International Egyptian dance artist, choreographer, and entertainment booking agent
Staying true to why we love to dance and entertain is just as important as staying true to ourselves on a personal level. Many dancers have written to me from all over America and the world about what to do in certain situations when problems and unforeseen challenges arise. Even though I am young, I have been performing Egyptian dance since I was five years old at countless family celebrations, etc. I am American born of Middle Eastern heritage and I grew up with the music and the dance constantly around me. My performances have taken me all over the U.S. and abroad. These experiences have taught me valuable lessons as a person and as a highly respected, professional international artist. I am not a hobbyist, but a true professional in every sense of the word and this is what I wish to convey in the following essay to help others reach their goals and to stay on track.
One of the most common situations a dancer could find herself/himself in is the Arabic restaurant or nightclub. The most important thing to keep in mind is to never compromise your art for any low-class club owner, etc. In all due respect, I am trying to avoid sounding prejudiced, but the scenario remains true all too often. Unfortunately, as dancers, the cultural connotations that accompany our art are not always good. Since we are viewed too many times in a negative light, we must always remember to stay strong. Never allow anyone to put you down or offer low pay for something that we pour our heart and soul into. This not only goes for insidious club owners but also unprofessional promoters. They are known to offer terrible wages, overwork the artist and act inappropriately. I hear this all the time. The club and/or restaurant situation can lower a performer’s self-worth. It is so terrible because this is usually the only artistic outlet for the dancer! The reality here is that in this type of venue, the owner and sometimes the audience does not care about getting even a half-decent dancer, let alone a really great one. Face it, as sad as it sounds, the underpaid dancer is forced to accept a ridiculous fee of $50.00 or $75.00 for the entire night and has to depend on the good will of a few dollars from an overzealous male in the crowd! This, in turn, has lowered the value of good talent to an all-time low. It is just not a factor in a restaurant anymore. The art suffers, the poor audience suffers, and the idiot who owns the restaurant continues to exploit the dancer! When they look for a cheap price, they always get a cheap dancer who is desperate for work. It is a shame.
I carefully select every show that I do and never under any circumstances, put myself in a scene that is not 100% professional and appreciative of the dance. That not only means who my client is but, I also need to know who my audience is, as well as possible BEFORE I accept any job. Ask many questions. Try this and you will see how much respect you gain. I rarely dance in restaurants and/or clubs unless I am “showcased/featured.” This means taking excellent pay (unlike the “house” dancers) and being advertised, highlighting your credentials and accomplishments with your professional PR photo in a gorgeous costume. Your “following” will see where you are performing. Many times I cannot invite the general public to an event and this is a nice way to provide an evening of entertainment to people who normally never get to see real Egyptian belly dancing. Sometimes I use my orchestra or a singer. My show is very professional with strong choreographies, cutting edge music, costume changes, a true authentic Egyptian style stage show. With Arabic dancing, it is important to know “how” to dance correctly and with “feeling.” The poor house dancers do not usually do “shows,” they walk around practically begging customers for a dollar, shaking in their faces, etc. They are only a diversion and dance in the background. This is in poor taste and is not Arabic dancing. Some act like the sleazy American go-go dancers or strippers. Let’s not go there, you know what I mean! I do my showcases at only select, upscale supper clubs in northern New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, D.C., and California. It is important to clearly define how many shows you will be doing. It is important to make sure of a nice dressing room and anything else you may need. Many dancers write to me and tell me of awful, deplorable conditions, etc.
Never let yourself fall into the trap of allowing yourself to be taken advantage of, because if you do, respect for the art will be lost, but more importantly, the respect for yourself will be gone and that is priceless. It starts with you! Don’t allow a sleazy club owner to bully you around, insult you with ridiculously low pay, make you dance too many times even to a practically empty house or flirt and hangout with the costumers in between dances, etc. Take your time, relax and go at your own pace, always have fun and know that you are the star of the show, an elegant professional. Do not let some jerk throw you off balance. Also, taking more for your shows in general makes you worth more as an artist, and you will refuse to dance in between tables soliciting tips and in turn avoid unwanted problems. When you are well-paid, you will be amazed at the respect it generates. People will know you are not a “bargain” or “economy” dancer, this is how the “house” dancer is sadly viewed. Gain the respect of a seasoned professional. Recently a dancer from Delaware told me about an idiot owner who had the audacity of telling her during her performance, where to dance by pointing! I rest my case. Remember, you are the one in control here, you are the entertainer, you make it happen and if the owner doesn’t like it, politely hand him your zills and tell HIM to dance!
I have been very fortunate in my career to have had incredible opportunities of doing high-end shows, concerts, special events, corporate theme parties, international tours, etc. Some of my most memorable Middle Eastern shows were performing in countless casino showrooms, five star hotels and ballrooms with such singing stars as: Warda Al Jazzaria, Amr Diab, Ragheb Alameh, Nawahl Al Zoughby, Wael K Foury, Kadham Al Sahir, Hany Shaker, George Wassouf, Melham Barakat and more. Recently, I have returned from an ultra-successful Egyptian dance and music tour of select five star hotels for the elite of India. Having the privilege of being an invited guest of the late majesty King Hassan and the royal family in Morocco was nothing less than incredible. Through my entertainment agency, I book and contract many other performers, variety/specialty acts for high profile cultural events and parties for the casinos, Hollywood parties, weddings, physician's events, international concerts, etc. My agency, though, specializing in the best in authentic Middle Eastern entertainment, also creates other events with many intertesting and exotic themes. These other national themes include: Hawaiian, East Indian, Spanish, Irish, Italian, etc., to offer my clients a whole plethora of ethnic shows, not in just one genre to reach out to the mainstream, and that is important as an artist and entrepreneur. My achievements happened for me not only because of this dance being my cultural art, but, by envisioning a goal and imagining its many flavors and rewards, by being good in business and not overextending my good nature to the wrong people. I enjoy bringing many creative and interesting dimensions to the dance. When you feel truly appreciated for your hard work, both financially and artistically, and are treated the way an artist should be treated, with respect and admiration as the star of the show and not a diversion, it elevates the reason why you are an entertainer in the first place. When the audience comes to see YOU perform and starts to clap even BEFORE you begin to dance, during your intro, that is the ultimate!
Doing so many things and trying to always do my very best to reach the mainstream and to successfully tap into the mainstream to bring together better cultural awareness and understanding of this often misunderstood dance form and culture is doing a world of good for everyone. Aside from being an entertainer and booking agent, I also hold a B.A. degree in cultural anthropology/sociology and I like to educate the general public to these facts. Through education, artistic excellence, authenticity and integrity of the highest caliber possible, I know I will continue to make it happen. I think that the art of “belly dancing” should be viewed as something beautiful and sacred, not as something sexual to be exploited in the wrong hands, but to be cherished. The undulations of this dance originated and came to be as a birthing ritual in the ancient Middle East/Mediterranean. It was not intended to be misused and misconstrued as a form of seduction or a way to entice some silly man to stick a dollar in your belt, but as a means to celebrate the true feminine soul through personal self-expression. Yes, it is sensual (all forms of dance are) and there is no denying that. The true technique of the movements when done correctly are very natural and earthy, not dirty. My goal is to make Middle Eastern dance as respected as any creative expression like ballet, opera, fine art, etc.
With these goals in mind at all times, I stay true to the roots of the dance and my heritage. I taste it and picture how it will look as a choreographer before it happens. Nothing good is ever easy, and to achieve success, one must remember to never give up, stay dedicated and goal-oriented, and most of all, be patient. Whenever someone states: “you can’t do that!” remember, that is a statement to make you work harder and smarter. These are the very people who try to hold you back and try to make you second-guess yourself and your talents. Don’t be afraid of the unknown, and take calculated risks! Keep all of this in mind and you will do just fine! Happy Dancing!
Love and shimmies,