|Posted on April 13, 2016 at 2:35 PM|
I moved to Boston from the Albany area to attend Northeastern University. I began studying physics and eventually switched my major to philosophy (and religion). I was very inquisitive about religion and wanted to practice all the religions which were available in the Boston area. I began taking Wicca classes with Andras Corban at the Cambridge Center for Adult Education. I finished the classes and began attending rituals to celebrate the cycles of the sun. I attended a Summer Solstice ritual in southern New Hampshire and saw belly dance for the first time. I took my first lesson and saw women and men chanting around a bonfire to the many names of the Goddess while women were belly dancing. I was so intrigued by belly dance that when I returned to Boston, I looked up belly dance in the yellow pages and found my teacher, Nasrine, Nancy Barber, and the Boston Oriental Dancers. I began studying with Nasrine every week. After 6 weeks of lessons I was moved into an intermediate class and was already dancing and zilling (finger cymbaling) at the same time. My prior twelve years of tap and jazz may have helped me learn belly dance so quickly. We learned primarily Turkish technique with a little bit of Arabic cane. Nasrine brought us to nursing homes to get experience performing. Once I had been dancing for two years Nancy introduced me to Nassir Halloway, a fanastic Lebanese dancer who performed belly-grams for the Averof Restaurant, a popular Middle Eastern Restaurant in Cambridge, MA. The Averof had live music and belly dance shows every night. Nasrine was performing at the Averof as a solo act and with her troupe. Nassir and I performed belly-grams for Greek weddings, and men’s 50 th birthday parties. Nassir was fantastic at balancing. He once had a woman get up from her chair; he stepped on it to get up on the table and balanced her wine glass on his head, while doing a backbend and zilling! My fondest memories of Nasrine dancing were also at the Averof when she would zagareet (aloud call that belly dancer’s use) and enter the stage zilling and then come down into the audience and dance on the table. Sometimes the men in the audience got so excited they poured champagne over their heads.
Another great memory of Nasrine was at the Averof. The owner asked her to fire a plus size dancer in her troupe. Nasrine refused and the owner was not satisfied, so she quit performing as a troupe at the Averof instead of firing her dancer! When people ask me what style of belly dance I teach, I say, “dancing on the tables Turkish.” A better description would be 70’s Turkish-American dance, since dance in Turkey is a little different. I read recently that skirt dancing is not done in Turkey, what the author meant to say was, it is not part of Turkish cabaret dance. Skirt dancing is of course part of Romany dance, the folkloric dance of Turkey. Americans blended the two art forms together.
After 27 years of belly dancing I am still learning about authentic Turkish style. I recently studied North African dance with Aisha Ali, and I was also surprised to learn from her that the “pelvic drop” is originally Turkish. The “pelvic lift “is predominantly done in the Algerian scarf dance, but it may also be originally Turkish. I had not learned the pelvic drop until I studied with the Egyptian choreographer Raqia Hassan, so I had previously thought of it as Egyptian. Pelvic movements are taught on Sarah Skinners, “I Love Turkish Belly Dance” DVD. Sarah is one of my favorite Turkish cabaret performers.
I began teaching belly dance in the 90’s and after my second daughter was born; I opened my own studio in Manchester. It has been one of the most rewarding aspects of my life to teach dance. I have been able to make a part-time living, exercise, de-stress, design costumes, and make wonderful friendships. Now I am dancing less, as I work full time as a physicist at the University of California, Santa Cruz. I finished an MA in Women’s Spirituality and started in a PhD program in the same subject at the California Institute of Integral Studies. I am no longer a PhD student, but I am interested in the ancient roots of Middle Eastern dance and their connection to Goddess worship in North Africa and the ancient Mediterranean.
I studied with Nasrine for five years straight and became a night club performer in the Boston area. I encourage students to stay with one teacher until they really master one style rather than jumping from teacher to teacher. Although I have studied Egyptian, North African, and even a little Gothic Tribal, I will always hold on to my Turkish style. I love the expanded use of space, the whirling, the veil, and of course the jumping on the tables.