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Graphics/WebDesign: Konstanze Winkler
Photos © Mehmet Köse Nr. 1, 2, 3, 5 , 7und 8; Konstanze Winkler Nr. 6 , Isis Zahara Nr. 4
A Brasilian, who prefers bellydance over Samba? This made us curious. When we talked to her she revealed to us that she learned bellydance after Samba. Because in Brazil you don’t have to learn Samba, you are born in the manner. Because she met the love of her live she moved to the Netherlands and in her “new” world she is as thorough and busy as she was in her “old” one.

We will also see Isis this year on stage at Asmahan El Zein's "World of Orient"-Gala.
Check out, what she has to tell to us about all her activities …
"THE BODY IS A UNIVERSAL INSTRUMENT"

Interview with Isis Zahara

- by Marcel Bieger

You met oriental dance back in your home country Brazil. How did this happen and what made you stick to belly dance?

Well, Arabic culture is very popular in Brazil. Especially in Sao Paulo city, where the Lebanese and the Syrian immigrants settled in the beginning of the 20th Century. Italians and Arabs lived in the same neighbourhood  sharing their traditions and habits or even interlacing families through marriage. I’m of Italian descent, I grew up in this context, eating taboule, watching dabka and belly dance my whole life.

But the dance thing happened for another reason. It was a special moment of my life. I was at the age of nine, when my father discovered the Sufism. The Sufism is a mystical Order that considers the dance as a part of the prayer. The Sufism concepts urged me to research more about the Middle Eastern dances and led me on my way through the University of Arts & Anthropology in my home town. I wrote a Master thesis about the female Middle Eastern dances and Oriental dance history from Ancient times to today.

Since Brazil has many own dance styles and traditions, did you learn any other dance styles besides of belly dance? And have afro-latin dances influenced your personal style?

In Brazil it is said “we are all black” because of the strong African influence across the country and we are proud of it. The African beats lead our hearts and consequently our bodies. We learn samba without going to a dance school and we can’t take it off to dance another style, it will be always there as part of our Brazilian soul. I learned Classical Ballet, Jazz, Modern Dance, Salsa, and Tango and all styles help me to improve the belly dance technique.

You are a very thorough and busy dance woman, not only did you study Middle Eastern dances at university, you are also a member of the IDO, you own the belly dance studio "Isis Zahara" and are founder and art director of the "Al-Dunya dancers".

I start this year in the organization and in the jury of the IDO of the Netherlands (the International Dance Organisation is a World Dance & Dance sport Federation with a membership of over 90 nations, representing more than 250,000 dancers, from six continents).

We organize two kinds of contests, the Benelux (Belgium, Luxemburg, and Netherlands) and the Dutch Open, which will start this year and is an international competition open to all countries. People can subscribe through the website: www.bellydancechampionships.nl
I have my own dance studio in the city of  ‘s-Hertogenbosch in the Netherlands. In my studio I do what I like most, which is teaching belly dance. I love to share knowledge, to help women empower themselves through the dance and discover new talents among students. I work like a machine building choreographies and coaching show-teams. “Al Dunya” dancers is now the best known ensemble in the Netherlands, but I do have Halwa Ensemble and Yalla, also. I hope it will multiply.
Brazil is very strong in belly dance and Brazilian women are crazy and dedicated to this dance in all aspects. It doesn’t work this way in the Netherlands, where belly dance isn’t as popular as in my country. It is difficult to convince women to try something, they don’t know, and most of the time they already have a misconception about this dance, what blocks them to try.

But I’m changing it, every year I welcome more students, who want to empower themselves, to feel good, confident and healthy while belly dancing. I get thrilled, when students want to challenge themselves and want to know more about the cultures behind this dance.

You have been to Germany before, please enlighten us, where you have been.

The first time I have been to Germany was in 2003 during an interchange promoted by the Arts University of my city (Unicamp) and the Friederich Alexander University in Erlangen/Nuremberg. I performed and offered belly dance workshops to actors and dancers as part of a dance theatre production directed by a Brazilian director called Veronica Fabrini.

Since I’m living in the Netherlands I have been hired to give workshops by German dance schools, participating and following workshops in dance festivals likr Orientalisches Festival Europas (OFE) organized by Leyla Jouvana in Duisburg. Germany is really strong in all kinds of dance and belly dance as well.

I’m not a competitive person, so I will be not trying myself in solo competitions, but I do enjoy to coaching groups to do it. In 2015 the “Al Dunya dancers performed for the first time at the international contest “Belly Dancer of the World” They were 4th place in the ranking. I was enthusiastic with the result as it gave confidence to them and to me as choreographer. Next year we are looking forward to conquer a better place.

We will see you at Asmahan's "World of Orient" this year, what will you perform on stage and what will you teach us in your workshop?

I’m very excited to be part of the World of the Orient this year! I’m very glad Asmahan invited me. I will teach a dramatic Fan Veils choreography. The fan veils are originally from Chinese dance. They are actually called koi fans because the fan looks like a koi fish when it is swimming. When we understand that connection with the animal it is easier to find a softness in the moves manipulating the fans. There is a technique behind which helps the dancer to save energy and protect the wrist and finger articulations.  The workshop technique starts from total beginners and goes on to more complex combinations. It is for all levels but is important to have a pair of fans. I will perform a choreography with fan veils in a dynamic and dramatic way.

You run your own annual festival, the "Al-Dunya" festival. What brought the idea to your mind to organise your own festival?

I’m crazy for belly dance not only to improve myself as dancer, but to promote talents and master teachers to help this style be more popular and known by what is best. I have been always busy researching about the story, the styles, interviewing worldwide professionals and non-Arabic belly dancers working in Egypt as well (interviews see: http://orientallimelight.blogspot.nl/p/interviews.html).

The idea to build a community and to help the category to become stronger was the first push to start to produce an international festival. It was the best way I found to build a reasonable international network between belly dancers in the Netherlands and it is working. Besides my academic trajectory and my belly dance school, I produced large scale events for a local TV company in Brazil.

What makes your festival special? 

The festival is composed of a whole weekend (1-2-3 July 2016) with master dance classes, competition, an oriental delight show and the champions night party, featuring international dance stars, competition winners and many other international artists. The event is held in the theater De Speeldoos, Vught in the Netherlands.

The “Al Dunya” festival is special firstly because of my dream to build a big community of dancers focusing in discovering new talents to promote and sponsor them in the near future. But also I have to mention the important mission to spread the folk dances more as an activity of learning about other culture’s dance which contributes to cross-cultural understanding and growing appreciation to other art forms. I hope it encourages peace and mutual understanding throughout the world. Although different cultures have different styles of dancing the body is an universal instrument an uniting force for creating community. Dance is a powerful tool for ending social isolation and segregation. Dance is a powerful tool to spread PEACE.

In the edition of 2016 our guests stars are professor Hassan Khalil (Egypt), Ahmed Fekry (Egypt), Lia Verra (Greece), Nina (Croatia), Antonia Azahara (Spain) Hanaa (Belgium) and Johanna (Belgium). The registrations are open and all the information can be found in the website: www.aldunyafestival.com

What are your future plans? Where will you be ten years from now?Well, lots of projects! Some are top secret yet. I’m working now on the translation of my thesis about the Oriental Dance story to publish it as a book. It is a large research, so it’s part of the future plans.

In ten years from now I visualize a larger international community connected to the “Al Dunya” festival with a branch in Brazil to enable directly the exchange between Latin American Belly Dance and European. I see a larger dance school and most of my best students as reputable dance professionals and teachers spreading the Art of Belly Dance in the best way as possible

Homepage: www.isiszaharabellydance.com

Das große Finale des letztjährigen Al-Dunya-Festivals (mit Tanura-Tänzer Ahmad Alkhatib)
What made you come to Europe and the Netherlands, settle here, and start your own business here? What are main differences between belly dance in Brazil and in Europe?

Well, love made me come to Europe. I had everything in Brazil: school, students, a nice job at a local television company, family, and friends. But I left everything behind because of the love of my life. Happiness and love are really important for me. So I moved to the Netherlands in 2011.