The online studio is open! Take class via streaming video on any device.
For Study Guides, "Zeina" info, and other resources for students and teachers, click through to

Thursday, October 7, 2010

New artistic belly dance choreography: Dream Waltz

*********UPDATE, June 10, 2013:   There's a new video of a more recent performance of this same choreography, embedded at the end of this post. Better video quality, a performance costume rather than rehearsal clothes, and I am ten pounds lighter. I know you say you don't notice and you don't care, but I know that not all of you are telling the truth.******
I recorded this classroom clip of myself on September 29, 2010.  I’ve added this choreography to my list of workshop offerings, and I will be teaching it on October 24 in Bochnia, Poland.

The music is Dansbanan by Swedish ensemble DetektivbyrÄn.

“Dream Waltz” is belly dance as magical realism:  a glimpse of the extraordinary shimmering through everyday reality.

For most Western audiences, belly dance, with its associations of gypsies, midways, exoticism, glamor, and glitter, carries some inherent suggestion of magic, although it may most often be magic of a duplicitous variety.   “Dream Waltz” builds on the magic in the familiar associations of belly dance, but its open lines give the dance a clean airy feeling, and the winsome music and styling suggest freshness and innocence.  Rather than trickery and veiled shabbiness, the charm of “Dream Waltz” is pure delight.

In Dansbanan, one hears overlapping suggestions of the ephemeral and liminal, evoking a fuzzy feeling of searching through emotion and memory.  The ragtag instrumentation (including plaintive accordion, glockenspiel, and a guy keeping time on a pair of scissors) creates an impression of vagabond musicians, and there’s a further suggestion of an old-fashioned carnival: the ping of the glockenspiel sounds like turn-of-the-century mechanical instruments or musical automata.   But, while the sound of Dansbanan is thin, outmoded, and unconventional, it is still warm and familiar: the use of struck, improvised, and “toylike” instruments also brings to mind children at play.  Rather than eliciting sinister and shadowy associations of the supernatural, Dansbanan inspires the “sense of wonder” so often associated with children.  Impressions of the fantasy “gypsy” and child converge, and one imagines the freedom and fragility of impermanence and a social position on the edge of society.  The rollicking waltz rhythm adds a final layer of bittersweet, simultaneously creating a joyful lift in spirit and a wistful nostalgia for an idealized past.

Piercing through the fuzzy tangle of emotional associations, the tones of Dansbanan are sweet and clear.  The music is full of fast changes played with precision, and the choreography, too, is packed with layered moves and frequent and fast transitions.   But nothing in the dance is abrupt:  the regular rolling pulse of the music and the absence of large or flashy movements create a hypnotic effect.  The unity between music and movement lull the viewer into a deeper reverie and the juxtaposition of clear and fuzzy impressions make the dance feel full and deep.

For students, I’ve uploaded a music diagram and reference notes.  “Dream Waltz” can stand on its own without elaborate staging, but by varying the costume and context, the choreography could be adapted for a variety of fantasy styles:  carnival, midway, or circus; Victorian, music hall, or "steampunk;" fantasy "gypsy;" or "raqs europa" style belly dance.    

UPDATE, June 10, 2013:  
Please forgive the somewhat overwrought tone of this post's language. I don't mean to be self-important, but this blog has taught me that people are much more disposed to appreciate the thought and enormous effort that goes into these dances after after I bluntly spell things out. I would prefer that it did not fall on me to hard-sell you on my work. In a perfect world, commentary and interpretation would be provided by the people whose actual job it is to promote and deconstruct dance—publicists and dance critics. But in the real world apparently it's me or no one, so I guess it's me. I assure you, I am not this pompous nor didactic in real life. 

Anyway, here's a new video of this choreography:

For more information about this new video, see

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Belly Dance, Ballet, and Folklore

A YouTube commenter asks,
“where did u learn to dance like the old folkloric styles (<--did i say that right?) did you go to another country and learn?  also u took ballet right (it looks like it)? If so, do you think its possible to learn belly dance with no dance background at 19 years old? I find it requires a lot of strenght and grace that ballet dancers have that I dont. Im still taking classes anyway”
Don't let dance class get to you.  It's enough that you get yourself to class.  :-)

Belly dance does not require study abroad, a childhood dance background, or ballet cross-training. Not everyone has the innate talent or motivation to rise to the level of a star dancer, but none of the characteristics of virtuoso belly dance—musicality, expressiveness, and coordination—must necessarily be developed in childhood, in the Middle East, or in a ballet class.