I’m told you prefer the term “Oriental dancer” to “belly dancer.” What is it about the term “belly dancer” that, shall we say, turns your stomach?
Well first off, in the Arabic language there is no such word for belly dance.
If you translated it and said “Raks El Batn” (dance of the stomach), the people would laugh.
It is not a dance of the stomach but rather a dance using the whole body, mind and spirit.
Khalil Gibran, a Lebanese philosopher and poet, wrote a beautiful poem called “The Dancer” that just says it all.
Oriental Dance translated in Arabic is called Raks Sharki (Dance of the Orient).
As a performer and teacher of dance for more than 25 years, I feel it is my obligation to educate my students in the correct terminology.
You have said there are more opportunities for dancers in Europe than in the United States. Why is that?
Here in Germany there are many small theatres and places where you can have a venue.
There are also a lot of associations or clubs that are specifically for the education of Middle Eastern dance.
I am a principal teacher for the Bundesverband fur Orientialischen Tanz that is based out of Heidelberg.
A couple of times a year they hold a Congress and classes are given in many styles of Raks Sharki and Folkloric dances.
There are also many restaurants that have performances on Friday and Saturday evenings, e.g., Persian, Indian, Lebanese, Syrian, Turkish, Greek, Egyptian.
Since Europe is not too far from many Arabic countries, it is cheaper, easier and faster to have a jump on the culture, purchase costumes and study with many professional artists.
Compared to Europeans, are Americans, as a whole, good on their feet or are we a nation of dancers with two left feet?
I have seen a lot of good artists both European and American and it is because of the Americans that Oriental Dance is so popular in Europe today.
Soldiers who were stationed overseas brought their families and had wives who danced and many of them were dancing in the Turkish and Arabic restaurants and teaching classes to European students.
Once the Europeans caught on, it was like a wildfire. American dancers on a whole are very creative and can improvise and dance to just about any style of music.
Have any of your colleagues at DODDS been brave enough to enroll in the dance class you teach?
Hmmm, not yet. I have had a few people inquire but until now, no dice.
Do servicemembers like your show?
I had the wonderful opportunity to teach at one of the Lingua Fests that DODDS-E sponsors ...
Students from all over Europe attended this event and I was responsible to teach them a couple of dances for the evening performance that was attended by all the participants, parents of students locally which was both civilian and military as well as the Director of DODDS-E, Ms. Diana Ohman.
The students presented three dances, Saidi, a stick dance from Upper Egypt; Dabke, a line and circle dance that can be found in Lebanon, Syria, Palestine, Israel, and Jordan; and Tunisian Fezzani, a traditional dance found in many parts of Tunisia.
Interview by Kevin Dougherty.
Khadejah El Oueslati
Day job: Works in Department of Defense Dependents Schools transportation office and is belly dancer and instructor.
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