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Shaia Fahrid Explores Cultures Through Dance

Jul. 13, 2010
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The Astor Street Dance Studio (1228 N. Astor St.) is a beautiful Victorian parlor with an old fireplace, a polished hardwood floor and a wall of mirrors. Dance instructor Shaia Fahrid opened the studio in March for students who wish to explore the dances of other cultures. While she also teaches Latin dances, her great passion is Egyptian belly dancing. Fahrid—born in Milwaukee, raised on polka music and rock ’n’ roll, a longtime student of ballet and jazz and a teacher of Latin dance for MPS—is now the most active event organizer and promoter of Middle Eastern dance in Wisconsin.

I’m probably wrong to think of belly dancing as an erotic dance form, right?

It can be a sexy dance, not unlike salsa, but it’s a Western misconception that it’s primarily erotic. It’s visceral; you dance from the inside out, as though the music is coming from within you. It does complement the female form, but men do the same movements. It’s individually interpretative and creative. It’s done at home, at family gatherings. There is no correct age or size or body type or gender. I know dancers in their 80s who still perform professionally. There is a different standard. Ripples of skin are a sign of beauty.

What attracted you to it?

When I heard the music I thought, “Here’s my soul.” It’s mesmerizing, as complex as the culture, and constantly evolving. The young don’t reject it as the music of their parents; they make it their own with newer instruments. The modern and the ancient coexist in it. When I listen to great Egyptian composers, I think of Gershwin: the soulful melodies, the stuff that rips at your heart, all in minor keys. Om Kalthoum, revered as “The Voice of Egypt” and one of the greatest singers of all time, was the musician who first drew me. Her songs might last two hours. The word tarab means achieving a state of ecstasy through music. Middle Eastern music is about tarab. You can’t come to a state of ecstasy in three minutes.

Do you offer more than classes?

I host a monthly hafla—a belly dance party. Troupes and soloists come from as far as Chicago and Minneapolis to dance just for the joy of it. It’s BYOP (bring your own pillow), you don’t have to know anything about the dance—you can just sit and watch—and there’s food. I also lead a women’s troupe, “Serpentine Dream,” and a men’s troupe, “Extreme Taqisim,” who perform at the haflas and other events. People can find out everything at milwaukeebellydance.com—or just stop in.


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