Make sure you answer Tamalyn's question at the end of this interview for a chance to win some sweet white orchid earrings from Huluwulu!
Where were you born?
I am originally from a small town in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado called Evergreen. We lived on a ranch while I was small. When I was six we moved to Washington and I was raised in Juanita near Kirkland on the east side. I left when I was 17. Most of my adult life has been spent in Miami Beach, Florida but I have been back living on the East Side since 2005.
How did you discover your passion for belly dance?
I would collect LPs from around the world when I was in high school. Among these were some crazy albums with covers of ladies in pasties. I had no idea what belly dancing was, but I liked the music. I also had the whole collection of Feiruz albums and a vintage Yemenite-Israili album album from 1947. belly dance was offered at the University of Washington Experimental College. I thought of either taking belly dancing or Greek folk dancing. My brother said I should opt for belly dancing as it might help me lose weight.
I loved the music. The performing troupe practiced right before my class. I was duly impressed and never imagined I would be able to do such difficult things myself. The music is what kept me going.
How long have you been belly dancing?
Since 1976- 34 years.
Belly Dancing has taken you all over the globe- performing, teaching- where are some of the places you have taught/studied belly dance?
I have taught in 38 countries. I have a world map on my wall with rhinestones on every country I have taught in and gold glitter where I have only performed. So as not to make a long list, I will list the countries I have taught in or danced in at least three times:
Spain, Italy, Switzerland, Egypt, Zanzibar, People's Republic of China, Japan, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Canada, USA, Mexico, Colombia, Argentina, Brazil, Haiti, and Honduras.
I have a burning question that I have been curious about for some time... (I really enjoyed your book They Told Me I Couldn't- I believe I was so enthralled that I read it from cover to cover in one night)... what ever happened to the rest of yor memoirs that were supposed to come after They Told Me I Couldn't?My sister was the publisher of They Told Me I Couldn't. She edited the book and did an amzing job. The books are still selling, but it had a slow start, so it was economically feasible to print others. I can tell you that the most compelling is Cuba- They Told Me to Break the News.
You were featured on the first Belly Dance Superstars dvd. What involvement did you have with the pioneering of the Belly Dance Superstars?
Amar Gamal was a student of mine since she was 13 years old. She was selected as one of the original Superstars. She is so kind and kept telling Miles Copeland that he needed me in the troupe. I can proudly claim the title of "Oldest Belly Dance Superstar on record". I am now 51 and he was looking for dancers 22 and under (I was 45 at the time).
How did come to be a mentor to Amar Gamal?
She was my neighbor as a child. One day the local moms got together and asked me to teach their daughters. Also, Bozenka, Virginia, and Maya were my students and in my troupe for several years each.
Where did you hear of the Arabic Proverb that influenced your latest book, 40 Days and 1001 Nights: One Woman's Dance Through Life in the Islamic World? (which is a delicious read btw- I really enjoyed this book, too! Tamalyn traveled to 5 different predominantly Muslim countries staying in each for the length of 40 days in attempt to understand these people better)
"To know a people, you must live among them for 40 days." - Arabic Proverb
I saw it in the memoirs of a French traveler in the 1800's. I have seen it from many sources since and have been told it is of Arabic origin.
Is there any one performance or experience that really stands out in your mind as a defining point in your life?
I am like a cat with nine lives.
Here are the defining moments up to now:
1. Seeing Hadia dance at Fantasia (seattle) in the late 70's. I saw what happens when a dancer goes into that special zone and changes the air around her. I knew that transformation of energy was the meaning of dance and on the rare occasion that the magic touches the dancer, it goes beyond ego and show; it transforms everyone in the room.
2. Meeting my show biz mentor, an opera singer named Kaaren Mils, who was convinced I would become a professional and travel the world with my dance.
3. Dancing my way around South America.
4. My first trip to Egypt in 1990. I saw the great dancers of that time: Nagwa Fouad, Souhair Zaki, Fifi Abdo, and Azza Sherif.
5. That trip to Egypt convinced me to open a dance studio- The Mid Eastern Dance Exchange, a non profit arts organization- studio in Miami Beach that I ran for 16 years. I learned many of life's lessons there and did things that I often hear people talk about as something someone should do in the future.
6. Writing the book 40 days and 1001 Nights: One Woman's Dance Through Life in the Islamic Word- living among the people changed my view of the world forever.
...so that leaves 3 more pivotal moments to come.
You have been traveling to Zanzibar to film their traditional dances and re-introduce belly dance in a socially acceptable way. What unique challenges do you face concerning this project?
There are not many mirrors in town. Students rarely get the opportunity to see what thier moves look like. I teach many classes on a rooftop and we have to stop class during the call to prayer and wait for eight mosques to take their turn calling. Fridays are the holy day and especially long.
Last time I was there, there was no power for the whole month and batteries were ghastly expensive. It was so hot!
Zanzibaris love the dance. Belly dancing was taught in schools for children, but the 1964 revolution frowned upon everything Arabic. Most people have a distant memory and still love Arabic music.
The women are grounded and move their hips incredibly. Hands and arms are difficult. They use so much strength to work hard, grind spices, etc. that using hands and arms as expression is a difficult concept. Turns are absent in all Zanzibibar dances I have seen and we are working on releasing the fear of turning.
What successes have you enjoyed regarding your work in Zanzibar?
Successes include having three groups- one is a woman's Taarab band called "Tausi". They are now learning to play "Aziza" and plan to dance to it.
Another group I call "Swahili Sisters". They performed with me at a fundraiser to help "Drug Free Zanzibar" and it raised enough money to open a second rehabilitation house on the island. My men's group also performed and they are adorable!
I am half way finished filming a documentary about the traditional dances of Zanzibar called "Zanzibar Ngoma, Rhythms of Healing and Celebration". I hope this will be the first of many documentaries focusing on dane in different countries. It is frightening how fast culture is disappearing around the world. I was already too late for several dances I had wanted to film as the only people who knew them were either too old or had passed away.
I also get wish lists from the Taarab groups for instruments. It is very difficult to obtain musical instruments in Zanzibar and music is their forte.
If people want to help you with this project, how can they help?
They can help cover costs by purchasing my dvd "Citizen of the World", which features nine performances around the world that I have done since the pivotal point in which I wrote 40 Days and 100 Nights. 100% of the proceeds go to support the work I am doing in Zanzibar.
Also, you can donate musical instruments. Write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I will give you a list of what they need at the moment. Any instruments they don't need will be donated to students who can't afford instruments in the US.
How can people stay informed about what you are doing in Zanzibar?
They can go to my blog (http://40daysand1001nights.blogspot.com)
You are also contributing writing to Zanbaka's Versatile Dancer Series Vol. 4. What are you planning to write about for this book?
The Raqs Africa Project in Zanzibar.
For a chance to win some sweet white orchid earrings- leave a comment answering Tamalyn's question for YOU:
How can belly dancing change the world?
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I hope you enjoyed meeting Tamalyn and hearing about her fascinating life
and I can't wait to hear your comments!