Tuesday, May 27, 2014



As dancers, whether we are students or professionals, we often look for validation, from the audience; our peers are the musicians we work with.  No matter what level we’re at, we wonder if what we are doing has merit, if it has value. Sometimes we even wonder WHY we continue to dance…and belly dancers in particular also question our own presentation and the artistic license we take while performing the dances of cultures that are not our own…

 What you are about to read below is a beautiful essay on this very subject, but it wasn’t actually planned to be an article! It is a heartfelt and possibly spur-of-the-moment Facebook post by musician Jonatan Gomes Derbaq. Jonatan is Brazilian, but his knowledge of Arabic music and his brilliant oud and tabla playing know no cultural boundaries!

 Jonatan is as eloquent in expressing his love of belly dance as he is when he’s playing Arabic music, and I thought you might be as inspired by his beautiful thoughts as I was.

 Here’s his writing- enjoy!

What is Raqs Sharqi (Belly Dance) to you? Is it some form of erotic display of the feminine that should only be reserved for the intimate confines man and woman on a wedding day? Is it dance that has been saturated with negative connotations for centuries, only to now develop into a legitimate and sophisticated art form that continues to evolve? Is it a means for trashy women to lure men into a web of debauchery? Is it a fever that has stuck the Occidental mind and become convoluted with absurdities, or is it a fever that has struck the Occidental mind and allowed it to strengthen and grow and explore new artistic forms of self-expression?

 No doubt, it is certainly all of the above, depending on the individual who choses which form.

 But just me personally, as a musician who has fallen in love with the Artistry which was defined by the Egyptian Masters during the Cinematic Golden age such as Naima Akef, Taheya, Samia Gamal, Fifi Abdou, Nagwa Foaud etc. Choreographers like Mahmoud Reda and composers like Mohamed Abdel Wahab shaped it, and it has grown and evolved, taken new shapes and turns in the means of artistic self-expression.

 One hand, the Golden Cinematic Age helped to explore and develop new and progressive ways to empower and strengthen the woman in society, while in other ways, because certain viewpoints had already been shaped by the negative social connotations, it only served to enhance preconceived notions...either way, no matter, this is “the here and now” I am talking about...and in the here and now, what I see in my work with the many dancers that I’ve worked with and have the great fortune to call my friends and sisters, belly dance  is an art form that extends far beyond  self expression and even the artistic representation of beautiful music.

 In no way could it ever be confused for anything less that an absolute perfect representation of musical ingenuity with the highest level of class and dignity. To me, it extends beyond this even. Over the years I have witnessed so many beautiful women of all types and cultural demographics find confidence, strength, comfort and a means to express themselves and learn to appreciate the beautiful essence that makes them who they are through this art.

I express my deepest gratitude to ALL OF THEM; we are of same heart...


Jonatan Gomes Derbaq

  Jonatan Gomes Derbaq, Amani Jabril and I are appearing in Memphis, Tennessee  August 1-3, 2014 doing workshops and shows!   Our show is August 1 at The Rumba Room, and the workshops will be Saturday and Sunday.

With  the beautiful Amani Jabril

Friday, May 9, 2014


Ouled Nayl women, Algeria
 Whether your mother is biological,  someone who adopted you, or a mother within the realm of dance, use this time to honor her.

I watched my beautiful friend Alli Ruth, a  belly dancer from Finland,  as she performed.  She’d grown up in Southern California, and was trained by the late, great Diane Webber, a belly dance pioneer who influenced hundreds of dancers.  Diane’s troupe, Perfumes Of Araby, begat many strong solo performers who taught and influenced many others. Her classes at Every Woman’s Village in the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles spawned many accomplished dancers, in the LA area and beyond, including Jillina.

But back to my pal Alli Ruth: in the middle of her show, the woman sitting next to me burst into tears.  She clutched at my arm and  sniffled,

“I’m so sorry… but I see Diane in her dancing!”

It was a profound moment; I’m getting goose bumps right now just writing about it.

People have told me that they can see my teachers in my dancing, and I have also been told that students of mine reflect my own movements and essence.  While I was always proud of both statements, the point was never quite really driven home to me, until the other night…and then I began to think in an even broader scope.

In the very act of dancing, we are honoring our forebears in dance. Belly dancing has been handed down from mother to daughter, from teacher to pupil through many millennia and hundreds of generations. It is a song of the soul, and a celebration of beauty, femininity, power, and strength.

In the very act of dancing, we are honoring women   past and present, all over the world.

The women who gave birth to our physical beings, and/or raised us throughout our childhoods  are obviously very special… but there are so many other women to pay homage to; the women with no blood ties who selflessly gave birth to us in different ways.

 Our Dance Mothers nurtured us and raised us in art and beauty. They helped us through our baby steps to grow into strong performers, sharing our triumphs and our woes, advising us, seeing us through the ruts and rough periods. They understood our discouragement, our passions and helped us fulfill our goals.

No matter what style of dancing you perform, take a moment to think of all those who came before you, those  who  pioneered the way for us, those who taught our teachers.

Give silent respect and love to  the myriad women whom we never even knew in our lifetimes, women from your country and many other countries all over the globe who all have a hand in what we are doing today: practicing the gift of dance that we might sometimes take for granted, grumbling in a class or competing in an audition for a gig.

 On Mothers Day let’s dance… let’s dance for the mothers, grandmothers , great grandmothers and great  great grandmothers of our dance. Let’s celebrate the lives of Biblical temptresses, harem slaves, dirt-poor villagers,  the women in tiny dark apartments in Cairo in the 1970’s, the Romany women of the defunct Sulukule ghetto in Istanbul. Let’s dance for Mata Hari, Gypsy Rose Lee, Ruth St. Denis, Ginger Rogers, Isadora Duncan, and the nameless women of  every chorus line  that ever existed.

Let’s dance for  women of the stage and silver screen who dared to dance when they were forbidden to.

Let’s dance for the women who supported their entire families by dancing, even if it meant they were shamed by society…and the very families they supported!

 Let’s dance for women in Beirut when the bombs fell, for the women and girls of blood-torn Syria, for the veiled women who can’t drive in Saudi Arabia, and for all the  female children in Afghanistan who were denied education. Let’s dance for Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani teenager who crusaded for women’s rights in the Swat Valley, who was shot in the head by the Taliban.

Let’s dance for the  276 girls who were kidnapped in Nigeria.

 Let’s dance for all the women whom we will never even know in our lifetimes…

Let’s honor our mothers by dancing for those who can’t, and  then let’s all close our eyes and hear their voices.


This post was originally published in May 2013


The Belly Dance Handbook: A Companion For The Serious Dancer  is available on Amazon.com or you can purchase a signed copy from my website:

Monday, May 5, 2014


Mesmera in a custom made Hallah Moustafa original  Photo: Maharet Hughes, Graphic Vibe LA

 The Historical Belly Dance Costume Fashion Show took place on May 3, 2014, in Los Angeles. Produced by Jenza (Suzanne McNeil) who has been active in the LA dance scene since the 1970’s as both a performer and a costume designer. The event highlighted the diverse beauty of a plethora of lavish vintage handmade costumes and faithfully reproduced replicas from every decade in the Twentieth Century.  The pieces show ran the gamut from luxurious cabaret costumes covered in bugle bead flatwork and fringe to antique Assuit.  Some of the costumes featured were reproductions of Ghawazee or Ouled Nayl apparel, but even as replicas, since they were handmade over thirty years ago in the 1970’s and 1980’s by dancers like the legends Aisha Ali and Helena Vlahos, these costumes themselves are now vintage!                                                                          
Zoe Apoian in a  replica of  Nejla Ates'  "Son Of Sinbad" costume
by Jenza Photo: Princess Farhana

 Just some of the designers featured were the late, great Madame Abla and  Hallah Moustafa , an American dancer turned designer  who lives in Cairo, heading up her own costume atelier.  LA-based designers costumers were featured as well, including Jenza, Nadia Simone, Anaheed and Kathy Sanders, who now goes by the name Kat Bushman. All of these women were dancers as well as  designers. 
Persian Lace, pearls and bugle beads: Classic 1970's
Cabaret Costumes, Photo: Princess Farhana
Antique belly dance costumes and are an obsession of mine … I collect the genuine article as well as hand make reproductions from many decades, especially the 1920’s to the early 1960’s.  I also love wearing the genuine article, collecting and restoring older costumes to their original glory… and I am not alone!                 There are even large social media groups (especially on Facebook) devoted to discussing, caring for, buying selling and trading vintage belly dance costumes. For every dancer who must have the latest designs from Egypt or Turkey, there are countless others who are absolutely in love with the costumes of a bygone era.  Many dancers seek these elderly beauties out, refurbish them carefully and wear them as a return to the glamour and fantasy of   the days of yore.

The importance of this show- and the beautiful pieces on display- cannot be denied.  For hundreds of years, oriental dance was almost considered insignificant, even though probably at least a third of women on earth at any given time period were actively practicing it and handing down the movements -and prized costume pieces- to future generations.  Similarly, the models in the show ranged from dancers who were 1970’s veterans to those who had been performing for barely a year or two.

 Enjoy the glorious pictures!

Oceana in  a 1970's  cabaret costume by Nadia Simone
 Photo: Princess Farhana

Aisha Ali's 1980's Ouled Nayl  costume reproduction on the runway
 Photo: Princess Farhana

Aisha Ali's Ouled Nayl costume  as seen backstage
Photo: Princess Farhana

In my Edwardian costume replica on the runway
Photo: Maharet Hughes, Graphic Vibe LA

 Bugle bead flatwork & hand-strung fringe: Shira's 1970's Egyptian scarab costume,
made by Kathy Sanders Photo: Princess Farhana

Tova  backstage in  amagnificent pearl and bugle bead fringe costume-from the mid 1970's. Belt by Amal ( Jenny Rife) bra  designed to match the belt  by Suszanna McNeil  Photo: Princess Farhana
Helena Vlahos in action, early 1970's

Helena Vlahos and me backstage. Helena is in her magnificent '80's Serpent costume

Old meets new: Jayna Manoushe backstage on her contemporary smart
 phone, in  avintage Cleopatra costume designed and sewn by Helena Vlahos
 Photo: Princess Farhana


 If you’re a costume addict, you’ll enjoy the many sections  on making, caring for and storing belly dance costumes- both antique and contemporary- in The Belly Dance Handbook: A Companion For The Serious Dancer.  Purchase a signed copy here: