This week i had the honor of interviewing an amazing mind…Andrea Beeman of NY who I sought for history mentorship some time back due to her amazing reputation and in depth study of this dance and is someone who has been learning belly dance here since its’ early days here in the U.S. Read below to find out her views on all things terminology and business in this genre.
Belly Dance Terminology
Q: In your experience, how has the fact that belly dance does not have one universal naming standard affected you if at all?
At times it would have made it much easier to have a system, but because dance is a universal language I feel that we do get past this. We are lucky because we can show things through our bodies, and at times words are not necessary.
Q: How do you deal with this?
I have encountered this a lot with international students, where they have used a different genre of names and they will say “this is so and so” and I am like “oh, show me what so and so is”. There have been times where a movement has been interpreted differently due to lack of having a system, but the way I deal with it is to describe things in simple geometric terms, such as circles or figure 8’s. Sometimes you have complicated movements where it can still be difficult to use geometric shapes, but at least it’s a place of departure.
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?
For me, the best thing to do is to go to a native dancer who is reputable and learn the movement from them. For example, there is a woman on the west coast, Shahrzad Khorsandi, who teaches Persian dance and is coming out with a book about it soon. She is a leader in her field and in this genre, and she is someone who knows this subject extensively and would be perfect for others to learn from. This still leaves us with thousands of different standards (I know), but at least it’s something. We cannot codify everything because we’ll strip away the subtle regional nuances if we do this.
Q: What do you call the following (or do you have another name you use for them) and breakdown what they are:
First let me start by saying that back then when I was first learning Belly Dance, it was common to associate a movement with the region where the dance originated or with the style that used that movement, for example, “hagallah hips”.
a) Wrist circle: I have students close their fingers into a loose fist, and then make them circle from the wrist in order to create a wrist circle. As far as fingers, that is where feeling the movement from the palm out through the fingertips is how I teach it. Once fingers come in, that is where different variations come in too.
b) Jewel: I do not have a specific name for that (here interviewer shows Andrea the movement)… I remember one of my students who came back from studying in Egypt and she called it that I believe. I would break this down into different components.
First the pelvic movement, then the twist, then the movement of the leg. This is where it gets more complicated to explain but I try to isolate all the components and then put them together, that is how I explain things.
c) African Shimmy: no name for this, but again I would break down the movements into pelvic and rib cage isolations.
d) Alternating hip lifts with chest raises and drops: no name for this either, but I would have described it as you did Jennifer, “hip lift, chest lift, opposite hip lift, and chest drop”.
e) Hip Square: I would guess that this is like a hip box. Pelvis contracts, hip raise, pelvic release, and hip raise on other hip.
f) Lotus hands: to me because I have studied Indian dance this comes from the mudra called Alapadma and is used in classical Indian dance and Bollywood too. You hold your hands in this position and then you place the wrists together and spin them around.
Q: What is your view on belly dance certifications? Have you done one yourself? Do you offer certifications of your own? Pro’s / Con’s?
When I first started studying I don’t think these existed. It wasn’t until the late 90’s, early 2000’s when I became aware of them. At that point I had studied many different genres and from many teachers, so personally, it didn’t make sense to me, but for someone who doesn’t have many resources/teachers or access, I could see how it could be beneficial. I would recommend that if someone is going to do that though, that they check out the person’s reputation and the best route would be to go straight to the source who created the certification. At one point at one studio where I taught we discussed offering certifications but it didn’t pan out.
Con’s: The first thing that comes to mind are the hours. Just for a yoga instructor to teach a beginner level course, they need 200 hours of training. Bellydance doesn’t require that, so it could license people to do more than they are capable of doing with a certification that does not require enough hours of training.
Pro’s: If you do not have the opportunity to study with different people, it is a way to learn, and learning is important. That is why researching learning options is important too.
Q: If there was one aspect of belly dance you wish could be standardized (if any) what would it be?
I still feel it is a valid point to try and have a consistent terminology for basic movements. It would make things much clearer and simpler from the start.
Q:Tell me about your latest endeavor/project(s) for our readers.
I have been very busy lately! Let’s start with context… when I came to Belly Dance I came to it as an artist. I was in my last year of graduate school and was primarily doing performance art and because of that, started taking dance courses.
I was taking many different kinds of dance, mostly modern but I was also interested in ethnic dances. I was taking Butoh classes and was intrigued by it. I was taking a Butoh workshop with the Japanese instructor Yokio Waguri and he told me I was dancing like Salome and suggested I try Belly Dance! Back in 1988 it was hard to find a Belly Dance class in New York, believe it or not. I first went to Yousry Sharif’s class, and of course he was only teaching professionals, so he looked at me and said, “I do not teach beginners. Come back when you learn to dance.”
So my search continued and I found Anahid Sofian and she actually had beginning courses in Middle Eastern dance, so that is where I started my training. She is a wonderful teacher and has had her studio for more than 30 years. She trained as a ballet dancer but is Armenian and also has studied dances from all over the Middle East. She was also one of the first New York dancers to go to Morocco and make video recordings of her experiences. She is an incredible resource and that is where I obtained my foundation. At a certain point I met & studied extensively with Jajouka who was part of Ibrahim Farrah’s company, which led me to study with Bobby Farrah who then told me to go to Yousry Sharif to learn more about Egyptian folklore!
Because of my artistic background I have done pure Middle Eastern dance, and I have also created performance personas such as the Enchantress of Bioluminosity. As the Enchantress, I dance with lights & light props, & create glowing costumes, but the movements often include belly dance & Indian dance moves.
I also have a dance partner, Eduardo Fouad, but he moved back to Argentina 7 years ago. I had him video tape a dance which I projected last summer in a theater production which allowed us to collaborate together again, as he was on screen while I danced with him on stage. We’re exploring ways to further this collaboration.
I also am in an electronic dance music band, and we are going to Montreal and to Europe in early 2015, and I use my bioluminosity character in those shows. While I’m doing a lot of fusion projects, there is nothing like performing with a live Arabic or Turkish band, I love it!
Lastly I am having a hafla for my ensemble the Dancing Rubies this Saturday with live music, which has kept me busy as well.
Belly dance as a Career
Q: Before belly dancing, how did you make your living?
I came to belly dance really late (when in graduate school) so I was waiting tables, but I did start to work for photographers, artists and stylists and also because I was involved with film students at my university, I started working on films which led to jobs in the film world too.
Q: What is your full time profession? Did you go to college?
I am a dancer, teacher, choreographer and lapsed filmmaker. I went to college and graduate school.
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?
I am not an expert on what it is like in other parts of the country but in NY I know that you need to have multiple ways of earning a living because at one point your performing career is going to do great but once January comes and there is a dry spell, it won’t be that great anymore. I do not really recommend completely leaving your 9-5 world. Have another way of bringing in income to supplement your belly dance. Throwing all your eggs in one basket is too risky!
If a student engineer said “I want to give it all up,” I would tell her/him to try to keep involved with engineering in some way, as a consultant for example. Have a variety of income sources. You have to constantly reinvent yourself to succeed in this business.
BUT if you really love dance and are passionate and want to make it work, you can, but you will have to draw upon different disciplines to get through times that are slow.
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?
You’re always going to have tough times, like when your cat gets sick and needs an operation. There is always some kind of obstacle that comes up. I am lucky in the sense that I have a partner and am married, and we can share in that, but at times it is going to be hard.
Q: What business advice would you give to full time belly dancers who have already taken the plunge into leaving their day job to pursue their dreams?
I think it is really important to know your own worth and understand the standards of the industry. I think that social media can be really helpful with this… to make those in your area know what rate standards are for venues and come together as a community to support one another in that respect. Try not to be out there on your own with no communication with the community.
Q: What mistakes should a belly dancer avoid making if possible as a full time belly dancer?
1. Don’t undervalue yourself! This is often the first thing young dancers fall victim to.
2. Use a contract! Agree upon things in advance, as word of mouth is not the best protection for you.
Q: How do you plan to sustain your career well into the coming decades?
It is a big challenge, and again it is about reinventing yourself as you go along. An important thing to remember in this dance form is that it can be done by anyone at any age in her/his lifetime. I have been fortunate enough to teach all ages, and one group of very ardent lovers of this dance for me have been retired school teachers. They love it! They love the movements and they feel empowered and revitalized. Basically what I am saying is to think outside the box. Think of how you can share this dance with different people.
As a performer age is more limiting, but many of my retired teacher students put on performances as well. As long as it is presented in the right context and you modify the movements, you can still perform at a more advanced age. I also find that watching a 20 year old perform belly dance is nice, but because they don’t have 30 years of experience, they often don’t have the depth and power a more mature performer may have.
Lastly you have to take good care of yourself because your body is your instrument, so proper nutrition, proper stretching and strength building are necessary for longevity. If you don’t take care of yourself, belly dance will not going to be a long-term occupation. And taking good care of your self takes time!
Q: A fear many belly dancers have are the effects of aging on their abilities, is this something you think about often as well?
It is definitely an issue, but one thing that is changing in our society is that our population as a whole is older now. The audience is older themselves so they have an appreciation for a mature performer.
Basically this change has opened up more opportunities for dancers to continue performing as they grow older and more opportunities to re-examine how they can keep dance at the forefront of their activities and lives.
Q: Who are your belly dance idols in performance and in business?
I would say that in performance I feel Elena Lentini is my mentor here in NY. She has the most extraordinary stage presence and is one of the pioneers of fusing Middle Eastern dance and other dance traditions while still retaining the “oriental” quality of Middle Eastern Dance.
If we go back historically, I really love Nadia Gamal. I discovered her through studying with and working as a videographer for Bobby Farrah. Her dance influences were not strictly Middle Eastern, but she brought it all together in a wonderful way–and what a powerhouse!
I also love Samia Gamal, there is something so fresh about her even though the films in which she appears are from the 1940’s and 50’s!
Q: If belly dance had not become your profession, what career path would you have chosen?
I was already really involved with film production so I probably would have carried on with that.
Q: Why do you do this? Why do you belly dance?
For me belly dance is a way to share in a universal language, to share a wide range of emotions and a way to share my passion with people, and it so happened that years ago my Butoh instructor must have seen that this vocabulary was innate within me.
Even though I was clumsy when I started out and had 2 left feet, I felt drawn to it in a way that was beyond words. I love the power of belly dance when I share it with people. It is mesmerizing.
Q: Anything else?
It is important that if you want to be a well rounded performer to understand the historical background of the different styles you may be presenting, and once you have that foundation, this can help you make more sensitive and educated performance/teaching decisions. In performance it adds more nuance, and I also feel it is important nowadays not to lose some of the subtlety and nuance that dancers from before showed us.
There is such a simple beauty in the approach from previous generations, and if you eliminate that subtlety from your dance, people are going to get bored and you won’t be sharing the real essence of what this dance is.
About Andrea Beeman of NY:
Andrea’s choreography has been presented in venues ranging from New York City’s Town Hall to burlesque reviews in nightclubs. Her ensemble the Dancing Rubies began performing at events in the NYC area in 1999; in 2010 Andrea created the Sparks in the Dark to present her innovative, light imbued choreography in theatrical settings. Her multidisciplinary collaborations with artists, filmmakers & musicians have been seen at New York’s Symphony Space (with Amy Greenfield), the Rhode Island Symphony Orchestra (with R.A. Fish), & around the world (interactive Lamination Rituals with the Minister of Lamination).
Andrea has also performed as a Middle Eastern dance soloist and company member with Elena Lentini’s Caravanserai, New York Performing Artists Company, Anahid Soﬁan & Dancers & Jehan Kamal’s Ballet Exotiqa, among others. After classical Indian Odissi dance studies with Bani Ray, she studied under Seema Iyer in NYC’s first Bollywood dance class, later performing with Ms. Iyer as a Lotus Bollywood Dancer. For more information, visit www.EnchantressofBioluminosity.com or follow Enchantress of Bioluminosity & Andrea’s Dancing Rubies on Facebook.
Thank you for reading everyone and to learn more about me (Jennifer) and this project, or classes and performance visit my main page bellydancebyjennifer.com or follow me on FB: Bellydance By Jennifer Inc.