Javarah's Frequently Asked Questions

[Bellydance F.A.Q.]

Mediterranean Fantasy Festival July 2001

What does 'Javarah' mean?

Over the years, folks have had a lot to say about the name. Some say it sounds too masculine [like 'Jafar'], but others say it fits my dancer personality. Or perhaps I just grew into the name! It is a variant of 'Jawharah,' which means 'jewel.'

'Javarah' = 'Living Jewel!'

Why have a Bellydance name?

Some dancers use their real names, and some like to pick names that sounds more exotic - to fit a dream of the dance. Some people want a dance name as a form of safety and personal privacy. Think carefully about what you want as your name. Once you pick a name & perform with it, changing your performance name may be an inconvenience to others. Also check whether there is already a performer with the name in your area, to avoid confusion. There are many terrific sites with middle eastern names lists - here are two I like: http://www.bdancer.com/med-guide/names/mednames.html & http://www.omanaccess.net/htm/child/arab/girls/a.asp.

Where do you get your costumes?

From retail vendors, purchased second-hand, and good old-fashioned sewing with lots of elbow grease!

As you discover your dance personality, costumes will start to fit into the picture more clearly. Until then, practice with a simple hip belt. Other options include fancy beaded, coined, fringed or sequined Beledi dresses, 'Turkish' & 'Egyptian' style bedlah [bra/belt sets] paired with skirt & veil, skirts & veils paired with choli tops, Tribal style turbans with ghawazee coats, and many many traditional garments from regions as diverse as Europe, Africa, the middle and far east.

Patterns for basic costumes may be purchased at most sewing stores and many bellydance vendors. Yasmina's has a page with links to many online resources and patterns.

If you're ready to buy your costume pre-made there are many local, national and international vendors. My favorite local Puget Sound vendors are Hasani & Saqra. You can see items for purchase from these vendors and many others in person at most Hafla's and dance festivals in the Pacific Northwest.

I have also had a lot of luck online. Check out L. Rose Designs,Audrena's Online Catalog, Catharae's Bellydance, The Turkish Emporium, Unicorn Bellydance Supplies, eBay or Chandra's to get started. Don't forget to shop around for price and style, and when buying used goods, make certain to ask every question you can to assure the quality you seek.

Where do Bellydancers perform?

At restaurants, festivals, birthday parties, retirement parties, weddings, middle eastern theme nights, public shows, and other special occasions, bazaars, assemblies, or wherever a dancer such as myself - or yourself - would enhance the mood.

There are several restaurants in the Seattle area which host bellydancers. Some have live bands, some have facilities for tape or CD accompaniment. Other restaurants with Middle Eastern Dance performance in our Puget Sound area include: Himalaya [Lynnwood], Sunrise [Everett], Kolbeh [Downtown Seattle], Aladdin [Seattle], Caspian [U-District], Riviera Room [Tukwila] & Tony's Grill [Kent]. There are several more restaurants, some with rotating performers or even guest student nights, and some with regular performers. I have posted recurring events on my public performance page.

When you first begin to perform, dancing at the Haflas - bellydance parties, like mini-festivals - are a great way to connect with the bellydance community. These events are still my favorite for seeing great new dance & costuming ideas. Haflas allow many soloists, duets and troupes to show their talents to an audience which has specifically come to watch dancing for the day or night. Usually these parties are 'by donation' or for a small fee to cover the rental space. Often vendors are selling costumes, jewelry & music, or promoting other bellydance events. Hasani's Haflas are held quarterly in Gig Harbor, Washington.

Festivals are much larger than Haflas, and may last several days - often attracting dancers, teachers and vendors from far and wide! Two of the major annual festivals on the west coast are The Middle Eastern Fantasy Festival ~ held in mid-July in West Seattle; Rakkasah ~ held in March in northern California; as well as numerous competitions worldwide. Yasmina's lists many festivals around the country.

For the most thorough Puget Sound bellydance event calenders online, I recommend Bhuz.com, Hasani & Saqra.

What happens at a performance?

At a Hafla, Festival, Competition or other large public event featuring many bellydancers, you will see a veritable marathon of dance. One performer after another - or troupe, or duet - will take the spotlight and perform. Usual performance times vary from 7 to 12 minutes per group or individual. Often, each performance will be introduced, and you might learn a little bit about the dancers, their background & style, who instructed them, or other upcoming events which will feature the group or soloist.

At private gatherings, such as a wedding, birthday, anniversary, retirement or theme event, bellydancers often perform a short set [whether as soloists or a troupe] at a specified time, or interact throughout the event to enhance the fun of the party. In some wedding processionals to and from the altar, a bellydancer may accompany a strolling band to express the joy newlyweds feel.

At a Cabaret or restaurant performance, you will generally see soloists perform. There may be just one dancer for the evening, or as many as five or six. Standard dance sets include 3 or more songs, and last from 15 to 45 minutes. Ask your host or waitstaff how long each performance will last. Solo performers usually perform a dance set [to live or recorded music] which may include the following dances in this rough order: entrance dance, veil dance, beledi [baladi], specialty dance [cane, malaya, candles or other props], drum solo, and a finale. All this may change dependent on the performance space: whether there is a stage, or the dancer must mingle among dining tables, whether there is a live band that will need to take a break or there is recorded music that continues non-stop. Most venues encourage the tipping of dancers, to enhance the slight pay bellydancers may receive.

At a staged bellydance production, just as with any live theatrical performance, the rules are up to the particular performers and producers. If you're not sure what to expect, contact the organizing group to get details.

What about tipping a Bellydancer?

Tips from Walid at Pho Saigon July 2002

Tipping bellydancers at cabaret [restaurant] performances is an interesting habit. Here are some thoughts for the next time you are in a position to tip a bellydancer:

• Often tips are the only remuneration cabaret bellydance performers receive. At some establishments, performers may also receive a small fee, or a meal at the restaurant.

• $1 bills are most common, but any denomination you feel was earned is appropriate!

• Fold tip money in half on long edge so it may be easily tucked in the dancer's costume.

• If you forget to bring tip dollars, and would like to tip, make certain to ask your serving staff or host for assistance before the dancing begins.

• Dancers often cue the audience for tipping by making a close circuit of the audience towards the end of the dance set.

• If you're unsure of when to tip during the performance, hold your tip up so the dancer can see you are ready. She or he will approach when the time is right

• Never put a tip into the front of a female dancer's costume bra or cleavage, it is considered quite tacky, and is awkward for the dancer.

• Tips should be tucked into the side or back of the dancer's hip belt, the straps or back of the dance top, the dancer's cap [if there is one], arm band, or some other area the dancer offers through gesture.

• Bellydancers will continue to dance while receiving tips ~ it makes for more entertainment!

• If you're confused, ask the dancer ~ yes, dancers do talk & shimmy at the same time.

• When performing to a live band, it is customary that any tips which fall from the dancer's costume be given to the band.

• Sometimes, the host or hostess may provide a 'tip jar' during or after the performances.

• If you miss tipping the dancer during the performance or are too shy to do so, feel free to approach the dancer later, or ask your host or waitstaff to forward the tip. When dancers don't have an opportunity to approach the audience for tips during a restaurant performance [for whatever reason], they will appreciate your kind thought.

Tips at Pho Saigon July 2002

What's in Bellydancing for me? What are the Advantages?

I believe bellydance has something to offer everyone. Bellydancing is basically natural body movements expanded upon to create mesmerizingly beautiful dance. Every body is put together differently, moves slightly differently, and excels in different areas of movement. As you begin to bellydance, you will learn to manage your own muscles & actually get more comfortable in your own skin. Whatever imperfections you have, whether you're trying to accept them or trying to change them, will lead you to discover your dance personality. Bellydance is the most accepting dance style taught. Stretching and low impact aerobic movement incorporating resistance and isolations create beautiful movement that is a healthy workout as well. And its so fun!

There is tremendous history behind the modern versions of bellydance taught around the world. Bellydance was done without special shoes, in everyday clothing, for self, friends and family for centuries, and still is today. Modern cabaret and tribal styles of bellydance are an homage to this tradition, focused on performance or personal enrichment. Personally, I find bellydance to be a very joyous experience all the time. There is a sense of accomplishment at doing something beautiful for the world and myself.

And I love something my father recently said: "Studies have shown there are three great things one can do to improve health & longevity - don't smoke, eat well, and exercise. If you only do ONE of these, make it exercise. Then you are using your tools and keeping them sharp." Bellydance is a great exercise, and lots of fun, too.

I'm pregnant ~ Is Bellydance a good idea for me?

Bellydance is based on natural movements of the body, combining stretching & heart-rate increasing movements. As with any new exercise regimen, its best to check with your doctor before you begin.

Pregnancy means your body is changing every moment, and will feel new ~ and perhaps awkward! ~ over and over again. Health & safety should be your main concerns. Let your doctor know you plan to bellydance during your pregnancy and listen to the advice you receive. Share physical concerns you and your doctor have with your dance teacher, for safety's sake! Stretches and strenuous moves can be altered during pregnancy, if needed. Remind your doctor that you're bellydancing at each checkup, in case your health or your child's health needs new considerations along the way. Pregnancy is not the time to push yourself to physical limits. Enjoy dance class or performance, but be ready and willing to sit out & dance with your hands & eyebrows when needed.

Pregnancy can be one of the most exciting times of your life in which to bellydance. You will be much more sensitive to muscle movement, balance and posture, and in different ways than you ever will be again. You may enjoy favorite moves more fully, improve at formerly difficult moves as a result of your 'new' body, or find that cabaret, folkloric, fusion or tribal styles of bellydance have connected with you in a new way. As Elisa Gamal said during her pregnancy [paraphrased]: You are dancing with your "ultimate partner!"

What's the history of Bellydance?

Many people have done the research for that, and there are many theories. Bellydance ("Dance of the East" a.k.a. Oriental dance, Danse Orientale, Raks Sharqi, and many other terms) is one of the most ancient forms of dance known to man. There are many theories about where, when and how the dance began, ranging from goddess worship in ancient Anatolia (modern day Turkey), to the use of undulations to ease the pain of childbirth, to gypsies traveling from India through Asia Minor and into Africa in the 10th Century. Elements of the dance are still seen in folk dances throughout Asia, Africa and Europe. Bellydance was first introduced to the United States at the 1893 World's Fair in Chicago. Although fully clothed, Victorian audiences were appalled by the dancers who performed without corsets. It is thought that the term "belly dance" was coined at this time as a mutation of the Arabic word for the dance "raks al beladi", meaning "dance of the people". Actually, an enterprising huckster used the term to entice audiences, the Dans du Ventre ~ 'dance of the stomach' in French, and the resembling word sounds are completely coincidental. Oriental dance had been celebrated for centuries by royalty, poets, writers, musicians and artists. Following its U.S. debut, with its reputation sullied, bellydance soon became known as "hoochie koochie" and later became associated with go-go dancing. Today we know that bellydance is more than just an exotic dance. As a full-body workout, it has unlimited muscle-strengthening and aerobic benefits. Other reported benefits are relief from menstrual and labor pain, increased physical and mental dexterity and, of course, a better romantic life. Here are some links to sites with really descriptive answers:Shira's & Belly Dance UK.

What do all those terms - beledi, raks sharqi, etc. - mean?

Raks al beledi [spelled in many variations] means "dance of the people." Raks Sharqi means "dance of the east." Again, I don't need to reinvent the wheel. There are several great websites with definitions to these and many other terms & answers to other great questions. Here are a few websites to start your search: Oasis, Shira's & Pink Gypsy.

Is there more than one type of Middle Eastern Dance or Bellydance?

Yes! Here's a great article explaining the differences: http://www.bdancer.com/styles.html.

Terms for styles that you will most often hear interchanged include Egyptian cabaret, Turkish/Greek, nightclub, or theatrical. Tribal or American tribal style. Rom, or 'gypsy.' Ethnic, ethnic fusion or dances given traditional & historically accurate titles. Dancers may name their specialty in the dance style of a particular country or area, such as Lebanon or Morocco. And of course, dancers in many disciplines use bellydance as part of their performance in a grand fusion - what the Fuzzy Monkeys call 'para-bellydance.'

Keep in mind, only the most traditional dances, those with set steps, patterns and music requirements, are true reflections of a particular ethnic culture. Much of Middle Eastern Dance is personalized by the dancers, the music, the time and space of performance, and whether the dance is for yourself, other dancers, a small or large audience, etc.

For some links to various styles of dance, visit Elena Shanti, Aziza Sa'id, Visionary Dance, Kitiera or SeattleTribal.com. Most of your favorite bellydance websites will include links to many, many great destination sites ~ so get out and explore!

How can I learn Bellydance? What if I'm not coordinated?

Because bellydance begins with natural movements, anyone can bellydance. Whether you can get up and jump five feet easily, or are unable to walk; whether you are underweight, overweight, a 'klutz,' or a 'gazelle,' there are bellydance movements you can learn and perform as well as the professionals. Start slowly in a beginning class, focussing on moves that feel easy - and if you don't 'click' with your first teacher, try another.

What are your classes like? What's the class structure?

We begin each class with low-impact aerobic movement to increase heart rate, and then a good warm-up stretch. Next, we learn new moves, combinations and basic isolations. Each session we'll spend some time repeating what was previously learned. I'll ask students questions and break down movements component by component. Muscle charts are available during class for reference to particular movements. When working on choreographies, we spend time learning the concrete pattern to a particular piece of music, and reinforce the knowledge with repetition. Printed choreographies are available. Throughout class sessions, I address student questions to improve all-over understanding of the movements. We also spend some time incorporating new moves into improvised dance. At the end of each class, there's a cool-down stretch.

I believe in two principles which I try to apply in every part of life, and I like my students to use in class: The Principle of Do Easy, and The Principle of Yes. I think the easiest way to accomplish bellydance movements, or any activity, is probably the most correct - especially as you learn something new. And I think everyone should be open to every opportunity, in dance or any part of life. In your mind, as a student, answer every question or challenge with 'yes,' and learn how you can honestly support that answer. These two principles create a very positive, welcoming atmosphere; one I feel works for every level of student.

Am I a Beginning, Intermediate or Advanced dancer? How can I tell?

Bellydance is self-regulated when it comes to skill levels. Many new dancers are immensely talented. Many dancers with lots of experience are still getting to know some basics of the artform. You must be your own best judge. Some instructors and dance schools apply rating systems, but these may not mean much anyplace other than that school itself. Because I am asked this question so often, I provide the following general breakdown, for you to apply to yourself.

* The Beginning Dancer is still learning to control his or her muscle work on very basic forms, such as hip circles, hip shimmies, snakey arms & stomach rolls. Transitioning from one move to another is often still tricky. The repertoire of dance moves may include less than 10-15 moves. Posture work must be constantly brought to mind. Choreographies may include loose movements with many repetitions. Familiarity with Middle Eastern music, or your teacher's preferred music, is not great, although a few songs might be easy to note. Too much thinking & dancing may make it difficult to smile or interact with an audience. Arm & hand work is good when its the focussed movement, but may be forgotten when the focus is elsewhere. Improvised dance may be difficult, mostly because its hard to listen to music and think of what moves to do at the same time.

* Intermediate Dancers are able to discover transitions more easily. Dance move repertoires have likely grown to include extensive use of a prop, such as zills, veil or cane. Keeping in formation with a group is easier, as are moving steps, and layered steps. Shimmies added to basic isolations are being worked on. Muscle movements are becoming more subtle, so isolations that needed to be slow and broad for the beginning dancer are now accomplished at variable dynamics. Arm & hand work is improving, and 'framing' arms seem to flow naturally. Improvised dance is difficult sometimes; it is easier to dance with familiar music. Posture is almost second nature, although still difficult with newer moves. Many pieces of bellydance music, and even popular bellydance singers, are easily recognized by sound. A preference for particular musical styles or artists may have developed. Smiling or presenting a 'dance face' is much easier. Choreographies may employ more precise movements, but routines are generally either fast or slow, without too much variety in one dance piece.

* An Advanced Dancer is skilled at working muscles on either side of the body, in either direction. Most new moves are picked up easily, and the dancer can break down observed movement to add to his or her repertoire. Dance posture comes naturally. Improvised performance is usually easy, and picking up the rhythm, melody & mood of musical pieces is done without thinking. The finishing touches of finger, hand, arm, feet, head & eye positioning and movements help set a style unique to the individual dancer. Dancing with props, specialty & ethnic dances, may have been specifically studied by the dancer and added as a specialty performance. Coordinated routines in duets or larger troupes is easily accomplished, and the dancer can choreograph if needed. Multiple layered movements, and interaction with an audience are apparently effortless. Proficiency in precise, quick routines - as well as sinuous, flowing movement pieces - provides a great variety in performance routines.

Dancers perform at all different levels - paid & unpaid, and there is certainly no reason not to. Keep in mind, everyone has good days & bad days, and people move between skills levels at different speeds - so don't give up!

Bellydance is a stylized art, based on traditional dances from Africa, the Mideast, and north into Europe. It is now a true art form, performed theatrically, in cabaret and in competition ~ but always and above all For Yourself. Challenge yourself to learn new forms in bellydance, but never be limited based on 'what you don't yet know.' We dancers will be learning more about the dance for the rest of our lives!

I want to Bellydance, but I don't want to perform - can I do that?

You bet! Dancing is something you do for yourself first. If that is all you are interested in, you will still have a lifetime of learning to dance your way through.

Bellydancing is a low-impact aerobic workout, incorporating stretching, isolation and resistance into the fluid beauty of dance that's been with us from earliest times. A true artform based on traditional and historic dance movements, bellydance is a form that can provide a positive exercise experience for those with expansive or limited physical capacities. Students develop muscle tone, increased flexibility & endurance. Many students experience increased confidence, positive body image, and of course - camaraderie. There is something in bellydance for everyone!

My classes teach choreographies so students may easily remember dance movements on their own, as well as improvised dance techniques to encourage individual style & creativity. I do not schedule 'dance recitals' currently, although Haflas, festivals and any number of other events are possible venues for those who do wish to perform.

Are there Bellydance teachers closer to my home?

There are many wonderful teachers all over the Pacific Northwest - and everywhere, if you go further afield! Local Puget Sound teachers are pretty exhaustively listed at The Seattle Source for Middle Eastern Dance. For further out, visit Bhuz.com or Yasmina's as great resources for classes, workshops, events & links to all over!

Can I learn to Bellydance from a videotape or DVD?

Yes... and no. Instructional & performance videotapes and DVDs are wonderful tools in the bellydance world. If you connect well with a particular video dance or teaching style, you will be able to learn basic bellydance skills with ease. Dancing is an emotional experience, however, and you should try to connect with a real live teacher at least occasionally, by dropping in to classes [if allowed], attending workshops, taking private lessons, or talking with bellydancers as much as you can at Haflas and festivals. Dancing with a teacher in person helps to elevate the dance beyond the mere technical, leading your dance into stylistic and even spiritual endeavors.

One shortcoming of many videotapes is the ability to convey proper safety to new dancers. No matter how specificly and correctly movements may be explained on video, there is still the chance of misunderstanding by the viewer. If you choose to do the bulk of your bellydance learning by videotape, be aware of your joints and muscles. Read up on proper stretching and cool-down techniques, and talk to your certified healthcare provider or a physical fitness expert.

As a dancer with a little bit of experience from classes or workshops, videotapes open a wonderful world of potential styles and movement subtleties to add to your repertoire. Enjoy your videotapes, and recommend those that really touch you. If you get the chance, thank the dancers who create the tapes and DVDs you use, they put their hearts into their work!

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Tony's Grill January 2003

webpages created by Chalet Flambe 2002 - 2007