“My hips are weapons of mass destruction”
Article by Estacios Valoi
Pictures: Rob Piper and Karol studio
17/01/15I had to go with the wind and not lose focus, lest I be taken in by its whirlwind I thought after being invited to attend the annual “Power Reporting” conference by Wits University in Johannesburg. I decided to mix up a trip to Cape Town while I was at it. The aim was to see some friends and hang out at all those groovy jazz halls I had learnt to love.
I had to see Zolani Mohala and her baby; I was an uncle again! And also wanted to visit Marilyn Thompson, Jenny Fletcher, Sylvia Vollenhonvense, Bazil Appolis and many others. Sorry but is a big list and I do not intend to fill a phone directory with everyone I intended to see.
I certainly had to pass by “Long Street”, enjoy its atmosphere, hang out there the entire night until sunrise, for a second hangover. However travelling on the Jazz roads halls, Mahogany, Crypt, Mercury, Camisa, which were some of the places I had come to know to look out for when looking for good sound. But it just wasn’t my lucky day.
With Hazel and Rob in tow we end up in “Aldi wan-Café restaurant” where I was introduced to Karol the Belly Dancer and the best way of capturing her dancing was through my tape recorder. It luckily still had space for one more conversation between two people.
The place is situated on the main road of Sea Point, on the end side of Green point, by the Promenade.
Oh Karol, she danced and talked to me, all at the same time.
Karol is a professional belly dancer, who has been dancing for more than twelve years. Influenced by her mother’s dancing which included Jazz, Flamenco, Karol started learning dancing from DVD’s and other available tools, supported by some South African and international teachers at workshops, but for the most part she is self-taught.
Her dance style ranges from Egyptian, Lebanese, Arabic and Turkish styles but she has a deep passion and love for the Egyptian style though. She is not a veteran but she has been performing in and outside South Africa such as Iraq and other places. Before her performance she told me her “hips are weapons of massive destruction”.
The next time I saw her, she was dancing. And inside those clothes she was somebody different and I was so astonished. The way she dances, her hips gyrating along with the sound of the drum, her body imitatating the music that plays.
In 2014 during the Miss Belly Dance South Africa Competition in Johannesburg she met some three or four Mozambican Belly dancers and they were very good. One of them won the drum solo category.
“So you really have some great talent in your country.” she tells me. At the time however Carol was just a spectator and she hopes to participate in this year’s competition.
EV-Where did you grow up, where are you from?
KS- I grew up in Johannesburg and I was introduced to dance by my mum. She did ballet, jazz and modern dancing. I started ballet at the age of three, followed by flamenco, Spanish dance and tap-dance. I actually had my debut in a Spanish dance company at the tender age of five. I think I was the youngest dancer in the company at that time. I have always loved dance.
I didn’t feel ballet was for me, I was slender but, I always thought I was too fat for ballet, since all the girls were so skinny but ballet gave me a good foundation where dance training was concerned. When I started high school, I sort of became fascinated with everything Arabic, the language, the music and its culture.
EV- Dancing is either like the first or the last movement of a human being. What is it for you?
KS- Movement is freedom. Dance is freedom. If I didn’t have dance, I would die. I become depressed when I don’t dance for a certain amount of time. Dance is an outlet, an expression. We can put any emotion into it, whether it’s anger or sadness. Anything can be expressed through dance and movement.
EV- On the stage do you dance better when expressing anger, happiness…or which?
KS- I think it depends on each performance. According to some of my friends, I apparently dance better when I’m angry. I find that quite funny. But anything you feel at the time, you just put it into the dance. And belly dance is all about showing your audience what the music sounds like visually, so your body imitates the instruments that are playing in the music. Your dance is a visual explanation of the music and with that, you tell a story to your audience.
EV- What kind of stories?
KS- It all depends on the music. If it is something that is slow and sensual, you convey that to them. If it is fast and cheeky, like in a drum solo, which is also very energetic, then that is what you portray through your movements. Drum solos are definitely my favorites. I quite enjoy the more cheeky kind of music.
EV- You were dancing with different props and you came with a drum. Tell us about that.
KS-In belly or Arabic dance sometimes you can use different props during your performance. What I did last night was a modern fusion. Instead of just using my body, you make use of other props to entertain the audience. I do believe however that a good dancer should be able to entertain the audience without any props or extras. Yesterday I used a blue silk fan, veils and the sword, balancing it on my head and hips. So my performance was definitely a fusion of Egyptian style with modern fusion. It’s very exciting and captivating for the audience. It’s kind of like magic and it is interesting for the audience, it is something different.
EV-Talking about the sword and the different audiences. Someone who almost had a heart attack or fainted while you were dancing for them?
KS-I danced at a function for a man who was turning 80 years old. And I was joking with my colleagues, saying I wonder if his wife wanted him to have a heart attack. Luckily he did survive the performance; he seemed to enjoy it quite a lot. I haven’t really had any bad experience with any audience members, like heart attacks or those things. But belly dance is a very sensual dance, very feminine and sometimes you can’t help but be sort of sexy. But I think it’s sexy in a very sophisticated, modest kind of way.
EV- You have performed in several places. Where?
KS- Obviously I have been performing as the resident dancer at Al Diwan in Sea Point. I have been there for almost seven years. I have also performed as a guest performer at Mesopotamia in Long Street, and I do private functions, some of which have been at the Hilton, Fire & Ice hotel in Cape Town. All over Cape Town and South Africa and overseas. Few months ago I performed in the Middle East, in Jordan, at a wedding. It was only for ladies as it was appropriate in terms of the culture there.
EV-And the different kinds of dresses you wear? Yesterday’s one and the black one in your pictures do they describe a special, stunning movement and a different kind of style?
KS-Obviously the costume depends on the style of the belly dance you are doing. Last night was a modern Egyptian style with a bit of fusion and the costume that I wore was a tight fitting skirt with lots of bead work and a bra that was also very heavily embellished with beads. Also the costume depicts the style of dance. So you saw the photos of the black dress? That was for an Iraqi gypsy dance that I performed at the International Oriental Dance Festival last October.
You get Egyptian style belly dance and within that is a whole bunch of folkloric dance styles like Said, Gawazee and a lot of other different styles. Then you have Lebanese belly dance, from Lebanon, that is a different style altogether. Usually the dancer wears high-heeled shoes and very sort of chunky beadwork that embellish the costumes. You have Turkish style originating in Turkey, also with different kinds of costumes which tend to be a little bit more risqué than the Egyptian style costumes. The movements also differ.
EV- Can you explain a bit more about the costumes, the skirt with tiers of small beads?
KS-The beads are there to emphasize the movement of the hips. We use skirts with heavy bead work around the hip area. So when you doing the shimmy, that’s when you are standing and shaking your body, the audience can easily see the movements of the hips. Nowadays the Egyptian costumes are becoming less embellished, using more shiny materials and less beadwork.
EV-So we are here sitting and talking. Meanwhile you moving your shoulders, your head, hands... It’s something special; in fact it’s exceptional!
KS-Like I said when a dancer listens to the music, you visually show the piece of music, you are telling a story. I didn’t choreograph last night’s performance, I was free styling, I just went for it. It’s always important to use the music that you are familiar with, especially music that you can feel. If you don’t feel the music it will be a disaster. This is something very important when it comes to Arabic music and dance. I dance for a lot of Arabic people that come to the restaurant, so it’s very important to use the right music because you also have an educated audience and belly dance originated from the Middle East.
If you have this kind of clientele, in terms of music, you must make sure that your music has lyrics, you must know what the lyrics mean. Be sure you are not dancing something that might offend your audience and the music must also be authentic. If the audience enjoys it, it makes it a lot easier to dance, because you can feel the energy of your crowd.
EV- In what kind of audience you feel more comfortable. Familial one?
KS-To give you a bit of background on Arabic dance, which is originally from the Middle East; it was a dance which was performed by women for other women, as a dance of fertility. So in the Middle East today, it is still performed as such. Like in the Jordan when I was dancing at the wedding, the audience was only female. In Egypt and Lebanon it’s more acceptable to dance in front of a mixed audience.
It’s often perceived by the Western world as a cultural thing or part of Arab culture, but belly dance is actually quite frowned upon like the set up at Al Diwan. Traditionally in the Middle East, a lot of men go to shisha lounges, so sometimes the audience at Al Diwan can be more male dominant. It is definitely nice to dance for a mixed crowd, men and women. It makes it a lot more comfortable for the dancer.
EV- Puppet leaders and dictators like Mugabe, king Swati III, Jose Eduardo dos Santos.. have their own forms of weapons.. mentality of mass destruction. In your case your “weapons of mass destruction” are your hips and how do you use them?
KS-I joke about my hips being weapons of mass destruction, I suppose some would say weapons of mass seduction. It’s just a funny thing. People perceive belly dance in different ways. Some people see it as something funny, others as something sexy, like the joke with the performance at the 80-year old man’s birthday. You know, you don’t want to give your audience a heart attack, should they be on the sort of elderly side. I mean it’s something that can be perceived as sexy. Perhaps that’s where the hips being weapons of mass destruction or seduction comes from. Depending on how you see it.
EV- Apart from dancing what are you hobbies?
KS- I’m always dancing and without it I would be empty. I’m very boring as a person and I think the most exciting thing I do is belly dancing. I’m quite the party pooper, I don’t go out, in fact I hate going out. My friends have to drag me out of my house. But in my free time I like just to chill out, relax. I love food, and eating, so thank goodness I dance a lot! Otherwise I would be 5 times bigger than what I am now.
EV-The way you cook, is it the same way in which you like your dance?
KS- I like to listen to music when I cook. We’ve had some interesting experiences in my kitchen when I had my mother and grandmother with me. We had three generations in the kitchen, all together and depending on the music we do actually dance when we cook, it’s very interesting.
EV- What is your favorite food to cook?
KS- I really like Middle Eastern food but for dinner I could even cook pasta. My food can be as colorful as my costumes. I don’t really go by recipes, it comes as free style, just like with some of my dances and I just put a little bit of everything in there and wait for the results. Hopefully it’s something good.
Professional performer & instructor
Studio Tarab Middle Eastern Belly Dance
Visit online at www.raqsbellydance.wix.com/karol