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Middle Eastern Dance offers
Adventure: An authentic ancient dance art, thrilling, challenging, and beautiful.
Status: Makes any celebration a memorable event.
Style: Express your true power and glory through dance and costuming.
Luxury: Revel in your body; feel good about yourself.
Health: A low-impact, strengthening workout without exercise. Increases flexibility, abdominal stability, and stamina.
Well-Being: Stress-reliever; promotes grace, confidence, clarity, and positive energy.
Fun! Dance is a great way to have a good time, meet new friends, and make life more delicious!

History: Raqs Sharqi (Middle Eastern or Oriental Dance, also known as  Belly Dance), is primarily an expression of joy. It is the most widely distributed dance of the Middle East. Danced by women & men, children & grandparents, from North Africa to Northern Turkey, from Greece to Saudi Arabia, Raqs Sharqi is versatile, elastic, and, as a living dance art, continually evolving, incorporating elements of other dance forms with ease.

It is also ancient, predating both Islam and Christianity. Some of the dance movements have been connected with 5,000 year old birth rituals (itinerant women’s dance companies also acted as midwives). No one knows exactly where it started or what its origins are, though most scholars believe it originated in Egypt. The steps are mostly unnamed, yet the dance has persisted and flourished despite overwhelming odds.

When introduced to America at the World’s Fair in 1893, Raqs Sharqi was marketed as “belly dance” the most salacious possible translation of the French “danse du ventre” or dance of the stomach  (which was actually a different dance altogether).  This was the Victorian era, when women wore corsets, and exposed ankles were considered risqué.  Imagine the uproar over exposed midriffs! (which, ironically, were introduced by Europeans.) Not only this, the show was enclosed in a tent and advertised as being too shocking for ladies; only men were allowed to view it. The show was a financial success, but no wonder the dance’s reputation suffered.

Fortunately, this undeserved image is changing thanks to  scholars, dancers, and audiences worldwide who cherish this beautiful, challenging dance art.

Description: The dance is primarily composed of isolations, including undulations, circles, and figure-eights of hands, arms, shoulders, torso, abdomen, and hips. It additionally incorporates shimmies of the hips and shoulders, and accents articulated with various parts of the body. It is a dance of relaxation, understatement, and power, rather than athleticism and pyrotechnics. It is a dance of the people, of expression and feeling rather than highly refined technique. However, as the dance has transitioned to the theater stage, it has adopted higher levels of training, flashy costumes, more traveling, and larger, grander movements than are typically found in the home version.

Middle Eastern dance evolved as a complement to Middle Eastern music, though it can be successfully fused with other music. The dance is classically an abstract visual representation of the music, including its emotional timbre. Improvisation and “feeling” for the music are highly valued. The dancer represents the musical ornaments and extended improvisations (taqasim) of the musicians with his or her own interpretation and personal expression. As the dancer listens to the musicians, they also listen to the dancer, reinterpreting and embellishing the dancer’s movement; the result is a high-level collaboration between the auditory, the visual, and the emotional.

Alia’s Focus: I prefer the spontaneous thrill of live music above all, and I work primarily through improvisation, a direct response to, and interaction with, the music. My goal is to make this look effortless; it is not. Improvised music has never before been heard; as a dancer I must anticipate the direction in which the musician will go, and yet be completely open to whatever direction s/he takes. The body must be prepared to take this journey without help from the logical mind; it requires skill, intuitive feel for the music, and a deep level of listening. I also use choreography, most often with recorded music. For me, choreography is either abstract, that is, movement hooked to music, or it may incorporate specific meaning such as dramatic themes, scenario, and character work.

My work has evolved over the thirty years I have been studying and practicing this dance. My focus now is not about acquisition of “new” movement, but about luxuriating in the music, hearing the emotional context, developing the “eastern soul” (rouh al sharq), and practice—tuning my skills for effortless expression.

Immersing myself in this dance and music has been a journey to my own ethnic roots, an attempt to understand my own history and to honor my family. I am Lebanese and Syrian on my father’s side, yet was born here and raised as an American. In my American freedom, I have a unique opportunity to pursue an art form that is not widely respected in its homeland. It is my desire, through the most perfect execution of this art I can attain, to help bring it the value and recognition it merits.

This dance lives, breathes, and evolves. Therefore, I do not seek to preserve, in museum-like stasis, a relic of the past, but to absorb this dance tradition, to make it my own, infuse it with my own cultural “accent.” I am now studying Arab music theory and the nay (cane flute), and have started a Middle Eastern band. My future plans include study of the Arabic language, and travel to Lebanon, Egypt, and Turkey, both to study the music and dance and to soak up the ethos of its (and my), homeland.

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