Feb 18

IV Oriental Cup of Ukraine – Donetsk – Day I

It’s been two weeks since I got back from my trip to Donetsk, Ukraine and I’m still excited and grateful for every moment I spent there! It has been an amazing experience both on professional and personal level, and I can’t thank enough to Aleksei Ryaboshapka for inviting me.

So here we go, day one.

Early morning at the Borispol airport in Kiev, the beautiful city I was born. The temperature outside - -26C. It has been 21 years since my family and I left to Israel without looking back, not knowing whether we would ever be able to return. Skip some emotional moments here…
In the airport of Kiev, my city of birth

Donetsk, here I come!!! At the airport I was welcomed by Alina, my guarding angel, who made sure I had everything I needed during my stay. Thank you so much for your help! In the car I was surprised by a very special treat that Aleksei prepared for me. Pickles made by his mom and two kinds of salo!!! Aleksei remembered that I crave for it and made sure it welcomes me as I arrive! For those who don’t know what it is, salo is a traditional Ukrainian, Russian and Belarusian food, but trust me, the best salo in the world is made in Ukraine, the rest are poor imitations!!! Cured slabs of fatback, that melt in your mouth, nom-nom!!! There are many kinds of salo, and during my stay I made sure I tasted them all :)
Warm Ukrainian welcome

With Alina’s help I settled down at my very warm studio apartment and in the evening Aleksei picked me up for the opening party where I got to meet some of the participants and the rest of the team.

Judges hanging out, clockwise: Elena Ramazanova, president of the League of Bellydance Masters and Zhanna Denisova, head of Alisha, an Oriental Dance School in Tolyatti, Russia scheming world domination, Zhanna and Irina Demchuchina, head of Amira, an Oriental Dance school in Chernovtsi, Ukraine, Elena Ramazanova and Gulden Fatkula, a master teacher from Kazakhstan, me and our generous host Aleksei Ryaboshapka , Elena Ramazanova, Gulden Fatkula, Elena Veretennikova, head of Eishta, an Oriental Dance school in Perm, Russia and Irina Demchuchina, Irina Demchuchina and Elena Veretennikova.
Hanging out at the judges table

And the party goes on! RA studio of Donetsk (Aleksei’s students) on fire!!!
RA studio on fire

Highly emotional moments: Elena Ramazanova dancing lezginka for Aleksei
Elena Ramazanova dancing lezginka

Hugs with everyone!!! Clockwise: with Alina, my garding angel, with Gulden from Kazakhstan, with Valeria Bakurova, who won second place at the Eilat festival competition, with Alyona Zhokhova, a gorgeous dancer from Donetsk.
Hug anyone?

Sep 1

Summer Bellydance Festival - Day II

On the second day of my arrival I taught two sagat (finger cymbals) workshops. Most of the students didn’t have any sagat experience, so we went over basic strokes and patterns and incorporated everything into a short choreography. I know that this is not how finger cymbals are taught traditionally, that usually strokes are introduced one at a time and drilled while walking first, but this method never worked for me. Working on incorporating the cymbals directly into my dance combinations did the trick. It provided me with motivation to keep practicing and set me on a path of creative exploration of this musical instrument. I’ve also gotten inspired by my early childhood piano training and believe it or not by the years I have spent in front of the computer working as a Software Engineer. In both cases ergonomics, such as correct wrist and fingers “posture” and loose “conserving energy” playing, is the key to developing clean injury-free technique and speed. This is why I prefer a more “top to bottom” approach at workshops. In the limited time we have I opt for familiarizing the students with a wide range of tools and providing them with “homework” so that after the workshop they are ready to start practicing on their own.

After the workshops I had a chance to catch up a bit with my online friend Kyria! I have been admiring her amazing costume creations for a long while now and I was glad to finally meet her in person! She is sweet and funny and too bad she had to leave early and we didn't get to hang out more.

Later in the evening the teachers have reunited for the first round of competition. Contrary to what you might have thought judging ain’t easy! You find yourself questioning not only the contestants but yourself: what are the key ingredients that make a successful performer, how do you balance technique with expression, control with enthusiasm, innovation with authenticity. The heated arguments we had at the judging table served as a proof that there is no right or wrong, it’s very personal and open to interpretation.

Day one is here! Day 3 is coming soon, promise :)

Aug 28

Summer Bellydance Festival - Day I

Aug 28, 2011 00:48////

It’s been three weeks since I got back home from the Summer Bellydance Festival in Leiden, Netherlands, but I don’t believe I have landed yet. The festival was organized by Anusch Alawerdian , whom I met at the Eilat festival this January. Anusch saw my Turkish Roman set and invited me to teach and perform at her festival!
6 months later I landed with two suitcases in Netherlands. (Stay tuned for another post on how to pack 5 costumes into a small trolley that fits into an airplane overhead compartment!)
Since we arrived early in the morning, Shayma, my roommate and fellow festival teacher and I went on our first trip around the town. Leiden, the birthplace of Rembrandt, is a green picturesque town, intersected by numerous canals. The weather was just what I needed after the scalding Israeli heat: sunny but cool enough to enjoy a stroll along the canals. We managed to explore about half of the long pedestrian shopping street, then went back to meet Milla Tenorio, who arrived to Leiden by train from Paris. Milla was supposed to teach and perform at the festival, but unfortunately she broke her toe just before the event. Being a true pro and a trooper she didn’t cancel and came to support the festival and to judge in the competition.
In the evening we went out to a Greek restaurant to celebrate the beginning of the festival. Yamas! Cheers!

Aug 22

Welcome to my new website!

Aug 22, 2011 21:20////

Hey, everyone! As you could tell my new website is up and running and I'm very excited to welcome you all here! It's been a long time since I started working on it, but as the proverb goes "the shoemaker's children always go barefoot". I had to cut on a lot of features in favor of speedier launch so there are lots of improvements pending both in design and functionality. Regardless, in the upcoming weeks I will be making an effort of filling the site with brand new content. Lots of goodies will be posted gradually into the Extras section and of course I will post entries to the Blog section. So stay tuned for updates! Please note that there is no need to register to post comments to the blog posts, you can use your facebook/twitter/google/etc ids to correspond with me. Easy!!!

Sep 5

Istanbul, take I, Reyhan

Reyhan and GülizarMy day starts with a class with Reyhan Tuzsus. Reyhan and one of her daughters meet me at the Gaziosmanpaşa Kültür Merkezi square. Lovingly yet firmly Reyhan grabs my arm and leads me through the noisy streets untill we reach the outskirts of the neighborhood. Following her into a narrow passage we descend into the mahalle. The slums go all the way down the steep hill and up on the other side of the valley. Thousands of houses marked with poverty and decay. Garbage and rubble everywhere.

Outside their house Hüsnü, Reyhan’s husband, greets me. He remembers me from the boat trip on the Bosforus, when I asked his band to play “Ağam”. Inside the tiny house Reyhan orders me to relax. She brings me water and we chat for a while. Then she grabs the old stereo and takes me to the “studio” – a small room with uneven floor covered with carpets. She hands me a scarf and teaches me how to tie it around the hips her way. Then we start dancing. It’s a pity Reyhan doesn’t allow to videotape her, because I wish everyone could see how she dances. How much feeling she expresses, how she’s attuned to the music, how she constantly changes the steps and the gestures. How playful she gets sometimes, and other times how she forgets of my presence and looks inwards.

After an hour I get tired. We come back to the first room and Reyhan insists that I share a meal with her. She leaves the room and swiftly comes back with a tray full of food: delicious flat bread with ground meat, salty cheese, ham, olives and cherry juice. We chat a bit, I show her and Hüsnü the videos from our show night at the Erboy Hotel, and then it’s time to leave.

Both Hüsnü and Reyhan take me back to the bus station. The procedure is the same: Reyhan would not let go of my arm until we reach the bus stop. We hug and kiss each other and then I’m off to the other world across the bridge.

Hüsnü with the band playing for the Alaturka Festival participants

Sep 5

Istanbul, Take II, Eyüp and Unkapani

Sep 5, 2007 00:00////

After the class with Reyhan I decided to go to Pierreloti, a cute oasis in the residential neighborhood of Eyüp. It is named after a French writer Pierre Loti who had special affection for Istanbul coffee houses. Since I took a bus from G.O.Paşa I couldn’t find the Teleferik (a cable car) so I climbed to the top of the hill and was rewarded with the most beautiful view of the Golden Horn and a portion of manti. I lingered at the restaurant for about an hour giving my sore feet a good rest. Taking the teleferik down didn’t feel as stupid as I expected it to be thanks to the view.

After Eyüp I headed to Unkapani, an industrial zone that hosts a whole building full of music distributors who sell CDs and DVDs in wholesale prices. I stopped at 5 with no luck for Ahırkapı Büyük Roman Orkestrası (but no fear, I got later this week on Istiklal!!!).

Sep 5

Istanbul take III, Bella, Pera Museum, Siya Siyabend

Sep 5, 2007 00:00////

On Friday afternoon after the class I headed straight to Bella’s shop at Şişli Bella is known for her high-end dance costumes and for this reason bargaining there is futile. Credit cards are also useless in her shop, because she accepts only cash! For 3 days in a row I was traveling around Istanbul with a ridiculous amount of cash and I was very relieved to off-load the money and finally get my costumes, that are by the way fitted perfectly adding a 3D effect to my shiny-rosy self. Happy and giddy I unloaded the costumes at the hostel and headed straight to Pera Museum for the Pirosmani exhibition. I must confess that normally I hate museums, in most cases finding myself wandering around with no clear purpose and a rather obvious lack of joy, but this one really got to me. It’s small – only 5 floors with 2 halls on each floor. The top floor featured the works of students of Yıldız Technical University Faculty of Art and Design which I didn’t dig at all. The fourth had the most amazing collection of Pirosmani’s paintings crowned with my favorite “Bear in the Moon Light”. Next is a very pleasant surprise at the third floor: “Portraits from the Empire” exhibition, a selection of works portraying the Ottoman world from the 18th to 20th century. I was very pleased with the notes they had on Westerners’ harem portrayals and on the daily life of Ottoman women. Some of the portraits were very inspirational since I’ve been planning for a while to sew a new costume with Şalvar and a Turkish coat. Then a very interesting exhibition of the prints, drawings and watercolors from the Diocese Museum Otto Mauer Collection. Picasso, Chagall and many great Austrian artists whose names I’ve never heard of before due to my unfortunate ignorance in this field. For the dessert I popped into the Anatolian Weights and Measures exhibition. I’m a sucker for balances and weights in all sizes and this neat exhibition manages to satisfy my obsession. Across the hall there were beautiful Kütahya tiles and ceramics. All in all an hour and a half* and 3 YTL** well spent. * That’s how tiny this place is, or maybe it’s me lacking solidity ** 3 YTL for students and 7 for other mortals

p.s. On my way back I decided to go through Istiklal Caddessi and just as I turn onto it I hear a deep smoky voice shouting “Siya SiyaBend CDs, Siya SiyaBend CDs, only 20 Turkish lira”. That was no else than Murat Bızon, Siya Siyabend soloist. We chatted a little and I scraped my pockets for my last 11 lira of the day.

And off I go to Sulukule.

Apr 13

Bari Simon

Bari Simon in the Old DaysSo let me tell you about Bari Simon. Most of you probably haven’t heard of her, but she was one of the most famous and controversial Israeli belly dancers in the 80ies. In the early 90ies Bari exchanged her bedlahs [a two-piece belly dance costume] for a head cover, bought up all of her dance videos and opened a bridal boutique in Bnei Brak [a city east of Tel Aviv, populated by orthodox Jews]. Needless to say since then Bari does not perform in public, however she does tour the country with seminars for women only. This January Bari was one of the guest instructors at the Oriental Dance festival in Eilat. She taught one workshop and gave one lecture followed by a short performance.

The workshop started late. In between fiddling with the mic and hissing away the men who tried to infiltrate the classroom Bari made us thank god for our beauty, health and talent to the sounds of Omar Faruk Tekbilek. Then she proceeded to dance on the stage while we were desperately trying to follow her. Naturally, Bari didn’t explain anything, because how would you break up her majestic poise and grandeur? Self-confidence and the sense of superiority are gained through years of hard work.

The next day the hall was packed even more, as we all gathered to hear Bari’s story. I’m not going to retell this jumble of self-flatter, preaching etc. etc. ad nauseum. Instead let me try to describe Bari’s dancing, because this is something I will remember for many years to come.

After a short change of dress Bari entered the hall to the opening sounds of Inta Omri under a canopy of a long turquoise veil. She briefly scanned the stage and then discarded the veil revealing one of the most stunning costumes I’ve ever seen. The long slinky dress emphasized all the curves, which was rather ironic, giving the sermons we had heard earlier regarding revealing dancer’s flesh. The dress had long draping skirt and sleeves and veils were attached to it from behind to create an effect of wings.

Bari’s dancing was spectacular. She was in total command of time and space. Her hip work was subtle and precise, her arms – exquisite, long and willowy, she was one with the music, she was divine… Bari reminded me of the Egyptian Golden Age dancers, only if I might say better.

Mar 31

Expression in Dance – two hours with Yardena Cohen

Yardena and the gong at the studio in Bat Galim, HaifaYesterday I drove to Haifa to attend Yardena’s workshop. Not knowing the city I got lost and ended up 10 minutes late. Luckily I wasn’t the last one to arrive, Israel switched back to daylight saving time and most of the group was late. Yardena greeted me warmly, asked for my name and invited me to come in.

The spacious studio was well lit by the afternoon sun and you could see the sea gleaming further down below Mt. Carmel. Yardena insisted that we take off the dance shoes and the socks, so we could stay connected to the ground. I decided to warm up while we were waiting for the rest of the group and other girls followed me. Yardena seemed very pleased, nodding in agreement until the girls in the back of the room started chattering. To my content Yardena made it clear that dance is the highest degree of concentration and that she would not tolerate any disturbance. In the meanwhile the rest of the girls had arrived and the class began.

Led by Yardena’s gong we started by connecting to the ground and reaching for the sky. Yardena spoke of the dance, its essence and therapeutic nature. She told us about her young students, how each and every one of them had a “Dance and Movement” notebook, where they documented their innermost dance experiences. She kept those notebooks safe from outsiders’ eyes, but we were in for a treat: Yardena asked me to read a few pages from one of the notebooks. The discolored pages treasured musings of a 10-year old girl. She imparted to us that at Yardena’s classes she pays no attention to the surroundings, she forgets it all and fuses with the music. She continued that since the dawn of time people had been striving to break off the earth with no success, and yet she had been flying free at Yardena’s studio.

The class proceeded to guided improvisation. Most of the topics were inspired by the Old Testament and the Passover and Yardena stressed self-presence and connection to one’s dance partners. We thanked the serpent for gifting us with the awareness of our bodies, we drew Moses out of the water, we lay crushed on the ground exhausted by the 40-years wandering in the desert and lastly we impersonated Hagar, expelled from her home by Sarah and Abraham. Contrary to the Biblical story Hagar was welcomed back to restore peace in our land.

From Yaron Margolin’s “The Twelve Pioneers of Dance in Israel”

Yardena is a “Sabra” (born in Israel, 1910), an original creator and the first to introduce the concepts of dance therapy in Israel.

Cohen employed an orchestra of Arab and Jewish musicians, playing music which told of love, sorrow & despair, and passed from one generation to another undocumented. She hired Israeli musician Boskowitz to document some of these ancient tunes. Inspired by what he heard, he wrote the “Semite Suite” (1945), which was later performed by the Israeli Philharmonic, and the Vienna Symphony, and wrote a Piano version of the score for Cohen. Cohen often worked with musicians who wrote original score for her.

Cohen brought her dances into open air spaces. She built tents and temporary structures, using the natural landscape as a backdrop. She invited some unconventional performers: shepherds with their herds, horse riders, and used all available nature’s elements in her harmonized choreography.

Cohen inspired a generation of dancers and creators, and encouraged them all to learn various dance techniques, Classical Ballet, Modern dance and more. She affected a new trend of Dance Therapy and was noted for her success in helping some holocaust survivors.

This entry was moved from my old website. I am pasting below the comments I got, since there is no other way to recreate them.

  • on 13 Mar 2008 at 12:28 am Gayle

    I am amazed to find Yardena Cohen mentioned on the Internet. I met her exactly 50 years ago in Haifa, March 1958. Few will understand this, but Haifa is the spiritual centre of all dance in the world today. I wish I could find out more about her dance, but cannot find anything specific on the Internet. Is she still living?

    At 74 I solo dance with a combination of classical Egyptian and Tahitian dance.

  • on 30 Mar 2008 at 10:54 am Sophie

    Dear Gayle!

    Thanks for sharing with me your precious experience.

    Yes, Yardena is living, she’s 97 years old and still teaching!

    One of my favorite dance books is Daniel Nagrin’s ‘How to Dance Forever’. Dancers like Yardena and yourself are a vivid illustration to this book, and I look upon you with admiration. You inspire me to keep dancing!


  • on 31 Mar 2010 at 9:14 pm shoshana Abraham-Koren

    I also used to be Yardenas pupil for many years, and am still thankful for indroducing me to the wonderful life of expressing myself by dance. Only now, at the age of 86 years, I really understand what Yardenas influence brought to light in myself

    and its importance, beside the pleasure of movement.

    Thank you, Yardena, I shall always think of you with admiration and love


  • on 27 Apr 2010 at 4:23 pm Osnat goldman

    I would love to attend a “Expression With Dance workshop!

    Can you please send me contact information?

    Thank You

  • on 17 Feb 2011 at 12:21 am Pinchas Cohen

    Just an update on Yardena: She is now an official Centenarian and was awarded the Israel Prize for her contributions

Aug 15

Cigarah wa kas (A Glass and a Cigarette)

Cigara Wa Kas with Samia Gamal

I just finished watching ‘Cigarah was kas’ with Samia Gamal. It is a remarkable movie, not only because of Samia’s delightful dancing, but because of the precision with which it portrays the controversy regarding the way dancers are perceived in Egyptian society.

Fananas (female artists) are admired and worshipped by the general public, yet their shameful conduct is condemned along with other disrespectful activities that are attributed to their working environment, such as drinking, smoking and homosexuality. However, they could redeem themselves by giving up their careers and independency in favor of starting a family. The ideal wife should be attractive yet modest, loving yet not jealous, witty yet ready to sacrifice everything for her husband and children.

The movie also provides a glimpse into the dancer’s daily routine: late night performances, followed by dinner, retiring to bed in the daylight. The hardships of foreign entertainers aren’t forgotten either: Azza, the Tunisian singer, laments the restrictions of her contract: foreigners only get a six-month visa and work permit, despite being in demand. Eventually the go-getting Azza settles for a “visa marriage”.

There are several dance scenes, each one with distinct music and costumes. The opening scene is my favorite, where Samia, dressed in white assuit with black head scarf and hip sash, dances in a rural setting while Kouka(Azza) accompanies her by singing and playing sagat.

The movie is distributed by the Arab Film Distribution and is available on Netflix. For an in-depth study on Egyptian female entertainers I recommend “A Trade Like Any Other” by Karin van Nieuwkerk. Bear in mind that this book is based on a PhD, its language is rather dry and academic, but the content is well worth the effort.