I Love When Bellydancers are Smart Cookies – Bellydance by Jennifer Interviews Moi!

Recently, Jennifer (Bellydancer in Orlando) contacted me about doing an interview for an extensive research project she was about to begin.  One thing I love to do is to geek out and talk all things bellydance with fellow dancers so, of course I agreed.  Jennifer asked me to give some thought to the issue of standard movement vocabulary as well as other business issues that career bellydancers face.  When the day came, we set up our laptops and connected via Skype.  There was giggling, there was some repositioning in order to demonstrate movements, and there was a lot of honesty.

When bellydancers are smart cookies, it helps our community overall.  Jennifer is one of those gals who combats lingering stereotypes by showing off her business acumen and hunger for knowledge.  I was honored to help her kick off a series of interviews so check out:

Bellydance Terminology & Business Series: Interview 1- Tava!

Like it, pin it, share it.  Stay tuned to Jennifer’s blog to learn more.

Jennifer (Bellydancer in Orlando)

Jennifer (Bellydancer in Orlando)

photo of Tava (Bellydancer in NY & CT) by Adam Jason photography

photo of Tava (Bellydancer in NY & CT) by Adam Jason photography

8 Realizations You will Likely Have as a Professional Bellydancer

1. You’re Never “Good Enough” – At least, according to yourself.  Chances are you will watch your videos and be blinded by that thing you wish you did differently, by your pacing (or lack thereof), by that moment your arms lost their integrity of movement because you opted for a bit of complicated hip work.  I have these conversations with newbie students and my friends who are 20+ year veterans, it’s just the way it is for most of us. 2. You Will Get Hurt – Even if it’s a relatively mild injury, there is no way to be a professional dancer and not experience repetitive strain or fatigue-related injuries of some sort.  Learn what your body can handle, seek out the best ways for your body and your budget to experience self-care. Maybe it’s a $20 pedicure….or a 90 minute deep tissue massage.  When your body is your main source of income, it’s sometime unavoidable to overdo it. images-1 3. You’ll Wonder About Certain Costume Trends – I started in the era of “there’s no such thing as too much fringe.”  Then the look became a little softer and more refined.  Then it became acceptable to have visible “boy shorts” in our costumes and even short skirts.  Some trends you will love and some will baffle you. PS – The same may go for prop trends! 4. Your “Ah Ha Moments” Keep Coming – Recently, during a private lesson with Tamalyn Dallal, I had an “ah ha moment” about something so basic!  I have them all the time when I study with my mentors or even when I hear myself describing something in class.  Yes, sometimes you have to dig for them, but they are always lurking — if you’re humble enough to notice ;) 5. Your Place in the Community is Earned …Continuously – If you should happen to be that dancer (even student dancer) who shows up only when asked to perform but never attend a performance as an audience member, the invitations will stop.  It’s just bad etiquette.  We can’t do everything, and we must say no to far more events we say yes to.  But even the events I cannot attend, I’ll share on my student page or offer a note of support. 6. Your Wallet is a Revolving Door – To do this right…to carve out the appropriate balance of money in vs. money out, it is extremely difficult to earn a living this way.  You will spend money on workshops/training, costuming, books, music, transportation and (possibly) a website, promotional materials, SEO, photo shoots.  Dancers notice the ones who do not – and they are often the ones who resort to undercutting to give themselves an advantage. 7. You Won’t Be Liked by Everybody – Whether it’s the picky club owner, a fellow dancer who feels competitive towards you, a YouTube troll who fancies him/herself an expert, the bottom line is – some people just won’t like you.  My skin is still not as thick as it should be and I’ve worked hard not to make waves but even still…I find myself dealing with the occasional dirty looks or hearing that I’ve been the subject of a conversation what was not kind.  Thankfully, this is very rare but it still happens.  You are also likely to meet some of your best friends this way.

Erica Joan, Tava, Sira and Yasmine

Erica Joan, Tava, Sira and Yasmine

8. You Will Have an Inordinate Amount of Friends With Names that end in “A” – Funny, but true :) ************************************************************************************************ Tava is a professional bellydancer, instructor, and choreographer based in NY & CT.  She is available for family-friendly and corporate events (solo or group), as well as workshops on a variety of topics.  To learn more, visit BellydancebyTava.com

How to Get the Most Out of Workshops

If you’re anything like me, you plunk down a ton of money every year to learn from a variety of instructors that roll through town offering concentrated information about a particular topic. Workshops are where we peel off the layers and get to the core. We explore deeper nuance and expand our knowledge. I like to think about it in the following terms: Classes + workshops + reading + DVD’s or online tutorials + watching performances + self-critique + private lessons = a well balanced diet of the serious student. But, let me ask you this….have you ever left a workshop full of inspiration and by the time you arrive at home you’ve forgotten a significant portion of what you learned? I have. This is particularly true when it comes to choreography workshops. I learn a routine. I forget a routine. I have developed a few strategies for maximizing what I’ll get from a workshop and, who knows, maybe they’ll help you too.

Sira's workshop "Up in Arms" (sponsored by Tava)

Sira’s workshop “Up in Arms” (sponsored by Tava)

1. Sit down!
I injured myself 30 minutes into a workshop with Madame Raqia Hassan and I got more out of that experience that I would have if I danced the entire time. It was a great reminder to absorb what I could with my eyes and ears without the pressure of having to keep up. I suggest watching at least once or twice and take a few notes about something that strikes you. A pause, an angle of the head, which aspects of the routine you can see yourself adapting and which are just not for you. Sit and watch – but watch actively.

2. Get the Music!
The workshops are not cheap! Spending money on the CD or digital file might seem like an unnecessary expense but, trust me on this one, it’s worth the cost. Even something as simple as playing the music in your car on the way home (or iPod on the subway) will help to reinforce what you’ve learned.

3. Record Yourself.
Whether it’s technique-based, choreography or musicality, record your practice with it while it’s fresh. Even if you record the instructor doing the movements, it’s not the same thing as recording your take on it.  You can also compare it to the instructor’s version.

4. Talk About It.
Grab a coffee or a tea with a friend as close to the workshop as possible and have a critical discussion about it. Discuss what you learned, insights, what you would have liked more of, etc… Getting another perspective will reinforce the topic and may even fill in some of the gaps that you missed during a water break.  Sometimes I pile in as many students as my car will fit and we chat about it the whole way home. These are the best discussions!


One of my most favorite recent workshops – Iraqi dance with Assala Ibrahim (hosted by Uza of NYC).

5. Be Selective.
Just because an instructor is from Egypt doesn’t mean you HAVE to go. Just because an instructor is someone you really enjoy watching doesn’t mean you can’t miss it. Read the workshop description and watch some performance clips. Talk to some friends who may have studied with that person. Just the other day I wrote to my friend Angelica and I said, “Help! I am over-committed to workshops and learning opportunities but this other one just came up and I need to know if it’s worth it.” Over time, you will learn whose style of teaching is a good match to your style of learning.  Of course, there can be surprises.  Maybe you develop a new favorite that you never would have imagined so an open mind is also a good thing.

Bollywood Fusion with Adrea (sponsored by Tava)

Bollywood Fusion with Adrea (sponsored by Tava)

6. Modify Your Learning Format.
Sometimes when an instructor is visiting they have time to do private lessons. I have done this with several dancers lately because it is worth everything to me to have their undivided attention so I can get the most out of my time with them. In my one hour with Luna (of Cairo) or Tamalyn Dallal, I got more amazing feedback that I ever would have in a large crowded room.

Tava's veil workshop at The Dragon's Egg, sponsored by NBDA

Tava’s veil workshop at The Dragon’s Egg, sponsored by NBDA

Investing in your dance training is part of the job. It fuels your love and deepens your understanding. But I think everyone needs to learn how to make it work for them.

….and speaking of workshops
Big thanks to Nahara and Josie’s International School of Dance for having me teach “A Taste of Turkish” on Monday. I had a fantastic time with all of the women.

Saturday December 13th, stay tuned for details about Rosa Noreen (of Maine) who will come to CT to teach a workshop.

Norwalk, CT Registration is Open for Bellydance with Tava at NCC

Do you live in Norwalk (or anywhere in Fairfield County, CT)? A new semester at Norwalk Community College is right around the corner and Tava will be teaching her 101 level course. This is a 10-week session which includes 20 minutes of lecture and 60 minutes of basic technique. The lecture will include an introduction to the history, various styles, legendary dancers and popular Arabic rhythms. The dancing will culminate in a short choreography to tie your “new moves” all together in a sequence. Students will fall in love with this rich and beautiful dance, enjoy community and (for registered NCC) students, gain a bit of credit in the process. The class meets Wednesday evenings from 6:30 to 8:50PM beginning in September.

Tava teaches Bellydance at Norwalk Community College

Tava teaches Bellydance at Norwalk Community College

Annual Evening of Bellydance in CT

Every year I have the pleasure of producing an Annual Evening of Bellydance with music by Carmine & Friends (Carmine, Brad, Casey & Eylem).  It is important for me to share the experience of dancing to live music with my friends, students and the community.  The event took place in May at the Westport Woman’s Club.   The night is a mix of student and professional performances, vending and open dancing for about 100 people. These events always leave me on such a high and serve as the best reminder of why I dance.  There is no wedding, banquet, gala or birthday party performance that comes close to dancing for my community.  Thank you to Nahara, Lorelie and Yasmine for loaning us their talents and Tunnel Vision Company for the videos (more to come).

Tava performs to Nihavent Oyun Havasi:


Nahara dancing to Leylet Hobb:


Lorelie peforms to Lamma Bada and Drum Solo


A snippet of Tava’s taqsim with Eylem and Drum Solo:



Tava is a professional bellydancer located in NY and CT.  She is available for solo, duet and group performances throughout New York and surrounding areas.

The Trouble with Instant Gratification

This is an old tune, but one that is worth re-visiting. Every so often I sit down to read my email and receive something like this: “I’m interested in taking bellydance classes.  So, how long until I am good enough to perform?” Or, my personal favorite, “I’ve taken 6 months of classes so I need something really advanced.” Let me be clear, I don’t fault anybody for thinking this way. It is the norm in our culture to assume there is a fast-track method for becoming this or that.  There are even a few restaurants that prey on the 6 month wonders, offering them exciting performance opportunities at half the rate.  What’s the harm, right?  Wrong.  Because the rewards matter less when they are earned too easily.


Last night, I had dinner with my father and he asked me what, in my opinion, makes someone a professional.  I answered, “sacrifice.”  He answered, “knowledge.”  Of course, both of these are correct, but, my answer surprised me because it was knee-jerk.  Sacrifice means driving 3 hours to take a workshop, staying up late reading articles or researching the history of a particular style, having to decline invitations to family and social events because of classes or performances.  Sacrifice is dancing with 103 fever or an injury.  It’s spending 5 months rehearsing for a 5 minute performance.  It means having an unwavering love and appreciation for this dance, even when it isn’t convenient or “rewarding” us with something other than satisfaction. And the work never stops.  We can’t suddenly stop learning just because we are paid to teach or perform.

It really isn’t possible to put a time frame on how long it takes to be a professional because this is different for everyone.  Some people immerse themselves right away, train in Egypt, Lebanon, Turkey, etc. and have a natural feel for the movements.  Others are only interested in the technique and may be considered “skilled” but not necessarily knowledgeable.  And many dancers are here for the ride without needing to have the label of professional dancer.  These men and women understand the value of lifelong learning and have no goals other than to be their best.  Does someone come and strip me of my title if I stop teaching and performing but continue to train just for the love of it?  Some of the most rewarding moments of my entire dance career have occurred in the past 6 months.  The insta-bellydancers will never cry with gratitude reading beautiful words from their mentor.  They will never go deeper into a movement in a way they never thought possible after 14 years.  And lastly, they will not appreciate or explore subtlety and nuance which is a whole world of potential joy.

If we can stop looking for short-cuts and instant fixes, we can enjoy the meaningful rewards along the way.  Dedication is a virtue that makes everything better.  I’d like to share a recent example of a student of mine who was explaining why she was nervous to perform a solo.  She said, “I have so much respect and appreciation for this dance and I just want to do it justice.  I want to be sure I’m worthy enough.”  Oh Lucille, this is music to every teacher’s ears.  When we dance from a place of respect and admiration for the long history, the nuance of the music, the cultural connection, and the heart & soul, we bring our humility alog with our confidence.  This makes for a much better experience for both the dancer and the audience.  Sometimes there is no audience, and it’s just as meaningful.  I think Dr. Seuss put it best:

“Fame! You’ll be as famous as famous can be,
with the whole wide world watching you win on TV.

Except when they don’t
Because, sometimes they won’t.

I’m afraid that some times
you’ll play lonely games too.
Games you can’t win
’cause you’ll play against you.”
Dr. Seuss, Oh, The Places You’ll Go!

Tava is a professional bellydancer based in CT and NY.  She is available for instruction, performances (solo and group) and lectures.  To learn more, visit: BellydancebyTava.com

Tava’s Annual Evening of Bellydance

The link is up to purchase tickets for CT’s annual night of LIVE MUSIC and bellydance performances that showcase various styles and cultures.  Tava has produced this event for many years and they are a community highlight.  Sunday May 18th (2014) at 6:30PM

$25 – includes light fare, beer/wine, mini lesson, performances by students and professional dancers (including featured guest dancers).

This year’s lineup: Yasmine (NJ), Lorelie (CT), Aleathea (CT), Nahara (NY), Tava (NY & CT)

Tava’s students from Work It Dance & Fitness and Studio 44

Vending by Bling It On!

Live Music by Carmine & Friends

Purchase tickets here: http://eveningofbellydance.bpt.me/

Tava's Annual Evening of Bellydance in CT

Tava’s Annual Evening of Bellydance in CT

Photoshoot with Adrian Buckmaster

Sometimes I am down on social media for creating a false landscape of “everything is perfect.”  With everyone wanting to share their best emotions, accomplishments, filtered photos and happy occasions, it can be a place of appearance over substance.  It does, however, have its good points.  Reuniting with long lost connections, fostering community, raising awareness of important causes, networking for job search and, (as you’ll guess from the title of this post), finding talented photographers.  This is how I came to find Adrian Buckmaster’s work.

Strolling through my news feed one morning I saw some striking photos of a dear old friend that I had lost touch with until very recently.  Keep in mind, the world of bellydance photography is often very “safe” in terms of its’ need to cast a wide net and have mass appeal for potential clients.  It’s only natural that the trend would be smile and look pretty in one of the following 5 poses – it’s commercial photography with the intent of being hired.  I’ve done it myself on occasion.  In any case, this particular photographer jumped out at me for having a unique aesthetic with a lot of honesty and heart.  I wrote to my friend, told her that her photos were captivating, and asked for the photographer’s info.  I wanted to take some risks!

I am honored to have collaborated with every photographer I’ve worked with and while I have some of the “traditional” stuff, I tend to push the boundaries a bit.  I’m proud of this.  The shoot with Adrian was certainly no exception.  My objective was to be less concerned with “looking pretty” and to practice the delicate skill of revealing myself as opposed to tacking on a layer for the camera.  Adrian helped to guide me to that place.  It’s not always comfortable to go there, nor is it a skill I have mastered, but I am less interested in saying “Hi, I’m your friendly bellydancer.” I’m far more interested in saying, “This is me.”

I arrived at his studio with no makeup on (at his request).  We started the shoot this way and then it evolved — first in a simple white top and then it graduated to my most elaborate costume.  Deity Delgado did my makeup and was on hand to help with styling.  She would adjust my hair to match the feel of the lighting and costume, add a bolder lip when it was called for or added high drama for the last leg of the shoot.  They are both masters of their craft.  Sharing a project with fellow artists is the stuff I live for at this phase of my dance life.

I hope you enjoy the fruits of our labor.  Photos by AdrianBuckmaster.com with makeup/styling by Deity Delgado.

Note: If you do not have the rights to an image, do not use the image.


photo by Adrian Buckmaster
makeup/styling by Deity Delgado & custom veil by Silkdancer.com


photo by Adrian Buckmaster
makeup/styling by Deity Delgado


photo by Adrian Buckmaster
makeup by Deity Delgado


photo by Adrian Buckmaster
makeup/styling by Deity Delgado & custom veil by Silkdancer.com

photo by Adrian Buckmaster/makeup by Deity Delgado

photo by Adrian Buckmaster/makeup by Deity Delgado


Too Busy Dancing

Every week I have a great idea for a blog post and then fall short on time to write it.  Exciting things are happening and I am so honored to be a part of events that honor our dance from workshops to galas and cultural events.  Here is a highlight reel:

The amazing workshops and Gala show for Assala Ibrahim.  Tremendous thanks to Uza and her team for bring Assala here because I am now completely hooked on this style. What good is being a dancer when we lose the value of learning?


photo by Uza and Saif


A teaser cel phone shot from the Gala show at DROM (NYC)

I also have the honor to bring my mentor Andrea back to CT for a workshop on Persian styling.


Lastly, I am preparing for two community events.  One in CT – a Gala for Nourhan Sharif that features performances from the professional dancers in CT (sponsored by Kelvia) -tickets available here: http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/556650

and Nahara’s Springtime Hafla which will feature professional and student dancers from Westchester and CT.  Tickets available here: http://www.josiedance.com/josiedance/Spring_Shimmie.html

It’s also a great time with rehearsals diving into projects for the Theatrical Bellydance Conference.

Regular blog posts to resume shortly.  I promise!