), and the New York Times' Ethan Bronner from Jerusalem.

Review: "Allure of the East" on Gilded Serpent

The invaluable online belly dance journal Gilded Serpent has published my review of the current exhibit at the New York Historical Society: "Allure of the East: Orientalism in New York, 1850-1930." In Europe, enthusiasts of the aesthetic aimed for art; in the United States, they aimed for sales. Please read the review (and the journal) and go see the show before it closes on Aug. 17th.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Alwan Festival of Sacred Music Sept. 12-27

On Sept. 12, Master drummer Glen Velez and his frame drum ensemble will kick off the third annual Festival of Sacred Music at NYC's Alwan for the Arts. The aim of this festival is: "to explore not only otherdimensions of our human existence but also old and naturalconnections between faiths, cultures, music traditions, and even the sacred and the profane. It is important in our post-modern world togive space to contemplating our spiritual connection to ourselves,others and our environment through music and ritual without religious zeal." Scheduled guests are Moussa Dieng Kala, Gaurav Shah, and the extremely talented Tarab ensemble who I saw last spring. All events 9:30 p.m. (Photo: Glen Velez)

Friday, August 8, 2008

What the West Wants to Hear

Two articles published today brought to mind a certain discomfort for a certain type of literature touted by our media that confirms popular stereotypes. I was thoroughly disappointed by the much hyped Kite Runner, found Reading Lolita in Tehran uninteresting, and Persepolis well executed but a story that has been told frequently of late. Much of this material is based on the writers' own experiences; there is value in that and sometimes even art, but the sudden popularity of a large part of their shared message must at least be put into context. In the Lebanon Daily Star, The Challenge of Having Western Readers See Past Culture and Gender: Women Writers from the Middle East Talk About How They're Read in the West, Alice Fordham interviews Arab women writers dealing with this very issue. Rajaa Alsanea, auther of well received (I haven't read this yet) The Girls of Riyadh states that "...she was saddened that the journalists who wanted to interview her seemed to know what they would report before they spoke to her. She wanted to raise questions, not to see her country condemned across the Western world."

Counterpose that with a blurb from the Edinburg Fringe Festival for "The British Ambassador's Belly Dancer." Again, a woman who was oppressed by her background finds a certain kind of freedom through belly dancing and prostitution and connections with freedom in the West through the British Ambassador in Uzbekistan. Again, this is a work that is based on a true life. While I recognize the individual pain involved, the timing of the popularity and presentation makes it seem not at all "fringe" but rather formula for what the mainstream West wants to hear.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Sacred Temple Dancers in the New Yorker

I first learned about the sacred temple dancers in India, known as devadasis, in the early 90s when I was a member of The Goddess Dancing and again when I studied classical Indian dance. I knew the images I had were romantically outdated: temple dancers were the most educated women in their societies; they were able to converse freely and respectably with men; they were often the only women allowed to own land; their sexuality was revered as divine strength rather than a means of degradation. It's hard to know which if any of these visions were ever true.

In this week's New Yorker, "Serving the Goddess: The Dangerous Life of a Sacred Sex Worker," writer William Dalrymple investigates the life of a contemporary devadasi in the southern Indian state of Karnataka. He accompanies her to the temple of the goddess she serves, Yellamma, where the priests deny the devadasis' sacred status and claim they have nothing to do with those sorts of women. According to the article, Victorian era missionaries who hoped to end the practice perhaps initially turned the situation for the worse by forcing it underground. Once drawn from elite families, most contemporary devadasi are born to impoverished families who dedicate their daughters out of economic desperation . Though the women support the families who sold them through their work, they are also scorned by them. The rampage of AIDS ends this story when the reader learns that the subject of this story has the disease and will soon die as her daughters have already at ages 15 and 16. As I pay $15 an hour or more for yoga and dance classes, this article is a sober reminder of how sterilized and removed our "practices" from other cultures become in our relatively luxurious life in the States. How do we find balance? The full article appears in the Aug. 4 issue of the New Yorker.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Video Clip: Saad in Cairo

Because my NYU class just finished a routine to a song by Saad, I wanted to share this clip. I saw him perform in an intimate nightclub (Cairo's Semiramis Hotel 2007) with a cast of at least fifty extras. He was in the middle of shooting a film and he recreated the feeling of the movie. His music is "shaabi," which means something like "my people" and is a bit earthier in tone. This particular show was jazzy and exuberant with an abundance of brass and dancing.

Music Recommendations for Students

This is a short list. Explore on your own!

Cabaret/Raks Sharki Music
Hossam Ramzy: Greatest Hits Vol. 2, Source of Fire
Omar Faruk Tekbilek: Fire Dance, Mystical Garden
Egyptian Academy: Wash Ya Wash Series (I like Vol. 3-4)
Jahlila’s Raks Sharki Series
Current Pop Music:
Najwa Karam
Saad: We are using his track "Bel Arabi"
Nancy Ajram
All of these singers have numerous recordings.
Classical Music:
Ali Jihad Racy: Ancient Egypt
Um Kolthoum: I recommend the real recordings (no remixes)
Simon Shaheen: especially the Abdel Wahab CD
Arabic Folk Music:
Musicians of the Nile especially Charcoal Gypsies
Recordings by local artists (we love to support them!):
Avram Pengas and the Noga Group
Scott Wilson Turkish cabaret music
Raquey and the Cavemen Local/international drum goddess and crew
Djinn New on the scene!

Monday, July 28, 2008

Ahdaf Soueif on "The Lure of the East" at the Tate Britain

In London, the Tate Britain museum is currently showing the "Lure of the East," an exhibition of academic aka Orientalist paintings, prints, and drawings created by British artists between 1870-1930. This exhibition has sparked interesting discussion on the web and in print regarding identity politics, cultural representation, and questions of aesthetics. The Guardian ran a series of columns by guest writers responding to the exhibit. Among the columns I read, I found Egyptian novelist Ahdaf Soueif's "Visions of the Harem" to be most thought-provoking. Through assessment of the works and the museum's catalog, she compares and details two types of Orientalist artists.

One type, characterized by William Hollman Hunt and Thomas Seddon, used self-proclaimed "accuracy" was instead camouflage for personal ideology. The second type, characterized by John Frederick Lewis, succeeded in a more honest portrayal of similar subject matter because of a conscious reach for personal understanding through his artistic medium: "Lewis entered into a true relationship with Cairo: the city gave him the colours, the light, the architecture - the material he needed to become a great artist. Unlike so many of his colleagues, though, he felt that the city demanded something of him in return. Cairo made Lewis interrogate himself, what he and his compatriots were doing, the artist's relationship to his material, his social and political role, his integrity and, finally, his historic responsibility. It was through this interrogation that he produced his masterpieces."
(Image: John Frederick Lewis, Study for the 'Courtyard of the Coptic Patriarch's House in Cairo,' c1864)

Sunday, July 27, 2008


Questions answered by other questons.....
What is belly dance? Why are so many women interested in it? Does it necessarily demean women of the Middle East? Can it be done just for beauty? Can the dance be taken seriously by men and/or women? Does it demean women of other cultures or other cultures in general? Is it a folk dance, a social dance, a solo dance, a troupe form inspired more by Hollywood than the Middle East? Can the dance be fun and not political?

Inspired by many experiences including this 30th anniversary year of the publication of Edward Said’s landmark work Orientalism, this blog aims to explore how “orientalism” makes its appearance in one person’s professional life, most notably in belly dance and writing. Topics that interest me: despite the United States’ continuing war and overall havoc in the Middle East, interest in belly dance continues to expand globally on a faster level. Why? What does “authenticity” mean when considering belly dance? How does one find a genuine approach to practicing, teaching, performing, and enjoying this art form? Exploration, no apologies.