The new year! Everyone making resolutions, a new start. At Oasis we resolve to continue to offer the best in Egyptian dance in all it’s forms in 2018!
As instructors we always assess, and in 2017 we did much of that! Kenzie and I attended JTE levels 1 & 2 and began bringing back that knowledge to you. We spent time training at workshops and that added to our teaching. And we spent much time planning and choreographing for our students to make sure your class and event experience was a satisfying and enjoyable one!
In 2018, we are continuing our studies with JTE levels 3 & 4 in Egypt this spring. We will continue to attend workshops to not only improve our own dancing but bring back to you. We have already planned events for the first half of the year, are looking ahead to our spring hafla on April 8th, Kenzie is full speed ahead on her exciting Choreography sessions this winter, and we are planning for festival season this year - even though looking out the snowing window it seems far away, it will be here before you know it!
We hope our students will make dance resolutions as well! What do you as a dancer want to improve on? How will you accomplish that? Take specialty classes, attend workshops, more practice at home? Keeping a dance note book with choreography notes and notes reminding you of movement vocabulary and combinations... there are many studies about the benefits if dance to our brains, however, most do not include using videos. Resolve to write it down and recall it this year!
We hope students will resolve to practice the corrections we give in class at home and know that these corrections make you the very best you can be. We hope students will resolve to learn more about the culture behind the dance, ask questions, read articles about dance and music as it relates to the culture, read articles about the history of dance.
And lastly, we hope our students will resolve to continue to make Oasis a positive place! Everyone and we know EVERYONE has ups and downs, and lots on theirs minds with full lives. We hope you can leave your cares downstairs and take and hour to enjoy the dance and the beautiful women surrounding you!
Here’s to 2018 and YOU! Here’s to making you the best version of yourself and the happiest at Oasis belly dancing!
Below are some links to get you started; curl up this winter and learn more about the dance you love:
We had a lovely show last weekend showcasing students at our workshop weekend at Oasis. Those students included lots of levels, both student level, pros and semi pros of differing styles. I received an email and welcomed giving my response to the sender.
We as instructors don’t have all the answers to some really tough questions about a dance form we live for but I tried (below) to do my best to share our mission, education, and thoughts on such matters.
Although we find it very flattering when people of culture think we must be from Egyptian descent by the manner in which we dance, we aren’t. We don’t make any bones about it. But what we are is passionate about learning more and more as instructors of this dance form!
In this business, we encounter people from the general public who don’t know what the dance form is, where it comes from, and have seen others dance it in a very different way. When possible we like to talk to them, announce what they are seeing and try to be worthy ambassadors of Egyptian dance. Our students are of every level and from many cultures. They do have a commonality, they love to belly dance, and to learn about the dance in its many forms from Cairo style to folkloric styles. Below are my responses as a dancer and studio owner:
Dear Ms. Claire/Faaria Lynch, I was at the New Jewel of India last weekend and enjoyed your hafla very much, so much so that I would really like to study raqs sharqi myself to gain a better relationship with my body and to improve my balance and to become more graceful.
However, I have some ethical concerns about whether studying belly dance would be in keeping with my wishes to avoid performing cultural appropriation and to be morally responsible in how I express my appreciation for other cultures, which are elements of my career goal of teaching ethnic minority literature; while Arab American literature is not one of my specialty areas, I certainly owe Arab Americans the same ethical attention and respect that I give to the minority groups whose literature I do study. I therefore would like to ask you some questions about your background and your teaching philosophy which aren't answered on your website:
1) May I respectfully ask if your family heritage and your studio staff's heritages include any of the countries with longstanding belly dance traditions (eg Egypt, Lebanon, Turkey, etc)? I'm asking not because I think, for example, that only people of Korean descent are qualified to teach taekwondo, but because I understand that it is good when a profession makes an effort to make sure that opportunities are available to qualified members of the ethnic minority group which originally created the profession, and that it is something to be especially celebrated when a member of an ethnic minority group is in a position to share his/her culture with a wider community.
Cultural appropriation is an issue that both I and my Assistant Director have spent much time educating ourselves and listening to the thoughts from people of culture on the subject. I am not Egyptian and do not pretend to be (my heritage is Dutch, German, and Danish). Simply put I love Egyptian Dance! Is that enough? NO. Educating myself about the culture of origin is key AND passing that along to my students and future generations of professional dancers I train. When you attended our show you were seeing students attending our workshop weekend. Some of those dancers were performing fusion styles; they came to the workshops to educate themselves about Egyptian dance to further their knowledge.
2) May I ask whom your teachers have been?
I am forever a student and seek out instructors who are both great dancers and knowledgeable in their own right about this dance form, it’s history, and culture. My Assistant Director and I are JTE certified Levels 1 & 2. We are traveling to Egypt in the spring of 2018 to take our Levels 3 & 4 certifications (4 being the highest). Those 3 weeks will provide us the opportunity to widen both our academic knowledge, study with Egyptian instructors, immerse ourselves in the culture, and meet our costume designer and his dear mother in person finally (more about that later). The JTE Program (Journey through Egypt) is a program that educates dancers and dance teachers about the reginal dances of Egypt, Dance History, and culture.
JOURNEY THROUGH EGYPT “Journey Through Egypt is the brainchild of Sahra C. Kent (Saeeda). After studying Dance Ethnology at UCLA and studying Egyptian Folkloric dance under Farida Fahmy Sahra moved to Egypt to conduct research for her master’s thesis on the Zeffat al’Arusah. During this research she discovered more and more about the culture & dances of Egypt. Applying her learning of Dance Ethnology and the advice of many of her local resources in Egypt the idea for Journey Through Egypt was born.”
You can read more about the program at their website:
Aside from the JTE program my training spans both dance instructors from cultures of origin, Fifi Abdo, Ahmed Hussien, Khaled Mahmoud , Issam Houshan, Yousry Sharif, and Oreet of The Sharqi Method,as well as knowledgeable western origin dancers such as Aziza, Melissa Gamal, Saida, Nourhan Sharif, Bozenka, Sherina, and many more I have studied with those I admire for both their dancing whether that be a pure interpretation of Egyptian Dance or other styles in keeping with that root tradition. I bring those differences in style back to students and state what I am teaching and who I learned it from. It helps to study with both and see the interpretations of this dance form all over the world.
3) May I ask about your teaching philosophy about contextualizing belly dance? For example, do you discuss the domestic context of discrimination against the Arab American community in the USA, and/or the international context of the current conservative regime in Egypt which has caused belly dance to be associated with lack of respectability? I have read pieces pointing out that it is ethically irresponsible for non-Arab people to cherrypick the fun parts of Arab culture (most commonly, belly dance) and to fail to show support for Arab Americans facing discrimination which pressures them to downplay their cultural backgrounds, and this is a grievance held in common by various ethnic minorities in the USA, so I am especially concerned about this and would really like to find a teacher who can help me approach belly dance respectfully and responsibly.
I do not pretend to truly know what Arab discrimination feels like. I can only do my best to listen when people talk about how they feel. I can strive to do my best with my students and members of the community I encounter to present this dance form in an authentic, respectful, and dignified way. I start my beginner students of with the statement: This dance has a people, a place, and a culture of origin. We must not take it and do whatever we wish with it without respecting the culture and people it came from, and the history that brought us to today’s dance in the name of creativity. There are many many fusions of this dance, and they are beautiful. Properly labeling them does a great deal to keep the general public from a state of confusion. Educating both students and the general public on its pure form and its fusion forms is essential.
At Oasis we feel it is vital to support vendors in Egypt. Since 2007 we have ordered costumes from our designer in Cairo, Amr. We do this to both support the country of origin and present dance in a proper way (i.e. no cheap costumes made from underwear bras). When we present regional dances we do so in proper costumes. Yes we sometimes buy costuming pieces in the US but do almost all of our purchasing from Egypt.
We dance to music exclusively from people of origin and buy music from them. We feel using Egyptian music and not western music furthers the dance and the musicians creating it.
As to the statement about belly dance lacking respectability, it does in many places. It is wrong as a non-Egyptian to say one is “elevating the dance.” Egyptians have done this for many many years and do not need westerners to “save” their dance for them (how people view belly dance in Egypt and in all cultures is complicated) we can only hope to live up to their standard of dancing. I teach dance and little by little where it is appropriate, insert culture as it relates to dance.
Dancing professionally, both my Assistant Director and I have danced for Weddings, birthdays, you name it, hired by people of culture and have always been well received. When dancing for western audiences have also been well received and see it as an opportunity to show what a beautiful dance form and culture it is. Obviously those are very tiny things in the big scheme of things but every little bit helps.
A few closing thoughts:Teaching culture as it relates to dance is important at Oasis. We have women from all cultures that we welcome. Each and every one of them has a deep respect for the dance form all the while having fun. They find that not only learning dance but culture and history thrown in are appealing.
Any person wanting to study Raqs Sharqi (more commonly known as belly dance) and its folkloric regional forms (the root of belly dance and wonderful dances from all parts of Egypt) should ask questions of their instructor. “What kind of belly dance do you teach” Not having an answer is a problem! If the instructor says they teach Egyptian or Turkish ask questions, does the information they give come up the same as your own research (yes you should look up the dance form you are studying!).
I have witnessed many teachers and dance groups doing whatever they want in the name of fusion and/or mislabeling what they are dancing. I love fusion (knowing both dance forms equally well) just not confusion (knowing only one or none) My mission (through years of study) is to put MY students on the path to start and continue to learn about this beautiful dance in all its forms. The same thoughts can be noted with Salsa, Polynesian, Irish, Flamenco and any other cultural dance forms. Taking the culture and history away disrespects the people and culture of origin. My Assistant Director and I have a deep love of this dance AND spend much time, personal resources, and energy educating ourselves because we would have it no other way.
We visited Chicago this past weekend, and as with all of our dance trips, we were so busy learning about Egyptian dance, music and culture that we didn't see a bit of Chicago! Kenzie and Faaria are both Journey Through Egypt level 2 certified and are thrilled to be completing level 3 and 4 in Egypt in Spring 2018.
Here at Oasis we as instructors are seriously dedicated to being lifetime students ourselves, and to invest our time into learning more and more about the dance and culture so that we can bring this knowledge back to Buffalo and back to our students.
Check out some of the images below from our time in Chicago! Thanks Pineapple Dance Studio for hosting JTE!
Kenzie just got back to Buffalo after an unforgettable week at Aziza's Dreamcamp week-long belly dance retreat. This retreat featured Sadie, international belly dance sensation! Here's a look into the week at the beautiful Le Couvent Val-Morin:
We took the Friday night class on the road this past weekend to study with Sherena of Ohio! Sherena's workshop focused on American Cabaret style belly dance which was a new topic for many of the students. Check out some photos of our weekend below!
Body image not only plays a role in class for a belly dance student, it can affect the decision to join a class in the first place. It affects everyone from the big time headliner belly dancer, to the instructors, to students of all levels. Students feel they are too thin without “assets,” they feel they are too large, they are too old, and so on and so on.
There is not an easy “read this blog and you are cured” solution. BUT there are ways to lessen its effects on you. Let’s face it - poor body image can eat away at your confidence in class (and in the rest of your life, but that is a whole other blog), keeping you from not only improving but having FUN!
I am here to tell you that everyone has issues… EVERYONE. Some talk about them freely and some keep them locked in their heads. Let’s take a look at some real life solutions in class and in a performance setting that can help.
I will start with this: There is always going to be someone smaller than you, bigger than you, older than you, younger than you, you get the idea…. But you want to be the best YOU can be and enjoy belly dance!
Tip #1 – Tell that B***H in your head to Stop!!
One habit I see in students with poor body image is dancing small, almost like they are trying to hide while moving. Posture is inward and head dropped at times (this can also happen with a student who feels self-conscious about the quality of their movements, but that is for another blog post as well).
The habit to talk down to one’s self is prevalent as well:
“I don’t have enough chest to do shoulder shimmies”
“I don’t have a curvy belly dance body”
“I am (insert: too big, too small, too old, whatever fits) _____ to look good belly dancing.”
“I can’t wear a belly dance costume so I won’t dance at student shows.”
The list goes on and on. No! These things have nothing to do with being a student and enjoying learning to belly dance or performing in a student performance! They say nothing about what you’ve learned, the belly dance movement vocabulary you’ve mastered or are working on mastering.
Sooo, get over it! I MEAN it, get over it! Only YOU can! Here’s how to start:
Ban all thoughts and talk that is negative about your body from your dance space. That includes both at the studio and at home while practicing. Train your brain to stop thinking these thoughts every time you dance (and yes, practicing is dancing!). It isn’t easy, but it is well worth the effort. You get a break from all those negative thoughts! After a while, those thoughts will only pop up every so often and you get to enjoy belly dance more!
When I hear students talking about body issues I am happy they feel comfortable and safe to do so. BUT it also can be detrimental. So change the way you speak as well. When a student says (and yes I’ve heard this one) “I am ordering a gown because I am too big for a two piece costume,” I feel like I want to hear “I love this gown and it will make me feel beautiful” instead. First off, maybe your fellow student has a two piece and she now is questioning herself on that? A student of a different size now feels uncomfortable and doesn’t know how to respond-- Perhaps she looks up to you for your lovely dancing and never thought about it? So, change the way you think and speak and I promise you will be better for it!
Tip #2 – Wear What Makes You Feel Beautiful
Wear practice clothes that are comfortable and you feel good in! Wear costumes that are well-fitted and compliment how you want to see yourself.
Nothing makes a dancer feel more uncomfortable than dancing in ill-fitting, unflattering dance wear/costumes, whether it be practice or performance. So wear something that makes you feel good; look in the mirror and enjoy it. It isn’t vain to acknowledge to yourself that it looks good! Do it more often.
Tip #3 – Don’t Wait For Someday!
We do it all the time: “someday I will try that class,” “someday I will do that solo,” “Someday I will____.”
What are you waiting for?
Consider this. What if today is as good as it gets? OK, so I stole it from a movie… but it is a good point!
What if your body is always the same as it is today? Are you going to love it and have a great time dancing your heart out? OR are you going to hate it and deny yourself the sheer joy of learning and improving in belly dance because you are waiting for the perfect “someday?”
We all want to be better and improve ourselves, no doubt. BUT, you should enjoy the journey and not deny yourself the joy of dance because body image is holding you back.
We're excited to be back in Buffalo after a fantastic weekend in Williamsburg, VA at the East Coast Classic Bellydance Festival and Competition. On Friday, Kenzie competed and WON first place in the professional cabaret category of the competition! This is a huge honor and we are so proud to have a multi-award winning dancer right here in Buffalo, NY and teaching at Oasis. Congratulations, Kenzie!
This past weekend our own Kenzie attended the LdB International Oriental Dance Festival in Thessaloniki, Greece, where she performed in the Opening Gala and competed in the Euro Crown Competition. Kenzie was honored to win 2nd place in the competition judged by internationally-renowned artists Aziza of Montreal, Orit Mastfir of Israel, Professor Hassan Khalil of Cairo, Shalymar of Germany, and Ozgen of Turkey. Below are some photos from the event!
All of the instructors at Oasis are constantly furthering their education in their respective dance forms in order to give back to the Buffalo community, and to elevate our art forms in the WNY area. At the end of this month, Mackenzie will be travelling to Greece to perform and take workshops under some of the brightest stars in our Middle Eastern dance world, including Orit Maftsir of Israel and Aziza of Montreal. She's looking forward to representing Oasis Dance Center overseas, and to bringing back the knowledge she has gained to students in Buffalo, NY!