by Nizana El Rassan
Nizana: Thank you for taking the time for this interview, Khadijah! The first time I heard of you, I lived in the California Bay Area and another dancer and I were discussing Khaleeji. She
mentioned “your” name, but I thought she was referring to a dancer I’d recently met in CA, who was the only one I knew of at the time. She said “No, KHADIJAH! I think she’s living in
Colorado!” Having been in the dance community for some time, I know while you can come across a lot ofd ancers in the world, there is no way one can ever know everybody. But there are some dancers that just about everyone knows who they are, (or should!) so I was like, wait, she’s the real thing and I haven’t heard of her?? Well, I’ll have to fix that! I understand you are based in Colorado- are you teaching or performing in the Denver area or some other parts of Colorado? Do you have other performances lined up outside of the area coming up or were recently involved in?
Khadijah: Thank you for the warm compliment! Thank you for thinking of me for your interview and thank you so much for taking your time to get to know some things about me. It is very nice to meet you, also. Yes, I live in Denver. I am no longer teaching in the Denver community. I am available for online or in person private lessons currently. The performances and festivals in 2023 I am or was a part of: I just finished with Shimmy Shakedown in Orange County, CA April 23-24, 2023. I will be headlining Bellydancer USA in Salem, Oregon June 9th – June 11 th , Essence of Bellydance, September 21 st -24 th . Celebrating Dance Festival in Torquay, UK, October 27th-29 th .
And a few more projects pending for year 2024, Insha’allah (If God wills.)
Nizana: Wow, that is a fabulous list of events! Not too long ago, I took your four-part online
series for Khaleeji and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It was rich in detail and nuance, and I took lots of notes! There was still so much more to learn. Will you be doing other online workshops or
performances this year, and if so, we’d love to know the details!
Khadijah: First, thank you so much for taking the time to study with me, that really means a lot! Yes, I wish I could have like a 3-month course because there is truly SO much more to learn, especially beyond the movements and such. I do have programs available to learn various styles of Khaleeji dance, most likely I will offer another program in February 2024 or if requested earlier in 2023.
Nizana: That is great, more people should study with you! Another one of the things that
fascinates me about you is your non-dance profession. How did you decide to become a
veterinarian, how long have you been in the field and do you have a specialty or type of animal you really love working with?
Khadijah: I have always felt a special bond with animals, much more than humans. Ever since I was a child, I always want to care for animals. I always felt animals deserve the best because
they have done so much for me in my life. I have been in the profession for over 20 years now.
My most favorite animal ever is The Horse.
Nizana: Beautiful animals, I have a couple of friends who own horses. I am a fur-baby mom, so that really hits home with me, thank you for this important work! And speaking of important work, you are the authority on Khaleeji, one of my favorite folkloric dances. Please share your life’s connection to this art form with our readers. What are the most important things you would like for dancers to know about this style of dance?
Khadijah: Thank you so much, Animals bring so much joy to our lives indeed, we owe all of the best things to our great pet friends! Thank you so much for your kind words, but I feel I am a forever student and I love learning from as many sources as possible. I am continuously gaining knowledge and learning more about my own culture and cultures other than my own every day. My connection to the (Al-Fan) or the folk arts of the Khaleej. Being born in KSA and of African ethnic origin, I was fortunate to have witnessed and interacted with locals at such a young age in my city as well as outside of my city. I attended many social gatherings i.e., weddings, parties for women only and various other celebrations in the community. There was LOTS of singing and dancing involved. There are so many stylizations and varieties of Khaleeji folk dances and not just the common styles you see within the bellydance community. I wish dancers were not afraid of folk dances in general. For every festival or large dance gathering I attend, I notice the classes for Raqs Sharqi styles are very full of students and the folkloric classes are very empty.
Why? I am often very confused about this. Folk dances are what made the foundation of
“modern” Raqs Sharqi be what it is today.
Nizana: I agree, one never sees much of it on stage anymore either. I was in a live show this past weekend and hit it off with a dancer, and we talked about really enjoying the folkloric dances. I perform a few occasionally and enjoy the folkloric workshops, too! Only reason I can think of is these days people seem to prefer glitzy or fusion? You are a wealth of information on this topic, and I encourage dancers to study with you! I know I would like to again. I have seen so many different spellings- are these mostly due to dialect or is there one (or more) correct spellings for this dance style?
Khadijah: Thank you so much! I never turn anyone away; EVERYONE is welcome to study with me. I don’t care if I have one student only. I will make sure I teach that one student to the best of my ability. One thing many do not understand about the Arabic language is we transliterate / spell things exactly how we hear it. So, you will have a word spelled many different ways depending on dialect / where the person is from and who hears the transliterates the word.
Many spellings: Khaleeji /Khaliji /Khaleji.
Nizana: Thank you, I appreciate that as I want to spell it right! I know you perform at least one other style of MENAHT dances; what other dance styles have you studied and performed outside of Khaliji? Do you have a favorite style to perform?
Khadijah: I love performing various styles of Arabic dance, but my heart belongs to folklore and I mean any/all folk styles. My most favorite folk style is Afro-Iranian dance, just Persian vs. Iranian dances in general are my favorite. Not only is it because it is directly connected to African culture, but it has many similarities to dances of the Khaleej also.
Nizana: Awesome, you are a beautiful dancer no matter what style you are performing. Thank you so much for spending time with me on this interview; is there anything else you would like to share?
Khadijah: I am always available for lessons and lectures. I am always so incredibly happy when someone wants to become knowledgeable about Afro-Khaleeji culture and other styles of folk dances. In my opinion, folk dances tell so many valuable stories without even saying a word. I do feel through folk dances we can bridge the gaps of misconceptions of one’s culture that is different from our own culture. Even if we don’t speak the language, dance always finds a way to communicate directly to the heart; again, without speaking one word. Thank you so much for choosing me for your interview. I am grateful for this opportunity for you and the beloved readers of Fanoos magazine to get to know about me and I hope that our dance paths will cross soon and never stop learning.