Senta’s Blog

Belly Dancing in KZN


Belly Dancing in KZN

Featured in rakSAfrica, June 2010

The beats of Zulu drums have echoed across Kwa-Zulu/Natal for generations. From the sandy beaches to the DrakensbergMountains they connect to the heartbeat of the beautiful people of KZN.  However, in the last few years, the women of KZN have been dancing to a different drum beat, Arabic drums beat out their rhythms in dance studios as women of all races, ages and sizes shimmy in celebration of their bodies.

KZN is still a baby in terms of belly dancing years, compared to our sisters in Gauteng and the Western Cape. But the KZN dancers have certainly proven that they can hold their own in South Africa and Internationally.

Anne Knowles, from Raqs Sharqi Dance Company in Pietermaritzburg, was the first to open a belly dance studio in KZN. Anne had been dancing with Shalimar Harrison in Johannesburg since 1989. She moved to Pietermaritzburg and during a creative movement class, was asked to show the ladies a few belly dance movements, and so Raqs Sharqi Dance Company was born in 2000, with 7 students.  In 10 years RSDC has grown into one of the best known studios in the country, and some of Anne’s students have moved on to open to their own belly dance studios.  Pietermaritzburg now boasts 6 belly dance studios, all of whom started with Anne and RSDC!  Anne has also been very influential in bringing BDASA to KZN, and sharing her vast knowledge with other teachers.

Other early KZN based teachers include Alison Oosthuizen, from Belly fusion, and Irene Joannou, from Tsiftitelli Dance Studio.  Alison opened Belly Fusion in Hillcrest and Durban in 2001, having trained with dancers in Gauteng and the Western Cape. Her studio concentrates on fusing belly dance with other dance styles.

Irene was well known as a Greek dancing teacher in Durban for many years, before she started teaching belly dancing in 2002.  Her Greek style Belly dance was always beautiful and fun to watch.  Sadly, Irene passed away in December 2007. The belly dancers of KZN still miss their dear friend, who did so much for belly dancing and its growth in KZN.

Irene hosted her first hafla in 2005, inviting all the studios to come and dance, and so encouraging all dancers to work together, and to enjoy and support each others dancing.

A breath of fresh air arrived in Durban in 2003 – Wendy Beato.  A belly dancer, from the Dominican Republic and trained in America, Wendy generously shared her love for belly dance, and her knowledge, with other teachers and her own students.  Her American Cabaret style and Egyptian Pop left a lasting impression in KZN. Unfortunately, we only had her for a few years before she moved to Cape Town.

The majority of current KZN belly dance teachers started their dancing careers with Anne, Alison, Irene or Wendy, but have also developed themselves through other training over the years.

KZN has reached out locally and internationally to learn more and bring it back to our province. We have been honoured to have South African Teachers Shalimar, Beverly Joffe, Ajsa Samia, Soma and Surika visit and teach us in KZN, as well as Hadia from Canada. Our dancers have traveled to Johannesburg and Cape Town for festivals and workshops. Alison Oosthuizen and Senta Duffield attended teacher training with Hadia in 2008, Anne Knowles took part in the Amani festival in Lebanon in 2006, and Senta Duffield has traveled to Egypt to train with master teachers a couple of times.

KZN dancers have some wonderful accomplishments to be proud of! Liz van der Berg, from RSDC, is the first dancer, nation wide, to move through the sequence of BDASA Amateur grading prior to beginning Teacher Levels.  Maya Dance Company Belly Dancers, trained by Senta Duffield, entered Miss Belly Dance South Africa 2009, and all the Maya Dancers, won 1st or 2nd place in each section they competed in.  Belly Dancers are now seen performing at some of the most prestigious and exciting events in KZN, everybody knows somebody who is a belly dancer!

Drum beats are part of our heritage in KZN; we hear them in our souls. And as long as those drums are being heard, we will continue belly dancing.



Healing through Belly Dance

Healing through Belly Dance

featured in the Odyssey e-zine in March 2007, and in rakSAfrica magazine in January 2010

The coins on my hips make music as I move, my bare stomach undulates in time to the music and my feet are connected deep to mother earth as they dance the ancient dance of the gypsies.  As I dance, I express myself, my freedom, femininity, vulnerability and strength – I am a Belly Dancer, I am a Goddess.

But it wasn’t always like this, 7 years ago I was an insecure girl who had been taken advantage of one too many times.  I had allowed a relationship of nearly 4 years to completely strip me of who I was and wanted to be.  I was terrified of men, of love and of myself. Slowly over the 4 years I realised that this man was on his own life path and would never change, and all the unconditional love and care I was pouring into the relationship was being met with only disrespect, secrets and lies.  Everytime I forgave him, I made it easier for him to hurt me again.  The boundaries around me closed in slowly until they were gone, and my heart and soul were left naked and completely vulnerable.

Somewhere deep inside the gypsies of the past were already speaking to me and giving me the strength to end the relationship and embrace freedom.  Despite the threats and fear I was strong enough to stand firm in my decision.  I had neglected myself, my friends and my family.  I don’t regret the relationship, I learnt many lessons and I can now use my experiences to recognise pain and fear in another woman’s eyes, and to help her heal too.

I spent many hours quietly alone, grieving for the loss of the relationship I had wanted, and all that I lost with it. I was suddenly attracted to all things feminine, I changed my bedding to white and lavender, and made sure I always had fresh flowers in my home – all nurturing and loving.  But I still felt incomplete; there was a part of me that still needed healing.

That’s when I met Wendy Beato, my first Belly Dance teacher. She was Latin-American fire and passion, mixed with gracefulness and fun.  I was desperate to start classes with her!  Wendy and I formed a wonderful friendship as well as a student-teacher relationship.  I went to all her classes- and as I danced I realised that I was being given the most profound healing.

Dancing barefoot anchored me to mother earth, I felt safe for the first time in ages.  I drew strength from the earth, I found balance and support.  I watched amazed at the transformation of the woman that was my reflection, in the studio mirror.  She wasn’t ‘me’?  So who was she?  I embarked on a journey to discover and welcome her into my life.

As I moved my hips, I found the core of my feminity, slowly they loosened to form figure of eights and shimmies, and the more I shimmied the more the restrictive armour around them broke off, I started wearing reds and oranges, the colours associated with the chakras in the hip area.  I felt feminine, I felt sensual. In the same way as I isolated my chest and shoulders, I broke free of the shield over my heart.  I was allowed to love the woman in my reflection, and so were other people!

I planned my first Belly Dancing outfit in the brightest cerise I could find!  Hiding my big hips under slimming black clothes was a thing of the past, I loved my feminine, curvy body and had finally found a way to show it off!  Having been on endless diets my entire life, I was now comfortable with the way I looked – and I most certainly wasn’t at my thinnest!

I stopped saying no to dates, and met some wonderful men.  If I could dance in public without fear, then I could allow myself to be loved without fear of being hurt.

Eventually after 2 years my dancing led me to a beautiful, respectful relationship that I knew I deserved.  I had the honour of belly dancing in Shall We Dance, an annual dance production by the SADTA (South African Dance Teacher’s Association) and in rehearsals I met Warren, a Latin-American and Ballroom Dancer.

In the meantime, Wendy had moved to Cape Town.  I continued to dance with other Durban teachers, and started working on my BDASA exams.  I kept being asked if I would consider opening my own studio.  The confidence monster reared its head again, and it took a while before I took the leap and started 2 small classes.  Eventually these grew to more and more classes.

I had been to Egypt a few years before and loved it! Egypt felt like Belly Dance Heaven, and although my Egyptian journey was a lot of fun, it brought with it an enormous respect for the ancient culture and dance.

Cairo kept beckoning and in June 2007 I had the privilege of attending Safti’s seminar with Mahmoud Reda and Farida Fahmy, as well as other Egyptian teachers.  I lapped up every juicy morsel they gave me and came home knowing I had found my true calling.

I never thought that my Belly Dancing healing journey would lead me to teaching, but I am so thankful that it has, I have seen women learn to love and respect their bodies and to command the same respect in their work and personal relationships.  Belly Dancing has helped so many women to heal from miscarriages, breast cancer, abuse, rape and broken hearts.   Sometimes the intense healing and freedom that Belly Dancing brings to a woman can be overwhelming.  I have watched students that feel they need a break from dancing for a month or 2.  When they come back it is obvious that a huge process and transformation has taken place in their lives.

Each woman receives a different gift from Belly Dancing, sometimes it’s the gift of finally having something that is their own – that they do not wish to share with their husbands or families, sometimes they discover with surprise the Diva within!

The wonderful friendships that I have formed within my studio and with magnificent belly Dancers across South Africa, have been another gift from belly dancing. We truly have beautiful women in this country!

This year my performance group entered Miss Belly Dance South Africa, and I was so proud of all my dancers.  The tears just poured down my cheeks as I watched each of them take the stage.  I didn’t care what the results were, knowing the work and commitment, to their dancing and their own healing, that had got them onto that stage made them all winners in my eyes!

And as for more journey? It’s not over yet!  I am marrying my wonderful Warren in November 2009, ready to start a new phase of my life and definitely taking my belly dancing with me!

I feel if you have been given a gift, it is not yours to keep, but rather to share so that others can enjoy it too.  Belly Dancing is my gift from the Goddesses, thank you for allowing me to share it with you.


My first Tanoura lesson

For a dervish, there must be a purpose,
a cause for existence, and inside the cause,
a True Human Being.
Jelaluddin Rumi

 My first Tanoura lesson!
By Senta Duffield, March 2010, Cairo

I greet Sayed Amar at the door, he has just carried his tanoura outfit, in a bag, up 5 flights of stairs, to Yasmina’s apartment, where I am staying, and is very short of breath!  As he sits, we start talking, and a look of horror passes over his face as he realises how little Arabic I speak, and that there is nobody at the studio to translate for him – this is going to be an interesting lesson!

Sayed starts by showing me how to tie the first skirt around my ribcage, it weighs a ton – ok only 5 kgs, but it certainly feels like a ton!  The scary part is that I know there is still another skirt to come!

Sayed teaches me the basic footwork and where to place my arms and tells me to spin quickly, which helps the skirt to lift to a parallel position. I soon learn to dislike and fear the one English word that he can speak “quickly”!

Sayed plays a basic Ayoub rhythm for my first attempt; it feels like it lasts forever. I stop before the song ends and almost topple over. Sayed shows me how to bend and straighten my knees, crouching down a few times; this exercise helps relieve the dizziness. And then I spin again – “quickly, quickly” he calls and makes clicking noises with his tongue every time I slow down and my skirt starts lowering. He’s a strict teacher!

My calves are throbbing, my fingers have their own heartbeat, sweat is pouring down my face and I feel as if someone has punched me in the solar plexus!  I do not want to go ‘quickly’, I want to get into my bed and cry. I cannot believe the physical discomfort I feel and yet something compels me to keep going as ‘quickly’ as I can! This is so much more than just dancing; something is stirring deep within me and coming to life! Even though I am learning ‘stage tanoura’, could it be that the Ancient Sufi beliefs of spinning to truly experience ones higher self and God are still working within me as I spin?

Suddenly an urge to lift my arms overtakes the pain and discomfort. I raise them up and feel the cool breeze on my sweaty skin. My breath becomes rhythmical, it is as if a spell comes over me – I can no longer feel my aching calves and burning solar plexus. I just feel bliss, calmness and love. I feel enlightened. I can go ‘quickly’, and I do!

The song ends and I stop, bending my knees to help clear the dizziness. A wave of nausea comes over me and I desperately drink the glass of water Sayed gives me. He tells me to sit for 5 minutes and encourages me to close my eyes and take deep breaths into my solar plexus.

All too soon, Sayed picks up the second skirt and ties it above the first one. The weight is incredible and I feel very small in the enormity of both skirts bound tightly round my rib cage.

A new piece of Ayoub music starts playing and I start spinning ‘quickly’.  The added weight makes quite a difference to my turn. I feel that the skirts are turning me rather than me turning the skirts, and that if I tried to stop, I wouldn’t be able to.

I turn for a few more songs and then it is enough. I feel so nauseous and my whole body is shaking. I beg Sayed to let me stop, he agrees and gives me a private tanoura show while I rest.  He shows me all the tricks I will be learning in my next lesson.  I cannot believe that I have been turning for the better half of an hour and a half! Sayed then takes my measurements for my own personal tanoura outfit, which he is having made for me, and will bring to my next lesson. I am a bit nervous – owning my own tanoura feels like a contract to continue working with the energy and connection, but I am determined to master tanoura!

I warily ask the big question that has been in my mind all along….’was I ok?’…’No’, says Sayed, ‘You – good!’

Tanoura or the dance of the whirling dervish, is the ancient Sufi dance of prayer, performed by men, who spin in brightly coloured skirts. Women are permitted to learn “show tanoura” only. The movement needs to be circular, working with the beliefs that the world starts spinning at one point and ends at the same point – the circle of life. The tanoura dancer holds his right palm up to face heaven and his left palm down to face earth, thereby connecting heaven and earth. The colourful skirts depict the many human emotions. The word ‘Tanoura’ refers to the dancer, the dance and the skirt.