BELLY DANCING! AN ALL ACCESS GUIDE TO SORAYA!
Belly Dance Question and Answer Session: An interview with Soraya.
I began belly dancing at age 4. I performed at various family weddings, cultural parties, children’s arts showcases on the Atlantic City boardwalk, in the Miss American Pageant Parades, Philadelphia, Atlantic City and New York City TV shows, special events and more. My first professional show in which I got paid to dance was at age 15 for a large International multi-cultural dance festival in Atlantic City, NJ. I performed 5-6 shows per day and did many special events and parties at night after belly dancing all day long at the Taj! Many times, I would go from one Casino to another! I did not choose this dance form; it chose me, due to my Middle Eastern cultural heritage. Once I first heard the rhythms in the exotic Arabic and Mediterranean music, I knew that this was what I was going to do for the rest of my life. My career at this stage is exactly where I want it to be. This is the way that I had always envisioned it. After performing full time for a living (my only job) for so long, it entailed a lot of exhausting national as well as international travel and grueling dance schedules. I worked myself through college and earned a B.A. Degree in Cultural Anthropology/Sociology in Middle Eastern/Mediterranean studies. I felt that I wanted to know everything that there is about my rich heritage, not only from an artistic standpoint, but also from an academic view as well. My art became too much of a "job," and I wasn’t enjoying performing as much. I have made great money with my dancing and am truly satisfied however, performing as much as I did full-time and not as a hobby, it has taken on a different face.
My Mother told me that I was always moving to the music even at 3 years old. At 4 years old, she made me my very first traditional Arabic belly dance costume. My earliest dance experiences were the antecedent to the artist that I became as an adult performer. These wonderful experiences shaped me so much. The way that I viewed a packed theater as a child became an artistic prototype of the way I view my audiences today. As a child performer, I only viewed them as hundreds of strangers watching me. Since my dancing was so natural to me I really did not fully understand why they were all staring at me clapping, I just did what the music told me to do. I loved this dance so much as a child and it felt so natural to simply embrace the Middle Eastern music as the soulful core of what drove me to perform live. I used to be nervous on stage as a child. I really got scared when I saw the TV cameras! All I know is that when I heard my music start, I became transformed away from the scared little girl and into a performer. It was as if my Mom would wind me up and send me to center stage like a spinning top on overdrive! I see my audiences now as separate individuals all having unique life experiences. They all chose to be in this one place to be entertained. As the dancer, my goal is to make sure that when they leave my show, they will have had the very best image of Oriental dance possible. I love that feeling of knowing that I have changed the way that they now envision the belly dance and destroy any negativity that they may have had before seeing my belly dance show.
Since getting married a year ago to the most amazing man, life is truly beautiful and keeps getting better everyday. I could not be happier or ask for more. I feel blessed and thank God all the time. I dance now ONLY for the sheer love of my art...period. I only take an event if the mood strikes me and I have become ultra selective in choosing shows. I do not have to dance for a living anymore, now I perform only for the fun of hearing the roar of the crowd. I dance only when feel I like it. Since marriage, I now have this incredible freedom to pick and choose everything that I do.
I feel so incredibly fortunate. My husband thinks that it is nice that I enjoy performing, since it is my culture and he tells me that I should dance only if I feel like dancing. He knows that it was always my dream to dance only if I enjoyed it and for no other reason. That is music to my ears! I now have such a deeper appreciation for my art, more then I ever thought possible. Dreams do come true; I am walking proof of that! My husband is not in the arts; he is a prominent physician who works as a pharmaceutical executive. He is director of worldwide Pharmaceutical medicine and operations for the biggest International pharmaceutical company. I love the juxtaposition of scientist and artist!
I made a very successful career out of the dance art of my cultural heritage in all ways that I had ever hoped for. This all happened not only in a monetary fashion but also emotionally, physically and psychologically (the most important and healthy aspect of being in the arts). Just as my dancing involves a full range of human emotion, so did my career. I could not be happier at this point in my life. Everything has actually exceeded my wildest imagination. I took belly dance to the highest level possible and did it my way! I became an entertainment booking agent, party planner and special events producer, not only an International belly dancer and choreographer. To my delight, my belly dancing video collection is selling tremendously to rave reviews (the reviews have been amazing, thank you)!
I lecture and dance for many Ivy League universities throughout the US to educate the general public to what real, authentic belly dancing is supposed to look like. My many career highlights includes performing as an invited guest of his late majesty King Hassan and the Royal Family at the Palace in Casablanca, Morocco. It was a wonderful experience that I will always cherish. I completed a very successful Egyptian dance and music tour for five star hotels in India. I have danced and toured with such famous Arabic singing stars as: Amr Diab, Ragheb Alama, Nawahl Al Zoughby, Assi El Hellani, Warda, Nour Mehenna, Diana Haddad, Najwa Karam, Samira Saeed, Hani Mehanna (famous arranger and composer), Kadham Al Sahir, Ihab Tawfeek, Hakim, Wadi El Safy, Sabah and more. I also became an entertainment booking-talent agent. I enjoy producing Arabic concerts, casino production shows, ethnic weddings, large corporate theme events, hotel banquets, black-tie affairs, etc.
Living in 2 locations has allowed me to perform in more regions then ever before. I live in NJ on the weekends and on the Main Line in Gladwyne, PA during the week. This suburb is about 20 minutes from Philadelphia. I am performing in very elegant Arabic weddings in Philadelphia and I perform all over the Main Line in PA, as well as in NJ, DE, MD, FL, VA and NY. I dance in prestigious hotel banquets, producing and performing for large corporate “Arabian Nights” theme parties, high-society functions, country clubs, Casino shows, concerts, etc.
I finally feel truly complete, I have really satisfied all of my entrepreneurial ideals and now my dancing is exactly where it should be in my life. It now serves as an amazing, cultural, creative and artistic outlet for my nonstop energy!
How belly dancing is misunderstood.
Belly Dancing to me should never be risqué,' taken out of context, sexual or performed in bad taste. As my special role as a baladi dancer, I present it as an antithesis to the awful negative cultural connotations that has damaged this art so severely. I either uphold the class, dignity and integrity of belly dance or I would never have had anything all to do with it.
Too many dancers forget that this is a cultural dance of the East. It is important to note that this is a dance of a foreign culture and that it is not some rigid, mechanical Westernized dance when just going through the motions is accepted. The dancing is then perceived as very unprofessional and lacks authenticity. A lot of Arabic people will take this as an insult to their culture. Most American audiences do not know the difference or care about quality, but some do. It is like comparing a hamburger to a steak...Most Americans are happy with the hamburger when the people of Middle Eastern and Mediterranean heritage demand the steak!”
3. What is the
history of belly dancing?
He brought a lady by the name of "Little Egypt" (who was actually Syrian) to perform for the first time at the Chicago World's Faire in 1893. She danced fully clothed but the conservative nature of society at that time viewed an undulating female body to be vulgar. Even though that was not true, Victorian society never witnessed dancing so fluid, languid and ethereal. People can be quite prejudiced to things that they do not understand and are ignorant to. It has evolved into the perfect cultural entertainment to celebrate weddings (Egyptian El Zeffa), Middle Eastern theme parties, hotel banquets and international dance and music festivals.
Note: Presently, Soraya is not dancing publicly. She is only performing ultra selectively for private elegant Middle Eastern weddings, corporate Arabian Nights theme parties, Casinos, upscale special events, high-end shows, Arabic concerts with famous singers and much more. Soraya continues to produce the very best in authentic Arabian Nights Theme parties for thousands of satisfied clients at the most prestigious venues all over the US and overseas.
Blushing… Well, I really appreciate that very much! I am very happy to bring so much happiness to people and I love to bring joy to all of my audiences both young and old alike. It is great to know that I have touched so many people’s lives with my dancing. I feel the strength of the powers above go through me when I perform, as if I was destined to Belly Dance. I thank God everyday for my life, health and happiness, as well as for my husband’s and family’s too.
This destiny of dance that I was born into has made me so grateful. I am often asked if I go over my choreographies repeatedly. I do not choose to over rehearse, it makes a performance look stale. I have come to learn that the great singers Frank Sinatra and Harry Connick, Jr., feel the same way. I only like to do "one take" of a show and concert because art (especially ethnic art) should be "felt" from the soul. To go over and over something and to have to memorize it in order to drill it into your head as an artist doesn't seem natural, especially for this form of art.
The earthly quality of this dance is lost this way and this is the true origin and direction for true Oriental Balady dancing. This dance should flow from within, it loses something and becomes boring and contrived when it is overly rehearsed. If a performer doesn't feel the music, or understand it, then stop dancing and begin again when you feel inspired. Great art should never be rushed. It is important to know the correct technique, execution of movements, use of space and proper posture, but the music is the glue that brings it all together in a “show”. Also, one cannot learn timing. Timing must be born into the dancer; it is an innate quality. Either a dancer has “it” or you do not, you can’t learn it. There is nothing worse then seeing a dancer thinking too hard, concentrating, not smiling, projecting and who is distracted by counting steps. When I shot my video collection, I did not rehearse the music and choreographies. With Arabic music, I feel what will come next because it is innate. I know the music well and don’t believe in over rehearsing before any TV/video shoot or live performance.
Even with my "Tropicana Casino Show video”, I did not rehearse with the orchestra; I gave them a list of the songs and danced naturally. Even with the studio videos, I did each one only one time with one take. Arabic Belly Dancing is as natural to me as breathing and when I hear the music, I move! Even sitting in my car, if there is a fabulous tabla solo on the CD, I isolate my hips to the beat of the drum. Now, if I am the passenger, watch out... I am known to throw in a shoulder shimmy! LOL! My Mom told me that at 3 years old, whenever I heard a song that I loved, I would get up and dance.
I like to bring my audiences what comes naturally to me and I love to share it with them. I can describe it as if I begin each show wrapped up like a gift and the music takes off the wrapping paper! I like to make my shows into a complete story with a beginning, middle and a dramatic unforgettable ending. I like to build the tension, dramatics, anticipation and work with the audience but I never leave them hanging...I like to slightly tease and then finish what I started with a bang! After a performance, it is my intention that they leave my show with the best image of belly dancing possible. I pride myself on the fact that my shows are for people of all ages. A lot of very upscale and conservative families and clients hire only me to belly dance because they have nothing to fear. The only surprises will be good ones! They know that the dancing will always be authentic, exciting, cutting edge, classy and my costuming is always elaborate, elegant and tasteful. When I work the dance floor, I hear the gasps and feel the energy of the people watching. I am flattered that I am held in such high regard by my clients, I aim to please and hold nothing back. No matter how big or small an event may be I give the same effort with unparalleled professionalism. To see the people smile and clap and have the best time is my reward! I want them to leave my concerts saying, "wow, I will never forget that, I have never seen the dance done with such intensity and integrity"! I believe in always being a unique individual and belly dancer. I constantly challenge myself to grow and expand as a person and as a performer. Just when I think I know all of the answers, I like to change the question!
5. Why and how do you view belly dancing as useful and beautiful, as an art form, as therapy and as exercise? Your dance style is very multi-faceted, vivacious and glamorous. You offer your audiences so many wonderful things all at one time. I love how your approach is earthy and subtle yet so full of energy, fire and passion. When I watch your choreographies, they can be contemplative, highly spiritual and at the same time powerful.
Belly dancing is very useful and beautiful because it makes women feel great about their bodies no matter what shape they were born with. Women can't change their body shape, unless you have plastic surgery and I don’t recommend that, but it is possible to feel beautiful when they dance. It can help people to feel comfortable in their own skin and with who they are. When I perform, I feel "transported" into a very spiritual realm. I listen very carefully and intently to how the music speaks to me. I interpret the music through my movements, steps, transitions, and many different dance choreographies. The music sets the mood for a particular style of Middle Eastern/Mediterranean dance that I am performing for my audience. I am a self-taught dance artist. I deeply feel every subtle nuance in the music, every chord, beat, rhythm and I sense what I am going to do just seconds before it comes to fruition on the dance floor. It is as if something comes to me and inspires me to move in a way that transcends all time.
As I move further in my personal performance space which
I like to call it my: "Dance Story Line", I feel
completely alive in ways that is hard to describe in words. Keeping my
movements crafted, honed and concise is of utmost importance. That is
why this is a dance form that when performed by people of Middle Eastern/Mediterranean
heritage, it is at it’s most authentic and unabridged state and it very
delicate. The Arabic people just “feel” the music naturally, the dance
is not taught in a formal class, like other forms of dance are, it is
very spiritual, cultural and highly emotional connection.
It is very important not to make what I do too scientific, rigid, mechanical or it will lose everything. I do not lie to people and tell them that this dance alone will get them in shape because it won’t. A fact about the Middle East is that it is actually looked at as healthy not to be too thin and/or anorexic looking.
It is not good to belly dance if you look like boy in a cabaret costume! This is a very feminine art form and to be voluptuous, curvy and sensuous is a great thing.
Belly dancing can be added to a good regular workout on the treadmill and or on an exercise bike. The movements should always be delicate and gentle, not overly exaggerated, by someone who doesn’t know how to move properly. To emphasize my point once again, belly dance alone will not get someone in shape, but it is good to use it along side with a balanced diet and regular exercise. I do strength training and weights along with intense cardiovascular and aerobic workouts to stay strong, fit, agile, muscular and cut. I workout five to six days a week, eat healthy and drink a lot of water. The cardiovascular exercise helps me to retain and maintain my stamina and muscle tone to do long and very rhythmically complex choreograhies without getting tired. My style of Belly dancing along with a great workout routine helps to sculpt the muscles, firm and tighten and keeps my heart healthy. I also highly recommend professional massage therapy. I have two-hour deep tissue massage sessions by my athletic trainer every few weeks at our home. It is not only wonderful for the muscles, mind and soul, but also emotionally as well. I make a special night out of it with auromatherapy candles in the scents of Jasmine, Lavender and Spearmint. This therapy helps a lot with sports related injuries (which I had from years of over dancing and over use), to keep my range of motion in my muscles and for spiritual relaxation. It is a total experience much like belly dancing! Since my husband is a physician, he can see all the benefits that I receive from my sports massages and occasional chiropractic care for optimum athletic performance, endurance, and flexibility and over all well being.
Also, what makes your Arabian dance style formula so effective? You are very unique in your interpretation of Oriental dance. All of this and more has made you an International star at the top of your craft and has separated your dancing from all of the rest. I want to explore this aspect and understand what makes you the consummate professional belly dancer.
The movements can be compared to an "artistic roller coaster”. Audiences should expect smooth, gentle, refined, strong, and a very natural way of movement with delicate transitions. It is crucial for the artist to hold the attention of any audience in the palm of their hand. It is a beautiful thing to help make them forget a bad day to transcend them to another world with the power of art, music and dance. That is what entertaining is all about, grabbing the audiences attention, holding it and keeping them on the edge of their seats. I also never over use props in any of my shows. It detracts from the performance and hides a lack of talent. My body is the instrument that I use to display my art. Never underestimate the intelligence of an audience. I always strive to give them the best show no matter what. This art is not about boring an audience to death so that they start thinking about what they have to do the next day instead of enjoying the show. Oriental dance should never seem fake, mechanical, robotic, complacent or rushed, it should flow like a mountain stream...unlike a lot of westernized dances, it should be not broken up, made overly scientific or stiff. Just going through the motions is totally unacceptable. An Arabic audience WILL pick up on it and not watch the show. I have seen this happen over and over again to American belly dancers, when they try to dance Arabic and it is quite sad. It also further perpetuates a bad, negative image and stereotype of belly dance. There is also a big difference and bad juxtaposition when the dance being exploited by the low-class, sleazy strip-o-gram companies for a bunch of beer drinking backyard slobs. Then there is the typical afternoon bar-be-q or the typical Middle Eastern theme Americanized restaurant where quality and authenticity is definitely not of any significance! However, professional and high-class Arabic establishments do exist, unfortunately, it is very rare. I am referring to the majority here. You will see the usual nervous “chickens” running around begging for a tip and it is a shame, that have no clue how to belly dance properly. Arabs call them: “the American chickens”. A lot of these dancers are not professional are so horribly under paid that they spend the whole time shaking in the customer’s faces for a dollar! The dancer should present an actual show and stay on the dance floor!
Quality and authenticity is critical to a successful event. I have also heard horror stories of people saying that a bad dancer ruined their event. If people are not skimping on the other aspects of their party, I.E., venue, food, décor, etc., why skimp on the entertainment? The entertainment can make or break an event! This is at the opposite end of the spectrum. It is also imperative to play up to the women in the audience and again, stay on the dance floor! It is sad to see the dance made into something that it is not, without the right technique and feeling.
Besides knowing “how” to dance properly, this art form should always be performed genuinely in an authentic, respectable, family oriented and upscale atmosphere. I am reminded of Michaelangelo’s beliefs about his sculptures; he felt that he was releasing the spirit of the figurine held captive inside the marble. Dance expression has always been a part of my being. I showcase it to the world through my cognitive understanding of the musical compositions. Through these deep yet creative feelings, I generously share my art with my audiences. I try to be as soulful and artistically expressive as I can be. I am always growing, learning and discovering as an artist. I interpret the music depending on my mood and emotional shadings of how I feel at that very moment on the stage. Art can never be forced; it must flow naturally or forget it!
This can be viewed as “reality vs. perception”. The true reality of the dance is very different than the American perception; it is like night and day. I love to entertain and communicate with my audiences to move them in ways that they never thought were possible. Through my art I like to create an impact in their lives so that when they leave one of my shows they feel truly satisfied by what they saw on stage. I always dance from my heart. I do this now more then ever since I only dance for the joy of performing and for no other reason.
No matter how much someone mimics, counts steps or tries to memorize the movements, it is still not the same and never will be. It can be compared to shoving a square peg into a round hole! One of my favorite sayings is that you can’t fake the funk! It is highly insulting to an audience when the dance is not FELT in the core of the dancer. When this dance is not felt in the soul, it will look very bad. There is nothing worse then the contrived, antiquated, forced and over exaggerated Westernized style of the dance. The music brings the dance to the forefront and the movements are so natural for me that it simply flows naturally. Each musical instrument has a special, unique and very specific voice and it should speak clearly to the dancer. The music should flow though the entire body, even to the fingers and toes like electricity. I derive great pleasure by looking at the audience members straight in the eye when I dance to truly connect with them. This is very different from when I was a child performer! I feel very confident on stage and totally in control. Direct eye contact is very important to be able to become one with the audience. I belly danced so frequently at all of the Atlantic City Casinos, and area country clubs, banquet facilities and hotels as far back as I can remember. These experiences have sculpted and molded me to be able to successfully handle the unexpected with ease, grace and professionalism. I entertained at so many different types of events that whatever little stage fright that I had as a child disappeared years ago! I learned to soak up the applause as I danced and continue to entertain at hundreds of upscale banquets, elaborate Arabic weddings, high-end special events, Middle Eastern concerts and Casino Showrooms for audiences of thousands. The more that I danced, the more it began to feel like second nature to me. I was too busy enjoying myself that I forgot about who was in the audience.
All childhood stage fright quickly dissipated in 1990 when I began performing as the “Featured Belly Dancer” and lead entertainer and ethnic talent agent for the Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort in Atlantic City, NJ
I can dance in the smallest of spaces utilizing smaller, sharper steps, gestures, controlled, intricate hip and upper torso movements or use an entire Casino showroom or theater stage to spread my movements out like a butterfly dancing majestically in the wind. With a larger dance space, extended stage or arena, I use a lot of traveling steps and more powerfully dramatic hip and arm movements. I quickly adapt for whatever unique venue or audience that I will be performing in. I also use flowing, serpentine or snakelike patterns of movement as I explore the stage as my creative platform to fully communicate what I am saying as a dancer to my audience. I like to add the playful veil work of the Milaya Laff /Melaya Leff of Egypt. This aforementioned "Dance Story Line" is very delicate, sensitive and personal as it reflects and interprets a vast plethora of emotions, feelings, hopes and dreams for the artist.
The more that I belly dance, the more I relax onstage and really listen to the music. The emotions in the music that I hear is the antecedent of the movements that I will perform of stage at a show.
The Arabic music possesses the power inside me to permeate my movements with the rouh (that is an Arabic word meaning the spirit). When I say that, one of my favorite Arabic songs comes to mind: "Rouh, Rouhi" by the great Middle Eastern singer Najwa Karam. Arabic music and dance was always in my blood. As soon as I hear the music, I begin to move as if something very deep inside me comes alive and gets awakened by the beat and rhythms. Middle Eastern dancing was always as normal to me as breathing. It always brings spiritual happiness, spiritual balance and inner joy to belly dance. I belly dance with my own true personality and as I mentioned before, depending on how I am feeling at the time. Since getting married and being so fortunate to have such an incredible, loving and supportive husband, I always dance with joy in my heart, passion in my movements and fire in my soul. As an expressive Belly Dancer and Choreographer, the real BINT AL-BALAD is forever a part of me and always will be. Inshallah.
Since I only perform now for the sheer love of my art, it really hasn’t affected my belly dance career. I know that is has affected a lot of other ethnic artists and musicians and it is a shame. I didn’t feel any backlash, but a lot of artists have experienced this. As an entertainment agent, the “Arabian Nights” theme was not as popular, but it is now is as in demand as ever. I have actually been very busy dancing in Arabic weddings, Casino shows, upscale special events and large corporate “Arabian Nights” theme parties. People should always see the art for arts sake and not inject racial and cultural stereotypes! I can’t stand ignorance and prejudice of any kind anyway! The losers who are prejudice are uneducated and fear people, religions and cultures that they don’t understand. I have an exotic Arabian look, but I have not been harassed for looking Middle Eastern.
This summer, I unfortunately saw racial profiling and prejudice first hand directed at a convenience store clerk who was a proud Muslim with her head covered in full Chador. This was the first time I witnessed the angry result of the backlash against Arabs. A very American looking woman screamed in front of the whole store at this clerk and said: “Go back to where you came from”! I was shocked! The clerk yelled back: “I AM AN AMERICAN and my Father even fought for America in the Vietnam War”! After the ordeal I walked over to her and we shook hands. I said: Way to go girl! Hopefully, people will stop blaming a whole aggregate of people for the actions of a few.
8. Even though you are young you are already a legend in belly dance. On the day when you retire and step off the dance floor for the very last time, what impact on belly dance do you hope to leave behind?
I don’t see myself ever fully retiring I mean, after marriage I was planning to slow down. Even though I am dancing ultra selectively, it turns out, I am busier than ever! The only difference is that I dance now only for the joy of performing, making my audiences happy and that is the sole reason. I only take very upscale special events, Middle Eastern weddings, cultural parties, Casino shows, corporate 1001 Arabian Nights theme parties, and more. However, when the time comes that I decide to really slow down my performances, I want to leave behind a real legacy of professionalism, authenticity, style but most of all respect for myself and the art that I present. I feel so complete right now in my life not only as a person but also, as a performer. Every day just gets better than the last! Life is beautiful and I hope that everyone finds their true happiness in their lives too. My sincerest advice is to never give up until you have exactly what you want and always dreamed of having, do not settle. Never settle. The formula to success is not only the importance of working harder, and to be driven but also to work smarter. Being spiritually, emotionally and psychologically balanced is crucial to inner peace & happiness. When you look in the mirror the face that is staring back at you should be truly content in every way possible and never lie to yourself…
Having balance in your life is the key to happiness! Always be nice to people, never forget where you came from, the people who have helped you and have always been there for you every step of the way. Also, eradicate any toxic, jealous and negative people from your life. You get out of life, what you have put in to it. Keep pushing the envelope and you will be very surprised by the person you will become! Dreams do come true!
My Mother, Father, God and of course my incredible loving and supportive husband, Rob. My Mom is a great performer, belly dance choreographer and folk dancer. My Mother and Father always enjoyed to perform ethnic Mediterranean folk dances, I remember watching them dance as a child. I also really enjoy Madame Raqia Hassan from Cairo, Egypt. A good friend was the late Ibrahim "Bobby" Farrah who was of Lebanese heritage...I love Zohair Zaki from Egypt (thanks to all for the comparisons), Mahmoud Reda, Samia Gamal, Naima Akef, Nagwa Fouad and Fifi Abdou!
It was a dream that became a reality. I am honored that I was given this great opportunity and privilege of being flown to Morocco by the Royal Family, the Crown Prince and his late majesty King Hassan to perform in a special gala concert.
I was treated like a princess...I also received a lot of International press from my experience and memories that will last a lifetime. I had my own government limousine driver everywhere I went. I visited all of the historical sights, went shopping and had a blast. As great as it was, it was still not be as magical as my wedding day! On my wedding day, I felt like I became the real Queen. : o)
At my gala concert in Morocco, I performed to an orchestra of more than 40 musicians. I also had many famous Arabic singers in my show that night. As they sang, I changed my belly dancing costume for each separate routine. I belly danced in a very classical and al-jeel (meaning modern) Egyptian style to the beautiful music of Um Kalthoum, Abdel Wabab, Farid Al Trash, Baliegh Hamdi, Amr Diab, Warda, Ihab Tawfik and many more!
The inside of the palace was very gorgeous with so much history that it was overwhelming. As an Anthropologist, I was amazed. The decor and style of the rooms in the palace gave me many interior design ideas that I used to decorate my "Moroccan" theme den in my own home.
The Moroccan royal family and the King had the utmost respect for me not only as a dancer but also, as a woman. The entire family were all amazing people and their Royal palace was like something out of the real 1001 Arabian Nights, and they treated me like family. This is the dream belly dancing gig of a lifetime! I really felt like I was back "home," it felt like something that I was very familiar with, not something new...I can still smell of beautiful Arabian Yasmeen (Jasmine) flowers in the delicate mist of midnight. There is magic in that part of the world.
11. Soraya, can you explain some basic moves and some of your very own distinctive, signature belly dancing steps and combinations that made you famous? Also, what are your most favorite and most difficult moves that you execute in your performances? Can you please offer some of your fitness tips to our readers?
Endurance and stamina are very important and a key aspect in my style of belly dancing. I work out regularly doing cardiovascular, strength training and stretching to keep my body in top condition to not only look the best that I can, but to be able to perform vigorously for long periods of time. I am naturally energetic and trim and this makes me feel lucky. However, muscular strength, flexibility and agility are crucial to make it all look so easy. I love being physically fit and as an athletic, this is imperative for my long belly dance shows, layered movements, etc.
I enjoy performing a very special move that I created called: “The Circle Shimmy”. I perform it in relive’ up on the balls of my feet and I shimmy the entire circumference of the stage in a complete circle. It takes a lot of leg and butt work. I keep my body from the hips up completely still and just move the lower half, sometimes; I throw in snake arms, as I execute this movement. I always pay special attention to my posture and I can’t emphasize enough how important it is in doing the movements and belly dance steps properly. I love to do very long, complex and rhythmic tabla (drum) solos layered with a lot of intricate steps, quick licks, pops, sharp accents and body locks. This movement looks great too in a spin, so I call it: “The Circle Spin”.
“The Ticky Tock” was something that I created as a child actually. During the slow segments in the music, I would put my hands behind my back, playing my Sagat (finger cymbals) as I demonstrated a “Traveling Camel” across the stage. To go into more detail, I use a lot of many different moves and variations of steps that all come to me depending on how the music “speaks” to me at a particular moment. A few belly dance moves includes the “Figure-Eight”. The proper posture is crucial to do this movement also. The body actually traces the shape of a figure eight.
I hold my body posture very strong and still, with shoulders relaxed and back, knees slightly bent, arms framing my body and I make it look like my hips are detached doing their own thing independent from the rest of my body as I isolate them. I use my legs and their strength to gently roll my hips downward and then I reverse it an upward motion as I trace the figure eight with only my hips and nothing else. I like to sometimes combine this with a "Vibrating Shimmy." The proper shimmy or shaking of the body originates from the knees, NOT from the hips, contrary to popular opinion. If you use the hips in a shimmy you cannot move and it completely limits the body’s mobility to use traveling steps, etc. Improper training from non-Arabic artists perpetuated a lot of bad dancing, misconceptions and habits from the beginning.
Unfortunately, there are so many dancers doing things incorrectly, with bad posture, technique and the worst, no feeling or cultural understanding for the delicate Middle Eastern music. When a dancer shimmies, she shouldn’t appear as if she is having a convulsion, it is should subtle yet strong enough to make a statement. It is time to read my hips, as I love to use my Shimmy in many ways. To quote Egyptian choreographer and good friend Madame Raqia Hassan: “Belly dance is not about how much you push, but about how much you feel. American dancers (not of Middle Eastern Arab or Sephardic heritage) move too much, they make me crazy!" I always like to emphasize with my art, the fact that it is not how much you move, but how little that matters with belly dancing. Also, feeling and timing are so important.
You can’t learn that in a class. Powerful, dramatic yet subtle body movements, proper posture, understanding every time signature and temp change in the Arabic music & strong technical execution of dance steps. The goal is always be flawless with Egyptian styling, that is the key to doing it right. It is definitely not running a dance floor devoid of authenticity, technique and understanding like a scared chicken making the audience nervous and agitated. I like to relax my audiences and welcome them into my dance. I read once where an American dancer came to Raqia talking about using a live snake. Raqia told her it is not Egyptian. Don't make this dance into something that it is not. Another example about which she feels strongly about is how ridiculous it is to dance with snakes. “This makes me laugh! "Why do they do this?” Asked Raqia. “This is not Oriental belly dancing, this is performed in the circus!"
It is so very important to retain the purity Egyptian Belly Dance. The dance fusion distorts the real truth about Oriental belly dancing and what it is supposed to look like. Raqia also said: "Why do you put Indian style with Oriental? If you want to dance Indian, dance Indian. You want to dance American, then dance American. Don't make something mixed and tell the people that this is Belly Dancing." Madame Fifi Abdou said:
“Just because a woman sways her hips around, does not make her a dancer! Too many call themselves belly dancers when they are not and worst yet, belly dance teachers”! I rest my case. ;)
I like to control and refine my shimmies. It helps to translate the music just like the other movements in my belly dance repertoire. There are many different kinds of shimmies and styles that I utilize. I must go back to the basis of the dance where if I move one part of my body, I do not move the other parts. I isolate as I move to the music. It is important not to forget that the proper shimmy begins at the knees, not at the hips. Another problem if the shimmy starts in the hip area is that it limits other movements will not work well. I enjoy layering unique steps and dance movements on top of each other as if I am building a song or composing a piece of music. My body is my instrument. That is why the shimmy must take place in the knees, so that it enables me to walk with the shimmy and or layer other movements. In the standing position, you can also use the gluteus muscles as well, but it is limiting. On occasion, I use my gluteus muscles to center my shimmies or to throw in an accent to an existing shimmy. I affectionately call this: “The butt shimmy”! I enjoy to also perform a move called: "The Camel," which is an undulation of the back and the spine and resembles the natural undulations of the animal indigenous to the Middle East, The Sahara Desert, Mediterranean and North Africa. I also like to do what I call, “A Reversed Camel". This undulation comes very naturally to me. It is a gentle ripple effect, like a body wave. I like to perform this movement using my midriff and stomach. Some musical rhythms call for “A Full Body Camel” or “The Traveling Camel”. I also like to do my reverse camels with a shimmy too. I look at it like an architect building a home.
I do EXACTLY what the music dictates to me as an Arabic dance artist. I also do a movement called a; "Hip Drop," in which I swing my buttocks and hips around in a delicate yet strong way to the back, as if to sit and twist the hips (on the down) to accent the music. I always accent the downbeat with this movement. I use this move to embrace a powerful musical time signature change in the Arabic rhythm and musical composition. At the same time I twist on the down, (a good twist is very important) as you gently kick your leg out to accent the beat. It is also nice to do this movement in a complete circle and then reverse the circle going in the opposite direction. Each movement also has a very specific piece of music that compliments it. I also like to do the hip drop minus the kick to accent the music. I like to travel around the stage when I greet my audience, especially when I first enter my sacred performance space on the dance floor. I move with feeling, passion and love in my heart as I say hello to my audience and welcome them to my performance. It is very important to capture their undivided attention from the very beginning, hold it, never let go, until the final spin and bow is taken and the curtain comes down. I also use a move called “Head Slides, “. I like to frame my face with either both arms up over my head or only one hand under my chin. I gently move my neck muscles from left to right in time to the music.
When I walk the entire stage, I use very artistic accents and pauses to emphasize my individuality. I like to bring everyone into my world as I prepare them for what will follow next. I use very exciting, upbeat and dramatic music to compliment each specific event, whether I am hired for an elegant Arabic wedding, large corporate “Arabian Nights” theme party, Casino concert in the showroom, high-end special event, etc. I put a lot of thought into what music that I will choose. Since I work for so many Middle Eastern people and their families on a regular basis, I investigate what their personal favorite songs and popular singers are. I then add my own special touch making sure to cover all bases. After dancing to many well loved classical musical compositions and the new modern singers, I then build my routine into a climax with a frenzy of drummers and percussionists playing complex syncopated, poly-rhythmic beats. There is a step called: “The Hip Circle”. When I execute this movement, I do a gentle twist of my hips that is VERY subtle and sharp. Immediately following this quick hip twist, I follow with my right hip and trace a complete circle.
As I am in the middle of tracing this circle, I gently bend my waist and lower half downward toward the stage and then I come up to complete the circle. As I am completing this circle, I do a series of smaller, tighter circles. Sometimes when I make a hip circle I use different subtle accents, depending on the music and my mood at the time.
I use these personal accents, as I am just about to complete my hip circle, to tease my audience. I pause and add a delicate hand gesture and sometimes I reverse the circle and finish it in the opposite direction. It is hard delineate this in words. Too many dancers do not do the right movement when the music changes and/or calls for it and the Arab people will know that this is very wrong and will not watch. A bad dancer can also throw off the band! The audience studies my every movement, step and shimmy and I love it when the Orchestra watches closely as I become one with the music. When the beat and rhythm changes so should the movement and feeling
There is a nice step that I have enjoyed since I was four years old called: “Snake Arms". This is used during the slow section of the music called: "The Taqseem" or “The Chifitelli” which is the improvisation part of the music. In which each instrument takes a separate solo. Once again, perfect posture is paramount to do this dance right as it is in every aspect of belly dancing. I hold my body still and only move my arms, starting from my shoulders to end all way to my fingertips. I move my arms and shoulders in an undulation similar to gentle moving water in a very sensuous way. It can also be compared to like a snake winding through the grass.
I strive to make sure that all of my diverse audiences are much more than just simply satisfied. I like to take my audiences to the next level on a non-stop artistic journey, one that they will never forget and to always leave them wanting more.
In closing, I would like to mention how the unfortunate and tragic events of September 11th 2001, have pushed us back even further, just when the US seemed to start to make great strides in accepting the Arab-American arts and the rich cultural heritage. It is terrible and very sad but we will move forward…Inshallah!
*Due to the enormous amount of E-mail received, the company staff does their best to write back to everyone as quickly as possible. Shukran!
To Contact Soraya, the Queen of authentic
Middle Eastern style Belly Dancing,
Professional Belly Dancing by Soraya, International Belly Dance Star
Soraya’s Mid-East Dance and Music Productions, P.O. Box 3284, Margate City, NJ, 08402, (located 20 minutes from Atlantic City, NJ). She also has offices on the Main Line in Gladwyne, PA, (20 minutes from Philadelphia, PA). To contact Soraya by phone, please call (609) 823-2029. E-mail: SorayaEnt@aol.com
Soraya’s Mid-East Dance and Music Productions and their popular Moroccan theme parties re-create the mystery, history, excitement and exotic beauty of The Royal Palace in Morocco. Soraya danced in Morocco as an invited guest of his late majesty King Hassan and the Royal Family. Ask about their theme nights and bring the atmosphere of a desert oasis of the Casbah, Marrakech and Casablanca to your next event. Soraya’s Internationally acclaimed ethnic arts entertainment agency also brings to life theme parties from all over Arabia and the Mediterranean including, but not limited to: Egypt, Lebanon, Israel, Turkey, Tunisia, Greece, Asia Minor, the Sahara Desert and more from this magical region of the world. Authentic Middle Eastern and Arabian Nights theme parties are Soraya’s specialty. Elaborate Corporate ARABIAN NIGHT theme party entertainment, Arabic weddings, Casino shows, concerts, upscale special events, high-end hotel banquets is what the agency is best known for. Full-scale event and party planning from concept to completion! Call Soraya and bring the authentic art of her rich cultural heritage. Offer your clients an event that they will never forget!
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