The Ambassador for Moroccan Belly Dance Culture in London!
Born in Morocco, Sarah moved to London 20 years ago. She is a mother of three children; ages 19, 17, and 4 and she is a practicing Muslim.
Sarah is one of the few London based belly dance performers who genuinely feels that this art form is in her blood. As a native Arabic speaker Sarah’s musical interpretation is second to none – and she dances with a genuine appreciation and feeling for the lyrics and rhythm of her chosen songs. Sarah is often found performing alongside fellow Moroccan musicians and is a tremendous ambassador for her country and culture.
I have known Sarah for over a year. Her humble yet vibrant personality, make her such a pleasure to work with. She is warm, friendly and sincere and she always speaks positively of other dancers and of her love of the belly dance art. She is not only an ambassador of her culture, but also for belly dancers in the UK.
This interview took place 20 minutes before Sarah was due to perform at Saqarah’s monthly belly dance halfa in London.
(NAFOURA) Why belly dance? “I have been belly dancing from a young age. In Morocco, I use to dance at birthdays and all types of parties. This is normal; it’s a way of life in Morocco. It’s a part of our celebrations. Belly Dance has always been a major part of my life.”
How do your family feel about you being a belly dancer? “My closest family are 100% supportive of my passion to be a belly dancer. My mum helps out as much as she can by sewing my costumes and helping to mind my youngest daughter when I am at a show. Despite my family’s support, I do get some criticism from more religious members of the community, but this doesn’t affect me as much because the most important people in my life are fully supportive of what I do and this is all that matters.”
What is the perception of belly dance in Morocco? “Belly dance in Morocco is very different to how we see it in London. They don’t have halfas like Saqarah. Instead, belly dancers perform at weddings, birthdays, parties and celebrations. When I was growing up, the women and men didn’t mix at wedding parties. They each had their own parties and their own dancers. In Egypt, they have a belly dancer that comes out and dances at the main wedding. In Morocco it was forbidden for a belly dancer to perform at a wedding. However, it is now becoming more common and acceptable for a belly dancer to perform at a mixed wedding party, the same as they do in Egypt.”
Do you feel that the reason belly dance is not so out in the open is because of religious reasons? “Yes, definitely. This is a major reason why it is less in the public arena and still mainly performed at private parties.”
What advice do you have for other Muslim women who want to become belly dancers? “Belly dance starts from home. Dance as much as you can at any opportunity, with friends and family. If it is your passion then just do it. If it gives you pleasure and happiness, as much as it does for me, then get out there and start to learn, live it, and be it. Belly dance has given me so much; it’s such a big part of my life. It’s given me confidence, happiness, pleasure, and if it can be such a positive force in my life then it surely must be a good thing for any woman. I am proud to be a belly dancer.”
So, where did you learn to dance?“I started from the basics. I didn’t know the hand movements, steps, etc. But, belly dance is in my blood. I have been listening to this music from a young age. I understand the music, and it is a great help to be able to understand the music and then to be able to feel it and dance it, so it all came to me quite naturally and quickly.”
Who are your inspirations in the belly dance world?“My greatest inspirations are Randa Kamal, Nagwa Fouad, Fifi Abdou, and Jillina. They are all great to me.”
How do you create your choreographies? “I never choreograph. I familiarise myself with the music and then my body just follows the beat.”
Do you teach classes? Yes, once a week in Bethnal Green Road in East London.
How do you feel about the belly dance community in London? “I have many great belly dancers as my good friends. I feel like they are my family. We share everything. We discuss, openly, ways of improving and developing. This also includes criticisms from others.”
Do you feel that belly dancers are supportive of other dancers? “Yes, I believe so. It’s great that belly dance is expanding in so many ways. It’s really positive and I’m excited to be a part of that.”
How do you feel about dancers who claim to be professionals? What do you define as a professional? “Professionals are like Gillina, Randa Kamal and Fifi Abdou. I would set the standard at this level. You can see that these performers / teachers are professionals because of the way they perform, but also their dignity and how they hold themselves in public.”
There isn’t a universally recognised certification in belly dance. How do you feel about this? “Professionals are the people who have grown with belly dance and have been in the business for a long time. You can’t be a professional after completing a six week course. It takes time to learn and to develop.”
Do you think that belly dance will ever have a universal standard, like ballet? “In ballet yes, but in belly dance there is nothing at the moment, and it would be very difficult to get everyone to agree on one way of doing things. It’s important; the certificate proves that you are capable of performing to a certain level.”
How do you feel about Middle Eastern performers and teachers? “Belly dancers in the Middle East put a lot of hard work into their art. They practice every day and work hard. They tour the world to share their knowledge. They are the leaders in their art, because they understand the music and the origins of belly dance. It’s in their blood.”
What are your views about competitions?“Competitions are both good and bad. But overall I feel that they are brilliant. Even if you don’t win, you make friends you meet new people and you get your name out there. I never think of winning as the sole purpose for taking part. I enjoy the excitement of preparing for my performance and also being received by the audience. I have such an amazing time with all of the performers. The pleasure is to be able to interact with others and to show them what I can do. If I win then it is the icing on the cake.”
You have recently performed at the Pyramid Awards in Edinburgh. Tell us more about this experience. “For me it was such a great experience, I loved it! It was my first time in Edinburgh and I was all by myself. The experience of performing alongside other dancers and meeting everyone there was great. I won a second place award for my dancing. Walahi! I wasn’t expecting it at all.”
Do you think it has given you more confidence to attend / perform at other awards, outside the UK?“Yes, definitely! I will be attending Belly Dance Mania in June, a competition, in Leicester. Fingers crossed it will go well.”
Our final question, before Sarah had to rush off to prepare to go on stage was: “What do you think about NAFOURA Magazine?”“NAFOURA Magazine is brilliant. It is a great idea and I support the magazine 100%. There is a lot of information about whose who, what’s going on, what’s the latest, etc. You need it to keep people up to date. I would suggest more information about fashion and the whereabouts of the super stars in belly dance, where are they teaching, etc. It needs to be the central point for people to go to when they want to know something. And it is reliable.”
For more information visit Sarah Malik’s website.
Photography by Maani Vadgama
Article written by Evete Fatima Medeiros
© 2011 NAFOURA Magazine