Wednesday, October 22, 2014


Karim Nagi in a recent performance
Karim Nagi is a multi-talented musician, composer, folkloric dancer and deejay.  His performances are so high-energy and in the moment, and his connection to the music is so great, that he could probably   re-animate a room full of corpses. Born and raised in Egypt, he’s spent most of his life in America, though his global  travel schedule for teaching and performing is so hectic, I once heard him answer the question "Where do you live?" by saying:

  “In an airport!”

Karim in  the midst of a Saidi performance
Just in case you’re not familiar with his work, he’s released numerous instructional DVDs and a variety music CDs, both under his own name and as DJ Turbo Tabla. Since 1999, Karim has headed up the traditionally oriented Sharq Music Ensemble, and his Arab Dance Seminars routinely sell out months in advance.  He’s having one in New Mexico this November, but unless you’ve already secured your spot,  or if by come miraculous twist of fate someone drops out, there’s no way you’ll get in.

 His program Arabiqa educates   elementary school kids at over three hundred schools around the USA, but his educational efforts don’t stop there by any means.  In fact, his knowledge of his native Egyptian music dance and culture is so great, that he’s presented and lectured at many Ivy League universities, including Harvard, Princeton, MIT, Yale and many others.

We’ve performed together- in many places- for quite a few years, and in 2013, we also recorded a song “Heart Full Of Cairo” together- if you're interested in hearing it, you can find it on iTunes or Amazon.  Karim is  always a pleasure to work with because he’s so knowledgeable, and  a total perfectionist whose open to obsessive compulsive rehearsing and preparation.  But  he’s  also as much fun off stage as he is onstage… I once had the (dubious!) pleasure of hearing him  do an impromptu after-hours rendition of Ted Nugent’s hit “Cat Scratch Fever”, sung in a tongue-in-cheek Upper Egyptian Fellahin accent while he accompanied himself on the tabla !  In spite of-or maybe  because of incidents like this, I think he’s an absolute genius…though he’ll probably roll his eyes when he reads this. 
Karim & me  by Maharet Hughes

 Recently, he’s started a new four-hour-long workshop,  “Music Raqs”, which is a kind of “literacy program” for dancers who want to be able to better understand- and teach- oriental dance in a comprehensive way. In addition to music theory and technical info, he also goes into cultural and linguistic details that will no doubt be illuminating to dancers of any level, from absolute beginner to seasoned pro.  He’s putting on this workshop in Los Angeles this coming Sunday, October 26, and I’m very excited about it.

  Since Karim’s shows are so entertaining and high-energy, I thought he’d be a terrific candidate for my “Dancers Backstage Rituals” series.  So here’s what he has to say about his show preparation, in his own words:

“ I shine my boots. I iron my galabaya. I tape my assaya. I test my drum microphone. I stretch my legs and arms. I wrap the kufiya. I close the phone two hours prior. I recite the Quran's Surat al-Falak. I chose which sagat goes on which finger. ‎I do one hundred jumping jacks. I eat nothing for four  hours before. I watch most of the acts before me, to get an impression of the evening's overall message.
I choose a belt buckle. “

  I think he left  out one teensy thing though… the fact that he loves what he does so much, it can’t help but shine through in his performances!


Third Street Studio: 8558 W. 3rd St. Los Angeles California
 $50 before October 24: or $60 cash at the door
 Info  & registration here:



Wednesday, October 15, 2014


Photo  & graphics by Maharet Hughes

  Happy  Raq-tober, and Happy Halloween Season!
 This next post has become a  seasonal classic ... I wrote this in October 2010, but of course, it still applies!

If you are like me- and if you’re reading this, I’m relatively sure you are- you're already aware that this is the time of year when everyone you know hits you up about borrowing or even renting your stage costumes.

 Call me selfish, call me witchy, or just call me a “Hallo-weenie”… but I NEVER lend my costumes out for Halloween (or  for Burning Man, or any other event for that matter) unless I already know it’s something that could be replaced, or is an item  I could easily part with.

The stage costumes I own, not to mention my crazy collection of circus outfits, pirate hats, robot suits, saloon girl headdresses, feather fans, vintage corsets, kitty ears, rhinestone studded masquerade masks, wigs, super-hero boots, vampire capes, real and fake fur coats- need I go on? - are the "tricks of my trade", not a treat for someone who won't respect them. 

They took a long time and a lot of money for me to collect, not to mention the cost of  maintaining them.

My costume collection could probably have it’s own episode on the show “Hoarders”, but there’s a reason I have all this stuff around: it’s my livelihood! 

These pieces are my tools, my office supplies, and my working uniform... and in most cases, very expensive. But whether it’s an Egyptian  belly dance costume I paid $700.00 for, a vintage  burlesque outfit  or pair of  old character shoes  that I embellished myself, they are professional accoutrements that I can’t do my job properly without.

Oh, I used to be very generous about lending out costumes and costume pieces for non-dancers to use at Halloween parties, but it always ended badly.

Things would come back to me (usually months later) ripped, stained, with burn-holes from cigarettes or wax from candles, or just covered in cheap drugstore make-up or greasepaint from  Halloween Headquarters or The Spirit Store. And some things never came back at all!

Would you lend someone your laptop if you knew they were going to use it-and maybe accidentally leave it- at a club? Would you let a friend borrow an expensive camera to bring to a party where all the guests were going to be falling-down drunk? I thought not!

I think the reason most “civilians” want to borrow costumes is simply because they want to look good… and they also have nothing but the best intentions in borrowing these things.

  But the average person doesn’t realize that for their seasonal party-needs, a $30.00 costume from the toy store would be fine.

Want some help with your Halloween make-up? I’d be happy to assist you.

But don’t even think about asking to borrow my costumes… cause you’ll have to pry them out of my cold, dead hands!


  Get  a signed  copy  of  my books  The Belly Dance Handbook   and Showgirl Confidential here :

Tuesday, October 7, 2014


Photo by Maharet Christina Hughes

  Transitions   are the unsung hero in dance. 

They’re almost an unseen  “missing link”, they are  the lines that connect the dots, stringing together a bunch of separate movements and making them look cohesive.  Good transitions add an unending flow, making our performance look polished and effortless. Sometimes our transitions are fancy and flowery, other times they’re as unnoticeable as a simple weight change…but they always need to be there. Without transitions, any dance would look stilted and jerky, simply a series of stationary movements.

  When I first started dancing, the very idea of transitions totally confused me.  Like many baby dancers, I was focused purely on technique.  I didn’t understand the importance of transitions… and often, teachers don’t fully explain that, either.  Many classes focus solely on drilling on stationary technique, or teach full choreographies to beginners, without stressing the mechanics of what is actually being done in the choreography.  When this alone happens, a student can perform a full choreography, but might not be able to build a choreography (or an improvised piece) their own.

 The purpose transitions serve are many, and once you become comfortable with their purpose and importance, they will seem a lot less esoteric!

Essentially, our dance transitions are a way of matching our movement and moods to the phrases in the music itself.

Transitions function as a preparation for our bodies to segue from one movement into another in a seamless and logical way.  Basically, a physical transition involves making sure that you are in the correct position to make your next movement. A transition usually involves all of at least some of the following: weight placement, body angle and alignment, spatial movement, and embellishment. But transitions can also convey feelings to the audience. Quite often, the music we use in performance calls for a change of attitude on the part of the performer, so the dancer needs to use stage presence and facial expressions as well as body language to change with the mood of the music. In that case, an emotional transition needs to be made as well.

 If you were to imagine your dance piece as a classical painting, then transitions would be the place where the colors in the painting are blended. If you   didn’t have the transitions  (or a mixture of colors in the painting) then your piece of art would be just a bunch of blocks of color, not a finished work. Well, maybe it’d be Modern Art… but I digress.  

Another analogy would be to think of your dance piece as a story, or a book.    In that case, transitions are the punctuation as well as the points of separation for new thoughts or idea that run through the entire narrative, connecting the plot-lines so that the story makes sense. Essentially, our dance transitions are a way of matching our movement to the phrases in the music itself, so we can better “illustrate” the song we are dancing to.

 Here are some ideas that will help you out with incorporating smooth, flowing transitions emotionally and physically.

 Weight Placement
 This is one of the most important facets of transitions, knowing your footing. Without proper weight placement, your dance is destined to fall apart. In order to avoid performing an odd (and unwanted) little jig as you move from step to step, or from phrase to phrase, be hyper-aware of your weight placement.

A good rule of thumb is: “What Goes Up Must Come Down”.
 In other words, if your weight is on your right foot, in order to make a seamless transition, you will step onto the left foot…and vice versa.  This is especially important while turning!  Drill your weight placement even if you think you are fine with it already.

 Work With The Counts
 When I was a baby dancer, I was confounded that so many movements could be fit into eight counts… or sixteen, or thirty-two. I jut didn't get it, and always seemed to finish late, after everyone else was done. The problem was real, and the solution was simple, but it was assumed that everyone in the class would understand. What I didn’t know was that the transition in movement starts occurring one or two beats before a phrase is finished…and that concept was never explained to me!  No wonder I was finishing late, I had no idea what was going on.

 So, if a phrase is eight counts long, the transition to the next phrase will start at the sixth or seventh beat, not on or after the eighth beat.

Look For Clarification In Class Or Rehearsals
 Make sure you understand everything you can about the way a choreography- or a “follow the leader” type of improvisation works. Don’t be afraid to ask your teacher (or another dancer) to go over weight placement, phrasing, or a preparation for a turn.  If you’re worried about holding up the class or rehearsal don’t be- chances are, you’ll be asking a question that many are wondering about them!  And even if that isn’t the case, it’s always better to be performing correctly, so that the entire group looks uniform and together.

 Analyze Music Without Dancing To It
 Take some time to get really familiar with your music. Sit with it, and analyze it; break the entire piece down into measures of eight counts.

After you’re comfortable with this, have another few listens and identify the musical changes themselves… you will start to be able to see how each musical phrase is a “paragraph” in your musical story. 

  Of course, do this exercise with the music you’ll be using in class or for your show, but also with music that you would probably never use onstage.  At first it might seem like a big daunting task, but after a while, you’ll have that “A-Ha Moment”, and you’ll have fun breaking your music- or any music- down in this way.

  Feel The Music
The next step is become comfortable with it, really feeling it and recognizing exactly where the transitions will come.   Remember to look for changes in the emotional attitude of the piece, such as a bridge that goes up into a sweeping crescendo, or pauses and full stops in the song.

The music itself will inform you, but by using your counts and sensing the mood of the composition, you will know when to physically begin your transition.

 With practice, this will become almost intuitive, ingrained into your consciousness, and you will start being able to anticipate where and when your transitions will need occur, even if you’ve never heard that particular piece of music before.  


  Sunday, October 19th, 2014, Washington, DC
I’ll be teaching  a  three hour  mini-intensive on this very subject as part of the  Raven’s Night weekend.
“Go With The Flow: Musicality, Sensuality, Texture And Fluid Transitions”        3:30-6:30pm
 Epic Yoga
1323 Connecticut Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20036

 More information & Registration here: