Our community is fortunate to have mentors and history keepers. Dancers who share their knowledge with, and encourage those who are newer. I am so pleased to present to you one such person for our next spotlight-Charles. In his own words:
“Belly-dance for me started about the time it first grew rapidly in Utah: Aziz had a troupe, and Kismet was just forming. The U of U had started offering recreation classes.
I first started dance, in high-school. Not so much to dance, but to avoid ROTC or boys-gym.
Plus being interested in one of the girls… (She dropped out of the class. But I stayed with it a second year.) Followed up with ballet in college (non-majors), as an early-morning wake-up class for a few years.
(Actually was a struggling engineering-student at that time.)
Not really a natural talent — but ballet was structured, and allowed me to develop skills, one plie’ at a time. Just a few years later, I thought I’d throw in a summer belly-dance class (U of U) — just for variety.
(I’d known a few belly-dancers from science-fiction and historical-recreation groups.) I’d already had some dance — why not just start with the intermediate class?
(Beginning class would just be learning to move, after all…) Intermediate-class had foot-work, zills, and undulations — all on the first day. Oops.
I took classes from a number of local (Salt Lake) teachers — and many visiting workshops.
One of the U of U teachers formed a troupe, and after that short run, some of the remaining members formed Norlel Kumar. This included Munierah, and Misha Muhar — long time friends and costumers,
who both continued to play in the dance and science-fiction worlds (and are now, sadly, gone). About the same time (1980’s) I taught belly-dance at Sunwest Art of Dance, and only had a few students (many I still know).
Due to traveling to science-fiction conventions, I’ve performed in many western states, and even taught a sword work-shop in Iowa(!)
Also along the way — took some other ethnic dances, flamenco, etc.
Male belly-dancers are not common. But we’ve had a number of good male dancers in Utah, plus my previous dance made it feel less unique. And the women always did seem supportive.
It has always remained an outlet — where we always found a place to perform. Something I couldn’t say, about ballet, for instance.
For those men that think it’d be great to be in a class full of belly-dancers — sure, it’s great, if you don’t mind being a total clutz, in a class full of talented students, for at least a few months.
In the past few decades, I’ve also leaned to do stage-lighting for small shows. (Having some equipment, connections, an artistic eye, and enough tech-skills to keep it all running…)
I hope we have folks out there learning to take over, some day. So I’m often busier with lighting, than performing.
As to style — I call mine “American Cabaret” — not particularly traditional Egyptian or Middle-Eastern, in either style or atire. My technique comes largely from the West-Coast Jamila-School.
I think my biggest challenge — has been finding music that I like. My favorite pieces have strong openings, musical changes, and dramatic endings (beginning, middle, and end?) My second challenge perhaps being costuming…
Props seem to draw me — swords, capes, etc. In fact, not too long ago, I took fire-poi and staff classes — which I quite enjoy. (But less chances to perform.)
The easy part, was never having to worry about someone looking the same, or even using the same music.
My bits of advice for beginners (or anyone):
1. Never tell the audience what you don’t know — just focus on what you do know (like when I sprained my knee — they didn’t need to know that…)
2. Be nice to everyone (or at least curteous). It’s a small world — you never know when roads cross later.
3. Challenge yourself with something new — style, costuming, music, etc.
4. Enjoy what you are doing — you’re not likely to get paid enough in $.
Recently, I’ve spent more effort on music (hammer-dulcimer). Been slowing down on dancing, but still have dances scheduled for next year!”
Photo credit: Marty Johnson