Gilded Serpent presents...
By Orit Maftsir
On last Sylvester
Eve, the lives of two people were about to change forever. For
on that very day, in what seemed to be a night train between the
East and the West, Raz and Haia
got married. Haia is a solo musician
in the Jerusalem Philharmonic Orchestra, and she had decided to
celebrate her special night through music. The guest list for
the wedding was quite colorful, ranging from doctors, lawyers,
and musicians to Bohemian groups. On the invitation, the young
couple promoted their party with praise to the Age of Fusion:
"Roots of the East and winds from the West will sweep those who
attend the party into the New Year." The chosen example for that
task was an artist whom both bride and groom believed would give
true meaning to the concept of integration.
chose a belly dancer: a feminine and sensual ideal, wearing
a non-Oriental outfit that was more like a hi-tech fabric
design; however, the dancer's big smile and her Eastern dramatic
mime left no doubt that she was there for the people and for
their celebration of life like the belly dancers of historic
times. She would be a symbol of fertility and sensuality.
the ride was just beginning and there was more to come later,
that night was very special for me; I was the chosen dancer.
This time, it was a unique and unusual celebration that hosted
me as its artist. A group of less than a dozen people from Russia
celebrated the New Year with a bright Christmas tree at their
fancy villa in a neighborhood nearby. Unlike the 400 people at
the wedding hall, this family invited me to do a show as
if it had been held in a concert hall featuring me on its stage.
Their hunger for Israeli warmth made them so thrilled and moved
by my dance that it kept me dancing for a long hour. At the end
of the show, I walked back to my car for the long ride home and
re-lived the two different (and contrasting) events. It didn't
feel like I was in Israel. It felt like a movie, like a totally
dancers are the hottest trend at the moment, unlike the totally
frozen attitudes towards the Arab culture in Israel. A good
professional dancer in Israel can work every night for $300
for each performance (and sometimes more).
She can possess
a fine resume of professional appearances in dance festivals,
TV shows, business events and galas with a respected artist name
to follow her wherever she goes. However, it is not easy to get
to that level! Good technique and good looks are not a guarantee
for success. In Israel, the closeness of the audience and the
need for a truly joyful temper leave no alternative but to be
the "favorite", and a favorite dancer is not necessarily the most
flexible and technical dancer. A favorite dancer is the one who
makes the audience want to hug her, the one who makes them smile
and not just be impressed, the one who has a bright sense of humor
and can get the audience to feel her through her music. The power
of her presence is what they appreciate, and her strong personality
will bring her many more clients.
Romance with Oriental Dance
I started to dance at the age of 26 while I was working as a designer
of museums and tourist attractions. As a child, I danced and did
so until I joined the Israeli army at the age of 18. From there,
I never expected to dance again. Instead, I studied industrial
design and made a career of it. No one could have convinced me
that by the time I turned 30, I'd be one of the leaders of the
Israeli Oriental dance scene and run a tour of my own show! Before
I started to belly dance, I didn't even know what a Belly dance
was. I paid no attention to this art form, and as a young child,
I was lured into the fairytale images of the classical ballet
after less than five years between my first belly dance class
in Tel Aviv, and my preparations for my Tel Aviv performance
of "Star of the East" (after Haifa and Jerusalem), I can sit
back and enjoy the view. I have totally transformed the atmosphere
here regarding belly dance.
decided to follow my dreams and to create my own fairytale; so,
I created a show that set new standards for Oriental shows
in Israel. As a result, dancers here have update themselves with
changed hairstyles and costumes, like I did in my shows. I continue
to promote new projects involving other dancers in order to expose
this beautiful art form beyond the wedding halls and the evening
galas of conventions.
time, I made my living from dance, because I had left my design
office about a year after I started dancing. From my very first
jobs, I made a good business impression and kept new clients while
continuing to offer my dance routines to everyone possible --
from music festivals to restaurants to clubs. The point was to
get into business. My style was bold, yet authentic. People said
that I reminded them of the girls from the old Arab movies and
that my energy and collaboration with people was a treasure.
one cared about my shimmy or my steps; they cared about good
kept improving myself through experience. I stared to research
the music written for Oum
Kalthoum and what motivated
her. I was fascinated by that. I taught myself cane dance and
other Egyptian folkloric dance using videos of old movies featuring
Egyptian dancers, particularly Fifi Abdu.
At a certain point, I gave up working myself and started to send
other dancers to various jobs, saving my strength and interests
for only the best and most prestigious events.
development is a symbol of what is going on in Israel. Be bold
and creative and one can earn a place! I guess it inspires many
other dancers, because there is no professional schooling system
there as there is in Europe and the States. Many dancers find
themselves traveling to find their dance education, but travel
doesn't necessarily make them successful.
The photos are from my debute show- "Nour el Amar"
and the other dancers were not profesional, but I trained
them as a troupe.
is the Israeli style?
Due to our proximity to Egypt, we tend to like a more soulful,
and less technical, focus. We like more expression of the personality
of the dancer and fewer gimmicks. For example, in Israel, only
a few dancers can dance with a sword, a shamadan (candelabrum),
play the sagat (finger cymbals) or perform a good veil
dance. Here, we don't use the wings of Isis, a double veil, or
any other gimmicks.
here are committed to a pure, emotional dance, which is more
related to the rhythm and to the song lyrics.
do very well in the Egyptian Baladi
style with a lot of mime and dramatic acting. I love to dance
to Oum Kalthoum songs and to cry over them while dancing, but I'm
clumsy with a veil and can't carry anything like a sword or a
shamadan on my head. I'm too energetic to keep it under control.
However, a lot
of the local dancers are educated in Turkey, which is only a one-hour
The Turkish style is very different from the Egyptian, and in
a small state like Israel, one can clearly identify between the
different groups of dancers: the more technical (with less heart
and soul) and the more vibrant and passionate (with less brilliant
choreography) and the totally spiritual dancers who don't care
about their looks or their connection with the audience, only
their connection with Mother Earth.
Of course, only
a few can hold professional jobs for a long time and make it into
a career, so most of the dancers teach and perform from time to
time whenever there's a chance.
and where do we dance?
Besides weddings and parties, the most popular places to perform
in are Bedouin tents that are located outside the big cities around
Israel, especially in the Negev, which is the desert area between
Jordan and Egypt. Unlike restaurants, the managers of these places
work with professional dancers, and if the people are paying well,
there's a good chance to get the popular dancers for the shows.
I work with five such places on a regular basis. There are also
many haflas (dinners with music and dancing) that are also
a great opportunity to experience our Israeli dance style.
one will see nonprofessional and very low standard dancers. Eastern
restaurants will bring really cheap dancers, and fancy places
will bring less embarrassing dancers, but not much more than that.
Only the owners of a few places in Israel do auditions and carefully
choose good dancers to work in their restaurants.
dancers are not always welcome in Arab villages, so they have
their own dancers for their haflas.
The Arab community
doesn't always appreciate bare bellies, and usually prefers covered
women, except in solo dances. I appeared in a few Arab weddings
of the Christian religion (not the Muslim), and I was much appreciated.
However, my dance is too expensive for that community, and I can't
come to dance for their events as often as they'd wish. On my
tour, the majority of the crowds are Arabs or Israelis who are
originally from Arab countries, and it is a delight for me to
dance for such audiences.
Orit with Yael Becker,Yael Dabah
and Eden Stern
easy it is
When the students come to the class, especially the girls from
an African origin, they are amazed how hard it is to move in the
Oriental dance way. They think it's going to be a piece of cake.
Their attitude creates a problem. The more professional dancers
there are, the more young beginners want to be like them, and
the young ones start to perform before they even know how to dance.
ask over the phone for the price, and money is their bottom line,
so many young dancers who have barely learned how to move their
hips try to make easy money and to get into the dance world. Luckily,
they don't survive, and they do not ruin the reputation of the
professional Belly dancers. However, this is probably going on
all over the world, and it will continue as long as people think
that this is a very easy dance that anyone can do because its
body movements seem so natural.
are only a few dancers who have good quality, fashionable wardrobes.
Sometimes I'm shocked that dancers show themselves with such trashy
and cheap costumes! However, they probably won't have a long
career. I believe that a good performer mesmerizes the people
with her energy and vibes, but that doesn't mean she shouldn't
look wonderful, complete in a gorgeous costume.
Unlike our neighbors,
Belly dancers and Arabic music are not daily routines on TV. Only
occasionally does one have the opportunity to watch a dancer as
a performer on a new show promotion or in a daytime talk show.
So, if one wishes to enjoy authentic Middle-Eastern dance with
warm and smiling dancers, one should come to Israel and visit.
There certainly is a lot to check out; one may discover Belly
dancing as it has never been seen before.
a comment? Send us a
Check the "Letters to the Editor"
for other possible viewpoints!
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the Roma "Gypsy" Trail Photos by Jan Dvorak, Captions
and Photos provided by Amy Luna Manderino Saturday, February
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