Uncovering Your Best Kept Secret: Materializing the Feeling
Throughout my journey as a dancer, the underlying theme that continues to stand out is the value of understanding the culture from which we dance (in the context of Middle Eastern dance such as Belly Dance (Raqs Sharqi) terms). Whether one is teaching or performing, a skill that allows an individual to stand out is understanding the culture they dance from. Speaking from a perspective of a dancer who is of non-Middle Eastern or non-Arab descent, I realize that this dance provides a richness of culture, history, and passion; which can be understood through its verbal and non-verbal language. 

As our dance evolves continuously, I cannot express enough the importance of studying the past, such as dancers like Samia Gamal, Soheir Zaki, Naima Akef, and many more. There is a reason it is called the Golden Era. The Golden Era has an abundance of information, from hand gestures to body language. A dancer like Samia Gamal is able to tell a story. As a non-Arab dancer, I can understand her story through a grainy 1950s video just by her body language. I sit and ask myself “what do her non-verbal cues tell me?” Her cues tell me more than words can truly provide. Sometimes learning isn’t just taking a class. I think we forget that we can sometimes learn a lot more by sitting back and watching the legends to which we owe our dance to today. This skill has been one of the turning points for how I view my own dance as well. 

As we know there are 22 Arab countries, all with different dialects. As a working dancer, it is possible to be dancing for an Egyptian audience, an American audience, or anything in between.  A skill that will take your dancing to the next level is understanding the difference between audiences. Every crowd will react and interpret gestures differently.  This is why it is so crucial to understanding your audience and the songs you will be performing for them. One of the ways that I have found works very well is translating the lyrics to the songs you will perform.  I do not Google Translate the lyrics as it is not an actual representation of the words and phrases being sung most of the time.  Instead, I will have someone who speaks the language translate the words and more importantly interpret the meaning of the song. When in doubt, use an instrumental song for your performance.  

Furthermore, materializing the feeling a song is portraying will take your dance above and beyond.  Understanding the history, feeling, and context of the art itself will allow you, as a dancer, to embody every aspect on a stage.  A musician once asked me if I understood the meaning of the song I had just danced.  It caught me a little off guard as I did not totally understand the meaning, but I had researched the lyrics. I realized then how vital it is to understand what a song means in every scope.  The moment we become aware of these intricacies of Belly dance (Raqs Sharqi), our way of constructing an artistic piece will change. I notice that when I understand fully what I am dancing to, I become a holistic dancer because I transmit what I feel by connecting to the song. The implementation of non-verbal cues allows feelings to transcend past the stage and into the audience’s hearts. Your piece will then become one that they will never forget.  I had a mentor once tell me, “at the end of the day not many will remember your intricate footwork, but they’ll always remember how you made them feel.”