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Spotlight on: Zara

Updated: Dec 16, 2023

Interview by Nizana El Rassan Interview with Zara

Nizana: Thanks so much for taking time out of your busy schedule to do this interview! I

follow your adventures online, subscribe to (and have written for) Zameena magazine, and

keep my eye out on what lovely items you and your mum have for sale in Zara’s Zouk! You are always so energetic, bring so much fun and joy to your performances and you have many

things happening in the dance world. Describe to us what it’s like to do the live shows you are doing in Cairo. I’ve loved seeing your video clips!



Zara: Hi Nizana, thank you for asking me to do this interview, I am very honored. I have been working as a dancer on the Cairo scene for nearly 7 years now and even I am shocked to say that despite this, and the fact I regularly do 8, 9 even up to 11 sets a night, the experience is always exhilarating. I am yet to tire from the buzz of the stage. Cairo nightlife, it is vibrant, exciting and a hub of amazing artists, many I am honored to call friends. I work mostly on boats and Cabaret, all with live bands. Though my regular gigs are at the same places every day, the shows are far from mundane. Everything is live, it is so organic and of the moment. It is a collaboration between me, the band and the audience. The audiences are so diverse in Cairo with lots of Egyptians, tourists from across the globe, rich Arabs, young, old, those that want to party, those that want to sit back and just watch – It means a show could go

anyway. Every night it’s a journey and every night I learn something new about myself, the

dance and even life.

Nizana: That is awesome, sounds like the stories I used to hear about dancers with bands in

Cairo and I’m happy to see that is still occurring today. Tell us about what you have/have had

going on in the U.K., too!

Zara: Yes, I am very lucky. Once a year, I visit the UK to hold a bellydance festival which I co-host with my mother, Sandra, and friend Anna aka Arabella: Celebrating Dance Festival. It is one of the UKs biggest and longest running festivals. This year was our 21 st year (we have been running it for the last 2.) I have to say this year was just phenomenal and I am not just saying that because it is my own festival. The whole weekend had such an amazing vibe and

was full of so much bellydance love and laughter. I am very lucky that a lot of the participants are good friends and share the same values I do. It meant the festival was really based in a shared love of dance, a celebration of diversity and respect for the cultures the dance comes from. This year, we had an amazing superstar line up including Khadijah from the UAE/US, who over the course of the weekend, I made such lovely friends with. She was a pleasure to host and I learned so much from getting to know here. Overall, the weekend was truly enriching and food for the soul. We are now set for 2024 and have already book SUPERSTAR Cassandra Fox and Turkish dancer Asli Raqs, both good friends of mine from Canada. We are also slowly now announcing our other teachers with some exciting names to come and a real emphasis on MENHAT dancers. If anyone wants to join us for next year, be sure to check out our website

www.CelebratingDanceFestival.com I would love to welcome you.

Nizana: Sounds like a fabulous festival with a wonderful lineup! I know you’ve also been doing some international travel, including Canada and the United States! What have you been up to and where are you going next and in 2024?

Zara: Yes, this year I traveled A LOT. I was humbled when invited back for a second year at

Cairo Shimmy Quake in California a festival I truly love! The organizers, Emily and Shady, have a special place in my heart; they feel like family. They have that Egyptian welcome in them (Shady and his family are Egyptian, so it is no wonder) which makes me feel right at home. It is a feeling they continue through into their festival, which is why I love it so much. The festival is so friendly and relaxed, the perfect setting for learning and growing. I am once again overwhelmed to announce I will be back in 2024 at CSQ – so if you are in California area, COME! I was also then honored to be hosted on the other side of the US, by my long-time friend Tony, in Pennsylvania. This was so much fun and I not just saying that because I got to go to chocolate land whilst there. We had an amazing intensive weekend, and the hafla we had in Cedars Lebanese restaurant was brilliant. I loved how by the end all the Lebanese staff and owners were partying with us. This coming together of the dance community and the cultures from which the dance originates is so important. It was an unmissable night! I am in talks with Tony already for going back another year, so watch for this! I also did two other international intensive weekends, one in Manchester, UK, hosted by Rachel Bryce, and in Canada hosted by Asli Raqs. These intensive weekends are so special to me, I really feel that the participants and I go on a true in-depth journey of learning. I can really give them everything as a teacher and share my depth, and dare I say wisdom of over 21 years of being a pro dancer. At Asli’s event in Canada, I was asked to do a talk about my life story of becoming a dancer. This was the first time I had ever done anything like this and though it was very nerve racking. I felt both I and the dancers got a lot from it. It is important dancers understand what is like for Egyptian and MENHAT women, like myself and we have to go through to become bellydancers.

I also performed and compared the whole of Mohumed Sahin’s new massive festival in Cairo:

Cleopatra Festival. I have worked with Mohumed Sahin on may festivals, but this was truly

another level. I was so honored to perform with my band, singers and backing dancers a team of nearly 20 people and over 60% of the music was original and my own. If you are looking to go to a festival in Egypt, I highly recommend it, and again I will be back there in 2024. Plus, I’m there for the Dance Like an Egyptian Intensive, which Sahin also hosts.

Nizana: That is great to see you teaching and performing in all these different locations; I hope to catch up with you in real life somewhere. What similarities and differences have you

noticed about the dance scene in all the different locations you have been to?

Zara: I think this is a very difficult question to answer as I am so often only in a country for a few days. To get a real idea of the whole dance scene is difficult. But what I do know is that something so key to the experience of a dance event is the organizer. All the organizers I work with for my international events are people I really love and I know align with my beliefs around the dance. So I have been lucky all the events have been so friendly, not clicky, they have been a sharing of joy for the dance. These kinds of atmospheres are the best for performances and as a result I can truly say all the showcases and the weekend intensive have been of SUCH HIGH QUALITY!

And though I am the “Star of the show” it is a title I share with all.

Nizana: Thank you for sharing your perspective with us. What is your favorite thing to teach

and why?

Zara: My classes are always based primarily around the concept of UNDERSTANDING as

opposed to technique, choreography, copying, imitating, regurgitating. I want dancers to

understand why they are doing what they are doing. For example, in my Mahraganat

workshops, I want students to learn about the history and context so they can

UNDERSTAND the mindset that the dance is performed in, and hence UNDERSTAND why the movements are they way they are. In my Magency workshop, I want people to UNDERSTAND why they may enter with a veil, why the should move around the stage at certain points, why the music is the way it is.

Even with the technique workshops I teach, I want the dancer to UNDERTAND THEIR BODY, their hips, their muscles, and how these are the underlining roots of the movement and dance.

Nizana: That is so critical for this dance, and I appreciate you addressing this, as many

workshops are all about drills and choreography Much needed. Now I really need to make a

bigger effort to study with you! Maybe CSQ…. Now can you tell us about Zameena Magazine and Zara’s Zouk? I am so honored to have been featured on the cover of one of the Zamena issues, thank you!

Zara: Yess of course. Zara’s Zouk is an online bellydance shop I created www.ZarasZouk.com when at university. I wanted to pull my mum and myself out of poverty. I had quite a hard life and seeing how rich and how other classes lived when at these Red Brick universities drove me, to form some kind of independent income for me and my mum. It is now a successful online shop based in the UK run mostly by my mother, Sandra, but also by me from Egypt. We sell everything bellydance and support a lot of designers and workers here in Egypt. If you ever need a costume for you or a troupe order contact us, we are more than happy to help.



Zameena is my online bellydance magazine and came about because my mum read a marketing book that said if you want customers to open your sales email you have to give them incentive, so we started giving our Zara’s Zouk customers info and stories about Egypt and the dance in our emails. This fast became a whole online magazine we now know as Zameena. It has become something of its own right. I now use Zameena as a platform to empower bellydancers. It is definitely a labor of LOVE as is takes a lot to produce a monthly magazine. However, I can truly say that I believe Zameena to be one of the best free bellydance resources in the world and it is one of my proudest achievements in life. People can subscribe and read our archive here:

Niazana: I really enjoy the magazine you put together and there are definitely some tempting items in the Zouk! Anything else you would like to share with the readers? Any hot tips or trends out of Cairo to watch for?

Zara: Well, every month in Zameena, I have a special section for exactly this! It is called Music Corner and gives you all the gossip from the music and dance scene in Cairo, plus what the hottest trending tunes are. So be sure to subscribe: https://zaraabdel.wixsite.com/zameena

Nizana: Great! Thanks again for taking the time to do this very enlightening interview, Zara,

hugs!

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