Jareeda Magazine October/November cover story:
Interview with Nadira

Written by Diana and Kidana

 

     

It is said that dancing can reveal all the mystery that music conceals. That may be true but sometimes dancing leads to its own kind of mystery and allure.To become an accomplished and recognized dancer you must be willing to reveal a tiny bit of your soul every time you step on the stage. It is that bit of soul, that piece of humanity that so captures us, intrigues and drives us to know more about these dancers. >We found out a little more about Nadira, this year’s Belly Dancer USA winner. Current holder of many of the nation’s most coveted belly dance titles we asked Nadira to tell us about her evolution in belly dance, what she shares when she dances, and what she likes to eat when she’s done.

We can’t share her soul with you, you’ll have to see her dance next time she is in your town but, come, share this little glimpse into her life with us…

 

Her Personal Journey Through The Dance

How did you get started in Bellydance?
[Nadira] I’ve been dancing since the age of six and have a background in ballet, jazz and hip-hop. I was introduced to belly dance in 1998 as a form of physical therapy. A car accident left me with a herniated disc, damage to my neck and daily migraines coupled with black outs and seizures. I couldn’t sit, stand or move for any length of time. The neurologist kept giving me various medications to mask the pain and the physical therapists couldn’t figure out how to get the pain to stop. Finally I was given two choices: surgery or find a way to strengthen the muscles in my lower back.

At the same time my massage therapist suggested belly dance. I thought she was joking – I didn’t have the “look” of the dancers I’d seen in the old movies. I am a tall, thin blond. It took about six months to convince me to take my first class. I wasn’t enjoying the side effects of the medication, so figured ‘why not’. It has turned out to be the better of my two choices.

How many teachers and mentors have you had?
Do you think it’s important to study with one person or multiple?

[Nadira] I’ve had several of each. Zaphara was my first instructor and was instrumental in learning how to entertain. I also learned a great deal from Aziza being her friend and driving her around to her Seattle gigs watching her in action. Currently I study mainly with Suhaila Salimpour and Hadia of Canada. In addition, I take as many workshops as possible. I also have a few carefully selected mentors.

How many teachers and mentors you have depends on your goals. When you first start, it is good to try out different instructors to find the right fit for you (technique, style, etc). As you grow as a dancer, it is imperative to be a continual student. For some that means one main instructor, for others it means multiple. Mentorship is a very personal choice. For me, I have to trust and admire my mentors but most importantly need to feel they have my best interest at heart. Not all have this mix. I believe if you want to grow in this dance you need guidance, and as you grow you need to pass that on. A hand up and a hand down. I try to be an inspiration to my students as I’ve been given that.

What was your first professional performance like?
[Nadira] After only a few beginning classes, my first performance was with live music to the Egyptian band, MB Orchestra. Talk about trial by fire! I was still learning how to string my new dance moves together and had to perform to live music with a full Egyptian band. I was absolutely petrified! The stage was huge so I pulled from my jazz background and spun around the whole stage. Still have video – it’s great to have as the ‘first performance’.

What do you wish you’d known when you were starting out?
[Nadira] This dance is equally about emotion as it is technique. It’s not enough to match the move to the instrument; you have to feel the emotion. I learned this shortly after my father passed away. I had to dance the week after returning home and the instant the oud player began the tuxem, something triggered in my dance. I allowed my despair to encroach into my dance. The emotion was raw and very real. At that point I truly understood the power of emotion and connecting that to the music.

You have competed in a lot of competitions…why are they important to you?
What drives you to put yourself out there in that way?

[Nadira] My reasons were different for each competition. I originally competed for two reasons. The first was to receive feedback from judges that had the level of dance expertise I was striving for. I entered the pro category as a novice to push myself knowing full well I wouldn't place. The second was because the idea of dancing for judges in a competition was extremely fearful to me. Pushing through the fear is important to my growth as an artist.

One thing I've learned through my experiences is that everything happens for a reason. There is something to be learned from each competition. When I have a student who wants to compete, we figure out their reason and focus on that. Setting goals is an integral part of growing in this dance and it is important to have the right reasons behind your goals.

What is the best advice you have received? Did you know it was great advice when you got it?
[Nadira] No matter what happens you meant to do it”. I say that to my students all the time. It’s not what happens but how you handle it. Most performers have had mishaps while onstage. Recently the dance floor of one of the restaurants I dance at was waxed and they didn’t tell me. When I first stepped on stage, I skid along the floor like I was skiing. Rather than freaking out or falling, I turned it into an arabesque type movement and no one was the wiser. That phrase to me marks a true professional. Life happens on stage and you have to roll with it.

What realization did you come to that helped you step up to another level in your dancing?
[Nadira] Answering the question why do I dance. Originally this dance was solely for physical therapy. What it has blossomed into is I’ve grown as a person, gotten to know myself as a woman and an entertainer. It’s very empowering! Dance is so deep in my heart. Every time I dance, it’s my wish to give my dance as a gift to those who watch. Coming from the world of jazz, ballet and hip-hop, there is something different about belly dance. There is more emotion and a unique opportunity for expression and give and take. You give the audience your energy, and they take it and give back. It’s not about the beauty or costume, it’s what you give.

What do you find most rewarding about where you are with the dance right now?
[Nadira] I feel at peace with my dance and that this is only the beginning. My first few years were about finding my ‘voice’ or style and it has grown into an amazing journey. There is always something to learn and new avenues to travel. I also enjoy teaching classes, workshops and mentoring. I have several students who are embarking on their new dance career and I am excited to help them along their journey.

 

Advice that May Help New Dancers

What is the single thing you see that holds back inexperienced dancers?
[Nadira] Getting excited for the lime light of performing in professional venues and jumping the gun. Meaning not taking the time to properly train for technique, entertaining, etc. Rome was not built in a day, and neither are professional performers. Although my first performance was to live music, it was a monthly event filled with student dancers and a featured performer and not a professional venue. At the time the musicians played for student events. At most established venues where professional dancers perform, you get one shot. That can be an intimidating thought, but there are ways to prepare. When you are first beginning to perform, it is best to work your way up to the established venues. This will allow you to get your performance/entertainment chops fine tuned by dancing in smaller dancer friendly venues.

How do you leave your troubles behind when you’re doing two private parties, two restaurant gigs, you’re tired, you have a sick husband, a flat tire, etc, etc.
[Nadira] This is my job and I love it, which makes it easier. It helps to have dance friends you can share your stories with as well. I have a few I call throughout the evening and we can laugh about all the bizarre happenings of the night. Keeps you energized and helps you not take everything so seriously.

 

Personal Preferences

Walk me through your costume evolution…
[Nadira] I originally thought costumes had to fit right away like clothes, and I wasn’t comfortable wearing the belts so low. My first costume was this heavily beaded old school bedla fitted to just below my belly button, paired either with a homemade skirt or gold lamé  harem pants. In retrospect…maybe not the best look. Over time I’ve learned what works on my frame and find it’s about how you feel in the costume. You gotta love it to wear it.

Where do you get those great costumes?
[Nadira] Most of my costumes are Bellas, but have some Emans as well. I get most of them custom made as I’m a hard frame to fit right off the rack. Last August I was lucky to travel to Istanbul and get fitted by Bella herself. Amazing experience!

Props…good, bad, indifferent?
[Nadira] Think they are good if used as a compliment to the dance. I currently use zills, veil, cane and wings. It becomes a bit much when the dance becomes more about the prop and less about the dancer.

Who are your idols?
[Nadira] It’s difficult to narrow down everyone who I’ve been inspired by in the past and present. In the beginning Zaphara, Nabeela and Aziza were at the helm of my learning and figuring out who I am as an entertainer. I also love Egyptian greats Fifi Abdou, Samia Gamal, Nagua Fouad, Raqia Hassan and Dina as they are the consummate Egyptian performers. I’ve had the pleasure of studying with Raqia and her hold on the dance is unparalleled. Some of my current influences include Fahtiem, Jillina, Hadia, Suhaila, Beata & Horacio Cifuentes, Tito, Zaina Hart, Amar Gamal, Amir Thaleb, Momo Kadous, Tamalyn Dallal. I am also inspired by things outside of belly dance: music, art, life experiences and other dance forms. My most recent addiction is Latin music. The music and dance are so intense and evokes such emotion – love it.

What is your favorite before or after dance snack? Why?
[Nadira] Nachos when I come home at night. Cause they taste good!

 

We enjoyed talking with Nadira as much as we enjoy watching her dance. If you’d like to know more about her you can visit her web site, www.nadira.com. You can also see her in action in DVDs from IAMED, By Dancers For Dancers and the upcoming Peko series. Just another couple interesting tidbits about Nadira: she learned to zill to hip-hop music (mostly in her car), she loves teaching dance, she babysits her foster brother almost every Monday, and she doesn’t do Gothic although she has been known to try occasionally. Whatever she does she does it with grace, strength and a lot of perseverance Nadira is truly the embodiment of an artist.She may have been the person George Balanchine was thinking of when he said, “Dance is music made visible.”