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Juliana Brustik (pictured below) is an Egyptian dance teacher and performer based in London.

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I thought I better write it down while it’s still fresh in my head.  I’m already starting to question my memory (“did they really ?”).

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Edinburgh has an impressive array of bellydance teachers and performers.  We’ve got less than half the population of Glasgow yet manage to support at least twice as many classes (probably more from what I can gather) and our own high street bellydance shop (Hilary’s Bazaar, see my previous post for more info).  We can claim a former teacher, Lorna Gow, who now makes her living in Cairo working as a bellydancer (if you’re interested, her blog gives an fascinating insight into her life and experiences over there). We have an annual bellydance competition, the Pyramid Awards, that draws challengers from far and wide. I think it’s fair to say we’re punching above our weight.

I’m gonna take a moment here to run through the teachers & classes I know about (and if I miss you out please let me know and I’ll happily add you in!).

  • Caroline Evans – Beginners, Improvers & Intermediates at Dancebase
  • Fereshteh – Classes to start in Jan 2010 but as yet no details.
  • Fiona Grossart – “Mature Movers” bellydance classes, also at Dancebase
  • Susanna aka Habiba Dance – Traditional Egyptian Dance, periodic classes and workshops at the Salisbury Centre
  • Lorne McCall – Intermediates & Advanced classes. Raqs Sharki style at Dance for All.
  • Lesley Skeates/Susan Tonner – Beginners and Intermediate American Tribal Style classes at Drummond High School.  You can find class details is in the pdf booklet here, but not on the website for some reason (thanks to Jane for this info!).
  • Hilary Thacker – Beginners & Intermediates classes . Classic Egyptian style in the Forest Cafe, South Leith Parish Church & the Glasite Meeting house.  She also teaches frame drumming workshops.
  • University of Edinburgh African & Arabic Society – the teachers change from year to year but they offer Beginners & Improvers classes as well as various workshops.
  • There are some bellydance classes on the City of Edinburgh Council ‘Adult Education’ programme for 2010, as well as a couple of workshops, though I don’t know who the teachers are.
  • And, of course, yours truly 🙂

I have and do wonder why bellydance is so much more popular here than in Glasgow.  There are socio-economic differences between Glasgow and Edinburgh – Edinburgh has more wealth, less crime and longer average life expectancy than Glasgow, while Glasgow is more “trendy” (more shops, clubs etc).  Maybe it’s just as simple as you need money to pay for classes… maybe it’s to do with mindsets, with folk in Edinburgh being more willing to get into the holistic/wellness activities that bellydance falls under, maybe there’s something else I’m missing.

Whatever it is, I’m glad to be a part of the rich scene that we have here in Edinburgh.

I’ve been thinking a lot about authenticity of late, and not just because I’m a milk-bottle white, auburn haired Scot who runs around teaching and performing a Middle Eastern/Egyptian dance.  That said I have had clients mistakenly think I was Turkish and one other who thought I was Israeli.  I presume that’s because expectation can play such a huge role in how we perceive the world, but who knows.  Maybe pale skin, blue eyes and auburn hair is more common over there than I imagined.  Maybe my makeup is just really good.

But seriously, there’s a lot of it around. There is definitely a thing whereby dancers have increased status as both performers and teachers if they can lay claim to one or more of the following:

  • been taught in Cairo – bonus status if it was by one of the ‘Greats’
  • been taught by a native of the Middle East (preferably Egyptian)
  • they themselves are actually from the Middle East, or of Middle Eastern parentage
  • they currently, or have in the past performed professionally in Egypt

As a caveat, this perception of status mainly applies to Cabaret, classic Egyptian, modern Egyptian, Raqs Sharki and (to some extent) Egyptian folk dance audiences, students and practitioners – tribal and tribal-fusion has it’s own set of standard for authenticity too I think, though I’m not as familiar with them.

I wonder how things will change, as they will certainly have to.  Foreign dancers make up an increasingly large proportion of the dancers in Egypt-  a move that had the Egyptian government ban foreign dancers back in 2004 (this was revoked later in the same year). Wikipedia (and others I’ve heard) have claimed that a majority of the professional performers in Egypt are now foreigners (though I’ve not seen any stats one way or another so I can’t be sure that it’s true). There’s certainly an influential element of society there that feels that bellydance goes against the country’s moral values (see this article and/or the book ‘A Trade Like Any Other: Female Singers and Dancers in Egypt’ by Karin Niewkerk on amazon or google books) and I’m sure this can’t help but discourage Egyptians from getting involved, leaving a gap in the market for foreigners to fill.

Workshops that offer the latest Cairo moves intrigue me; I wonder how much of it is ‘authentically’ Egyptian, and how much has a foreign influence.  It doesn’t bother me in the sense that I’m not a purist or particularly concerned with authenticity, but it does interest me.  Bellydance has such an inauthentic history.  Even it’s name is a misnomer that has just stuck with it and the sequinned two-piece costume that’s now considered typical Egyptian “cabaret” came about due to the influence of Europe/the USA (Badia Masabni apparently introduced it to Egyptian performances, inspired by Hollywood movies).

There’s so much more to do with authenticity bubbling about in my head, but I think I’ll stop here and let the rest percolate a bit more before I write about it.

A Trade Like Any Other: Female Singers and Dancers in Egypt (Paperback)

by Karin Niewkerk (Author)

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