Sunday, 6 September 2009

Who are the men who show up at Haflas and event nights?

Who are the men who show up at Haflas and event nights?

By: Maani Vadgama

First and foremost there are the ubiquitous husbands and boyfriends who, on the whole, don’t look entirely at ease. The partners who have, under duress or through free will, immersed themselves into the world of hip drops and chamadans. Bag carriers, PAs, chaperons, and sturdy fellows who are ready to help at the drop of a veil. They should be admired and recognized. I’ve spoken to many dancers who’ve been forced to make a choice between their passion for the dance and their relationship, and that is not fair. To their credit most performers have chosen the former. I empathise. Were I to be given an ultimatum between my photography and my relationship the decision would be clear and emphatic. This conflict tends to boil down to the partner’s insecurities and ignorance. More on that later.     

Then there are those who appreciate the dance. They have an affinity for the music and see it as a fun, entertaining and colorful night out. They will be dancing in the interval and at the end of the night. You know the ones. Broad smiles, clapping enthusiastically, toes tapping, arms aloft ...... regulars. They have their opinions on technique and choice of music. And even though you may disagree with their view the important detail is that they have one.   

There are also the peripheral players. Sound and lighting technicians, website designers, photographers, musicians etc.... and before I get a spanking, I’m not suggesting that women can’t / don’t do all the above too. But, toys tend to be the realm of boys. We love to connect wires, press buttons, adjust lights, and feel generally useful. Woe betide the person who attempts to meddle in our work. There is nothing more irritating than having a dancer telling me how to take photos, just as I imagine there is nothing more irritating for a dancer than being told by a photographer how to dance.  

Of course there are the men who really are in belly dance - male dancers. I have to be frank here and admit that I know very little about male belly dancers and I’ve never spoken to one at length. I have, however, done some homework. It seems to me that this is a bit of a contentious and debated facet of belly dance. There are varied opinions on the topic and I’m not about to stick my neck out and proffer my own. What I do know is that I’ve always enjoyed watching male belly dancers and, from observing the mainly enthusiastic audience reception, it appears that most women are not hostile to it. There is the inevitable discussion on their sexual orientation but I think this is rather spurious. After all, I don’t sit there are discuss the sexual orientation of a female dancer. You don’t have to be gay to feel the urge to shake your hips - I should know (you should see my veil work too!). 

Last, and certainly least, we have the lascivious creeps who think it’s a pick-up opportunity. These cretins may also be dancing at the end of the night but tend to be drunk and trying to rub their crotch onto anything that moves. They cling to the ill perceived notion that if you belly dance you are cheap and easy. Clearly, that could not be further from the truth. They are deluded enough to believe that the dancer is performing for them rather than for themselves, the audience and their peers.      

So where do I fit in and how was I lured? 

A long time ago in a city far far away...............

................. a young girl fell in love with all things ancient and Egyptian. In the hustle and bustle of Cairo she discovered rainbow colors and reams of silk laden with sparkles. Amid the dusty antiquities and scented tea houses, nestled in the bazaars, she stumbled upon many an Aladdin’s cave of bling and fabric. A few years later, enter stage left, a boy from Iran. A relationship blossomed and each encouraged the other. 

She grew to become a keen and talented belly dancer whose passion for the art-form was central to her life. Outside of her 9 to 5 job she would spend hours understanding the rhythms, practicing her choreography, scouring e-bay for coin-belts and veils, attending classes and going to Haflas. Being a supportive and encouraging boyfriend I would help out as much as I could. I accompanied her to shows, gave my opinions on dresses, listened to Middle Eastern music ad-infinitum, critiqued her dances, and even tried to learn how to play the Tabla. Maybe one day we could have been the drumming and dancing duo to take the Belly Dance World by storm! It transpired that I was able to drum as well as George Bush can orate.

After a year of being a good boyfriend I started to become a disillusioned one. I was growing bored of listening to the same type of music the whole time. I felt out of place at weekend workshops. I no longer found her practicing interesting. This, of course, was my fault. I chose to involve myself, yet I didn’t have the nouse to find my own interests within her world. The relationship fell apart.

After we split I was looking through photos that I had taken and realized that I had a talent for capturing the mood and feel of the dance. Paradoxically it was thanks to her that I knew when to take the photo. Having spent all that time watching her practice and listening to the music I knew exactly when a dancer would turn, where the arms and hands would be, the exact span of the Isis wings, the camera settings in different lighting conditions, and the most flattering angles. Now we are good friends and, sweet irony, I do the photography for the Hafla she organizes. 

My relationship with belly dance was born from the demise of another. I owe my understanding and confidence to an ex, a friend and a dancer. 

So which category do I fall into? All of them in a way. I was one of those jittery looking partners, I’ve done the bag carrying, I have an affinity for the dance and the music (must be in the blood), I’m now a peripheral player, and I do see the sensuality in the dance. But, fear not, you’ll not find me trying to chat-up a performer or attempting to drunkenly ingratiate myself with them. I hear terrible tales from dancers, mostly from those who perform in restaurants. It seems most restaurateurs feel it’s their right to make passes at and pester performers - “Exactly how much do you want to dance here?” There are a lot of men out there who make my job that much more difficult. There is a good reason why dancers bring their partners, friends or children with them to photoshoots. After all, I’m a man. What’s my angle? What’s my interest? 

Well, it’s more than an interest, it’s a passion. A passion for images, motion, emotion, expression, beauty and talent. To watch a body (male or female), contort and convey is to watch expression in it’s purest form - it’s primal. Over the years I’ve learned a lot about dance and dancers. I’ve watched women grow in confidence and strength, both on and off stage. It’s tangible and attributable to belly dance. Vicariously, I’ve discovered talents and traits residing within.

We men do have a place in Belly Dance but, as with everything in life, the attitude and approach are key. If we respect the fact that it is a dance of women, by women, and for women, we can provide a tangible contribution. More than that, it can enrich our lives. 

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Article appeared in NAFOURA Magazine (July 2009 issue)

©2009 NAFOURA Magazine

All rights reserved.

Do not copy this article without obtaining permission.





Like most belly dancers, I love the look and feel of dancing barefoot.  It’s traditional for our art form, so it gives us a connection to our foremothers…but since we’re modern chicks in a modern world, we don’t usually get the chance to dance on the gleaming polished marble floors of temples, or the soft earth of our village square. We might be working in a theater where the stage floor is splintered or  the backstage area  isn’t optimally clean, or in a restaurant where shards of broken glass from wine goblets or even another dancer’s beads can get into our soles, or even  at a street festival on the hot  pavement… SO WE NEED TO PROTECT OUR FEET!

Under the umbrella of belly dance, there’s a myriad of performance styles- but luckily, there’s also an abundance of footwear options that will go with any sort of costume you have.  Here are some ideas for shoes that will both preserve your tootsies, as well as look great in performance.


Soft and pliable, these shoes come in full-sole or split sole , and there are many options and styles to choose from. Made with uppers of soft leather or durable canvas, ballet slippers will mold to your foot, and feel as flexible as though you were barefoot, while keeping your feet clean as well as protecting them from  any debris that may be on your performance surface. Some styles have straps attached; some have elastic straps you can sew on yourself.  Ballet slippers have a suede sole, which allows for clean, smooth  turn while still providing a bit of traction. If you are using ballet slippers for restaurant or club  work, you may want to take them to a shoemaker and have a thin layer of  “dance rubber” put on over the suede sole in order to make them a little more durable. This will give the shoe’s sole more traction, and further protect your foot, as well as make the shoe itself last longer. If you get a pair in classic “ballet pink” or beige, the shoes can be dyed to match a particular costume, and they can also be easily embellished with appliqu├ęs or rhinestones to jazz them up a bit.  Ballet slippers can be purchased on line, or at any dance store. Expect to pay anywhere from about USD  $12.00-$40.00 for a pair of ballet slippers.  A couple of popular trusted brands are Capezio and Bloch.


 These are similar to ballet slippers, but have a full vamp that usually laces up, like an oxford. Jazz shoes don’t really look too glamorous on stage, but because of their thin soles and very small, flat heel, they offer a lot of support and are great for teaching. There are now many varieties of jazz shoes, including lightweight, pliable jazz boots and sneakers, which are great under long skirts or pants. These offer ankle support, as well. Most standard  jazz shoes have prices comparable to ballet slippers.


Similar to ballet slippers, these Egyptian imports are usually constructed along the lines of ballet slippers, but with an elasticized edge that fits around the top of your foot, as opposed to straps that go across your arch or ankle.  They are usually cut low in the vamp and made with a slightly pointier toe than ballet slippers- this makes for a nice  visual line. These suede -soled soft shoes are usually available in a range of metallics and colors, and the soles are slightly thicker than ballet slippers. You can find Egyptian dance slippers carried by vendors at dance festivals, or sometimes on line, available through belly dance costume and supply websites. A word to the wise: most Egyptian dance slippers run a little snug, and are sized in  standard European sizes, so  take this into consideration. If you are buying the shoes online, make sure you know what your Euro- size conversion is! Egyptian slippers range between about  USD$15.00-$50.00 a pair, outside of Egypt, that is. 



Popular for use in Irish dancing, Ghillies are also a great option for belly dancers. They are soft, pliable slipper-type shoes made of suede or leather, with a flexible suede sole that resembles a sort of hybrid of ballet slippers and sandals, due to the lacing that begins on the vamp of the shoes and continues up to tie around the ankles. These shoes could look great with a variety of costumes, from Cabaret to Tribal, to Goth. The lacing, usually made of cord or rawhide, could be swapped out for ribbons that match or contrast with your costumes.  Once again, you might want to add dance leather to increase the shoe’s durability and lifespan. Ghillies usually cost about USD $20.00-$70.00.


These Grecian-look sandals  have always been  a popular choice among belly dancers. Made of thin, pliable neutral or metallic  leather with flexible suede sole, Hermes Sandals look like Grecian Goddess or Gladiator-wear.  They are basically a thong sandal fitted with small leather loops around the sides of the sole, and long laces that criss-cross along the top of the foot, wrapping around the ankles  - or up the leg as the case may be, similar to the way pointe shoes would be tied. Hermes sandals offer protection to the bottom of your foot, but not a lot of support, and many dancers don’t like the binding feeling of the ties wrapped around the ankle.  They are inexpensive (ranging from  USD $10.99-$40.00, and look most   appropriate for most belly dance styles. Again, Capezio makes a good version of this shoe, as does Dance Shooz.


These study, closed-toe workhorse shoes go well with almost any style of dance. Within the character shoe category are standard tap shoes, Tango shoes, and T-strap and Mary Jane  vintage-look “chorus girl”- type styles that would work well with a range of costumes.  Usually available in flesh-toned tan and black, they also can be custom ordered in a range of colors and metallics. They are equipped with a hard, thick heel (heights range from about 1.5-3”) and grooved leather sole, which also takes well to a thin application of dance rubber. The oval-shaped toe-box, while giving a streamlined look, fully protects your feet and is unusually roomier for dancers with wider feet. Built for optimal support, these shoes can really take a beating. They work well for all styles of dance, and offer variety- depending on which style you choose, they can work for anything from straight ahead belly dance, folkloric, classic, even a 1920’s or Victorian Gothic flavor. I even have a pair of Capezio Tango-style character shoes that I bought for stage use, but because they were so darn comfy- and foxy – that I wound up wearing incessantly in my “civilian” life! Expect to pay anywhere from about  USD $20.00-$70.00 for character shoes, and they are well worth the price!


Hands-down the most glamorous and showy choice for dancers, ballroom shoes offer complete support to the entire foot, and yet look amazing. They come in a mind-bending variety of styles and colors, including loud animal and reptile prints (YAY!)  A veritable rainbow of metallic leathers, shiny fabrics, contrasting colors and sometimes-even rhinestone buckles. Style-wise, ballroom shoes can be open toed, close-toed, ankle straps, tie-straps, and made with many different heel heights and widths as well.  The uppers are usually strappy, but though they look flimsy, these shoes are constructed with dancing in mind. The soles are suede, and let you really feel the floor, but there is usually a steel shank embedded in the arch of the shoe leading up to the heel, which offers optimal support. Again, you can have the suede soles covered with dance rubber, but it’s not necessary.  Ballroom shoes are available  “out-of-the-box” but many dancers have theirs custom-made, mixing and matching styles, colors, and  even heels shapes and heights to their own personal choice.  Either way, expect to pay a lot for these babies.  What they ARE NOT is cheap, but they are constructed so well, it’s always a great investment. When I first started dancing, in the early Nineties, at the recommendation of my teacher, I bit the bullet and paid $98.00 for a pair of gold and silver ballroom shoes to use for belly dancing. At the time, I thought I was nuts- why did I spend that excessive amount of money on a pair of shoes when I could put it towards buying a costume? But I wore them incessantly, and it was TWELVE YEARS (and four sets of-re-soling) before I finally had to retire them, due to wear and tear. A dozen years of wearing them three to seven times a week- you do the math! Nowadays, the prices on ballroom shoes range anywhere from  USD $50.00- $375.00, depending on what type you get. Do what I did- bite the bullet, you WILL NOT regret it!

In general, professional dance shoes are designed to look good onstage while  they protect your feet, and that’s a really smart investment in your dance career!


Make sure you have a clean performance surface. If there are other dancers working the stage before you, ask someone to sweep up between performances, so you don’t get a  bead embedded in your foot, which is a classic- and very typical- belly dance injury. Carry a package of baby-wipes with you to clean your feet before slipping back into your street shoes, and bring a pair of flip-flops along to get you to and from the stage safely. You may want to bring some band-aids along too, in case of emergency. And check your pedicure!  Nothing wrecks your gorgeous stage appearance like dirty, calloused feet with a chipped pedicure!

About Princess Farhana

Princess Farhana has performed, taught and written about Oriental Dance for 18 years. For more info on her worldwide workshops and events, or instructional/performance DVD’s, please visit  


PO Box 29504

LA CA. 90029-6504 USA

Article appeared in NAFOURA Magazine (July 2009 issue)

©2009 NAFOURA Magazine

All rights reserved.

Do not copy this article without obtaining permission.

Monday, 31 August 2009

September issue of NAFOURA Magazine

September 2009 issue of NAFOURA Magazine. 

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(Note: available to view from midday UK time on the 1st Sept 2009)

Monday, 17 August 2009

10 Countries to visit to learn about belly dancing

1. Egypt - Egypt is La Mecca for belly dancers all over the world, especially the cities of Cairo and Luxor. Egyptian bellydancers are considered amongst the best in the world and Egyptian belly dance teachers are extremely sought after. There are also a lot of great bellydancers who are not originally from Egypt, but who are based there. Just a few names that belly dancers around the world will recognise include: Raqia Hassan, Dandasha, Randa Kamel, Dina and Mohamed El Hosseny (Egyptian male belly dancer, based in Finland) just to mention a few.

Also, bazaars in Egypt are great places in which to buy all your belly dance costumes, accessories and belly dance music CDs. Last but not least, Egyptian deluxe hotels are nowadays the places where you can see a lot of great belly dancers perform.

2. Turkey - Another great place to visit for belly dance lovers is Turkey. Turkish bellydance style is very different from Egyptian style, but equally interesting. Belly dancers can find everything they wish to do with belly dance in Istanbul’s bazaar, and it is possible to go and see various belly dance shows in Turkey. Famous Turkish belly dancers include: Asena, Princess Banu, Nesrin Topkapi, Sibel Baris and Burcin Orhan. A Turkish male belly dancer is Ozgen, who is based in the UK and greatly appreciated.

3. Lebanon - Belly dance is big in Lebanon too; they even have a reality talent show on Lebanese satellite channel LBC, called Hizi Ya Nawaem (World Belly Dance Championship).

Lebanese bellydance style is very energetic and there are a lot of great Lebanese belly dancers, such as Amani, Maya Abi Saad and more.

4. Morocco - Some travel companies and some belly dance teachers organise trips to Morocco. Belly dance lovers visiting Morocco can combine belly dance lessons with trips to the desert, visits to saunas and cultural tours. Also, a lot of nightclubs in Morocco feature live belly dance shows.

5. Tunisia - Trips involving belly dance are also organised in Tunisia. This country has its own unique style of belly dance and folkloric dance and it is culturally very interesting. An expert of Tunisian belly dance is Leila Haddad, who was born in Tunisia and moved to France when she was eighteen. In France Leila Haddad pursued her love for dance, rediscovering the ancient art form of belly dance and Tunisian dance. Leila teaches and performs in France, where she presently lives, and holds workshops around the world.

6. Algeria - Algerian belly dance is usually associated with the Ouled Nail women. The Ouled Neil is a Berber tribe, based in Algeria, whose women traditionally went around making money from their dance performances and from selling their bodies. Ouled Neil women started travelling very young and, once they had made enough money, they returned to their village in order to get married and start a family. Their costumes were very rich and included heavy headdresses, lots of jewellery, coins sewed to their costumes and heavy make up. The jewellery of Ouled Nail dancers has inspired the costumes of today’s American tribal belly dance.

A famous belly dancer, who was born in Algeria and who has travelled the world, is Amel Tafsout. Amel Tafsout is not only an international dancer, but also an anthropologist, a choreographer, a singer and a language instructor. Algeria is also known for its own characteristic belly dance music, called Rai.

7. Saudi Arabia - Saudi Arabia is one of the countries of origin of what is known today as belly dance. Probably not worth going to for learning how to dance, but it can be nevertheless very interesting culturally. Saudi Arabia has its own belly dance style, called Khaleeji. Khaleeji is different form other types of belly dance, in that the dancer wears a long and wide kaftan called thobe nashal, which is used as a prop as well as a costume. This type of dance involves a lot of movements of the upper body and a lot of focus on footwork.

8. Syria - Belly dance is very popular in Syria too and, if you go there and visit, your tour will include belly dance shows.

9. Greece - Greek belly dance is called tsifteteli. Tsifteteli has been danced in Greece for centuries, as belly dance was performed in Greece already by the ancient Greeks. Nowadays Tsifteteli music can be heard everywhere in Greece, but it is usually danced socially rather then performed.

10. USA - With its big influx of immigrants, the USA has always been a melting pot of cultures. Officially, belly dance arrived in the US in occasion of the “Street in Cairo” exhibition on the Midway at the World’s Columbian Exposition, held in Chicago in 1893, when Little Egypt performed (little Egypt’s real name was Farida Mazar Spyropoulos and she was a bellydancer from Syria). However, a big part in the spread of belly dance in the US was played by the immigrants coming from various Middle Eastern and Northern African countries. American belly dancers preserved an art form that threatened to be lost in some countries of origin and they even invented a new form of belly dance, American tribal belly dance.Nowadays, there are a lot of great belly dance performers and teachers, well known worldwide, who are based in the USA. Many of them are based in California, such as Jamila Salimpour and her daughter Suhaila, Jim Boz, Carolena Nericcio, the Bellydance Superstars who tour around the world all the time and more. On the East Coast, in NYC, is Morocco, who has been involved with Arabic dance for over 40 years and still teaches and performs in the USA and abroad.

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