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Interview with Soheir Zaki

We are very glad to present a translation of an interview with Soheir Zaki. The interview comes from Al Kawakeb Magazine (February 6th, 1990), and Morjana kindly provided it. The interview goes about the spread of Raqs Sharqi to other parts of the world and its evolution during 1980'.


Soheir Zaki

East and West Dialogue

by Mary Ghadban


"This was what critics and journalists in Europe, the USA and the world wrote about me in a book about dance… [This book] has chapters about me, and it was published in Germany… I was on the cover page of the American magazine “Arabesque” which teaches and analyses dance around the world… In Japan, one of the daily newspapers also published pages on me… The famous Newsweek magazine published an article on belly dance (“al-raqs al-sharqi”) through my performances…"


This was how Soheir [Zaki] illustrated herself in words before our interview...


It is for sure that “dance” (“al-raqs”) is not belly shaking (“hezz batn”) anymore... It has started to have its own rules and schools where dancers learn the right moves, styles and what is new in this field. Soheir Zaki is one of the “dancers” (“al-raqisat”) who have their own huge impact and influence in developing belly dance and bringing it to regulated styles and ways, and when I met her, she confirmed this fact and said:

A new development has happened for sure, in both the shape and content [of the dance], and I had a role in this development process as I mixed the performing art (“esteradi”) and belly dance (“raqs sharqi”). This is what critics admired in the European newspapers and said that I was the only one who could do this mix in a style that kept the oriental flavour and wasn’t far from it.


I asked her: Through your various European tours, to what extent the westerners accepted belly dance and how did they look at it; do they consider it one of the fine arts as we look at “ballet”?

There are those who received it in a nice way, and I received many offers from TV to present programs on belly dance that they consider as one of the fine arts; they have always encouraged me to take this art to the international arena.


Caption to the picture above: Japanese newspapers publish articles on the art of Soheir Zaki.

At the time of having a ballet institute, we don’t have a belly dance institute, is it strange?

This matter frustrates me, especially when we see the west paying attention to this art while us - the land of belly dance - we don’t, and to add an insult to injury, there are those who belittle this art [in our country].


Badi’a Masabni, Tahia Carioca and Samia Gamal could become their own “schools” in belly dance, and Soheir Zaki and Nagwa Fouad could form their own “styles”, how do you see the new generation of belly dancers, and will there be any success that could be achieved in this field?

Frankly speaking, I don’t think so, the new generation is in a rush towards achieving fame and this is opposite to what the old generation was doing, the latter suffered till they got known. The old generation introduced [belly] dance to all social categories, starting from the ordinary people in the streets to the high classes, and this is not the case with the new generation.


In France and Canada there are schools to teach belly dance, who supervise these schools, and do you have any connection with any of them?

The owners of these schools came and met me and many of the dancers came to ask for video tapes to show to their students because they know very well that we are the queens of this art… Can you imagine that sometimes female psychiatrists and dentists come to get some ideas about belly dance to use them in therapy.


If the Egyptian movie industry could not reach an international level because of many factors, why didn’t belly dance reach an international level, especially after you danced in many European countries?

I think that just dancing in these countries is reaching the international level, and I have received many invitations from different countries [to dance], which means that belly dance is on its way to the international level.


Who from show artists in Hollywood do you admire?

Liza Minnelli, whom I am always keen on having all her works and Michael Jackson, whom I read about a lot, and I admire his dance and wonderful performance, there is [John] Travolta, who didn’t continue [dancing] and many more.


If you were asked to perform in a musical movie, would you accept or would you insist to perform belly dance only?

As belly dancing is one of the hardest art, it is very rare that I consider any other type of role.


We heard that you are coming back to acting what are the details?

There are some offers, among which some series, and I shall try to participate in [some of] them.


If you go back in time and had the choice between acting and dancing, which one would you choose?

[I would choose] dance, of course, and nothing else but dancing.


What are your son Mohamed’s comments when he sees you dance?

A feeling of happiness when he sees my pictures hung in the places he visits.

NOTE:

*** “Belly Dance” referred to by the term “Al-raqs al-sharqi” and sometimes “al-raqs” (the dance) throughout the article



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