I spoke to Aziza of Montreal, an internationally reknowned dancer and superstar – and a huge inspiration to me as both a person and a dancer. We chatted practice, consistency, stage presence, cycling and more!
Thrilled to be back on the Yallah Raqs podcast, this time talking about shimmies and strength! In this podcast episode, we discuss shimmies and the role strength plays when it comes to shaking those hips. There’s always something more to learn, layer, or experiment with when it comes to shimmies, so give it a listen. 🥰
For a long time, I didn’t publicly state this because it felt performative. But I’ve realised that being more vocal about what we believe in also helps ensure we attract the students and collaborators who also share the same core values.
To that end, I want to tell you what inclusivity looks like to us, and what we’ll be doing to do better as we go forward.
💚 Modifications are always offered in classes to accommodate injury or illness. You are always allowed to take a seat if you need a rest. On the rare occasion I don’t offer you a modification and you need one, you are always welcome to ask.
💚 There is no shame in leaving your camera off during online classes. I do often acknowledge it and invite you to give me feedback if you have a question (as I can’t see you and give feedback), but there is no shame here.
💚 There are no body type requirements and no body shaming in our classes.
💚 There is also no tolerance for whorephobia, fatphobia, racism, homophobia or sexism in our classes. I, Siobhan Camille, acknowledge that as a white female in our society, some of these things are ingrained and unconscious. I invite you to call me in if you hear me slip up.
💚 We make multiple donations per year to anti-racist organisations, and causes supporting dancers of MENAHT origin and MENAHT peoples in general.
✨ The important part – how will we continue to do better? ✨
💜 We will be more transparent in our donation processes. Currently we’ve been providing the donation overview amounts only to those who request it, for no real reason other than it felt “showy” to publicly post our donations. These will now be public. We hope this will also help highlight some awesome organisations and initiatives doing good in the Black and POC communities, MENAHT communities, dance communities and beyond.
💜 We will continue to teach on cultural relevance and significance in all dance classes; you cannot divorce this dance from its roots and context.
I also want to give a huge shout out to Eshe of Mahasti Creative Emporium who inspires me to stand up for what is right even when it’s uncomfortable. I truly appreciate you.
As belly dancers, we refer to a dance performed to music from the Said region (upper/Southern Egypt) as sa’idi. The more correct name for this dance is raqs-al-assaya/raqs-al-assayah (sometimes transliterated differently), which means stick dance.
Raqs-al-assaya is based off tahtib (sometimes transliterated as tahteeb), an activity performed by men from the Upper Egypt region that is often likened to a martial art form.
“It involves a brief, non-violent interchange between two adversaries, each wielding a long stick while folk music plays in the background. Complete control must be exercised as no striking is allowed. Practitioners are male both young and old, mostly from Saeedy populations in upper Egypt, particularly rural areas where the tahteeb stick has been used by inhabitants as part of their daily lives and considered a sign of manhood.”
Tahtib is a really unique movement form, so it can be hard to explain it without showing it! Here’s an example of tahtib here:
Mahmoud Reda took field trips in the mid 1960s to collect inspiration for his dance troupe, one of the national troupes of Egypt, the Reda Troupe. Farida Fahmy was one of the principal dancers of this troupe for a very long time, and she has a whole lot of articles on her website (available in multiple languages! But unfortunately I don’t see Dutch) about the Reda Troupe. You can find the articles by Farida Fahmy here.
She says this of their field trips to influence dance creation for the troupe:
“His aim was not to research the indigenous dance traditions and events that he witnessed for any ethnographic purpose. His adaptations were never meant to be literal replicas of the indigenous dances that he witnessed and documented. Collecting material was primarily to find inspiration and to discover the potentials that traditional dance could offer for the stage.”
The Reda Troupe then performed raqs-al-assayah, and specifically something they called Al-assayah al-Gadida (the new stick dance). In the beginning, it seems mainly men in the Reda Troupe danced with sticks, and women danced mostly without.
However! You can see a very famous group of traditional performers, the Banat Mazin, dancing with sticks here:
And a modern video of Khairiya and Raja Mazin with sticks here:
And another modern video of Khairiya:
And even Farida Fahmy dancing with Mahmoud Reda and sometimes taking hold of his stick for the dance here in a very stylised staged interpretation:
And in a recent video of the modern Reda Troupe in 2012, you’ll see the ladies take hold of the sticks very, very briefly at the end of the dance:
More Howevers! Nowadays, female belly dancers or Middle Eastern style dancers do often dance raqs-assaya with a stick. Here’s a good example of a group of dancers of different genders dancing raqs-assaya in a masculine style:
Dancers can choose to dance with the stick and be representing the masculine style of dance (Go feminism, amirite?) OR Dancers can choose to dance with the stick and put a feminine take on it, sometimes presenting in this “belly dance-y” way where they are much more isolated, poised, and reminiscent of belly dance.
See below for a modern version of this:
And a classic of Mona El Said:
And sometimes they’ll actually present it in a way like they’re poking fun at men and their “big sticks!”
Makloub (aka Saidi) used in the Said region for Tahtib and Raqs al-Assaya
Other Stick Dances
Be aware: The presence of the stick itself doesn’t necessarly mean dance from Said/raqs-assaya… Don’t worry, I’m still learning all the differences too! It could be baladi with a cane, or it could be Lebanese cane dance.
This month Greenstone Belly Dance is celebrating its third birthday! We’re excited to celebrate with some free events this Sunday the 18th of July. We’ll begin in the morning with an in-person dance class and birthday picnic in Delft, then we have our online events in the event, starting off with a belly dance quiz, followed by a performance watch party! See the full schedule on our events page.
For those of you joining us in Delft, the Netherlands, we will be supplying cake! But we do invite you to bring a plate of something to share, if you wish. For those of you joining us online, we thought we’d share our 2021 birthday cake recipe with you!
*No wholemeal flour? No worries! Just make it 2.5 cups of standard flour instead
2 cups plant-based milk (e.g. almond, oat)*
2/3 cup neutral oil (e.g. canola or vegetable; don’t use a flavourful oil like olive)
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
Optional: Frozen raspberries
*No plant-based milk? If you’re not vegan, I often use regular milk
Pre-heat your oven to 180C/350F. Lightly grease your cake tin or cupcake tin (I really like making these as cupcakes).
Whisk together all the dry ingredients.
Whisk together all the wet ingredients.
Combine wet and dry ingredients and whisk until just combined.
Pour the batter into your cake tin, or 12 cupcake moulds.
If baking cupcakes, optionally add 3-5 frozen raspberries on top of each filled cupcake mould.*
*In my experience, the frozen raspberries seem to work better on cupcakes than in a standard cake. I’m a dancer, not a baker, don’t ask me why!
If baking a cake, bake for about 40 minutes, or until a knife inserted into the centre comes out clean. For cupcakes, bake for roughly 20 minutes; keep an eye on them and also use the knife method.
Then let them cool a little before you remove them from their moulds/the tin, then enjoy!
Let me know if you make this at home! I’d love to know if you put your own spin on it. This cake is really fudgy, so I usually don’t put an icing on top. Icing is definitely optional if you want to go ahead and add some. 🙂