I must have been living under a rock! When I was requested to write a Holiday blog about the Rockettes for Bella Ballroom Dance Studio in Orange County, I had no real idea what this iconic dance company was. After some research I quickly discovered that the Rockettes make up an impressive precision dance company dating back to the 1920s and are very much alive and high kicking today. Performing in bigger productions and working with the Sahlala Dancers has given me a huge appreciation for the work and talent that goes into creating a uniform look in a dance group. As a soloing bellydancer, we have the liberty to show off our individual strengths and can express ourselves freely and independently. As a troupe dancer, we are only as strong as our compadres, and the shows strength relies on the unity of the group. It can be a truly beautiful thing! Read on as I share what I discovered about one of the world’s beloved and top precision dance companies.
The Rockettes Rise to the Radio City Christmas Spectacular
Glamour, patriotism, precision, commercialism, entertainment, and joy; these are just a few of the words that can be used to describe The Rockettes. Created in the 1920’s, this dance company has persevered well into present day and generated an American legacy... READ MORE.
As an entertainer, I often feel like a one-woman show. Continually venturing and expanding my knowledge of dance and the performance arts has shaped my life. It’s fascinating to take a moment to look at the lives of the artists who played foundational roles in what we understand as dance today. Surprisingly one of the dances currently embraced by the world started with a man whose beginnings were rooted very close to home. From Southern California to San Francisco, vaudeville actor Henry Fox got his start before heading to New York to influence what would become embraced as Foxtrot. Read on…
Fox's Start in Southern California
While social dance is very popular in Southern California, most may not know that Foxtrot beginning’s stemmed out of Pomona, California. Wait, what? The Foxtrot is from Los Angeles?! Well, not quite; but the dance’s... READ MORE.
Grab your partner and do-si-do! November 29th is America’s Square Dance Day!
What is Square Dancing?
This folk form of entertainment is for a group of dancers. Square dancing is typically done with four couples arranged in a square with one couple on each side facing in towards the middle of the square. In most American forms of square dance, a directed caller cues the dancers to do movements... READ MORE
To this day, one of my favorite Halloween’s involved an army of zombiefied women and Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.” In 2013 I had the privilege of organizing a flash mob for the streets of Oakland via the one and only Hipline dance studio. Stopping traffic, playing tribute to Mr. MJ, and being joined by an amazing group of dancing women on ghouls night was epic. “Thriller” now holds a place in my heart. Here is why it holds a place in the worlds:
…cause this is THRILLER!
By Ziva Emtiyaz
With Halloween around the corner, the festivities are brewing and Michael Jackson’s 1983 hit “Thriller” can be heard blaring in dance studios worldwide. The horror themed pop song was used to produce one of the most influential music videos of all time... ...let’s dig up some of its lesser-known details and shine some light on its dark and chilling dance! READ MORE
Dance and tradition go hand in hand like a bride and groom. As a dance instructor at Bella Ballroom in Orange County, I get to work with wedding couples in preparation for their first dance nearly every day. Now more than ever I see that the value of preparing a first dance goes way beyond just the dancing. As the big day approaches, wedding plans and work often crowd a couple’s schedule. Preparing a first dance gives the marrying duo a chance to connect before the wedding. It’s also an opportunity for a bride and groom to learn something new and create something together. They gain social dance skills they will use the rest of their lives as a married couple and will prepare something for their friends and family to enjoy. (Or at the very least they’ll feel more comfortable on the dance floor in front of all of their guests!)
While these values make valid sense in today’s world, I wonder how and why the first dance tradition began. After a little research, here is what I found out:
The First First Dance
By Ziva Emtiyaz
While the first dance between a bride and groom is commonly accepted as a modern European and American wedding tradition, it is uncommonly known why. There are various theories to how this ritual began. One explanation comes from the Eastern European idea of a formal ball... READ THE FULL ARTICLE HERE
Badiaa Masabni, a true wonder woman of her day, was a dancer, singer, actress, and entrepreneur. This quadruple threat was born in 1892 to a Lebanese father and a Syrian mother in Beirut, and was a pioneer in Arabic Dance’s evolution as a performance art.
In 1926, Badiaa opened up Egypt’s first music hall in Cairo. The nightclub was called “Opera Casino” and offered a variety of entertainment to attract both European and Middle Eastern audiences. Baidiaa also offered a 6 o’clock show for only women that was packed every night. Badiaa hired artists from Egypt, but also from Sudan and Europe. Her choreographers came from out of the country and her stage shows had a strong foreign influence. It was this fusion of multiculturalism that gave today’s Raqs al Sharqui (Dance of the East) its’ glamorous stage-show start. It was on Badiaa’s stage that stars such as Samia Gamal, Tahiya Karioka, and Naima Akef were born.
In addition to taking Arabic Dance to the stage, Badiaa Masabni influenced the style of the dance as a performance art. Originally performers would stand in one spot, and the upper body and arms did not play a particular role in the movement. Badiaa incorporated the Western idea of traveling around the entire stage and exploring the use of space. She encouraged dancers not only to hold their arms out to the sides, but also to use serpentine, flowing patterns of arm movement. Badiaa introduced the use of the veil and taught choreography to traditionally improvisational dancers.
Badiaa also had a strong understanding of Middle Eastern music. She loved to play finger cymbals and would sit with the band to play for the dancers in her nightclub. This led to the now common ritual of hiring a musician dedicated to playing just zils as part of the ensemble. Badiaa also hired classically trained musicians to join the traditional line-up of riqq (tambourine), zurna (winded instrument), and tabla (Egyptian drum) players. The taqsim (improvisational solo) could be explored and more intricate rhythms we’re introduced to the dancers at her club.
Badiaa Masabni passed away in 1970. She was a true feminine character with the strength of Superman and the allure of a beautiful woman. Her innovative and artistic eye was well paired with her business-smart intuition. Badiaa’s influence brought Arabic Dance to the stage and her impact on the style of Raqs al Sharqui is seen today worldwide. Badiaa Masabni will forever remain a pioneer in this performance art that will be embraced for years to come.
Ziva Emtiyaz loves being inspired by the Wonder Women of the world. Explore your inner and outer strength on the dance floor with Ziva in Arabic Dance II, Shimmy Pop, and Shimmy Pop Toning at Hipline. Reach out to Ziva at email@example.com and www.zivadancer.com .
Badia Masabni. (n.d.). Retrieved February 27, 2013, from
Buonaventura, W. (2010). Serpent of the Nile. Northampton, MA: Interlink.
Richards, T. (Ed.). (2000). The Belly Dance Book. Concord, CA: Backbeat.
They say the heart is fickle. If you really love someone, you will feel it in your gut. In the West, we often think of the heart as the body’s center of romance. In several Middle Eastern countries, it is the liver that is believed to be passion’s organ. The Roman physician Galen developed the notion that the heart and the liver are sources of love over 1,000 years ago. One of the first great Arab-Muslim scientists, Al Razi, perpetuated Galen’s theory about the liver, and it spread across the Middle East into Egypt.
The Arabic word for liver is pronounced “kabed”. It is frequently used in Egyptian poetry and song lyrics to express love. The classic song “Eina Ellayali” shares a good example of how the liver embodies emotion. Translated into English, the lyrics say, “An eye’s glance sent a spear to my liver and created pain.”
Often you will see a performing Egyptian dancer gesture her hands as if she were holding onto her liver. She is expressing that she feels the song or the lyrics from this organ of passion. It’s just as if an American dancer were to hold onto her heart.
In this month of love, why not dance from your liver ladies? Share your deepest passions on the dance floor and feel it from you gut. Tap in, and be moved. What is your “kabed” telling you today?
Ziva holds Arabic Dance in her liver and can’t wait to share her passion for the art form with you! Join her on the dance floor in Shimmy Pop, Shimmy Pop Toning, and Arabic Dance II. You can find out more about Ziva and Arabic Dance at www.zivadancer.com
We all do it. We use the term “Belly Dance” to conjure up images of shimmies, rich music, intricate isolations, and sequined costumes. We all have our own interpretation of what “Belly Dance” is, but have we actually stopped to ask ourselves where the term comes from?
While commonly embraced and popular, “Belly Dance” is a debatable term. It is only used in the US, Britain, Australia, and a few other English-speaking countries.
Some believe that “Belly Dance” originates from the Arabic word “Beledi”. Beledi means “my country,” and is also used to describe a 4/4 rhythm commonly found in Middle Eastern music. Others feel that the similarity between “belly ” and “beledi” is just a coincidence.
The historical explanation behind the origin of the term “Belly Dance” derives from its’ translation of the French words “danse du ventre.” “Danse du ventre” was used during the Victorian era as a derogatory colonial name for dances isolating the hips and torso. It was used to describe burlesque and can-can style shows. The term “danse du ventre” arrived to the U.S. when the 1893 World Fair in Chicago featured exhibitions of dancers imitating “Egyptian” dance. In actuality, Turkish women from Egypt were the ones performing the “danse du ventre”. Truth be told, the isolation of the belly of “Belly Dance” comes from the regions of Turkey and Greece, (not Egypt!)
The correct Arabic term for the dance we’ve all come to know and love is “Raqs Sharqui”. “Raqs” means dance. “Sharqui” means of the East. Raqs Sharqui references the cabaret performance style traditionally danced as an improvisational solo. At any rate, the term “Raqs Sharqui” has not been widely embraced in its original or translated form.
So…. Now that we have “the know”, what do we call this beautiful art form?! Anyone who has shimmied her way through a Shimmy Flow class knows that there is much more to “Belly Dance” than then belly. While the core is an integral element of the dance form, it seems quite limiting to name it this way. This would be like calling Ballet “leg dance.” Targeting just one anatomical part of the body does not do the dance justice.
Furthermore, I find that the term “Belly Dance” drives audiences to expect performers to expose their midriff. They are confused if a costume covers one’s torso. Does this mean a dancer who does not expose and isolate her belly cannot perform Arabic dance? Of course not!
While “Belly Dance” is widely accepted, I encourage us to remember the cultural roots of our shimmies, twists, and rolls. Raqs Sharqui became a performance art in Egypt. It is a dance that was born, embraced and embellished by many Arabic cultures, and later adopted by the world. I feel that “Arabic Dance” is a more respectful, fitting, and encompassing term to reference an art form that is older than we know. Let us use the power of words to reflect the power of this dance!
Whatever you decide to call Arabic Dance, may it come from a place of respect, passion, fulfillment, and sheer joy!
Resources: Souhail Kaspar, Morocco’s “You Asked Aunt Rocky: Answers & Advice About Raqs Sharqi & Raqs Shabbi,” and “The Belly Dance Book.”
Ziva Emtiyaz is an award winning International Dance Artist excited to share her knowledge and life experiences about the big world of dance!