"...If the Music is Happy, You Can See it in Her Eyes and Her Smile"
"...If the Music is Happy, You Can See it in Her Eyes and Her Smile"
I recently arranged a interview with a owner of one of the establishments where I frequently dance. Their identity is private at their request. The purpose of this interview was to share, in their own words, what Raqs Sharqi tran andslates means to them on a personal and professional level. I also wanted them to share with our audience, in their own words, the art and mindset behind the “dealing.”
Why? Often dancers can feel or be intimidated to "deal" with them when negotiating their rates, I wanted to share a inside scoop on what it is really about.
I’m very thankful for hearing the insights on the culture and business side. I hope these words help open a few minds, hearts, and souls to understanding the dance, culture, and business. The more we know, the better we perform as dancers, business women, and voices of the culture and art.
I hope you all enjoy this interview and welcome any comments on my post!
I felt to have this published because I thought the content would be valuable to share outside this resource.
Yalla Lets Begin
I’d like to start with – back home, you are talking to your friends – in Arabic of course, and you are talking about “Belly dance” and the “belly dancer.” I hear you in English say Belly dance but do you also call it “Belly dance” back home– or say something else?
We say Raqs sharqi, and the dancer we say Raqassaa. Back home, they don’t know what it means, belly dance. Raqassa means dancer. Raqs Sharqi, you know, we don’t think literally what this means, we know it means belly dancer, but we don’t think literally about it. Many things dont make sense in English in our language when you translate it. It can mean Eastern Dance when you translate it. Think like North south west and east.
Great. Your personal experience – where did you first see Raqs Sharqi growing up?
Oh. Wow. You started with this– I didn’t think you were going to take me there. I still remember exactly - it was a cassette, from my uncle – he had it, and actually – this was like taboo to have something like this – so I put it in the VCR and it was a mix of dancers dancing to ONE song – and it was the first time and I fell in love with it.
Why did you fall in love with it, or what was it?
It was, and is, very entertaining to watch, especially if the dancer is skilled performer. She can be one with the music, even with just her eyes. But what I love about belly dancing, I feel she is transferring, or interpreting, the music with her body. If the music is sad, you can see it in her eyes and in her face – and if it is a happy song, you can see it in her eyes and her smile. She can transfer the music visually with her body and make it deeper. The dancer can show the audience what the music is trying to say or have you feel. It is also a very nice sensual dance- not sexual, there is a difference. It’s very tasteful, emotional, and more about the music.
When was the first time you saw live “raqassa”, WHAT was going on, was there a band, a DJ, and what was your impression?
In real life? I saw first time in Egypt on the Nile on a boat. There was a DJ and Tabla – it was different than what I had seen before because what I had seen in person was for fun, not for professional. It was a very nice and fun to see, it did not have live orchestra, so it wasn’t what I thought in my head from what I saw on VHS but it was still nice different experience.
WHO is the dancer, the Raqassa, to you?
She is the interpreter of the music.
Explain in your words, why some establishments keep their entertainment of Raqs Sharqi a secret? Most Arabic/Desi lounges I have worked have said to me that they tell their families they own a coffee shop. not anything more, and most certainly don’t have a dancer, or “raqassa.”
Reputation is everything in our families, our villages, it is all we have. Our culture is also very sensitive to how we see each other… and we are very family oriented… and its hard to be private. And top of that, we are very respectful to our elders, especially our mothers. We are not messing around with their feelings and most of us prefer not too. The new generation, even know this – most of us try not to disturb their peace. Something like having a hookah lounge, that has smoking (even smoking is considered bad to some families), could have drinking, or dancing, can be seen as too provocative can cause stress on our families and on us… then there can be pressures from the outside that the businesses need to be closed or stop what they are doing.
How do you feel that most professional dancers are not of the culture – what is your feeling about it? What do you think non-dancers of the culture need to know or understand about Raqs Sharqi?
It’s sad that the culture does not have more professional dancers. There used to be more you can see on television and film.. it seems to me professional dancing difficult to find with Arabic or Egyptian Dancers, especially in US. BUT I am very glad Latin Americans, American, even Russians, that they are picking it up. I am happy they are part of keeping belly dance alive. I hope that they are dancing with open heart and if they get any criticism they take it as learning because it is something close to us. They definitely should understand the dance and the music and know what they’re dancing too…definitely to be knowledgeable of our culture.
When and why – did you decide to have raqs sharqi in your establishment? What are the goals?
This was something I saw that I saw since childhood, a hookah lounge with dancers…and I was surprised when I could find local dancers, I did not think there would be any around. I wanted to have dancers first of course for Entertainment, for my customers experience something unique and different and exciting… and also to keep this culture of belly dance alive and keep our traditions alive, and also bring memories of back home here. And also to bring some thing from the Middle East to America that represents us… Since 9/11 – the Middle East got a very bad reputation, Arabic people were looked badly upon, and I want to be a part of encouraging Americans that we aren’t violence and guns but we are full of good times and joy.
We are often haggled for our rate, and some dancers feel they have to lower their rates to get the work - Can you explain the reasons for always trying to get a better deal, when negotiating with a middle eastern owner, and how to best get a deal?
This is something very funny to me. This is just in the blood. I’m surprised you even ask this. Its very funny. Yes, dealing with middle easterners, they don’t care about money, they just want to feel they had a deal. You can say something is 500, and they want 300 – they don’t care about 200, they just want a deal. It’s nothing personal – they always just want to feel like they got something good price – the money doesn’t mean anything. To get a deal, to us, is more important than saving money. And expect to be asked for a discount anytime. One thing, or tip, – you can make them feel like they are giving a good deal, do something extra – or explain you’re doing something extra – they will feel good. Or charge more than you normally do, and go down to what you want to get , they will feel so good. Like say you want $500, tell them $700, and go down.
What is most important to you – when hiring a dancer?
The reputation of my culture and my business.
Dancer A charges 300 for 2 shows for weekly appearances, dancer B charges 200 for 2 – What do you say?
You can compare apples to apples, or different steaks… some are more expensive some are not. There’s many things to look at – price has nothing to do with making decisions for me. You have to think if this price difference if this is going to affect belly dancing image or the business. Some dancers have better costumes better dancing, more experience. Dancers are also different how they dance and it depends on who I think will be best in my place.
This is a very rare, but valuable attitude. MOST dancers would say owners come off as PRICE does matter, and will hire a cheaper dancer.
I’m sure there are other owners are not intelligent to think about this and only think of the price-but eventually it will bite them back or they wont get the results they want with their business decisions. So maybe they don’t have no knowledge and only think of the dollar. But to me this is obvious.