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Teaching Bellydance, an Interview with Kameal

By Salome

Kameal - master teacher,
performer, choreographer
and dance company directorKameal is a master teacher, performer, choreographer and dance company director. In this interview she shares how she began dancing and wise words for would-be instructors.

Salome: When were you first introduced to Belly dance?

Kameal: I was first introduced to belly dance in 1972. Two of my friends invited me to their recital. When I heard the music and zills and watched the dancers enter, I was hooked.

Salome: Can you tell us a bit about your first years as a dancer?

Kameal: My first years as a dancer were spent going to classes year round for as long as my teacher, Nina, would teach. After a year, I was in my first recital. Our recitals always consisted of live Greek/Armenian or Arab music so it was very exciting and challenging. Live music breathes its own life into a dance so it is always interesting and exciting to make the transition from tape to live. Nina taught us how to make our own costumes, so there were never any two alike. It was wonderful to go out and choose the colors for your first costume and design it. I teach my students today how to design and make their own costumes and am always so proud of their artistry. I soloed in my second recital. I was terrified, but I did it and I loved it. We were all terrified before we danced, but once we were out there dancing together, our fear melted and it was pure pleasure. Eventually, I began dancing in clubs and restaurants and have danced with Fred Elias, George Abdo, Mike and Buddy Sarkisian, Sirocco, Brothers of the Baladi, Joseph Pusey and John Bilezikjian.

Salome: What prompted you to become a teacher?

Kameal: What prompted me to become a teacher was when my teacher stopped teaching. I took classes from other dancers in the Boston area, but could not find another one whose style I liked. So, I tested the waters in becoming a teacher myself. I discovered that I could break down movement and transfer that information to my students. I taught in the format of my mentor and have continued to do so over the years. I enjoy teaching and I enjoy the camaraderie which makes teaching one of the most enjoyable experiences of my life.

Salome: Which area, teaching or performing, has felt more rewarding?

Kameal: Hmmm, that is an interesting question. I had to think about this one a bit because they both have their rewards and can both be as great. My conclusion is watching my students perform with accomplishment is the most rewarding to me. I feel so proud of them sometimes that I feel like a bubble that might burst, and sometimes does.

Salome: What responsibility do you see teachers having in Belly dance?

Kameal: The first responsibility I see teachers having in belly dance is teaching the dance well. Students need to have a solid base to build on, so the basics are extremely important. Expression comes later with most dancers. A teacher must be able to explain things in a way that everyone understands and be willing to find ways to communicate movement and steps, even to the most challenging student. When working with a performance class, the teacher assumes the responsibility of her or his students that they will dance their best, look their best and present themselves with integrity. For the first time performers, the venue is very important. I like to put my students in a theater setting, where people seek the arts. It gives them a sense of pride in their work and they strive to do well. My teacher did all of her shows in the VFW hall and they were great. You create the atmosphere wherever it is. Our ongoing shows are in a coffee house and are well received by our community with standing room only crowds. I believe a student is a reflection of their instructor. Ultimately, it all comes back to you, the teacher, so take pride in your student and your student will take pride in you.

Salome: What skills should a dancer have before considering a position as a teacher?

Kameal: I think to teach, a dancer must be able to break down movement. If you can do that then your next step is communicating it to others. If you can do those two things, then you are a potential teacher. The most disturbing thing to me over the years in taking workshops have been the ones where you "follow the leader" and "do what I do". I paid for that? So, you have the potential. Can you make your class interesting and fun? If the answer is yes, then all the better. Are you creative? Bonus. Be professional in your presentation. You are the centerpoint of your classes so set a good example.

Salome: From your introduction to present day, have you seen a rise or decline in the public's perception of Belly dance?

Kameal: I have seen a definite rise in the public's perception of belly dance.

Salome: What do you attribute it to?

Kameal: The availability of it, for one. You can find some sort of belly dance community in almost any big city in the USA. You can also find interest in the dance in a great many smaller communities too. The Internet certainly has opened doors to staying informed of what is happening in belly dance just about anywhere in the world. So, if you are traveling, you can find, if you seek. Belly dance has been hypnotizing people for millennia, in one form or another. Is it no wonder in this day and age where people are seeking enlightenment that they would return to belly dance?

Salome: What direction would you like to see Belly dance taking in the future?

Kameal: I think she remains on her own path, but what I would like to see is art. I would like to see the dance portrayed as art in motion. We represent antiquity when we borrow from this dance form. I believe we should respect it by our presentation and representation of it. We should respect the cultures that we borrow from. For me the music is as important as the dance. It may be the most beloved part of it for me. Music of the Orient will always continue to captivate and please. It is the heartbeat of the dance and quite near the center of my universe, when pertaining to my experiences in belly dance.