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Contributions from our Community


On Being an Artist by Tasha

Says Who? by Anne Marie

Senior Bellydance  by Sandi Streuer

Musings on being a Fat Belly Dancer by Miriam H.F. Berger

Me...on Reality TV...  by Gia Al Qamar

On Appearance and Dance  by Anne Marie



If you would like to comment, please send an email to info@njbellydancing.org  and I will be happy to post!  If you would like to contribute an article, we would be happy to oblige!



On Being an Artist
After more than 33 years of belly dancing, I still seek out and watch belly 
dancers' performances. With the advent of the Internet, this is much simpler 
than at the beginning of my journey. I will admit, I favor cabaret dancers, as  
this is my passion, but I believe my observations are valid over other forms. I 
will, however, focus on cabaret in my comments. 

I believe the consummate dance artist is a complete package. For me, the 
elements of a complete package are, in no particular order:  technical skill; 
professional, appropriate costuming; artistry and expression; skilled use of 
props; presentation. 

Finding an instructor that you resonate with is the first step on your journey. 
Much of dance is focused on technique, which is vital. Today I see several 
developing trends. I see some teachers focused solely on technique (I freely 
admit that technique is much easier to teach than artistic expression). But 
technique alone does not make a complete artist. I cringe when watching either a 
soloist or a chorus of size 2 dancers executing flawless technique without any 
heart and soul. 

I remember being a beginner and thinking that if I just knew enough steps, I'd 
be a good belly dancer. 33 years and a thousand steps and combinations later, I 
giggle uproariously at this belief, but I also see it reflected in my students. 
Hopefully I am able to gift them with the insight it took me so long to acquire. 

The other trend I see that I'm still on the fence about is the absorption of 
belly dance moves into fitness instructor's routines. Net positives:  more women 
are exposed to belly dance, which can lead to more sisters, and belly dance is 
viewed as more mainstream.  Major negative:  I've yet to meet someone who has 
learned belly dance in a fitness setting that has been taught good technique. My 
concern is not that they can't relearn, although of course learning correctly the first time is optimal, but that incorrect technique is 
potentially injurious to the body. As an instructor, I am actively pushing students to execute dance moves safely, not only for the 
superior appearance of presentation, but for their own long term well being. 

Costuming is one of the yummy parts of being a belly dancer. I've seen styles change radically in my years, and am as pleased as can be 
with the variety, availability, and relatively inexpensive choices that are easily accessible today. No longer is it cheaper to make it 
yourself. As a student of the great icon, Serena, who believed that you should costume yourself as if you're a Christmas tree, keep 
putting things on, (she was a true Leo), I love complete costuming. I like costuming that includes a matching necklace, arm bands, 
anything other than the rather bare look I see too often. It's not my intention to criticize, I think many young dancers need to be 
educated in this concept. 

The relatively small extra expense of finishing a look can make a huge difference 
in the impact of a performance. My biggest costuming gripe is fit. Serena said, 
"The most important thing about your costume is a perfectly fitted bra.". 
I could not agree more. It's extremely distressing to me to see a costume that 
has clearly been invested in gapping on a dancer. Many women don't know how to 
fit a costume (why would they?), but seem unwilling to spend an extra $25-$50 to 
have it done competently. I've met dancers who completely pin themselves in to 
their costume. I've seen professionals yanking at their bras as they are about to 
spill out. Seamstresses won't do, gals, these costumes require engineering and 
experience to fit properly (might I take a moment to recommend myself to you). 

Unless you're only dancing for other dancers, your performance must include 
artistry and expression. Your technique will only carry you so far with the 
general public, who wouldn't know a Haggalah from an Arabic Walk. Yet too many 
YouTube videos I watch are clearly choreographed routines nearly devoid of soul. 
Number one, it's not about you, sorry, it's not. It's about the audience 
experiencing what you, the unique you, has to give them through your connection 
to them. There are precious few performers whose scripted choreography looks 
organic, my other favorite teacher, Elena Lentini, and Alexia of the Drum and 
Dance Learning Center, are two such performers. How do you become one with the 
music if you're focused on counting 8's? 

First, please please please, eye contact, it's up to you to bring your audience into your performance, and it's up to you to intrigue them. 

Other than direct coaching, I offer four other pieces of advice.  One, find ways to surprise the audience, whether it's height changes, 
stepping backwards instead of forwards, or videotaping your choreo and analyzing it fearlessly, change the choreo so that it doesn't 
seem scripted. Two, stretch yourself to taking classes in other disciplines: mime, acting, something else that focuses on audience 
connection.  Third, challenge yourself to improv to songs you don't know. You will grow as an artist.

Fourth, you are not just a dancer, you are an artist. Art stirs emotions in the observer. They say that writers bleed on the page, 
actors bleed on the stage. Feel what you feel, express what you feel, NEVER try to put on a feeling, the audience has no tolerance for 
artifice. True emotion is truly felt. It cannot be faked. 

Really?  Are zills dead?  Not if Michelle Devine and I have anything to do with it!  However, I'm both saddened and frequently bored 
watching performances sans zills. It's not easy for anyone to learn, but I will always believe it is a crucial part of belly dance to 
play zills. 

I just love the evolution of other props in belly dancing, and encourage everyone to excel at the prop or props that you most resonate 
with. Wings, veils, veil poi, veil fans, swords, yummy!  Become the most avid fan of your favorite prop. And don't perform with it until 
you are consummate in its use. 

The culmination of the process of learning technique, costuming yourself well, developing your artistry, crafting your show, and then 
performing before an audience is your presentation. Have you educated yourself, crafted your show, invested in appropriate costuming and 
props, discovered what you have to give and opened yourself to the risk of sharing it?  If you have done this, you now have the distinction 
of artist. Congratulations!

Tasha started belly dancing in May of 1979 while stationed in Frankfurt, Germany in the army. She saw her first belly dancer in an Air 
Force club, and was fortunate enough to find Marta the Legend as her first instructor. After leaving the service, Tasha found Serena and 
then Elena in New York. Tasha performed professionally for 25 years, and now teaches at her studio in Phillipsburg, NJ, as well as altering 
and fitting costumes for today's dancers. 

Says Who? On the Perceived Evils of Belly Dance

  I’ve been doing this for a while now…not decades but I’ve put a fair share of my time into the art (not enough…never enough as it is a lifetime pursuit...but countless hours nonetheless). It’s not just in training and classes but performance, costuming, business aspects, marketing, community relations and getting to know our dancers from a level deeper than their personas. It is the latter in which I have found the most respect and admiration, the person behind the veil. Not to destroy the allure, but the truth is that the men and women who make up this community and those across the nation (as well as quite a few notables internationally) are some of the most passionate, intelligent, generous, self-less, respectable and compassionate individuals that I have met in any realm of my life and I have been a part of quite a few professional/intellectual/religious pursuits. As I write this, our boards are full of extremely knowledgeable dancers conversing not about what nail polish sparkles the best on stage, but the complex dynamics of our history, (and, for that matter) world history, politics, religion, sociology (with an emphasis on cultural appropriation), and a variety of other topics in the pursuit of being a well-rounded dancer as well as human being via mind, body, spirit. Yes, of course we talk about sparkly nail polish but a fly on our wall would sleep thru most of our table chats. In truth, Belly Dancers are quite vanilla when it comes to perception in comparison to reality. Belly Dance 101 is not…’how to shake it’ but, more often, ‘what NOT to do’. How to present ourselves in a professional as opposed to sleazy manner, what music is proper to use, what costuming will properly accent our movements but still represent professionalism. We are acutely mindful of the public’s perception due to the American desire for sex before art and the continuing perception that we are there to *excite* as opposed to entertain, offering no distinction between what we do and what an exotic dancer is hired for. Because of this perception, we are more mindful of our limitations, hoping to change perceptions and earn the respect that we feel we deserve. Did I destroy the allure? I hope not because true allure comes from an empowered individual who can not only control their movements but can express their soul. What is truly sexy is intelligence, empowerment, independence, self-worth and inner beauty IMHO. Not to be suppressed by fear and ignorance but embraced and to hopefully represent an example of the power we all possess. I know of no other dance where the soul of a dancer is valued more than outer appearance yet we are often the least respected as well as held up to an unrealistic appearance and presentation.

   It is with this in mind that I am troubled; not just by the constant demeaning sexual references and perceptions, but of those who feel we are somehow sinful and/or evil. While reserving the respect of individuals to believe and practice in any matter they see fit, I suspect a portion is derived from past ignorance along with some amount of fear. Reading an article in one of our national online magazines, a male dancer from the ME referred to the suppression of Belly Dance in certain regions to be due to fear and a loss of control. To paraphrase in my own words, he feels that the dancers are so mesmerizing and powerful that those in power fear it and thus must control it under the guise of religious morals. In the United States, the preference is to sexualize along with demean in order to gain mainstream acceptance (using this word loosely) as opposed to seeing it for what it is and is more often represented. Having said this… do we have dancers who misrepresent the form?  Yes…all the time. We also have non - Belly Dance dancers that don a costume and then perform inappropriately. By far and large, however, the actual presentation is vastly different.

  In order to gain a better understanding of those who feel it is immoral, I embarked on some research. While I have spoken to many who oppose it in some form or another, I was rarely provided with a distinct answer or concern beyond a biblical reference to Herod (which, BTW, did not mention Belly Dance as the dance although somewhat interesting in light of what the ME dancer stated about power and control…I know our very wise dancers will clearly make this connection ), from those citing religious reasons, to the foolishness of how Belly Dance is consistently represented in the media ie…pretty young thing shakes her goods to entice and get attention. Our collective views are so rooted in this that a general audience will applaud other forms of dance that are clearly sexualized and pay large amounts of money to view and receive training for themselves and their children yet express everything from displeasure to outrage for Belly Dance. I am reminded of a dancer who wrote in to one of our boards about a parent who protested her Belly Dance classes at a studio but not Zumba* to which this parent attends weekly. I am also reminded about my support for my dance partners’ class where, during a rehearsal for a recital, the ‘Dance Dads’ hooted and hollered when the Belly Dancers arrived. This was done in front of their little girls, some who were clad in far more seductive costumes. I was offended and uncharacteristically shouted at them to “Have some respect!”  I was so deeply saddened that these talented women worked so hard only to be demeaned and mocked by what should have been a supportive group of men. In a workshop I recently attended, we were reminded of  filters and cognitive bias. It is something we all do but yet possess the power to engage and educate ourselves.

   Combating the various religious positions and philosophical views of Belly Dance has been quite daunting. My research found multiple references to Salome and the ‘Dance of the Seven Veils’ (referenced previously).  For some odd reason (or perhaps not so odd), the adaption into play and movie was taken as reality as opposed to merely a fantasy interpretation not unlike ‘The DaVinci Code’. A seed…a kernel of truth (or perhaps no truth whatsoever)…does not make the perception of a concept or entity fully valid. There are those who view all dancing as evil but, more commonly, are those who are presented with a genre and decide based on any previous exposure ( or lack thereof as in ‘rumor has it’...) whether it is sinful or not. Entering forums where religious discussion has turned to Belly Dance, I have read, “Perhaps if the music is of a certain form or one does it for their husband only…” Excuse me while I take out my soapbox for the latter. WE the belly dancers of the world (yes…I am speaking for everyone if I may be so bold) have NOT, repeat NOT, worked so hard simply to please our significant others in a bedroom atmosphere. I find this (personally) quite offensive and disturbing. No disrespect to those who do use it for sexual pleasure as well as dance but we do not spend countless hours doing lunges and glute squeezes, working out and honing our skills for this purpose. Come…come now people! As well…is there anyone else that is reading this (thank you so kindly for reading this far while I rant) that finds this demeaning and a bit misogynistic? For individuals who hold that a woman’s body is sacred, a temple…but tell them they can only do certain dances if it is to ‘turn on’ their husband, I call Foul with a capital F! As in…very, very much ‘out of bounds’! 

  Deep breath…stepping down off soapbox and taking my seat here….

  The next group I encountered were womens' advocates. Those one would think would align with such an empowering form of expression. Who are often diametrically opposed in certain (emphasizing certain…don’t bombard me with hate mail) religious and political views, having similar issues in regards to a dance that purportedly exposes oneself in physical form to excite (I need a new synonym but it seems apropos…often…for this article). Ironically (about a paragraph or two ago) I was interrupted by a phone call from a woman who had lived thru woman’s liberation marches and the experiences of those times.  She had mentioned that she had great difficulty when her daughter (just one year younger then I) wanted to become a cheer leader. Confused, I asked why?  She stated that she felt it was demeaning and cringed every time her daughter yelled a chant supporting what she perceived as submissive and for men while jumping around in costume. I stated that it was funny that she mentioned that as I was in the middle of this article and explained a bit about it. Her response was, “Well Anne, if you are going to wear those costumes and dance sexually for men…”. I laughed, it was something that I have read and heard more times than one can imagine. I even confessed to believing the same before I entered this world that I love so very much now. The conversation traversed the usual avenues, seven veils, harems and so forth. I elicited the most amount of shock when I stated that there are certain areas of the world where only men were/are allowed to dance. An extremely educated woman with a fire in the belly for women’s issues reflected the same feelings as another friend of mine who has no education and was taught only her Mennonite ways in a very restrictive environment. The latter refers to me as ‘a good soul that just needs some tweaking’. Another article I came across spoke of an incidence where dancers performed at an event for women’s rights back in it’s heyday and the room became divided.

   The third group was partners.  Partners (I include both men and women partners in this )  who feel it is okay to watch women/men act and dance to what they perceive as seductive yet feel there is no room for their significant other. Partners who will watch an innocent dance and still derive some sexual connotation from it (we could be clogging out there…) as well. To each his own but I say to thee…jealous, insecure and fearful. Period! (Did I mention this is an opinion article?)!

  Sadly it is almost irrevocably woven into our society, our culture. Almost…but not fully. And we intend to change this…one individual at a time if necessary.

   To those whose belief it is that all dance is sinful show no distinction and I am inclined to a more ‘live and let live’ attitude and view with respect for differences.  For those who tend to assess what is acceptable and what isn’t, I ask only for greater awareness and education before pronouncing a judgment rooted in ignorance. If you have never seen it, lived it, experienced it as it is today ( we have no control over that go-go dancer from the 60’s…we really don’t and a whole genre cannot be judged by one experience…or movie…or bible excerpt) or if you have merely taken someone’s word for it, I invite you to learn. If you walk away with the same feelings and perceptions then you will have had nothing to fear and earned a greater form of respect from those of us who tend to ‘agree to disagree’. Enlightenment however is frightening, it tends to unnerve, sometimes shaking the ground out from under one’s feet. But I invite it anyway…knowledge is never harmful but ignorance is.

  On a separate note to my fellow dancers…what brought me greater sadness then the aforementioned were several articles and forums where fellow dancers felt alone and as outcasts at times because they held fundamentalist views yet enjoyed the dance. They felt in the minority and were sometimes shamed for their beliefs and / or actions ( from all sides). While it is true that the greater majority of dancers tend to have less strict beliefs, I have always felt that all are welcome. I ask those of our community to embrace and support those with vastly different ways of believing. I ask you to put aside your own perceptions and/or experiences (I don’t want to hear it unless one knows all religions and all beliefs not just the one you grew up in, in the one place you attended, where you made your final decision to dislike all) lest you be a part of the intolerance that we all so often face. I ask in solidarity…I ask in hope...I ask with great respect for all my brothers and sisters in dance. And finally, I thank you…my world is forever better because of all of you.


~This article is dedicated to my husband of 20 years:  A man who is never intimidated nor fearful. One who can stand by his partner and even lift her up at times. Loving and supportive…a man who isn’t uncomfortable with the woman who could fix a flat or rebuild his engine in youth and is still not troubled by that same woman dancing her dance of empowerment. From grease laden fingers to sword yielding…I love you.


*Aerobic workout that incorporates elements of Latin, Hip-Hop, Belly Dance and Bollywood.


I personally am not a’ Senior’ nor in my lifetime do I ever intend to be.. As long as I am capable of dancing and teaching others to feel the beauty of the music and the movement, I am young. There is great joy for me in instructing others to do this; To loosen their bodies and free themselves of years of rigidity. To help others let go of stereotypical ideas of what a woman should or should not be doing after childbearing and menopause. To learn to feel free and happy at this newfound sense of freedom and femininity and give her back the control of her own body. It is liberating for me and for the women that I teach, emotionally, physically and mentally. The changes are so difficult for some to make, and when it starts to happen when they free themselves to dance and move to the music, there is a new woman facing me; one with self confidence, posture and what we like to call it “attitude”!

The movements of Oriental dance are non- stressful. These are basically isolations of the torso and this is probably the most difficult part for western woman to learn, particularly those who are older. These movements involve rotations of the shoulder, rib cage and hip area plus the use of the arms in conjunction with the body. They involve the legs but not in a pounding and painful way.

The movements of the dance may be adapted to all body types and all sizes which is the beauty of it all.. There is no specific type of woman who can or cannot dance. There are very large women, who are light on their feet and beautiful to watch .Short women who lengthen their bodies while they dance and stooped women who regain the control of their shoulders and necks.

Belly dance has been historically beneficial in child bearing. I do not wish to go into this realm as most of those that I instruct are well past that. It is invaluable in boosting the immune system through the lymph glands, and lubricating the joints through the release of synovial fluid in the joints. Women with arthritis have claimed to be pain free while and after they dance. This is documented as I have heard and repeated to me quite frequently. It is known, that Belly dance and its emphasis on the hips and pelvic area aide in the difficulties of incontinence by strengthening the muscles in that area. Psychiatric problems that many face such as depression have been notably helped by restoring confidence and a sense of wellbeing. Seeing the changes in the women after just several classes makes me feel that all the effort they go though are more than worthwhile! For myself, it is a purely joyous feeling to observe these changes and having been an important part of it.

Music of course, adds so much of the cachet of the classes. At first, it is important to realize that there are many forms of music that may be chosen. None of this is written in stone. The Arabic music, some of which is atonal and wailing, does not call to my’ inner dancer.’ I prefer to choose more melodic melodies from Turkey and Lebanon, Israel and Greece, let alone some Spanish melodies and New age music to warm up to. There are Indian chants and Mantras which work well as well. Better if the music is melodious with little vocalization, as after all, how many of us know the languages and who knows if we are dancing appropriately to the words of that particular song?? It is important to enter the feeling of the music and to interpret it as we wish individually using the many steps and movements we are learning.

There is much room for self expression here and the best dancers are not necessarily the most attractive, the slimmest or the youngest in the group. The best dancers are the ones that feel and dance with and to the music.

Colors also adds greatly to the dance. Women are free to choose which color costume suits them and which colors soothe them. Costume and color are fantastic ways to express oneself and motivate the dancer. Many many websites are selling garments for belly dance, and it is not too difficult to find patterns which are easy enough to sew. there are so many ways to hide or disguise the not so perfect body...

Going back a bit to the dance itself, there are many adjustments that I have made to teach older women. It is very important to have a longer warm up, which acts as a lube job for the joints. It is useless to jump into dancing without a warm up for obvious reasons. I also find that asking the women if they are dealing with any physical problems which are as a rule, rotator cuffs and hips, knees and backs. In that case ,she must simply avoid doing to many repetitions in the class. Yet, in teaching older women, I repeat each movement d
uring each class, and many times during that class. They are not simple movements, especially with the previously stated issue of the immobile torso. Once some movement in the torso is achieved, it is then possible to go on to the basic hip isolations and rib cage isolations. It may take some time. Nothing comes easily in Belly dance but sufficient repetition and warm ups will eventually free most women from the rigidity and tightness they are dealing with. The stooped shoulder posture is totally unacceptable and poise and stance are integral to dancing. The pelvis must also be trained to be tucked back during movements which brings the body into alignment. Some Yoga and Tai Chi movements are helpful in achieving the correct posture and centering of the Belly dance.

It is tiring to defend the Oriental Dance from those who only think of it as vulgar and déclassé. It brings joy and satisfaction to thousands of women worldwide from all levels of society in  diverse nations of the world. That it has reached out to the older women of society, those who have been declared un-sexy and used up ( or expired) by men in general is a great coupe for women.

That it has reached Israeli society as a whole and has not been restricted to the Sephardic (Arabic) culture is also a large step into integrating the various cultures of Israel incidentally.

As a woman, teaching older women to do this wonderful dance, showing them how to express their emotions through movement, their sensuality, and their grace is a still larger and more important element of aging in this society. It is just as appealing to the Jewish woman as it is to the Christian woman, the African American Woman the Oriental or Latina. Not one group is more adept than another. All love it and try intensely to learn it. Some are surprisingly successful and turn into wonderful dancers of grace and agility.

There are troupes of older dancers worldwide that perform at various venues; perhaps not the nightclubs of their younger counterparts, but a fundraisers, nursing homes, veterans hospitals, JCC’s and social gatherings. They will dress accordingly, many choosing to wear bodysuits and harem pants or long dresses covered in sequins. It is of no matter what they wear or where they perform. The learning of the Belly dance after many years of homemaking or sedentary careers is a brave new world open to women, who feel in many ways that their lives as women ended with menopause and empty nests. More than anything, it is an affirmation of womanhood in the second half of life and the empowerment of women to move and dance and express themselves through their bodies once again.

I genuinely love teaching women to dance. For me, it has opened up a new world of teaching in itself and helping others to reach goals, including my own. For myself, it is amazing to touch the lives of others, and give them the tools to learn to dance, move and emotionally free themselves of sometimes lifelong inhibitions. It is a way of sharing one of my secret loves, which for many years, I did not expose due to events in my life, the opinions of others , and now, feel free enough to express and share.

Sandi Cohen (Sandra Steuer Cohen) of Teaneck,


 A Dance that is "yours for  life"; not by age, size, experience or appearance....

Musings on being a Fat Belly Dancer

 A dancer that I admire greatly posted on her blog recently the single sentence: “sometimes it’s hard being a fat belly dancer”….  This statement sums up my emotional condition of late more succinctly than anything I’ve managed to come up with on my own. It’s crossed my mind that we spend a lot of time in the belly dance world focusing on how empowering this beautiful dance form is, about how much joining with our sisters in this ancient art fills us with joy.  And that’s all very true, but I find that it’s a hard thing to explain to people who haven’t had the same personal experiences that there are parts, sometimes, that take some of that joy away, and that falling unsuspectingly into those parts can be very painful.

   Some of it can be pointed out to others who haven’t had the experiences themselves.  Like the difficulty that exists in something as simple as purchasing your first hip scarf.  Most students simply buy one from their teacher, as many belly dance instructors have them for sale as a courtesy to their students.  But if, like me, your hips measure 50+ inches – those “one size fits all” hip scarves aren’t going to fit, and many teachers don’t even know where to send you to buy a plus size hip scarf.  It’s certainly not an insurmountable issue, but it’s harder for that plus size dancer, and the simple experience of going to put on that beautiful blue jingly hip scarf and realizing it isn’t going to fit, can be emotionally crushing to a new student.

   As time moves on, and the plus size student has figured out what to do about a hip scarf, and waded bravely into a class full of women whose bodies don’t look anything like hers – her skills and abilities improve just like everyone else’s in the class – and now perhaps it’s time for a first performance.  The costumes that are readily available for the rest of the dancers often don’t come in her size, or if they do, don’t flatter her body the same way they do everyone else’s.  Again this isn’t insurmountable – dancers who sew, or who know someone who does, often opt to make their own costuming, parts from various suppliers that do come in the larger sizes can be pieced together, and through the internet you can find people who specialize in making absolutely beautiful Goddess sized costumes for belly dance.  But, again it’s more work, and for a group performance you may end up with a costume that’s really very different than what everyone else is wearing…. All your sisters have the same costumes, but you don’t get to… sometimes this can make a woman feel a little less like one of the sisters.

   Please don’t get me wrong – I love my body.  It’s womanly curves, the lines and shapes that make it uniquely mine.   I love the strength my body has, it’s ability to move and stretch and dance does fill me with joy.  But I have wished sometimes along this journey that teachers and vendors and professional dancers understood a little better how to lessen the chances that those hard bits will leap up and surprise the newer dancers who just happen to be a different size… that even the teachers with amazing figures, who have never struggled with a weight issue, or been the fat girl in gym class, carried with them a few hip scarves in a bigger size just in case someone like me showed up in one of their class…. Just in case they could make a hard part a little less hard.

 Because you know what?  No matter how much skill, or grace, or amazing ability a dancer has – how much she dreams of shining brighter and standing out in a sea of beautiful dancers - sometimes she really just wants to be one of the girls.

  Miriam H.F. Berger is Director of Anka Kusu, a Middle Eastern Music and Dance tribe from New Jersey (www.AnkaKusu.net).  She’s been dancing in one form or another since her first ballet class at 5 years old, has both studied and taught jazz as well as acting, stage choreography, and theatrical makeup and has dabbled in various other forms of dance and movement over the years.  Miriam had her first direct contact with belly dancers through her involvement in area Renaissance Festivals around 2001 and from the moment of that very first informal belly dance lesson, she knew she'd finally found her home in the dance world.  She began her formal study of belly dance in 2004, and currently her primarily focus is on ATS (American Tribal Style), it’s many tribal style offshoots, as well as Middle Eastern folkloric dance.

 Photo credit: Lars Lunde.


Me...on Reality TV...

by Gia Al Qamar on Tuesday, October 5, 2010 at 9:46am
I am VERY proud to announce that this morning I TURNED DOWN a request to appear on a "NJ" based reality show. The 'cast' of women on this show wanted to take belly dance classes. They asked me. The compensation? Nada...not a red cent for an entire day of shooting. Before making a decision, I watched a few clips of this show online and when the producer called this morning...I turned them down flat. The show (no surprise) stereotypes women, certain ethnicities, NJ and is the lowest of the lowest common denominator #*($& being broadcast today. I told the producer that I take my craft seriously and that I seriously doubted that these women or the show's creators were interested in anything but having a public catfight in my class while making my art look like stripping. They offered mGia Al Qamare money. I said no. They offered me more money...a lot more money. I hung up.

It's not always easy to do the right thing...to spend more on lessons than on costumes, to charge the going rate and not undercut just to get work, to forgo 'easy' money or exposure. But I am committed to presenting myself, my art, my classes with honor and with respect. I have worked too hard and worked too long to watch that be sullied. I wonder who they will call next and what THEIR answer will be. Take the high road ladies...and...Thanks for reading.


 On Appearance and Dance Cerisa and Anne Marie

  I had always admired Ballerinas since I was a little girl. As a little girl though, I never knew that one had to have a certain appearance to be a Ballerina.  This seemingly important detail eluded me until one day  a fellow classmate enlightened me at the age of 13. I asked about taking classes at her school and she informed me that not only was I not thin enough at 5’2 and less than 90 lbs but I was too old to start anyway. If I was too old and not thin enough then perhaps any chance at dance was over for me…no? It was not until I was much older after having my first child that I took the chance on a Jazz class. It was for adults and I figured that everyone there had to be older than 18 and most likely not less than 90 lbs. The teacher didn’t even blink when I strolled in now at 175 lbs (pregnancy does a number on the body) and at the ripe old age of 25. The class was in the midst of training for a production where they would be doing ‘Thriller’.  Not nearly ready to join them, the teacher pulled me aside and asked what my previous training was. I had told her that I didn’t have any, that I was a closet dancer. She laughed and said that *closet* dancers were some of her best students. Sadly I could not continue as the lack of sleep from a colicky newborn, a full time job and a yet, undiagnosed thyroid condition left me barely able to function, let alone dance. She never mentioned weight though; she seemed to only care about dance. Eventually, I was able to periodically take classes in Country Line Dancing, Latin, Ballroom and the infamous Jitterbug. The Latin teacher would frequently tell me to not *rock the boat* during the Merengue, an apparent fatal flaw that befalls those outside of the Latin culture. Being Latin though…I needed to get my act together as Latins cannot be awkward. I found the East Coast Swing particularly fun, led by an 80+ year old man who had won numerous awards in his day. He was pretty old; LOL, but one of the best damn dancers I had seen perform this. Though I had lost a considerable amount of weight at that point, others in the class were not as thin and this never seemed a factor. Perhaps being thin and young pertained only to those who wanted to perform.  

After my second pregnancy,  I once again gained a tremendous amount of weight that I was unable to lose no matter how I tried. I still did not know my thyroid was failing and the pregnancy had slowed my metabolism to a crawl. Desperate, I wanted to re-sign up for a dance class but had exhausted all the area local classes except for one. I purchased a set of Zumba tapes and practiced religiously but I was lonely, missing the camaraderie of a classroom atmosphere. A flyer would come in every 3 months advertising for local Belly Dance classes, the one and only class I had not tried and I would laugh at it and then throw it in the garbage. Surely I was too old and too fat for that one!

 Then one day I was walking around my property and for some odd reason the thought came to me about aging. I was now in my early 30’s and thinking, what if I was 80 right now instead. What would I have wished I could have accomplished. My thoughts kept going back to my 80 year old teacher and dance. Would it have really mattered if I was too fat and too old to dance? What would an 80 year old version of me think of this? Should I allow the 13 year old girl in my head to guide my life or those who feel the same and do what society dictates?  Never one to follow the social norm, I went into the house and signed myself up for classes.

 I was terrified my first class, looking around at a group of women who were mostly young and  thin. There was a plus size, jolly, red headed, middle age women in an absolutely crazy costume making her way around the room. I was simultaneously amused and mesmerized. It wasn’t until till she stepped in the front of the class and I realized that she was the Instructor that I was able to breathe a sigh of relief. She would not judge me for my weight and age, only for my dance. And judge she did…gently, light heartedly and always with a sense that I could do it if I just tried harder. Try, I did. I confess to being an utter disaster in Belly Dance. It was the one dance that did not come naturally for me. Frankenstein comes to mind when describing my early years. I confess to still not being a great dancer now but my how far I have come and, even better, what a lifetime of experiences that I can someday share with my grandchildren. Yes…Grand mom was a Belly Dancer; she even balanced a sword on her head. I know the 80 year old version of me will be smiling when I share my life with a future generation. It was during this time that I fully realized what a social construct the concept of weight (and age for that matter) is in regards to dance. In Ballet it is yes, important to be gracefully, limber and sustain balance and I imagine the thinner one is, the easier this is to obtain. But Belly dance was a whole different genre with a whole new meaning and I had found an advantage of having a little extra to shake!

 During my journey, I was fortunate enough to meet one of my dearest friends and partner in crime, Cerisa. An incredibly beautiful and talented, plus size dancer who is impossible to keep up with during duets. I would be tossing my cookies in the bathroom by the time this girl would stop spinning and the veil work she learned years ago in her native Utah makes me green with envy! Her size was never a factor and she never let it stop her from doing the things she wanted to do. What was truly amazing though was the fact that she never realized what an inspiration she was for dancers of all sizes.

 Not long ago an Instructor confided in me about a situation that occurred at a studio she was teaching at. While waiting for her own class to start, she decided to observe another Belly Dance class. It was in this class that a student was commenting to the teacher about how pretty and thin she was. Knowing the teacher, she is not only pretty and thin but quite talented. This student went on to say how her other Instructors were old and fat and was quite perturbed that an old, fat dancer would dare teach, let alone perform.

 While certain audiences are not receptive to certain ages and sizes in the performing arena this is not a standard of Belly Dance. Rather it is a societal perpetuation and it is often reflected and reinforced, not by confidant individuals nor men alone ( we can’t blame them for everything!), but by a level of insecurity and ignorance. The Belly Dance world embraces all when it comes to the dance. Very few Instructors enforce a certain appearance for performing and, when they do, it is often because the venue won’t allow otherwise. Restaurants do indeed have a certain expectation but not for them, for the American customers who prefer a certain look, sometimes at the sake of ability. At no time however, is there a certain appearance expected for class whether by student nor Instructor.

 It’s a hard adjustment but for those entering *our* world, they need to leave this perception behind. While I am prone  to delusioning myself when it comes to appearance despite having taught tolerance for many years, I have noticed that those with the greatest difficulty are either those who use thinness as a tool to prove they are somehow better than others because they are thin or by those who are overweight, have been forced to conform and are angry others don’t follow suit.

 I decided to write this article because  I love Belly Dance, I love all our dancers ~ big or small, old or young. I love to see the smiles on their faces and the enjoyment and confidence they have gained and I love that all of them have decided to follow a path lesser travelled to follow their passions despite what anyone says. I also want to try and dampen out the 13 year old voices who, for those that have thought but not dared to enter our realm, are being held back by. I often think how tragically sad and limiting our dance genre if we imposed such strict regulations. Surely we would be, at best, adequate because appearance would trump ability. When we choose appearance first, then we lose great talent AND Instruction. Its inevitable as bias and ignorance oppress, not just the victims but those who harbor such views.

 For those brave enough to shake a hip scarf...May we all still be dancing at 80, fat or thin and everything in between!

Oh the stories we will tell………………

~ Anne Marie


Pictured: Cerisa and myself having fun at Wrightstown, September 2009.



****Comments ****


I am director of a tribal fusion troupe in Wisconsin, and after doing a google search for "senior belly dancers" came across your website and the three articles you have posted. Excellent articles!! And particularly wonderful for me to find because I have been belly dancing for 13 years now, starting in my mid forties, and was feeling as if I should stop dancing because of my age. After reading the articles, I realized that it is dancing that keeps me young, it is the spark in my life, and just because I am 56, doesn't mean I have to give it up because of public perception that I am too old.

We love your articles and wonder if there is any way we might be able to post them on our new website, currently under construction. We want to encourage more local ladies our age, and all sizes, to explore belly dance. I couldn't find anything else online that was so wonderfully worded, and so inspirational, and we would really like to share this with our local dance community.


I am another ‘senior’ belly dancer. I just had my first class today after not
dancing for about 15 years. I’m 65! While watching my nubile young instructor,
of course the idea came through my head that I was just too old to start doing
this. I’m stiff. Shimmy What?!? She kept glancing at me when I would burst
out laughing. I do Tribal, and I am in love with it. Always have been, even
when not doing it. But during class, I had an idea that has really taken hold.
I’m in a lovely town in Arizona that is pretty darn full of seniors. There are
lots of very upscale ‘retirement’ places - the places with active seniors. I
want to see about doing a belly dance class in some of these places… stressing
the silly ‘body image’ women - ALL women - seem to have. You don’t have to be
skinny, and you don’t have to be young. I would stress stretching and moving
probably more than just learning how to dance. Get them moving!! Get them
laughing. I came home and googled ‘Senior Belly Dance’… and although it has
lots of YouTubes I plan to look at - I noticed that all the ‘images’ are still
of beautiful young dancers. Women need to come to the realization that they are
all Goddesses - and age doesn’t make you old. Only your wrong thinking makes
you old.

Thanks for your very cool website. It has fanned my flames :-)





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