As I mentioned on a previous blog, for the next 12 months I will be endeavoring into my own research study on bellydance terminology and business, interviewing a plethora of dancers in our genre who have contributed to elevating the status of bellydance in their communities and/or around the world. if you are interested in this endeavor please contact me to be considered.
Last week I had the pleasure of beginning my research by interviewing the beautiful Tava of Connecticut. Her interview is below, enjoy and share with your fellow dance sisters.
Tava interview questions:
Section I: Bellydance Terminology
Q: In your experience, how has the fact that bellydance does not have one universal naming standard affected you?
A: It has not affected me directly in terms of my own dance training and development, but I have had students from other areas, particularly in tribal, whose terms I have not understood at all, so we have to have a powwow. The biggest issue is execution more than terminology… where the movement in the body is generated. Are they lifting the foot? How much are they drawing from the obliques?
Q: How do you deal with this?
a: If I have a group learning my choreography and performing together, I want them to match my style and use the same language. Part of what they are coming to me for is to learn “Tava’s approach”. However, when I am coaching, I am not too concerned with the naming, and do not want to take away from their individual style, but I do want to expose them to mine so they experience it.
**Photo on the right by: Adrian Buckmaster**
Q: Who do you look to as the best source for correct movement terminology when you do not/did not know what the name of a movement was?
a: I trained with Andrea Beeman and other NYC dancers who were heavily influenced by Bobby Farrah. I have modified and tweaked these movements over the years to make them my own. I also love Tamalyn Dallal’s vocabulary, and I pick and choose names based on what my mentors name movements. I have also made up my own names on some occasions, so it is a mixed bag there. All in all, my foundation has really stuck with me.
*Fun Fact: I teach with a lot of sounds effects. It is my favorite <3
Q: As an instructor, does the wide array of names for the same movement cause any confusion amongst students who seek your instruction from around the world?
a: Not too much, we typically will have a powwow in the event we do not understand each other’s terminology.
Q: What do you call the following (or do you have another name you use for them) and breakdown what they are:
a) Wrist circles: I will refer to Tamalyn Dallal for this… there are wrist circles and there are hand circles. Wrist circle: circle of the wrist, fingers are not going anywhere. I was taught to never let fingers scoop in.
Hand circle: You take your fingers around and move the entire hand, still with flexion and extension of the wrist, but wrist is coming along for the ride.
I draw names from where it comes from in the anatomy. I was a massage therapist.
b) Jewel: I have no idea what that is! *interviewer demonstates*…now I know what that is upon seeing it, but I will teach it and break it down as: pelvic rotation with foot release. Now I may use the name jewel!
c) Alternating hip lifts and chest raise and drops. No name for it here either. I do like to use this movement to drill, and will teach it by articulating the isolations and use it for drills under “layering”.
d) African shimmy: it is when there is a generating of the rib cage and posterior and anterior tilt.
e) Hip square: we call it “hip box” here and it is alternating pelvic anterior and posterior tilt with hip raises
f) Lotus hands: a) Elena Lentini was the first to teach me this. One hand begins to move and the other hand follows, but there is no breaking the connection at the wrist.
Sometimes I break it down as the “bowl and the alligator”. Students start with their hands together in an open bowl shape and I make sure students stabilize their elbows, then they turn hands so it is in an alligator open mount shape, and then they place their hands back to back, and lead with one hand and then the other follows into a bowl shape again.
Q: What is your view on bellydance certifications? Have you done one yourself? Do you offer certifications of your own? Pro’s / Con’s?
a: I have mixed feelings…I think certifications are very helpful and immediately I think of Yasmina Ramzy who has all her students learn her approach in order to perform in her company. However, I feel as though these movements are so old, that they naturally evolve. This can be a little bit limiting when it comes to certifications. I have not done one as I feel my style is continuously evolving, my body is changing, and I want to move in a way that always develops with it.
I feel as though certifications are helpful to get standardization, but we are not ballet. We can lose nuance with standardization, which I feel is a very important topic. I feel that we are losing a bit of nuance in this dance. The individuality and subtlety and variation…I feel certification may foster some of that loss, but the pro to certification is that you can learn to do things safely.
Q: If there was one aspect of belly dance you wish could be standardized (if any) what would it be?
a: I think that with the large variation in body type in this dance we have to be careful with standardization as everyone is different. I wish all teachers could be standardized as far as knowledge of anatomy. Having a standard for teachers who wish to teach movements safely would be my biggest wish.
Q:Tell me about your tea party idea, and reasoning behind it for our readers.
a: For me understanding the roots and lineage fosters a deeper love and appreciation for this dance. I am not a technique driven dancer, and feel my moves are a bit more basic compared to some others. I am more about the passion and Art. When I am performing I think of the faces of the dancers before me and I want that for people. I think it would help people respect our dance and stop equating it with the hoochie-cootchie view if they knew more about the roots and where it came from.
I teach a course in a college that covers all of this and my students at the studio wanted to learn about it too, and then the tea party idea began! I hope my students will leave with a stronger sense of community and a deeper love and appreciation after attending. I feel that will send out the right messages in our dance.
Bellydance as a Career
Q: Before bellydancing, how did you make your living?
a: I was a massage therapist and counselor.
**Photo on the right by: Adam Jason Photography**
Q: What is your full time profession? Did you go to college?
a: My full time profession is bellydancing. I have a Bachelor degree in Psychology and a Masters in Counseling. I started my career in counseling at an Arts university where I was able to meet free spirited people. I was dancing part time as a hobby at the time but then something happened with my job where they switched everyone into cubicles, and I said, “this is crazy”!
I was so inspired by the people with disabilities at the university who did not let that stop them and were delving into their passion as a career, and so I began to think about doing the same.
I was afraid to take the plunge, that’s why I went to massage school… so that I would always have something to fall back on. It has not been until recently in this past year where I have started to return to career counseling 10-12 hours a week. I am looking at the future.
Q: Many women who work a “regular job” dream of being able to dance for a living full time, but know that it is risky, difficult to achieve great success, and etc… What would be your advice on this? Should one ever leave their day job?
a: My advice would be to shadow as many people as possible and make sure they are getting the full picture of what this entails as opposed to what they feel in their hearts. I would tell them to make sure they have the support of their community. Do not go rogue! Have a mentor and gradually rise up.
There are serious risks when leaving the comfort of a steady day job as it is very hard to create passive income when you rely on your physicality. You may have to dance with pneumonia, or you may have to drive through an ice storm to get to a gig because you need the money. However, if the drive is there I won’t discourage it but they should shadow first.
It is not easy, you have to wear many hats, but it is quite a journey, and one that I love.
Q: Have you ever struggled in paying the bills as a successful belly dancer or has it been pretty easy flowing due to your popularity in the dance industry?
a: Let me be transparent and start by saying that I am married and I split my bills with my husband, so it affects my answer. Having a supportive partner has been really key to making things possible. There have been months where I have said “I don’t have enough money”, and I’ve had to say yes to gigs because I needed the money, and dancing because you need the money is not a great feeling.
That is when it feels like belly dance is a job, so I tell myself “snap out of it woman”! There are times when I am like, “wow, I am doing very good lately, I am going to buy an extra costume”, but as you can see, often that extra money goes right back into my dance.
I would say overall I feel very lucky that I have been able to support myself as a dancer. In addition to the support of my partner, there have been times where I had cat sick and extremely high veterinary bills, and my community gave me extra work. So I have given back. The NY dance community has lifted me and given me some of my best friends. It’s an amazing thing
Q: What business advice would you give to full time bellydancers who have already taken the plunge into leaving their day job to pursue their dreams?
a: Business advice: Contract! Make sure you go about things in a way so that you are protected, and at the same time you are putting it in people’s minds that bellydancers are business women, not just entertainers. I would recommend dancers take a business class.
In college I worked as an office manager in a law firm which really taught me how to handle money and be organized. My father is a lawyer which has helped. So take a business course and make a plan.
Dance advice: Self care! Look at the long term picture, even if it is just getting a pedicure lol.
Q: What mistakes should a belly dancer avoid making if possible as a full time belly dancer?
a: I do not want to come off as negative, but I think you have to be very careful of who to place your trust in. I have been burned a couple of times. In terms of mistakes to avoid in other areas, make sure you charge what you are worth in this industry even if you are just starting out. Find out what the local rates are and do not undercut yourself.
I would also advise you make sure your costumes fit properly! No one ever told me in the beginning, I had to figure it out. Reach out and do not be shy to ask for help when it comes to your belly dance. Ask for help!
Q: How do you plan to sustain your career well into the coming decades?
A: At this phase of my life, I want to plan ahead so I don’t become one of those dancers that cling on in a questionable way. That is why I have returned to counseling. In terms of my dance career, I started writing down the basics for a mentorship program. I still do gigs, but I know that door will close when it needs to. Now my focus has shifted to figuring out how to stay relevant when you are not out there doing the amount of gigs I currently do.
Q: A fear many bellydancers have are the effects of aging on their abilities, is this something you think about often as well?
a: This just heightened for me just recently in the past few weeks. I look at Elena for example and what she does with her body and I am like “wow”! I think of Mahmoud Reda who is up there in age and so talented, but I feel the intention has to change as we get older.
I posted a photo of myself from Halloween recently and was thinking to myself “how long can I still pull this off”. It had me thinking, and the fact that I am turning 40 next year is changing the way I look at things. Something is shifting, I don’t know what it is yet, but I feel like the gigs are going to have to go…but I don’t know when that will be.
I think of my mother who used to say “women over a certain age should dress like such and such”, but then after 60 she said “F*** it!”, and she looks so amazing and is feeling completely reinvigorated.
Q: Who are your bellydance idols in performance and in business?
a: I love Tamalyn Dallal! Andrea Beeman is my main mentor (we met 20 years ago). She was the 1st performance of belly dance I saw that taught me that belly dance could be extremely elegant. I shadowed her and to this day we will have lunch and I will ask for feedback. Elena Lentini who I have studied under as well was a referral to me by Andrea.
I also love Dalia Carella! As far as watching and swooning over YouTube…I love 1970’s and 1980’s belly dance. That is where it’s at for me.
Q: If bellydance had not become your profession, what career path would you have chosen?
a: I would probably be foaming at the mouth and fuming if I couldn’t do bellydance lol! I am so shy and introverted, and dance has always been my vehicle of expression since I was a kid. Due to this, I would definitely be in the Arts still as a career. I need that creative outlet. Counseling is similar because it has that authenticity and emphasis on communication that works well for me.
Closing Notes from Tava:
1. Working as a professional bellydancer and having to exchange your Art for commerce can sometimes make it hard to maintain your inspiration. This is why I make sure that my cup is always full, otherwise it’s detrimental to my Art and students.
2. You have to continue learning! Go to shows and watch people who inspire you…it will really drain you if there is nothing that excites you or reminds you of why you are doing this in the first place.
Q: Why do you do this? Why do you belly dance?
a: I am at my happiest when I am dancing, it’s the only thing I can say where there is honestly more to learn from. It humbles me. You are never a master with belly dance, you are always a student.
I think it’s amazing to feel feminine too, and there are not enough outlets for that in the world. Belly dance gives an opportunity to celebrate being a woman.
**Photo on the right by: Don Curry**
Tava is a professional bellydance artist based in NY & CT. She is a life-long dancer who began her bellydance training as a New Year’s resolution in 2000. Tava is an instructor, choreographer and company member of Elena Lentini’s Caravanserai Dance Theater. She is often performing at family occasions, cultural events, theaters or in music videos, and she prides herself in having a career with as much variety as possible. In addition to her dance career, Tava is also a career counselor and resume writer. Tava has a very popular blog which can be found here: http://dancingtava.wordpress.com/ You can also visit her website www.BellydancebyTava.com