Frequently asked questions
When did you start dancing?
I started dancing at age three with ballet. I also studied lyrical jazz, modern, and African.
When did you start belly dancing?
I took my first class in 1987 with Rubye Sowder in Vancouver, Washington.
When and how was your first contact with oriental dance?
When I was in third grade a woman came to our school and taught a belly dance class. I remember her saying “shimmy-shimmy, shake-shake, move your belly like a snake!”. Later I remember seeing a belly dancer in a James Bond movie. The costumes and movement of belly dance had always fascinated me. But I never considered belly dance a legitimist dance form, I thought of oriental dance as something mysterious and exotic. I had a friend that wanted to take belly dance classes and didn’t want to go alone. I agreed to go along and found myself in a gymnasium with 30 other women of all ages and sizes. The music surprised me and the instructor was a charismatic dynamo. I was hooked from the first class.
You were born in the States, where are you from exactly?
I am from Portland, Oregon.
Some years ago you moved to Canada, where are you located in Canada?
In Canada did you have to modify your style of teaching?
Did you have another way of teaching in the States?
Because of my touring and workshop schedule I am only teaching private lessons when I am in Montreal. I have students that travel to Quebec to take privates. I teach privates for all levels, from absolute beginners to professional performers and instructors.
How many students do you have?
Because I am not holding regular classes my students are the women (and men) all over the world taking the workshops I teach.
Dance teacher and performer; is that your main job?
Yes. I have been making a living with this dance since July 1989.
You are Belly Dancer of the Universe 2002. How did you get this title?
Belly Dancer of the Universe is a competition held in California every February. To win the title you have to dance and play finger cymbals to a variety of rhythms. When you reach the finals you have to dance unrehearsed to live music and be judged on technique, presentation, and stage presence.
Do you have more titles? How did you get these titles?
I have won Belly Dancer of the Year, Ms Belly Dance USA, Entertainer of the Year, and the Double Crown Belly Dance Competition. These are competitions similar to Belly Dancer of the Universe where you are judged against the other dancers that have entered the contest. Competitions are a way to build towards your best presentation, network, and make a name for yourself. I also hold the title of Cabaret Dancer of the Year from IAMED. Members of the International Academy of Middle Eastern Dance vote this title on. I am very proud of that title since it was decided by my peers and takes into consideration my career as a whole.
From where do you get your inspiration?
It would be difficult to list all of the dancers that have inspired me. I am truly inspired and learn from every dancer I see perform. I also get inspiration outside of belly dance from other dance forms, movies, books, relationships, and from being open to inspiration in all aspects. I have had some special influences. My first instructor was Rubye Sowder. She recognized that I had a natural ability and kept me on track in the beginning. Other teachers early in my career were Joumana, Delilah, and Nemra Khan, of the Pacific Northwest. I then discovered video of dancers from Egypt and Lebanon. I was obsessed with Howayda Hashim, Samara, and Nadia Gamal from Lebanon and Fifi Abdou, Samia Gamal, Sohair Zaki, and Lucy of Egypt. More recent influences have been Fathiem, Hadia, Amir Thaleb, Mahmoud Reda, Raqia Hassan, Suhaila Salimpour, Zahra Zuhair, and Canadian Gamila Asfour. My recent video crushes are Amar Gamal, Jillina, Saida of Argentina, Amani of Lebanon, Dandash, Dina, Serena Ramsy, and Tito.
Do you have a favorite style?
I would classify my own style as American Cabaret. I am a product of my own experience including jazz, ballet, African and all the forms of belly dance that I have studied. I am always looking to learn more folkloric styles and hope that my own performance will continue to evolve.
Can you explain the Belly dance American style?
The area I am from had a strong Turkish influence. The belly dance landscape on the west coast was shaped largely by Jamilla Salimpour and Bert Baladine. I believe the East coast of the US is more Egyptian style and was heavily influenced by Ibrahim Farah. There was a big surge in popularity in the 70’s and many women were taking belly dance classes. With the availability of video in the 80’s there was a big shift towards Egyptian style. I think that the American style of dance is a Hodge podge of influences just like the US itself. Americans tend to take elements of the dance that they like and add there own fantasy of what belly dance is and present what appeals to them. Fortunately with the Internet it is easier to research and share this art form and more people are becoming educated on the history of this dance.
People in Germany like your way of teaching. Why is your way of teaching so special?
It would probably be better to ask my students that question! I just try to be the kind of teacher I would want to take from. When I take a class I want to work hard and have a good time. It is important to me that the teacher is present and cares for the students in front of her (or him), gives both positive and critical feedback, and is passionate about the material. I hope that I am that kind of instructor.
Do you think dance festivals are important and why?
The great thing about where I am in my career is that I get to travel and attend many dance festivals all over the world. I think it is so important to have a place for us to share and learn about this dance. My favorites that I have been part of are Amir Thaleb’s in Argentina, Leyla Jouvana’s in Germany, Dagmar’s Holiday Dance Festival in Morrocco, and Shukriya’s Rakkassa Festivals in the US.
Do you think that belly dance has changed in the last few years?
When your whole life is the dance it is hard to see fluctuations. With the availability of the internet and sites like bhuz.com and You tube we are able to share so much more. Music has changed with remixes of classic songs. There is a lot more fusion of other dance styles with Middle Eastern dance and the explosion of popularity of tribal and tribal fusion styles. There is also a trend of certification in teaching that is new in the industry.
Do you have your own instruction DVD’s?
Yes, I have a veil instructional DVD and I am featured on a combinations DVD through IAMED. In 2005 I produced my own Practice Companion. Recently I produced my new DVD, Hands, Arms & Poses that I am proud of. I am working on some new releases I hope to have finished this year.
Some people say that western people will never produce a high level of belly dance. What is you opinion of about that statement?
I have heard the opinion that western dancers cannot “feel” the music the same as Arabic dancers. For example the idea that western dancers do not have the dance “in their blood”. To that I say that the emotions and sentiments that are expressed in Middle Eastern music are not exclusive to people of Arabic decent. We all feel love and loss and longing. Yes, it is true that the way the Arabic culture expresses these feelings is unique, but the feelings expressed are a human experience. Not an Arabic experience. I believe with an honest respect and understanding of the Arabic culture we can identify with the “feeling” of Arabic music. I also feel that the way that western dancers approach the technique of dance is positive and will help to carry on the influence of belly dance worldwide.
How did you get the name Aziza?
I was named Aziza by a musician I used to work with in Portland. I liked that it was a palindrome. Aziza means “dear to the heart” in Arabic.