RAKS HELWA

Belly dancing is good for the soul. I recommend a viewing as often as possible. These girls do it right.

AUSTIN DAZE: TELL US FOR THOSE THAT DON’T KNOW WHAT IS BELLY DANCING?

RAKS HELWA: One of the first things to know is the term “belly dance” is only used in the United States, Britain, Australia, and a few other English-speaking regions. This is a popular, but debatable term as some may feel this term to be sexist, while others relate the belly with maternal, goddess and world beliefs. In countries of the dance’s origin, it is mostly known as Raks Sharki (dance of the East). Other terms and styles include Oriental Dance (refers to dance of the Orient or the East), Middle Eastern Dance, American Tribal Style (created in California using dances and costume styles from a multitude of Eastern countries), and Cabaret (an American term for the Egyptian nightclub style of dance).


Belly dance is considered a derivative of the world’s oldest known documented dance forms. Going way back, it is believed that early civilizations used dance to worship deities as well as in religious ceremonies. Dance was, and still is today, used to pantomime the sowing and harvesting of crops, to bless and heal, to prepare for childbirth and the wedding bed, and for secular entertainment. From it’s inception, belly dancing has traces of influences from many cultures and many dance styles, so in a sense you can call belly dancing, a dance of history.
Today, the dance in many variations is alive and well all over the world, and in great many interpretations. Despite all the different stylization this dance form has picked up from different countries and different dance influences, simply put, belly dancing is a dance form that includes a series of beautiful and sensual movements that are controlled, contained, fluid, and elegant, and takes years of practice, commitment, dedication and experience to master. There are also many folkloric forms of belly dancing where the dancers use canes and other props. They also are known to dance with a sword balanced on their head, candles, veil, wings and fingers cymbals.
The beauty of belly dancing today is the fact that dancers in the United States and elsewhere have kept alive the world’s Oldest Dance, which is in danger of extinction in its native countries due to religious, political and social mores. Knowing these facts makes any form of belly dance all the more precious.

AD: WHAT DOES RAKS HELWA MEAN?

RH: Raks, pronounced “R-ah-sa” in Arabic means “dance”. Helwa (feminine), pronounced “Hill-wah” in Arabic means “something thing sweet, or nice.” Although in the Arabic language it may not be fully proper to say R-ah-sa Hill-wah, we decided since this is a belly dance troupe that is blending six different styles of dance together, we wanted the troupe’s name to also be a blend of modern with traditional. So we fused the popular modern American adapted pronunciation of Raks “rocks” with the Arabic pronunciation if Hill-wa.

AD: WHAT BROUGHT RAKS HELWA TOGETHER?

RH: The desire to dance with friends who inspire each other, are strong belly dancers, and who also shared the same belief that although they all possessed very different belly dance styles, they could work together to educate the community on six of today’s most popular belly dance styles alive in the U.S., in one show.

AD: IS AUSTIN A GOOD TOWN TO BELLY DANCE IN? WHY?

RH: In one way Austin is a good town to belly dance in since it’s so accepting of entertainment; however, on the other hand, there’s not a big Arabic community and very few Arabic venues.

AD: THERE ARE A LOT OF BELLY DANCERS IN TOWN, DO YALL FEEL THE COMPETITION?

RH: Although there are a lot of belly dancers in town, there are very few well-trained, professional dancers who own a multitude of professional belly dance costumes. Also, dancers who are well trained have been dancing long enough to mature out of the insecurities of competitiveness, and actually promote the growth of belly dancing, and share their passion with other dancers. Most everyone in Raks Helwa is a belly dance teacher.

AD: WHAT GOES ON IN A SHOW?

RH: In Egypt, belly dancers almost always dance to a 26-piece live band. However, since there are no Arabic bands in Austin, the belly dance shows consist of solo and group performances to CD music, followed by dancing to a live local band or DJ. In the right setting, dancers end the show by getting audience members up to dance for the rest of the event.

AD: WHAT MAKES A GOOD BELLY DANCE SHOW FOR YOU?

RH: A good belly dance show is a show that consists of a variety of good dancers that know how to keep a large audience engaged and entertained the whole time, for the music to fit the dance and run smooth from beginning to the end with no skipping or long pauses between dances, and for choreographies to be flawless with no costume mishaps.

AD: WHAT ARE DIFFERENCES BETWEEN BELLY DANCE SHOWS AND BURLESQUE SHOWS?

RH: In Burlesque shows, the entertainers almost always at some point strip down to their panties and pasties. The very theme of their shows is meant to be, although playful, sexual. Belly dancing is much more conservative. Belly dancers never dance with pasties or in their panties. The only reason the midriff is exposed is to display the muscular isolation that plays such a big part of this dance. Also, since belly dance music is almost always very deep and carries so much emotion with it, the dance is more sensual and about love than sexual. A well trained, educated belly dancer dances to celebrate the moment with the audience, rather than to arouse them.

AD: WHERE CAN SOMEONE LEARN TO BELLY DANCE? CAN IT BE TAUGHT?

RH: There are many belly dance teachers in Austin. Students interested in learning can go to the Raks Helwa website http://www.rakshelwa.com for information about members of Raks Helwa who teach, and also to the Austin Bellydance Association’s website at http://www.abda.org for a full list of teachers around town.

AD: WHAT IS NEXT FOR YALL?

RH: Raks Helwa wants to continue to grow as a performing troupe. With six talented dancers with such different styles working together, it is exciting to see what will evolve. More Choreography for group performances, new matching troupe costumes, and collaboration with different musical acts around Austin is the goal for 2009.
AD: ANYTHING ELSE?

RH: Raks Helwa consists of (in alphabetical order): Angie (American Raks Shari), Angela Nations (American Tribal), Michelle Mannox (American Pin-up Belly Dance), Rania (Classical Egyptian), Sherry (Bellydance Jazz), and Sonya (Gypsy). All have been dancing for over 8 years, teach belly dancing, and still continue to take lessons from teachers from all over the world.


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