Nisaa by Cary Horton

The Gilded Serpent presents...


Heather D. Ward

Nisaa (Heather D. Ward) is a Middle Eastern dance instructor, performer, and researcher based in St. Louis, Missouri. Nisaa’s mission is to foster a greater understanding and appreciation of the complexity, diversity, and beauty of Middle Eastern dance forms.

As an instructor and performer, Nisaa specializes in Egyptian raqs sharqi (belly dance). Her repertoire also includes Egyptian folkloric dance, including beledi, ghawazee, and sa’idi dance styles, as well as folkloric styles from the Levant and the Persian Gulf. As a researcher, Nisaa’s primary area of concentration is the transition from awalem and ghawazee dance styles to classical raqs sharqi at the turn of the 19th/20th centuries in Egypt. Since 2009, she has conducted in-depth examinations of primary textual, photographic, and pictorial evidence as well as on-site investigations in Cairo in order to advance knowledge of the dancers and performance venues of this period.

Nisaa began her studies of Middle Eastern dance with several well-known dancers in Missouri and Illinois, including Nadia Alooma, Salwa (director of Aalim Dance Academy), and Diana Wolf (former director of Simone's Seventh Veil Dance Studio). Currently, she continues to attend master classes, seminars, and workshops with internationally-renowned dancers such as Aisha Ali, Farida Fahmy, Dr. Mo Geddawi, Mahmoud Reda, Ranya Renee, Sahra Saeeda, and Yousry Sharif, among others. Nisaa has completed courses one through three in Sahra Saeeda’s Journey through Egypt series. In addition to her dance training, Nisaa holds a bachelor’s degree in anthropology and history from Kent State University and a master’s degree in anthropology from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Nisaa’s academic background rounds out her dance training and provides the foundation for her meticulous approach to the study of Middle Eastern dance.

Nisaa has been teaching Middle Eastern dance since 2003. In the summer of 2008, she opened her studio in south St. Louis as a dedicated space for the propagation of Middle Eastern dance, music, and culture in the St. Louis area. In addition to teaching, Nisaa has performed extensively at Middle Eastern dance events, cultural festivals, and other Middle Eastern themed events and venues both in the St. Louis area and beyond. Nisaa also produces several events each year, including her annual student recital, which she has choreographed and directed annually since 2005, and workshops featuring internationally-renowned guest instructors, which she has hosted in partnership with St. Charles Community College since 2010.

Through excellent instruction, outstanding performances, and original research, Nisaa presents Middle Eastern dance as a living, dynamic folk art and a window into the rich heritage of the peoples and cultures of the Middle East.

Articles on Gilded Serpent by or about Nisaa

  • From Café Chantant to Casino Opera, Evolution of Theatrical Performance Space for Belly Dance,
    Most students of Egyptian belly dance are aware of Badia Masabni and her famous nightclubs, and many believe Badia’s clubs to be the birthplace of theatrical belly dance, or raqs sharqi. However, fewer are aware that Badia’s clubs were neither the first nor the only venues of their kind.
  • The Search for El Dorado…in Cairo
    The name “El Dorado” conjures up images of a fruitless quest for an unattainable, even mythical, goal. The El Dorado in this discussion, however, is neither myth nor fantasy. El Dorado was a sala or café chantant, an entertainment hall, located in the heart of Cairo’s Ezbekiyah entertainment district.
  • At the Crossroads, Discovering Professional Belly Dance at the Dawn of the Twentieth Century,
    The transition from awalem and ghawazee dance styles to theatrical raqs sharqi began during the last decades of the nineteenth century and the first decades of the twentieth in Egypt. Unfortunately, scant film footage exists of dancers from that period to reveal exactly what professional belly dance looked like during that critical moment in Egyptian dance history. However, still photos and travelers’ descriptions from the time do allow a few conclusions to be drawn about the nature of belly dance in Egypt at this important transition.
  • Desperately Seeking Shafiqa The Search for the Historical Shafiqa el Qibtiyya
    Shafiqa el Qibtiyya (Shafiqa the Copt) is known to many practitioners and historians of Egyptian music and dance. She rose to fame as an entertainer in the salat (entertainment halls) of Cairo around the turn of the century. Popular dance lore posits that Shafiqa was an early pioneer (or perhaps the originator) of raqs shamadan, the candelabrum dance.