Updated: Jun 10
by Nizana El Rassan Throughout the world of “bellydance,” there are a lot of well-known dancers, and well known for good reason due to their dancing and/or teaching skills, hard work, marketing ability and other life circumstances. There are also a lot of lesser-known and fabulous dancers who have also made important contributions to the field in their local communities or on national and international levels.
One such dancer is Helene Haynes-Stakem, who has had an interesting, professional, international bellydance career of over 35 years. Helene has danced all her life, starting on stage in London at the age 4. I met her in Santa Cruz, CA at a couple of dance events a few years back and appreciated her efforts at sponsoring and co-sponsoring local events.
Nizana: Helene, thank you so much for this interview; I think it is important for dancers to remember there are so many dancers who have helped pave the way and have so much information to share. What have you been up to since we last saw each other?
Helene: I have recently returned as a teaching artist to the schools as a SPECTRA artist through the Arts Council of Santa Cruz and San Benito County and will be teaching Egyptian folk dance, drumming, and culture, and offering performances: “A Music and Dance Journey Along the Romany Trail to Egypt.” I went to Egypt with Morocco from NYC, and have traveled around Morocco 3 times, once on tour with the band Aza. I have traveled extensively across Europe and into Asia as far as Afghanistan. I have taught dance and performed in 6 countries, and 4 states of the USA.
Nizana: Wow, that is amazing! And going to Egypt with Morocco must have been wonderful! This particular issue is about the golden age and vintage dance- can you tell us more about your venture to Egypt with Morocco, your travels abroad in your dance journey and some of your earlier dance experiences? What did you enjoy most about the earlier dance era?
Helene: Fifi Abdou was by far my favorite performer, so generous with her joy of the dance, and skillful with great charisma, humor and emotion. She changed costumes at least 3 times, from Oriental to Folk, then to a blue "Star Trek style" clinging spangled body suit and did floor work. She had us all in the palm of her hand with her outrageously classy act and with her mega-orchestra; they were a powerful presence. Her routine was exciting and enthralling and I admired the way she broke all the rules in her finale by sitting alone on the stage and smoking a sheeshah, blowing smoke elegantly out of one nostril, and then out of the other.
It was sad not to see Nadia Hamdi performing on stage, after she gave us such a brilliant seminar and demonstration. I am sure she is a fine dancer. She told us about the repression of the dance by the rising Muslim Fundamentalism, and how she decided to no longer dance in public as her son was having problems at college over her being a professional dancer. She also told us that Zaar, the traditional Exorcism Dance, is no longer permitted, even in the privacy of people’s homes. On our trip, we were escorted in some places by Tourist Police as there had recently been attacks by Muslim terrorists. I’m glad to say that we had no problems and felt well taken care of.
Nizana: Wow, that must have been one awe-inspiring expedition with THAT group of dancers! Hard to top that. What kinds of dance fun are you cooking up next?
Helene: Next year I plan to resume teaching my workshops: The Healing Art of Oriental Dance, and in collaboration with Gary Regina of the band Worlds Collide, who composed my Dance Meditations music, start teaching weekly classes. I am currently back to good mobility after having had 2 hips and 2 knee total joint replacements and improving my strength and stamina each day.
I am attempting to write my autobiography called " Dance to Heal.” I enjoy writing and have kept journals my whole adult life, and documented with diaries, photos, flyers and programs, souvenir my whole dance career up to the pandemic! I have been writing numerous articles about my experiences, travels, and the musicians and dancers at my productions at Don Quixotes Music Hall, The Crepe Place, and numerous other venues locally and in the Bay Area, and about The Healing Art of Oriental Dance since 1993 for the UK Arabic Dance Network magazine- Mosaic.
Nizana: That is awesome you are keeping busy with some really cool happenings! How exciting is that? Makes me want to take a little vacation over that way! Anything else you would like to share with the readers?
Helene: You can Google an article about me Helene Haynes-Stakem (pronounced and spelled the European way with an segue at the end, like Beyonce) which was published in the Santa Cruz (CA) Sentinel several years back. I was a recipient of the Gail Rich Award in 2002 for my significant contribution to the arts, and thus included in a celebratory book called 'Creatives' by Wallace Baine.
Nizana: Well deserved! That is so cool! Thank you for sharing your story, Helene. Most fascinating and still going strong. I hope to see you at another dance event in the future!