COVER STORY- OREET OF SHARQUI
Fanoos Magazine caught up with Oreet to discuss community, business and heritage.
We asked the community who they thought represents "Community" and you
were the top pick! What does community mean to you?
First, I am extremely honored! To hear that people feel that I represent “community”,
really fills my heart. So, thank you everyone and thank you Oriana, I really appreciate
To me, a community is a welcoming, inclusive group of people who are passionate
about the same things and support one another. My own SharQui community is a
supportive community in every aspect. Students in our bellydance fitness classes enjoy
exhilarating workouts taught in a uniquely paced format with no body-shaming allowed.
Then we have SharQui instructors, they work together with me and our staff not only to
grow their careers but also to help find their unique voice as a teacher.
My students mean the world to me. It may take a leader to start a community but it
takes the community to build, nourish and sustain it. We all worked together.…that’s a
Tell us about your heritage and background. How do you incorporate this into
Haha, sure! I chuckle at this because I was VERY uncomfortable with my heritage
growing up as I was the one who was always different. Here it goes...
My grandparents, Jewish refugees from Yemen, were immigrants to Israel and my
parents were Israeli immigrants to the US. I was born in the US with a very strong
connection to Yemenite Israeli culture. Western dance was my passion, so I studied
ballet as a kid and contemporary dance in college. However, from the moment I could
stand, I was bellydancing. My first bellydance teachers were my grandmothers, aunties,
Occasionally, I would perform to an Israeli bellydance song, but until last year,
SharQui’s bellydance style was best characterized as Egyptian/International and that
was pretty much all I did when it came to me incorporating my heritage into my
business. Although I grew up in the Israeli and Arabic culture, I didn’t announce my
background because I felt like it shouldn’t mean anything. I REALLY wanted to be
known for my skill, not my bio.
However, in 2017 I hired Jessica Hannan Sultan to help SharQui’s growth and
marketing. Along with beefing up our resources to help certified instructors to grow their
classes, Jessica convinced me that the bellydance community should know about my
heritage. It was becoming clearer that a bellydance teacher with MENAHT roots is a
very important resource for the community.
I gave it a shot and taught my first workshop on Yemeni Jewish dance and history. It
was wonderful to see how bellydancers from all different backgrounds were interested. I
now teach Yemenite webinars and workshops on topics such Yemenite Jewish Dance and Culture, Bellydance as part of Israeli culture and the Sephardic and Mizrahi
diversity of the Middle East and North Africa. It has been super fun and it’s so nice to
see how my parents are super stoked about it, too.
How did SharQui fitness come to be formed?
So, the idea came about while at a staff meeting at Gold’s Gym in NYC (I was teaching
group fitness for them) back in 1998. My director was complaining that group aerobics
class attendance was at a low. He encouraged us to think of ways to bring more people
in and offer ideas that would spark interest. I immediately raised my hand and said “I
can teach bellydance for fitness - it’s about loving your body and everybody can do it!”.
Well, his eyes lit up and said, “Fabulous you begin teaching it next week!”
And so, I did.
I took all the classes that I could for a week to brush up on my skills. Keep in mind, I
had bellydanced only at celebratory events growing up. My skills were definitely rusty to
say the least. I lived in New York City, so I had the luxury to take 2-3 classes every day
for a week. The commonality in all the classes was zero breakdown.
It was simply following the leader. Although I was a trained dancer, I still struggled with
this. I realized that I needed to re-evaluate how bellydance was taught before I shared
it with my fitness students. I needed to look at bellydance in a whole new way - as
aerobic movements, broken down in a way that someone with “2 left feet "; can do, and in an aerobic format. It took a few months of teaching and tweaking, and it was a
Now in 2021, we have over 100 certified instructors globally. Our instructors teach in-
person, online, and teach bellydance fitness classes at events like birthday parties,
bridal showers and other events. Wow, It’s hard to believe that I’ve been in business for
over 20 years! SharQui has come quite a long way and I have my community to thank!
Describe a memorable community experience that you had teaching, developing, online, anything!
Gosh I have so many! I can talk about my two most memorable moments. First were my
NYC Haflas. They were simply the best! I would produce Haflas at supper clubs, dance
clubs, music spaces, theaters and even comedy clubs. My students and I would do
group and solo performances and I would hire bellydance pros from the community to
come and join.
It was so great to see my students come together and work hard on their stuff and work
with each other – and so supportively too! I was such a proud mama. I still am.
My second memorable experience was offering free SharQui classes online when the
pandemic hit. Oh my, we ALL needed this for so many reasons. We needed it to get our
emotions out, to keep our bodies moving, to give us something to do as well as help me
sort out all the tech and systems. We all came together and helped one another get
through the tough days of the unknown. My community needed me and I needed them
(more than they thought). After 2 months of tweaking my technology and studio with
free classes, I was able to refine my online classes and build what I now have as the
SharQui Virtual Studio. I couldn’t have done it without them as they were loving, patient
and supportive throughout the process. As I said before, my community told me what
they needed, and so I gave it to them. My community makes me grow both personally
What goals do you have for yourself and sharing?
I am working super hard on my new project, the SharQui Instructor Academy.
Previously my instructor training was a 30-day, online course. I wanted my new
instructors to stay motivated to teach and decided to change it to a 3-month academy.
Now that the world has changed, people need more hands-on training when it comes to
keeping the momentum and teaching online. We now go through the course together
and put the training into practice for 12-weeks. We also have an added bonus of
business skills classes and teaching live community classes in our SharQui Virtual
Studio. Our beta test started in October but our big launch will happen in Jan of 2022.
I will also continue making royalty free music for the dance and fitness community.
Social media is hard enough to keep up with, music should not make it harder. I am
absolutely thrilled when I hear people use my music for their promotion. It simply
makes their lives easier, makes them happy, and most importantly, fills my heart.
Where would you like to see the community at large go in the future?
I have been dancing for decades and have seen my share of community drama, but I’ve
never seen anything like the past 2 years. Online, the bellydance world was a whirlwind
of animosity, criticism, blaming and rejection. I am extremely saddened by this. I would
like to see the community be kinder, supportive and open to learning in a loving way.
This is what would like to see:
We ALL should be represented. To those individuals who have been discriminated
against, my wish is for you to stay on your path and don’t let ANYONE stop you from
Educate lovingly instead of lashing out. Receive educational feedback as a gift, not
And lead with skill, not by how one looks.
So please, let’s all just take a moment, center ourselves, and communicate mindfully so
that we can have the community we ALL want. Thank you.
Have you ever felt out of place or not accepted in the bellydance community? If
so, how did you overcome that?
Absolutely. In fact, this June I decided to create Yemenite Heritage Month at SharQui in
response to being told earlier that year that because I am Jewish and Israeli, I didn’t
have “the right"; to bellydance. I was floored that a well-known bellydancer could be
both so ignorant of the diversity of the Middle East and so confident spewing hate-filled
Yemenite Heitage Month was about having a constructive conversation about my roots
to help open the bellydance community’s eyes to the fact that the Arab world is more
complex and nuanced than Americans assume .
First off, bellydance doesn’t respect political borders.
There’s a difference between bellydancing and folkdance. It really helps to know which
folks you’re talking about. Bellydancing has been in the Middle East probably for longer
than monotheism, so you better believe I’m not going to stop bellydancing just because
someone doesn’t like my parent’s passport.
The Middle East has loads of unique peoples, religions, and languages. Spanning North
Africa to West Asia, people native to the Middle East have more variety in cultures and
physical appearance than many Westerners would expect from TV and movies. It’s
also more peaceful than you’d expect from what’s on the screens. Countries like the
UAE, Bahrain, Morocco, and Egypt, among others, have taken brave steps to normalize
relations with Israel, building peace in the region. Do they now agree on everything?
No, but they’re starting with cooperation and mutual love of something they have in
common, which is a good example for any community.
Look, I grew up with bellydance. I am Arab as well as Jewish. I am Israeli as well as
Yemeni. In my culture we speak both Arabic and Hebrew. From all backgrounds,
Israelis grow up around bellydancing. Sure, I have the right to bellydance. But guess
what…so do YOU, no matter where you’re from. And do does the rest of the friggin
What would you recommend to a Dancer that is thinking of teaching SharQui?
This is the short and sweet answer…Do it! Haha! Like it or not, in my experience,
potential students are more interested when you market something as a workout. It
simply makes you more marketable and gives you more business opportunities. Let’s
be real here. The fitness world is much bigger than the dance community.
As for the teaching side of it, it’s a new way to structure classes so that students get a
better workout and feel more confident from the very first class. That really helps
retention! Loads of new students get hooked on shimmies and then add traditional
bellydance classes to their schedules.
Everything has transitioned online recently. As someone who has long worked
with online presence, what advice do you give for better communication?
Ah, great question. Teaching online is much harder than in-person because you really
have to work hard to make it personal. When teaching you want everyone to feel that
they are the only person in the room. How do you do this? Periodically, go to the
monitor and watch your students. Give feedback as well as positive reinforcement.
The next thing is communicating with your body by making your movements bigger and
more animated. Remember, your students are watching you through all sorts of
different screens, so be mindful that they won’t necessarily have a large view of you.
The next thing after good communication online is good tech. Bad wifi and choppy
sound equals frustrated customers.
Lastly, be genuine. Help people get to know you by going live or putting a video
message on social media. This is a great way to show people who you are and what
Finally, what is your favorite thing about what you do?
I love this one. Professionally, my favorite thing about SharQui is that I get to make a
positive impact on people’s lives, health, and confidence. Personally, I am thrilled that
my job means I get to dance every friggin day!
Oreet, is the creator of SharQui – The bellydance workout. She has over 25 years of experience in fitness and dance, and grew up with Israeli and Yemeni folk and Oriental dance. She is an award-winning performer and holds the titles Bellydancer of the Year, and Middle Eastern Dance Champion of North America, to name a few. Her passion is educating the world about Jewish Mizrahi dance and its relevance in Arabic Culture.
SharQui has been featured on NBC, ABC, CBS and CNN, among other outlets. She’s led packed classes worldwide and have worked with thousands of men and women to realize their fitness potential as well as mentor instructors on becoming certified in the SharQui format. You can catch Oreet teaching in the SharQui Virtual Studio at www.sharqui.com, the SharQui Instructor Academy at www.teachsharqui.com, and get her workout and dance videos on demand at www.sharquitv.com.