Interview with Belly dancer Yasmina Ramzyby Salome
"Yasmina Ramzy, founder and Artistic Director of Arabesque Dance Company and Arabesque Academy, School of Middle Eastern Dance and Music Arts, received her key training from leading instructors in the Middle East. With an early foundation in ballet and constantly pursuing innovation and new challenges, Yasmina has broadened her knowledge base by studying Modern, Azerbaijani, Latin, Brazilian, Abinaya, Pilates, Capoeira and Aikido. She has studied Arabic language at the University of Toronto, as well as Arabic drumming and voice with Dr. George Sawa.
Yasmina has been performing, teaching and choreographing Middle Eastern dance, particularly the Egyptian style, since 1981 and has toured extensively as a soloist and with Arabesque Dance Company, teaching workshops and performing internationally. Along with Arabesque Dance Company, she was a featured performer at the 2nd International Conference on Middle Eastern Dance in California and at the United Nations Peace Conference in New York at Madison Square Gardens Theatre and with Alabina at the Hummingbird Centre for the Performing Arts in Toronto as well as many prestigious venues throughout the Middle East."
Salome: Your enterprise consists of three main branches, a dance academy, dance company and booking agency. In and of itself each area must require tremendous attention. How do you successfully balance and operate your business?
Yasmina: Arabesque employs a business manager, a company manager, an office manager and two administrators/receptionists, ten teachers, the company's 20 dancers, seven musicians and a rehearsal coach. This enables me to travel and devote most of my time to the creative side of the business; choreography, teaching and performing.
Salome: Your dance academy offers a multitude of learning opportunities. Can you tell us what, in addition to regular dance class, is offered and why you choose to facilitate such an undertaking?
Yasmina: In addition to the regular 30 dance classes every week which include technique, choreography and folklore, Arabesque Academy offers classes in Middle Eastern dance history, Arabic drumming, Arabic singing, Arabic music and theory as well as Arabic language and culture. I firmly believe that to create a real Belly dancer all of the above are needed. We also offer an intensive two week Professional course once a year by audition only that take a student through all of the facets of working as a professional in all venues for Middle Eastern dance.
Salome: In most dance genres a professional dance company is a common entity but not so in Oriental dance. What led you to found the Arabesque Dance Company?
Yasmina: I was brought up attending the Ballet and taking regular dance class. When I fell in love with Middle Eastern dance, I never understood why this beautiful and rich art form was not held in the same regard as ballet and modern dance. It was my goal from the beginning to establish Belly dance as high art. I started by educating myself on what the mainstream dance organizations and the various arts councils considered to be professional art and its prerequisites. Thus began the hard work of creating Arabesque Dance Company. I was fortunate to work with a group of talented young women who felt likewise and were willing to put in the many hours and dedication it took to work towards precision and high artistic integrity.
Salome: What are your thoughts on creating a universal dance vocabulary, and certification system? And what body of people do you think should guide that process?
Yasmina: I believe that Belly dance is a philosophy and a way of movement based on responsiveness. Once you have disciplined a dancer's body to move in a certain way, then that dancer will create her own steps as the music dictates to her. I don't believe a common vocabulary will benefit anyone and on the contrary may be limiting. I am strongly against a certificate system. One either has the talent or not. A piece of paper says nothing.
Salome: Your work is a contribution in building the professional industry in Oriental dance. What advice can you give to those who aspire to do the same?
Yasmina: Being an amateur Belly dancer can be a very fulfilling hobby. As in all art forms, if you want to become a professional, you must be completely dedicated to and a servant of the art. A regular career or family will have to wait if ever. Other goals such as money or notoriety will only bring frustration and sadness. If you are one pointedly serving the art, then the road is clear and again a fulfilling path.