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.