So who is the Best Belly Dancer in the World at the moment? No one can say for sure...But we managed to get an interview with the best contender for the title, as per connoisseurs, believed to be THE one: Amelia Zidane! It was not a mere coincidence that she was also behind the creation of the World Belly Dance Championship Competition (Hezzi Ya Nawaem) which aired on LBC!
There are many very talented belly dancers from all around the world, and their styles are as varied as the number of quartz crystals in the Arabian Desert. The west was already fascinated by this art form since as early as the 18th century, but recently after 9-11 and the following conflicts in the Middle East, Arabic culture (music, language, belly dance, religion, motion picture, etc...) has witnessed an unprecedented craze in popularity. Shakira even cleverly rode the wave and introduced bellydancing in mainstream pop culture, giving her an edge; a trademark that set her apart from other pop singers on the international scene.
The most popular and most talented belly dancer in the west is currently the American Rachel Brice. She is the leader in hybrid styles of belly dancing, and has helped popularize Tribal Fusion Belly Dance. Her serpentine style is very intriguing, and she gives very professional and exotic shows. Her costumes are most certainly the best we have seen, and by far the most dramatic! Her choreographed pieces are often described as Visual and Acoustic Poems! Westerners are often shunned for being merely good in the technical part but dangerously lacking in 'Ehsass', or feeling, when they perform. We often hear comments like 'They don't understand the music...'. Well Rachel very much understands the music and shows more 'feeling' than the vast majority of other dancers from the Middle East. This however could be the case of another talented performer, the Wisconsin girl Sadie Marquardt. She is believed to be the best in Derbake Solo, mixing Tahitian (or Hawaiian), Indian, Brazilian Samba and oriental styles of Belly Dance. Most recently, Sadie & her dance partner Kaya even made it all the way to the Top 48 quarter finals of America's Got Talent Season 5.
Sadie is noted for her perfect hip control; she is sharp, in sync with the music with proper timing, with good foot work and balance, and remains quite graceful. Although she is reported to be excellent in the technical parts, like isolation and targeted drills etc..., her performances are seen as a series of entertaining tricks that give a cool overall show. Other famous experimental belly dancers include Sera Solstice and Isidora Bushkovski (Izzy), just to name a few. Some Brazilian dancers have also created a small niche for themselves.
Eastern Europe (mainly Russia and Ukraine) has also produced some of the most beautiful belly dancers in the world. They are usually very appealing, but only have basic skills and technique. They therefore don't have what it takes.
In Turkey, where belly dancing is also quite popular, the current situation is rather very similar to that of Lebanon and the rest of the Arab World. The most popular belly dancers are mostly pretty girls dressed up in belly dance costumes, like Didem. They might give a good show, but they do not necessarily have any exceptional skills or style.
Due to its proximity and historical ties with the Arab world, India has also seen the emergence of many talented Belly dancers. They often infuse their style with Bollywood energy, and incorporate many traditional hand mudras and feet work seen in other Indian folkloric dances. But Sadie has that part already covered.
In the Arab World, where this art form is believed to have been created and is therefore the most popular, bellydancing is mostly found in its original oriental classical form along with its shaabi and baladi subdivisions proper to every Arab region and country. The leading names are either long gone, or are too old to perform the way they used to. Connoisseurs tell us that Oriental belly dance should remain sensual, like flamenco, and point out to Samia Gamal, , Nagwa Fouad, Tahia Carioca, and Naima Akif as best examples for oriental dancers that could be considered as the best... Modern Experimental Belly Dancing is however quite rare. The Lebanese belly dancer Amani was one of the few in modern times to have attempted something of the sort in the late 90s and early 2000s, hoping to take belly dancing to the next level. She had organized a full show (Amani Around the World) with the help of theatre director Gerard Avedissian, that she presented at the Regency Palace Hotel Theater before flying with it around the world. She has completely disappeared ever since, and we are not sure, but she could have very well also retired! Unfortunately, if so!!!
Only one prominent oriental belly dance artist and pioneer in hybrid styles is believed the head the current list in the world of best belly dancers, and her name is Amelia Zidane! This is most probably due to her background; she is originally from Arab origins (Algeria) but has lived most of her life in Europe (France). She has therefore merged the two worlds, and taken the best of each; the sensual classic oriental dance from the East, and the modern experimental belly dance from the West! Her cross-cultural hybrid style is quite remarkable. Other than her technique, her creativity, and her energy, Amelia is noted for her 'ehsass'(mentioned above). She often mixes schools, and does classical pieces, romanticized Orientalist melodramas, Fusion dance choreographies, cabaret scenes or burlesque shows worthy of a true show girl...She even does witty Kitsch cult movie-scenes inspired spectacles: we once saw her play Ann Darrow next to a man dressed up in a gorilla outfit as King Kong! Entertainment at its best! Only one woman can do all this at once, and look great in every style... and that's the Sexiest Oriental Belly Dancer Amelia.
We were much honored when she accepted to give us an interview. We were already impressed by her work, but never did we expect to discover such a deep and contemplative woman. It seems Amelia will not cease to amaze us! We talked about her passion for Belly dancing, her achievements, her projects... We also asked her tough questions about The First World Belly Dance Championship (Hezzi ya nawaem)... and so much more.
Read below what the fascinating Amelia had to say...enjoy!Hello Amelia, and thank you for doing this interview.
You are welcome Fanoos, and thank you for your interest.
You are considered the Best Belly Dancer in the World at the moment! What makes a professional dancer stand out in this crowded scene, especially since more and more Western showgirls are adopting this type of oriental dance as exotic entertainment?
Thank you but this is too much, let's not exaggerate. I am a dancer among others. There are many very beautiful dancers in the world; I am thankfully not the only one to shine in this art form, otherwise the pressure alone would simply be unbearable. What makes a dancer stand out is her originality, her work, her sincerity, her values...her path, her story...and Destiny! It's not like there is an instruction manual. I remain convinced, given my personal experience, that there is a predestined path mapped out for each one of us. 'On nait artiste, on ne le devient pas' (You are born an artist, you do not become one). That's fundamental. Then, you must try to stay pure, true, genuine, and sincere with your audience, show respect, love, and attention. In the end, the public is the only one to decide the fate of any artist.
You are being too humble. Anyway, is there really still room for one to experiment and try out new moves? Can a dancer still come up with original steps, or has everything already been done?
Bellydance is specific to the movement of the hips, whereas Oriental Dance is broader and allows more freedom of movements. However, most steps are known and the only thing one can do is add one's personal touch as well as mix between different genres. I came to that conclusion early on, and so I merged Oriental dance with flamenco, hip hop etc... and that, since 1994.
We noticed you sometimes use bizarre accessories, like a Python snake! Were you scared the first time you held it? What other Belly dance props do you also use in your shows?
I use everything I can whenever I have to perform somewhere, I visit the location beforehand for inspiration, I use the setting, the tables, the chairs, the bar, then the public...I dance with fire and yes also with a snake. I've never been afraid, yet I had never seen a snake in real life before deciding to dance with one. When I took the decision to do so, I charged head down and told myself: 'Amelia you are capable of doing this and you will do it, it's for the sake of the show'. I like thrills, to offer something unique to the public, to surprise, shock, and leave them with a lasting impression. Perhaps so as not to be forgotten. You know, it happens sometimes when I find myself very tired on stage, to feel that my heart will fail me, but I never stop, I go till the end every time, even when I am at the very edge and completely out of breath. After all, what better way to die than on scene out of exhaustion, trying to go beyond oneself. When I dance I am translucent, naked, I offer myself wholly to the audience, I don't cheat, so I am not afraid to die.
It is obvious from your words that you are very passionate about what you do! What is more valued when assessing the level of a belly dance artist? Dancing to a melody, or to percussion?
It's a package. Technique alone does not suffice; a beautiful dancer should be the most comprehensive. To use her body, her eyes, her smile, then the props such as the veil, the cane (l'a3ssaya), Finger cymbals (sagats)... Technique is important, but for me, the grace, elegance, sincerity, and courage of a belly dancer touches me far more than a dancer that 'DOMs and TACs' to rhythm. There is something that even years of training and workshops will never give you: 'l'e7ssess'. This is critical to understand and feel the music that we dance to.
Since you have performed for both... Is there a difference between the European public and the Arabic one when it comes to belly dancing? Who do you think knows more how to appreciate this art form?
I have danced all over the world, there isn't such a big difference. But every public has a certain peculiarity: In Portugal or Dubai for example, the public rarely applauds, even when people enjoy the show they are rather reserved. In Morocco or Lebanon, people are on the contrary very expressive. It is true that logically the Arab World should be more receptive to Oriental belly dance, since people know and understand the songs, the lyrics, the rhythms... but in the West, they are so fascinated by this dance that they are also quite receptive even though they don't understand the meaning of Inta Omri for example; they read into our movements to sense the passion and love that is exhumed by this legendary title by Um Kulthum
. But wherever one performs in the world, be it music, dance,... art in general has no boundaries, as long as its sincere, the audience will receive it 5/5.
Where are the most memorable places you have danced at, and where would you still like to perform one day?
Les Trois Mailletz in Paris, because that's where I started, Central Park New-York, it was crazy, people were hanging from the trees, Casablanca, I loved it, and then Royal Hotel Dbaye in Lebanon, that's where I met with the Lebanese public for the first time.
I don't have one place in particular where I would like to perform, maybe on the moon, but my dream would be to dance in front of my father. For him to be seated in the front row and to admire his daughter working, existing, to see me happy, I think he has never seen me happy.
We wish you nothing but happiness Amelia... You were actually the first belly dancer to appear on the covers of French magazines Elle and TeleMag. What did that feel like?
I was very proud, but also worried at the same time. You dream of such things, but when it actually happens, you feel small next to the event. But still I knew I deserved it, I had worked hard, I took risks, I started from scratch, sacrificed a lot. I left everything behind me, a suitcase full of dance costumes in one hand, and my baby in the other, then took off...I traveled the seas while praying god for help. He answered me, he opened all the doors for me to get where I am today. There were times it was so hard, I felt like I was going to die. I was fortunate to have met with exceptional people at every stop along the way; I have friends all around the world now.
The journey is not over yet, there is still a lot of work that needs to be done, but for the first time in my life I feel at my right place, I know I was born to dance, so I dance. Every dancer must have that conviction.
We didn't know all that about you. It was surely a very difficult and painful path for you, but we are glad you ended up following your dream! Amelia, you were behind the concept and the creation of The First World Belly Dance Championship 'Hezzi ya nawaem' on LBC. Were you satisfied with the way it turned out? Although we really liked the belly dancer Estelle from Season 1, we were frankly not that impressed or shall we say VERY disappointed with the winner of the second season the belly dancer Magalie! The judges were obviously very biased. We actually wrote a thorough review about that, at the time, called World Bellydance Joke! How do you comment? Are there any other projects you are currently working on?
Hezzi Ya Nawaem was an extraordinary adventure, the team lead by Rony Jazzar and Ghazi Feghali was deeply welded, and we worked hard to make this TV show a success. And it was. I first preselected 12 girls via internet from all around the world; my following reunion with them here in Beirut where they were to dance was also memorable. Initially, my goal was especially to use this TV program as a way to make people understand that belly dancing is an art, with a technique, with codes, etc... I wanted to stop the cliche 'cabaret prostitution'... Then kick off and create a tour in the Arab world with the 6 finalists next to me on stage. An Oriental Ballet with an orchestra and Tarab chant. Unfortunately, I could not go through with my plans.
Estelle was a small jewel, hardworking, serious, respectable and passionate, it became evident she had to win the title of the first season. I was her coach, she was learning fast and absorbing everything I thought her like a sponge, she believed in it. Then we became friends, I am still quite close to her, and she calls on me whenever she needs help with choreographies, like for the opening of Belly Dance Championship in the following season where she divinely interpreted Inta Omri, under my direction. Leila, the Ukrainian, also had high merits, very beautiful, she was second.
As for season 2, I was fine just being casting director and consultant. Tied down with Future TV, I could not juggle with both programs at the same time. But I admit to having heard many bad reviews regarding the second season. I wasn't in it, but I believe certain people wanted the Lebanese to win so they could exploit their 'pseudo' fame later on. I do not buy into all that, I had the chance to re-discuss this with the production house PROD and it is possible there will be a Hezzi Ya Nawaem Season 3 World Belly Dance Championship
in 2011, but this time I will be there!
We are looking forward to it then. But, why isn't there a big yearly belly dance event in the Arab World? There was a failed attempt in Lebanon around the mid 90s. It was such a great idea, and it gathered many talented professional performers from around the world, but unfortunately we never understood why it ended before it had even began!
All around the world, Oriental dance, called Belly Dance, IS the event: concerts, workshop, festivals, competitions... Over the past dozen of years, this is an art form that is undergoing an incredible boom. Starting from the United States, passing through Europe, and today even in Asia, Oriental belly dance has become a real business, with a real impact on the music industry, currently in crisis, thanks to album sales of CDs and DVDs dedicated to this art. There isn't one single dance school that does not offer this category; it is even now a sports category for the French Baccalaureate.
I believe that in the Arab countries, things are also moving forward. I see it everyday a bit more in the eyes of those I dance for. Be it ministers, businessmen, regular employees, housewives, these people invite me into their homes, their intimacy, into their families or between friends, I am received as an Artist held in high respect and admiration. I have never been treated with disrespect in my work. On the other hand, I am showered with dance lesson requests, whether in private or public.
We need fresh new dancers that are pure, sincere, professional, and above all serious, to take over. Unfortunately today, this is the only way to stop the misconceived notions and to change mentalities. It is up to us professionals to insure that the image of this ancient art, which is ours and belongs to the Arabic culture, survives to the opposition and further evolves under the spotlight.
Thank you Amelia for all this valuable information you have shared with us. We are very proud of your accomplishments and we wish you the best of luck in your future activities.
Thank you very much, for this lovely interview. Thank you for the relevance of your questions. Allah Yehmikoun.