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Interview with Belly dancer Hadia

by Salome

With a professional dance career spanning three decades, Hadia is considered to truly be a master performer and teacher. As testament to the massive touring she has done in the America's, Europe, Middle and Far East that continues today.
Hadia was the recipient of the global Woman of Vision - Arts, Entertainment and Culture award, and the winner of the IAMED Best Choreographer Award and Best Modern Egyptian Dancer. She also received the Middle Eastern Dance Lifetime Achievement Award, as well as the Giza Academy Award for Best Instructional Videos.

Based out of Montreal, Canada, Hadia conducts annual tours to the Middle East and Turkey, she administers teacher trainings, intensives, and has 13 Oriental dance DVD's on the market!


Salome: You've stated that the public perception of Oriental dance is immediately related to the integrity of dance community members. What is your take on the level of integrity the dance community is currently operating with?

Hadia: Professional ethics? I think that it is important to consider the integrity of the performance and the teaching aspects of our profession separately. In regards to performance - compared to many of the dance forms that I am and have been involved in, we come a bit short on the "artistic" integrity and professionalism yardstick.

Middle Eastern Dance does have a tendency to attract those who are neither prepared to nor inspired to work as hard as classical, jazz and flamenco dance. There is a certain humility and respect for the art itself, as well as for fellow artists that arises from working extremely hard for a very long time in order to master a dance form to the point that one can be considered professional, worthy of performing in public and earn respect within the community.

However, as oriental dance is a very accessible dance form, it is common place that a dancer can become "professional" i.e. is hired to perform in public, with one year, six months, two months of training or no training at all. A nice body, a pretty face, youth and a discounted fee are often enough. This undercutting is a very large problem that can only be avoided by solidarity between the performers. Dancers should have enough respect for themselves to demand correct enumeration for their worth. This tendency has actually brought the market prices down, which benefits no one but the owner of the establishment. I have even heard of dancers performing for free.

This fact perpetuates unprofessional attitudes within the dance community, lack of respect for the art and towards fellow artists. Due to the fact that the origin and evolution of our dance is the predominantly Islamic countries of the Middle East and North Africa, one can not ignore the importance that the role of women in Islam has on public opinion towards and status of dancers in that culture. Everyone dances.... music and dance is an inseparable part of their culture, from childhood, yet professional public performance is haram (forbidden). This created an inevitable connection between public dancers and women of ill repute.

Although many foreign dancers have devoted their entire careers to present Middle Eastern dance as a beautiful and legitimate art form, there is still a very strong tendency for many others to present themselves as provocative, show girl "sex kittens". It also perpetuates the common public misconceptions that our art form is related to stripping.

Integrity in teaching - untrained public performance and unprofessional attitudes by the dancers themselves will inevitably damage the general public's opinion of our art form, cause serious physical harm, perpetuate incorrect and potentially dangerous technique as well as culturally inaccurate information... these are the serious consequences of lack of integrity and responsibility as a TEACHER!

In light of the previously mentioned cultural taboos in the Middle East concerning public dancing by women, there were neither schools of study nor a body of reference material available concerning the history and evolution of our dance form. Consequently, there is quite a bit of confusion as to what is culturally correct and artistically accurate.

Although instructors must strive to untangle some of this mysterious web, a student should not have to undertake a serious research project to be able to receive safe and accurate information from an instructor. This is especially important when the instructor is a well-marketed, high profile, famous one. Sadly, this is often not the case.

Salome: How do you think individuals can make a difference and what are your practices to support your philosophy?

Hadia:We can't do anything about the rest of the world other than the very best that we can in our own personal worlds and trust that a wonderful example is a very powerful tool.

IF a dancer continues to work very hard and to study with great teachers who themselves demonstrate integrity and a solid understanding of the art form; IF a dancer strives for mastery and is ready and willing to work and work hard to achieve it; If a dancer is also responsible about presenting excellence in her performances, as well teaching it to her students, then she can and should call herself a true professional. She will inspire others who see her, even an uneducated public. She will also be worthy of respect from her students and peers and through her example, encourage professionalism.

I feel that the major contributions that I have to make to the community which support my philosophy is to always try to practice what I preach and to offer my Teacher Training Certification Program to others.

It is a broad spectrum course that fuses 35 years of acquired knowledge, practical experience and teaching skills with very solid knowledge about the body and injury protection from career as a manual/massage therapist.

Salome: You have an abundant repertoire including Egyptian folklore, Egyptian Raqs Sharqi, and even Tunisian but I understand you also practice Turkish Rom. It's seldom I come across a dancer who has spent the kind of time in Turkey that you have, could you illuminate us about this dance style and your journey with it?

Hadia: I LOVE Turkey and I LOVE Turkish ROM. I fell in love with the country 27 years ago on my first visit. I was fortunate to have seen and studied a wide range of Turkish folklore at this time, but it was not until about 10 years ago that I had my first encounter and class in the ROM (gypsy) style of Turkish dance. The raw, wild, unrestrained, gutsy, almost primal energy drew me to it like a magnet. I had been working as a professional flamenco artist for many years and felt very comfortable with the earthy, bawdy gestures. However, I admit that I originally felt a bit challenged with this energy with the oriental style ROM music, perhaps because of my lengthy career as a more subtle Egyptian Style oriental dancer.

The vocabulary of gestures in ROM dance is quite vast, sometimes very obvious sometimes confusing unless you are familiar with the people and their culture including their history. Every trip, every impromptu dancing opportunity with the ROM, every class, all slowly simmered inside until the movements started to come out naturally and without thinking. There is a point where the movement gets more and more natural. It is so real, it is so strong, it is so passionate and unrestrained. What else can I say! I LOVE IT!

I have also been studying Indian folkloric dance from Rajasthan and Punjab, while undertaking research into the origins of the ROM people in India, the migration paths and the connections and differences between the "gypsy" dances of many countries.

Salome: Your portfolio of past workshops is astounding, you've been everywhere from Argentina to Budapest to Cairo. You are a celebrated performer, but clearly concentrated on teaching. How long did you study before becoming a teacher?

Hadia: Although I already had a background in jazz and contemporary dance, I had only been studying oriental dance for one year when I started to teach. I had a role as Fatima in a theater musical while working on my degree in theater. Many of my fellow students, as well as a number of staff in the department convinced me to start a casual weekly class.

With the blessing of the theatre director (and complimentary access to a training room and sound system) I began. However, because I knew that I lacked both adequate training and teaching skills, I did not charge for the classes, but considered them to be just another opportunity to dance and learn more.

I began to organize and charge for classes after another year. I found out rather early that I really love to teach and always offered classes when I was in one place long enough to set them up. There were no teacher training courses at that time and so I had to learn by the trial and error approach. After 35 years, I think that my system works.

Salome: What subject matter has proved pertinent for you?

Hadia: A serious and lengthy background in many folkloric dance forms, as well as lengthy and varied training with some exceptional oriental artists. Combined with lengthy training in classical, jazz, flamenco, African, Brazilian and Polynesian Dance. Combined with my second career as a massage and manual therapist. All of the above have allowed me to become an accomplished artist and a very well educated instructor who has culturally accurate information to share, a wide variety of possible and complimentary methods to present the material and the assurance that I am qualified to not only do no harm but also explain things in an anatomically accurate, safe, efficient and clear manner.

Also it is extremely important to constantly focus on musical interpretation, including the rhythms as well as the instruments, phrasing and melodies. This approach can also assist students to develop the ability to explore and develop artistic expression and personal style.

Salome: What advice do you have for up and coming instructors?

Hadia: Train with lots of different instructors in order to distill the best that each one has to offer and to develop your own style. Research your information (in the countries of origin if possible). Study at least a basic anatomy and kinesiology and try to make sure that you do not injure your students. Take advantage of some of the excellent teacher training courses offered by knowledgeable and experienced instructors. Love your students or don't bother teaching.

Salome: What are your thoughts on creating a universal vocabulary for Oriental dance?

Hadia: I feel that we have far more many important aspects of our professional development and image to take care of before worrying about a vocabulary. The most important thing is to make sure that we are communicating with our students and variations in nomenclature have never proved to be a problem.

Also our dance form has very few fundamental movements, but the textures, nuances, interpretations and variations are infinite. Thus these must be demonstrated in detail, unlike many other forms were an instructor can just call out the required progression of steps and movements and the students will reproduce it without even seeing it. Our art is about HOW we do things far more that WHAT things we do.

Salome: You began producing the annual "Festival of the Nile" in Canada in 2002, featuring Middle Eastern dance, music and culture. Can you tell us about the production and your future plans?

Hadia: It was a very successful event; the only Middle Eastern Dance Festival in Canada. It grew out of 3 years of the Rocky Mountain Festival, which itself grew out of my idea to start to introduce self care, awareness and injury prevention into our community.

Dancers were curious, but still just wanted to dance, so I introduced some basic concepts and approaches within a long weekend dance workshop to the large group and worked with a small group for the 5 day body awareness components. For the second year, I invited a Turkish Folklore teacher for the weekend dance section and started to streamline the injury prevention self-care component. The third year, I invited a colleague from Barcelona for the dance weekend and offered my first teacher training course to present these injury prevention concepts to the teachers.

During promotional interviews and television spots one of the television hosts said "So you are having a belly dance festival" and thus the Festival of the Nile - Canada was born. The eternal idealist... I gathered together a fabulous group of extremely conscientious and highly qualified artists in all aspects of Middle Eastern dance, folklore, oriental, classical, and modern dance classes as well as history, traditional costuming, lectures on the Ancient Egyptian temple system, rhythm, music, lyrics and cymbal classes all interconnected for an extremely complete and comprehensive experience and education. The courses were all complimentary and attended by all the students.

We also had three gala performances and fashion show. Everyone loved it, but it was far too much work! I realized that instead of doing all this for everyone else, I needed to do things for me and go in search of my own inspiration and education. If a group of dancers in my new home of Montreal were willing to work as a committee and share the work, I would do it again.