Friday, October 4, 2002



Mahina, right, had her costume imported from Egypt. It is a traditional Ghawazee-style dress. The glass beads are hand-sewn into strands to catch the light as the dancer moves. Her headdress is called a taj. The costume headdress that Sonia, middle, is wearing would be made from real gold and jewels in Egypt. Also pictured is dancer Shadiya.

Dance is far
from belly-up

Belly dancers emphasize dance’s
art within its sensuality

By Nancy Arcayna

Belly dance is seeing a resurgence. "It's no longer the fantasy of 'I Dream of Jeannie,' where it is mainly done to satisfy men," said local belly dancer Shadiya. "Women are now doing it for fun, exercise and to build self-esteem.

"It's something that can appeal to all ages and body types. My students age in range from 5 to 75."

Even as the dance form is beginning to catch on in America and the international community, due to pop stars such as Shakira and Christina Aguilera, the belly dance is becoming a social taboo in the Middle East. Egypt has tried to ban dancing by ceasing to grant licenses to establishments featuring belly dancers. It's also no longer acceptable for the upper class to feature dancers at weddings and other special occasions.

Finger cymbals, also known as zills, are often used to create intricate musical patterns. The size of the zill determines its pitch and tone.

Even when allowed to dance, dancers in the Middle East wear full dresses, Shadiya said. "In Egypt, it has never been legal to have the navel exposed. Dancers always had a midriff cover. The folk costumes are meant to be very feminine, but not revealing.

"Even though the origins of the dance are religious and sacred in nature, it became a secular form of entertainment. So it is no longer respected as an art form," she said.

Shadiya hopes her daughters will carry on the Ghawazee (Egyptian gypsy) tradition by passing the knowledge to future generations of dancers. Both of her girls, Sonia Taglies, 17, and Mahina Taglies, 5, dance in the troupe. (Her daughters, however, are not of legal age to perform at Anna Bannana's tonight.)

There are many styles of belly dance. "Some of the traditional stuff gets lost, so we are trying to keep it authentic," said Shadiya, who has been dancing for 10 years. "It's hard because we are trying to be modern at the same time."

SHADIYA BEGAN dancing when she was a girl. "My mom was raised in Hawaii," she said. "When I was 5 years old, we were in Virginia, and she managed to find a hula halau for me to join." She also studied jazz and other dance forms. "'Flashdance' influenced me big time as a preteen. I still get misty-eyed when I hear the song 'What A Feeling.'"

In her early 20s, Shadiya saw belly dancing for the first time in a San Francisco club and immediately recognized her destiny. She started studying with Alexandria Parafina in Berkeley, Calif., and was a principal dancer in the Near Eastern Dance Company of California for seven years.

Shadiya moved to Hawaii in 1999 and started the Near Eastern Dance Company of Hawaii last year. Her goal was to continue the work of Parafina in preserving the dying dance and culture of the Ghawazee.

In the Middle East, money was worn as part of a woman's

jewelry, as seen in the necklace above. If the woman ran into trouble, she could just pull off a coin. Dancers would also sew coins on their costumes to display wealth.

"I was just part of the herd," she said. "I didn't expect to move here and start my own troupe and teach classes."

Dispelling the misconceptions about belly dancing is one of the hardest aspects of her work, she explained. "There is a similarity to hula -- how the missionaries came and told the Hawaiians that this sacred dance that was a part of their culture, religion and celebrations was not acceptable anymore, that it was vulgar," Shadiya said.

In the Middle East, men and women celebrated separately. Women danced for each other and learned to dance by watching other women. Professional dancers were expected to retire when they got married.

The beaded bra-and-belt-style costumes evolved in America during the '40s, when Hollywood discovered belly dancing. Veiled seducers replaced the traditional dancer. Bellybutton jewels were another of Hollywood's creations. Today, belly dancers are trying to re-establish the dance as a respectable art form.

Shadiya thinks that pop idol Shakira provides a great influence. "She is half Lebanese, and that is downplayed in the media," she said. Britney Spears also does a bit of belly dancing, which brings it into the mainstream, she added.

Yet, the sensuality of the dance, which some people object to, is inescapable. "That's impossible because art reflects all aspects of life," Shadiya said. "It's a positive expression for women, who can express both creativity and femininity."

Shadiya is wearing a cabaret-style costume. It originated in the 1940s through the influence of Hollywood movies.

Learn steps from a master

Egyptian Bellydance Workshop with Alexandria Parafina will be conducting belly-dancing workshops tomorrow and Sunday at the Aloha Activity Center at 725 Kapiolani Blvd. The cost is $45 each day or $75 for both days. Call Shadiya at 739-6297 for more information.

>> Egyptian style: Learn the basics of Egyptian-style dance, including arm work, specialty shimmies, steps and combinations. The workshop includes a special one-hour presentation of footwork by Latifa, noon to 4 p.m. tomorrow.

>> Ethnic sampler: Learn a variety of ethnic folk dances from Egypt, Morocco, Turkey, Algeria and more, 1 to 4 p.m. Sunday.

Parafina founded the Near Eastern Dance Company of California in 1982 after a 1979 trip to Egypt. She studied the Ghawazee dance with the Banat Maazin tribe of Luxor, Egypt, the most well-known of the gypsy dancers.

"Ghawazee means 'outsider' and is similar to how the term 'haole' is used in Hawaii," Shadiya said. "Gypsies were typically considered outcasts."

Shadiya also conducts belly-dance classes at the Aloha Activity Center 1 to 3 p.m. Saturdays; and at the Allegra Performing Arts Center in Kailua from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays.

Call Shadiya at 739-6297 for more information on the classes.

Give your belly a roll

Featuring Alexandria's Ghawazee and Shadiya and The Near Eastern Dance Company of Hawaii

When: 10 p.m. today
Where: Anna Bannana's, 2440 S. Beretania St.
Admission: $7, 21 and over
Call: 739-6297


My two left feet

By Nancy Arcayna

The synchronized foot and hip patterns, graceful hand gestures and snakelike movements of belly dance are definitely not as easy to perform as they look.

After taking classes for one month, twice a week, I finally figured out how to keep my foot in place while raising my hip on the appropriate side. This was quite a feat, to say the least. Learning how to move and isolate specific parts of the body can be challenging, with each shimmy or arm movement providing a sense of expression.

Just when I thought I was getting somewhere, my instructor decided to introduce finger cymbals. My thoughts: "You expect me to count the rhythms of the cymbal while remembering the foot patterns?"

Easy, she said. Just click three times on the left, once on the right, do the learned foot patterns and add a few twirls. Now I felt like I was doing the hokey pokey in a strange unknown land. No need to comment on how my skills faltered when the veil was added to the equation -- just use your imagination. Thankfully, the lessons were held in the privacy of my home.

Once in a while, I'd find a neighborhood child with his or her face pressed against my picture window, obviously mesmerized by the Egyptian-style melodies that blared out of my living room speakers. Quickly, the youngster would be shooed away, then the curtains drawn.

OK, so I may not have become a stage-ready dancer, but after each class I felt energized. The yoga-like movements provided a good workout, with gentle stretching to boot. Best of all, I had a small son to sit on the sidelines and cheer me on, telling me that he thought I danced "really good."

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