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Interview with Philly Raqs

To register for an upcoming workshop, please visit Najia’s Workshop page.

Philadelphia belly dancers are lucky to have some wonderful teachers in our area who bring in extraordinary dancers and teachers for workshops. Najia of Philadelphia ( has been very active in bringing Sahra Kent ( to our area very often (six times last year alone) where she has presented many workshops, including both her Journey through Egypt 1 and 2 intensive 20 hour certifications.

Sahra debuted a brand new certification course in Philadelphia in May – Cairo Style Certification Level 1. Though I was unable to attend the course, I was able to sit down with Sahra during her most recent trip to Philadelphia n July to discuss this certification course and what it entails.

" Those who have never studied before with Sahra Saeeda (orange hip scarf) may be intimidated by her credentials but she always keeps the class atmosphere warm and fun."

JtE-1 and 2 have been very popular, and I have heard wonderful feedback from many dancers. What was the impetus to create this new intensive course?

Thank you, JtE-1 and JtE-2 are from a result of my continuous interest and on-site research in the Folkloric Dance of Egypt over the last 20 years. But the new "Cairo Style" Intensive series is completely different. Instead viewing Egyptian Folklore from a Dance Ethnology viewpoint, this is about your personal performance of Cairo style Oriental Dance.

Najia and I have talked about doing something like the Cairo Style Certification for quite some time, but I had been holding off on developing it. We saw a need for an intensive Raqs Sharqi class that was more in depth than what a standard 3 or 4 hour workshop could cover. But to do a more in depth class, I felt I would need to establish levels and prerequisites. I felt that it was not my place to determine someone’s level since we are all on different dance journeys. Finally, Najia held an intervention for me and we discussed how we could offer a more intense class.

"The certification courses at Najia's are always kept to a to a small number of students and allow an intimate atmosphere with a mix of belly dancers of all levels from novice to Bellydance Superstars such as Elizabeth Stong who attended JtE2 above."

What is the Cairo Style Certification?

This 20 hour course is based on my concepts regarding dance that many dancers who have taken classes with me will recognize. However, with 20 hours of class time, we really have time to embrace the concepts. We use my concepts, such as high and low centers and effort shape, to analyze and expand our own styles.

The idea of Cairo Style is subjective – Cairo style at what point in history? Now? The 1940’s or 1960’s? Instead of focusing on Raqs Sharqi as performed at a certain time in history, we cover the format of a typical Cairo Style show – the entrance, the taxsim, the drum solo, etc. This class reflects what concepts helped me in my development as a dancer in Egypt. We all go through stages of learning where suddenly, a door will open up and our knowledge or understanding has increased by a giant leap. In the Cairo Style Certification, I share the “a-ha” moments I had, the ideas and knowledge that helped my understanding and increased my dance knowledge. I share what I needed to learn to perform in Cairo.

"Sahra gets deep into working through exactly what she sees overall most belly dancers are missing when they go onstage."

Who should take this certification?

Any dancer who is interested in Cairo Oriental stage dance.

A dancer that is looking to go to the next step in her dance journey. You don’t need to dance professionally, or aspire to dance professionally. If you want to improve your dancing and are looking for that next step, then this class if for you.

I want people to walk away with new ideas and confidence in what they are capable of doing and aware of their next step in their dance path. I want dancers to feel inspired after taking this Certification. This class is designed to be a big jump forward in your dance path.

"Even accomplished teachers and belly dancers such as Sitamun (Barb) get a wonderful weekend away to embrace concepts and nurture the soul of their dance."

Do you need to be at a certain level of proficiency in dance and how do you measure that?

It is for established dancers and it is not Level 1 in terms of complete beginners. Dancers will benefit the most if they have some belly dance background, feel confident dancing through space, and know basic belly dance vocabulary.

Having said that, this course is for all levels whether you are a beginner who knows your basic dance steps through professional dancers – everyone will learn something. Being familiar with my dance concepts of high and low center and effort shape, or taking those workshops in the past, will help but are not required.

Because we work off the same baseline and reference points from my previous workshops, we can apply these concepts to any dancer - whether it’s a dancer who has been dancing for one year or 20 years, they can still apply these concepts and further their dance knowledge.

"The simple things in life seem to make the most impact. In Cairo Level 1, Sahra seems to spend endless hours on improving our entrances and traveling steps."

What does the class cover?

We cover:

Entrance and what we communicate in our entrance – whether calm and regal, or high energy or fun and fast, and how your entrance affects your audience.

Taxsim – we learn which instruments speak to us, how to enter a taxsim, what do you do during a taxsim, and relating it to breath and stretching.

Drum solo – we start this, there is a lot to cover in a drum solo, and will cover this more in Cairo Style Certification Level 2.

This doesn’t sound like a lot, but the 20 hours fly by! Different dancers react to different entrances, taxsims, and drum solos. We help to find your style and what speaks to you to make you a great dancer.

"Not just another choreography class, students learn to quantum leap in their existing dance skill proficiency. The belly dancers above are working with their individual takism style."

You mention Cairo Certification Level 2 – will this be like JtE which is up to 4 levels, the last two involving field work in Egypt?

We have just held the first Cairo Certification Level 1 in May. The next Level 1 will be offered from November 5th – 8th here in Philadelphia. There will be a Cairo Certification Level 2 that will be offered in from April 16 – 19th, 2010 in Philadelphia as well. Number 2 will go into even more depth and continue to develop the concepts from Level 1 even more, and act as a follow up on the next step established in Level 1. We also plan to do a beledi certification course from June 3 -6th, 2010 in Philadelphia.

I would also like to clarify what I mean by “certification.” Certification only says that you did the 20 hour class. It gives you a baseline. It does not mean that you are certified in dancing Raqs Sharqi or certified in my methodology. My certification means that you completed 20+ hours of dance focused on developing your dance in the Cairo Style format.

"The Cairo Style classes are completely different in format than the JtE classes (pictured above ) which required an enormous amount of academic training. Cairo is all about how do you move and embrace belly dance using the Cairo style. Even if you study another style you will find this certification steps up how you are viewed as a performer and if new to dance gives the the proper tools to analyze your own movement."

I heard that dancers are videotaped in this class – can you tell me more about this process?

What I bring to this course is the different experiences where I had breakthroughs. For me, video was a huge breakthrough. I would think I was channeling something great but I wasn’t or I would do something that looked great that I didn’t even realize I was doing. Being aware of what I looked like to an audience was a huge breakthrough.

You do not have to dance solo and be videotaped, but it is strongly suggested. We videotape everyone in the beginning and then again later on in the course. Dancers were very surprised to see how much their dancing changed or improved over the course. After the first videotaping, I review the footage with the class and I offer suggestions. If someone prefers, I am happy to offer my suggestions privately. These suggestions are never to put people down but to open their mind to what they may not be aware of when dancing – things like arm position or posture. Bringing attention to these areas helps you to focus on what your next steps need to be and how to get there.

We also do an exercise where dancers write down five words on what they aspire to be as a dancer. We review the video, and everyone writes down one word about each performance. We had a very touching experience during the first Certification where one of the dancers had always felt clumsy and awkward and she was in tears as we shared the other dancers’ words – words like “beautiful,” “graceful,” and “lyrical.” We watch each other dance to reinforce our strengths and to build on areas that might need work.

"Julia from Delaware embraces her chance to be videotaped but not all participants have to choose to do so. Bahiya really found video feedbackteh most helpful tool. Read her article here."

Where and when will you be offering the Cairo Style Certifications?

We will only be offering this certification in 2 places, through Najia on the East Coast, and, at some later date, through myself on the West Coast. As I mentioned, the next Level 1 class will take place from November 5th – 8th 2009, and Level 2 will be offered from April 16 – 19th, 2010, both in Philadelphia. We have also scheduled the Beledi certification for June 3- 6, 2010 and another Level 1 Certification is scheduled for November 4 – 7, 2010.

"Zanora takes time after the course to put into practice what she learned with Sahra Saeeda........ using breath, energy, and focus with her veil work."

"I will be attending the next Level 1 certification in November, and look forward to writing a review of my experiences for the Gilded Serpent – stay tuned!" - Fatima (

Photo at right is of the lovely Fatima Bassmah, a talented belly dancer and writer in the greater Philadelphia area.

For more information, or to register for an upcoming Certification, please visit Najia’s Workshop page.


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