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The Gilded Serpent presents...
Belly Dance in Brazil
by Thania

From the point of view of a dancer and newbie teacher.

Although I enjoy the beautiful music and dance of my country very much, I've always felt attracted to belly dance; a dance in no way connected to my heritage. I'm a typical Brazilian, a mixture of nationalities, but they don't include any from the Middle East. Many other Brazilians have now taken up this passion for Middle Eastern dance and music.

In 1997, I started taking belly dance classes, thus starting my journey into this beautiful new world, while in my home city of about 500.000 people. Back then, there was just one place and we were the first class of belly dancers. The group started with two students and now the school has more than 30, I've heard.

Now, most dance schools offer belly dance classes among performances of ballet, modern, jazz and tap dancing... and very much appreciated!

There is also developing in my city, a market of belly dance costumes and accessories available to purchase!

After two years, I decided to have classes in the center of the belly dance community, São Paulo City, which is about 1.30 kl from where I live. There I found Khan El Khalili, a belly dance business center which had already been here for fifteen years. They offer classes with great teachers, shows with beautiful dancers and excellent food at their restaurant. There is more, they have their own magazine with very interesting information on belly dance, videos and CD's produced by the house. I have to name the greatest dancers of the house and my former teachers, Soraia Zaied, who is on tour in Egypt right now, Shahar, a dancer who shines and dazzles you, and Lulu Sabongi, one of the most respected dancers and teachers in Brazil. You can visit their site and there is more information about them.

Lulu Sabongi has released a collection of videos of her series The Belly Dance Art in Portuguese. The volumes incorporate examples of hip techniques, eights, undulations and circles, veil, walking, taksim, percussion solo and Rhythms 1 and 2 and much, much more. You can visit her site: to check about these videos and others. Soon they will have an English version. Besides her technique and movements, these videos presents many Brazilian dancers, including Lulu, who follow the Khan El Khalili style of dancing.

There are other important schools in São Paulo with many students. I can name Luxor and one of the owners, Hayat, who won an award in the USA in 2000. Luxor also sponsors workshops such as Delilah's and Hadia's and an International Festival for the third year. They have brought many important names performers and instructers such as Farida and Mahmoud Reda.

Another important name in our community is Saamira who promotes a festival every year called Mercado Persa where you have belly dance performances, contests all day long along with costumes and accessories stands. Dancers from many other cities in São Paulo State and other States, come to attend it; dancing, competing or just watching the shows. Visit their site and check their work:

Saamira and Shalimar, developed a survey among students, dancers and teachers, where they asked many questions related to the professional side of this dance. With this information they are trying to organize a Code of Ethics. This won't have any legal value, but it can work as a guide where the dancers may refer to.

There are many other good schools and teachers in São Paulo and all over Brazil. You can have from the very traditional Egyptian style to fusion and also a more mystic view of the dance.

Great names have come to Brazil for workshops. Omar Naboulsi (, one of the most known names to organize workshops here, has brought Hossam Ramzy, Amani, Gassan, Samara e Setrak, Shoukry, Sami Khoury, Raqia Hassam and others. Khan el Khalili and Omar organized this year (2001) a group of dancers who went to the Festival of Egypt of Raqia Hassan. The Brazilians were the biggest group at this festival.

In Rio de Janeiro, the land of the samba, there are many schools and belly dancer students too. The Union of the Professional Dancers of Rio de Janeiro was founded in 1984 and the category for belly dancers was organized by Shadya ( and Claudia Hazam, earning more respect to this dance within the community of the dance.

Shadya develops a work that is opposite to the majority. Being a beautiful and delicate dancer herself, she is not the stereotype of what most people have in mind. Nevertheless, they are surprised by her grace and ability. Her classes are opened to all women, and from children to the older generation they all feel welcomed at her classes.

This is a very valuable work since some of us feel oppressed by the beautiful and slim bodies that the media shows us everyday, creating the feeling that we are not fit to this or any dance form.

We also have an "industry" behind it. Many shops of Arabic products exist in our country, since the Arabic community here is very big.

It is said that the biggest population of Lebanese live in São Paulo.

It is an obligatory tour for belly dancers to take a tour of the area around 25 de março Street and Ladeira Porto Geral. There you can find anything a belly dancer may dream of, from the complete costume to beads and fabrics to make one from scratch. There are many shops and street vendors there for all tastes and expense.

You can visit Tony Mouzayek's shop, A Casa Árabe. Tony says that in a busy day more than 300 people pass by his shop. He is the soul of the shop and everybody wants to talk to him and bargain a little. Besides having this shop, Tony Mouzayek is a famous singer and has his own band. He has worked with all Brazilian great dancers and some from abroad. Al Mawal is a restaurant in Pinheiros where the dancers are given the opportunity to dance to a live band, a great opportunity to newbie dancers. In this restaurant dancers and students get together to share the love and joy of dancing.

We also have our own on-line sites about belly dance. Paula Cunha, from Brasilia, has started her site with few participants for some years and now the traffic of e-mails is huge. There is also a site on Brazilian Tribal organized by Shaide, the one who brought this style to Brazil.

If you want an outfit made especially for you, there are very good places to go too. Tony & Robby can turn you into a princess. Robby can turn your dream into reality. Tia Cecy, a very traditional costume designer in Brazil, produces very beautiful and exotic costumes. This is her site: Simone Galassi, besides being a dancer herself, has very beautiful work and inexpensive. Most dancers have at least one of their costumes in their wardrobe. In Belo Horizonte, there is Sami Gil who is a beautiful dancer herself and a serious researcher. She organized the First International Congress of the Oriental and Egyptian Dance giving a lecture about " The Dancer and the Woman in the 3rd Millennium" in 2001. This Congress brought dancers, psychologists and physiotherapists together. Shahrazad was the invited guest and received special recognition by her work and contribution to the Arabic culture by the Syrian Consulate.

And then, I came to the very beginning of belly dance in Brazil: SHAHRAZAD! She was born in Bethlehem but has been living in Brazil for more than 40 years. All of the students who were trained by her, have gone on to became teachers themselves. Other professional dancers, are unanimous in recognizing Shahrazad as the pioneer in introducing her methods and fighting for their recognition. She has developed a tremendous body of work and all her exercises were created by herself. She is a living legend here in Brazil, and I consider myself very lucky to be one of her students. You can learn more about her, going to her site: Shahrazad had her book Redeeming the Femininity translated to English. This book, written by Shahrazad and with the assistance of Rosina Farah, is based on her method developed after years observing the bodies of her students and herself. The method is based in contraction and breathing which will develop our body conscience. The movements make you understand how to flex your legs, move the hips, loosen the upper part from the lower part of the body, and also work the energy which is in and around us. This way you can dance safely and it will bring you many benefits, including the emotional side.

In Brazil, we had another belly dance boom, because it started a Brazilian soap opera which involved a Moroccan family and lots of belly dance.

The actresses had to have intensive classes with Cláudia Censi, another important name in the belly dance community. The writer, Gloria Perez, always approached interesting and polemic issues on her plots. This one puts together Moroccan culture and scientific research about clones. The story started with a beautiful Moroccan girl, Jade, who lived most of her life in Brazil. She was left alone after the death of her parents and had to go to Morocco to live under the protection of her uncle, Ali. There she meets the love of her life, a Brazilian rich guy, who has a twin brother, and the story goes on. It was a big success among belly dancers and the public in general. Belly dance is being shown very gracefully, although not always 100% accurate. ( . I've heard it started being played in the United States too, mostly for the Spanish audience and they are enjoying it very much. Many famous Brazilian dancers have participated in this soap opera. Unfortunately we have just a flash of them during the many parties and weddings they have, but I can name Lulu Sabongi, Gisele, Saamira, Najua, Hayat, among others.

Cláudia Censi, the dancer who taught the actresses at the soap opera to belly dance, wrote a book that gives us an overview about the history of this dance, and an introduction to the beginners to this art form. There are beautiful pictures of her in astonishing costumes created by Tony & Robby.

There are many other activities going on here because we never stop. As you can see, we are not standing still. The Brazilian belly dance community is striving to learn and grow more and more.

My journey into the world of belly dance hasn't finished yet. I think it never will. Surprisingly enough belly dance has existed and flourished in Brazil for longer than people imagine. This is a dance form which has always had a place in the woman's heart. It doesn't matter where we come from, this dance will always find and cast a spell on us.

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Ready for More?
More from Thania-
2-28-02 Shahrazad and I By Thania
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According to the Hebrew scriptures, female belly dancers were reputable and marriageable

3-12-03 Belly Dancer of the Universe Competition 2003 Photo Report by Lynette
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3-9-03 The Joy (and Pain) of Collecting Tips by Sandra
I've been collecting tips for almost 10 years now, and it's only in the last 2 or 3 years that I've really felt confident about it.

2-23-03 Hawaii Workshop by Latifa
Floor Work is a moving Yoga, and as in Yoga, one must let his/her body grow into more flexibility which develops with practice.

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