Friday, May 29, 2009

Review and Interview with Ayla: Seattle's DIY Belly Dancer

Bellying dancing is a western term taken from an Arab dance called "rags sharqi." Native to Arabia, Belly dancing was originated in Ancient Babylon. Belly dancers would perform for wealthy men during feasts and other special events. Belly dancing was not for the eyes of peasants, only the wealthy, although most belly dancers were peasants that were hand picked by men and then trained by established female dancers.

The art of belly dancing has been practiced for hundreds of years and has been modified by different countries such as Egypt, Turkey, and America. American belly dancing is a tribal fusion of the ancient styles of assorted genres. This fusion of dancing styles is practiced by my close friend and belly dancer: Ayla, whose performance I attended on May 28th at The Metropolitan Café.

I had never been to The Metropolitan Café prior to Ayla's performance. My advent of the lounge made a surprising impression on me. I was amazed by the welcoming atmosphere and friendly staff. I quickly took a seat at a black round table at the back of the room. I began to observe my surroundings. There was a small group of audience members and a handsome bar tender that kept walking around to each table and offering people jell-o shots.

The Café is very supportive and open to the diverse performances it hosts. The lounge is set up in such a way that the audience can sit comfortably while taking in an independent theatrical show from talented artists.

Once a week, performances are given by a troupe of artists whose show is titled: Cabaret Magnifique. Cabaret Magnifique provides the audience with vaudevillian-type entertainment. The show includes singers, drag Kings and Queens, and performance artists. At this particular Cabaret Magnific night, Ayla was performing a complete solo act that had been choreographed entirely by her.

Ayla has a remarkable reputation for dance and "do it yourself" or D.I.Y. ideology. She makes her own costumes, jewelry, and styles her elaborate hair all by herself. She studies belly dancing on her own accord. She tirelessly practices her routines and she books all of her own performances. Having no mentor or troupe with which she is exclusively affiliated with, she has perfected her dance routine by simply schooling herself on the subject.

She came out from behind a red curtain that was hanging to the side of the performance area and she was wearing a bedleh, which is a traditional belly dancing costume, that was completely hand made. She had on a black top with beads and straps designed to exposed her belly, a long black shirt, flattering jewelry all up her arms and a custom necklace that rested gently on her chest. Her traditional belly dancing make-up completed the elegant look that complemented her ensemble flawlessly. Her costume flowed as she began her hip and chest circles to a song with heavy drum beats.

In the beginning of belly dancing, the performance included one dancing woman and one man that beat just one drum. Having chose such a specific type of drum beat for her dance is proof that she is knowledgeable about the authenticity of her practice. Her drum beats coincide with her graceful movements as she displayed a perfected routine that was filled with passion and dedication. During her entire performance, a smile never left her face.

Ayla’s love for her dancing is very profound and her motivation for excellence is astounding. Her commitment to her art is manifestly evident to all of those who viewed her divine production. Her pretty face remains merely a bonus compared to the emission she releases in every motion.

The trend of belly dancing has become popularized in Seattle over the past few years with dancers that may have perfected muscle isolation or tremendous balance, few of them have yet to perfect their absolute passion and commitment that Ayla portrays in her dance.
Air Raid’s Interview with Ayla,
Written by Jackie Em of Air Raid Zine

What made you want to learn belly dancing?
I started with a group of friends as a fun way to work out. I also needed something to fill my spare time, because my horse had just passed away. He was my best friend growing up and dancing was sort of therapy to help me get over that loss. I dance for him now. I really put every ounce of my being into it.

How long have you been belly dancing?
I've been dancing for around four years now. I started a couple of months after Habiba (Ayla’s horse) passed away.

What do you find to be influential to your style of dance?
I draw inspiration from everywhere really. I am inspired by spirituality, humanity, personal triumphs as well as defeats, nature, sex and my biggest influence is the female human body.

Do you prefer dancing solo or with a troupe?
I definitely prefer dancing solo. Both are very fun, when I dance solo, I feel like my personality can shine. I'm free to have more fun with it. Most of my solo performances are improvised these days which really allows me to interact with my audience.

Name three dancers or dance styles you admire the most:
Three of the dancers that I admire the most are actually part of a troupe called The Indigo. Rachel Brice, Zoë Jakes and Mardi Love are some of the most amazing dancers a person could ever see. I love that they don't seem to take themselves too seriously. They have a lot of fun with their performances, aren't afraid to be silly, and at the same time show off some insanely impressive skills. I'd be happy to be any of them when I grow up!

What is the most difficult thing about belly dancing?
Hmmm... That's a really good question. For me, it's probably the layering. There are a lot of "pat your belly and rub your head" types of moves. I really enjoy being able to find my Zen while pulling off tricks like that.

What do you want to communicate to your audience?
I really want to convey my love of dance. The enjoyment of life and the inner strength that dancing gives me to. Belly dancing is all about being a woman, and it began as a way for women to explain to other women the joys of being female. I want to convey that as much as possible. I want to project my inner goddess every time I dance. We all have it inside of us. I would love to inspire other women to learn to be comfortable with themselves and the way they are put together.

What are your future goals?
I have a lot in the works right now. Mostly, I'm planning on dancing as much as possible. I enjoy performing for the sake of performing. I really put my soul into it. I am also learning what it takes to start teaching, so hopefully in the near future I can start teaching my own classes. It's amazing how much different it is to teach something than it is to just get out and do it. It's been a really fun challenge.

What advice would you give to aspiring dancers just starting out?
Do it because you love it. Watch other dancers and learn from them. There are a lot of amazingly creative people out there and you can learn from almost anyone. Also, dancing alone in your house with a mirror is probably the fastest and best way to get better.
Alya's Event Calender:

Wednesday June 10th - Cabaret Magnifique - Cafe Metropolitan @ 7:00P

Friday June 12th - Harem Nights - Harem on Broadway @ 8:00P

Saturday June 20th - Harem Nights - Harem on Broadway @ 8:00P

Wednesday June 24th - Cabaret Magnifique - Cafe Metropolitan @ 7:00P

Friday June 26th - Last Friday Arts - Harem on Broadway @ 8:00P

Saturday June 27th - Harem Nights - Harem on Broadway @ 8:00P

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  1. Cool to see someone, somewhere doing this. Wish I lived in Seattle.

  2. Thank you! I am glad to hear that you support Air Raid. Keep coming back, there are a lot more interview and articles in the works right now! <3