By Charelle Evelyn on December 03 2014
There may not be a royal academy for it, but that doesn’t mean belly dance isn’t an art. It’s one that Sandra Tanemura has been teaching for more than two decades in Prince George and, like her aunt before her, Tanemura still faces the common misconceptions about the form.
“It’s something every cultural art form fights with,” said Tanemura, who owns and operates Zahirah, a local dance studio that specializes in Middle Eastern belly dance. Belly dance isn’t like the ballet and jazz forms of the dance world, which are more standardized, she said. “Lots and lots of people will say ‘oh you’re just shaking, you’re just shaking something, I can do that.’ And then they try it,” Tanemura said. “So it’s something that’s not always recognized. It’s getting better and better. It’s definitely not the way it was when my aunt was doing it when I was a young girl. But it still has a long way to go.”
Tanemura is carrying on the torch passed on by her aunt and first teacher, whose Egyptian husband bestowed Tanemura with her performance name, Halawa, at the age of nine. “It’s customary for your elders to name you when you’re a performer,” said Tanemura, explaining the name means sweetheart or sweet treat. Now a staple on stage at the annual Canada Day festivities in Fort George Park, Tanemura recalled the days when her aunt was asked to leave the stage because belly dancing was seen as too risqué.
Today, Zahirah is mixing multiple art forms, having recently brought on Prince George Symphony Orchestra’s Miguel Mori as a percussionist. Drumming for 15 years, the first time Mori had ever played with dancers was after meeting Tanemura at the local Pride festival two years ago.
It was an easy relationship, Mori discovered. “Dancing, drumming and singing all go hand in hand. It’s kind of all the same. If you actually teach a dancer how to drum it’s very easy because their steps and everything are already in three-four or four-four [time] and syncopated. It’s the same language that you’re talking,” he said. “The difference is obviously you’re translating into sound where they translate into movement.”
And that movement – depending on whether the classes are ethnic, cabaret or fusion – can tell a story. “It’s a cultural representation and a performing art,” said Tanemura.
Over the years, Zahirah has branched out into other performing arts, with percussion, East Indian Bollywood dance classes and now burlesque. All this while Tanemura remains an in-demand teacher, who will be one of the main presenters at B.C. Bellyfest in April 2015 in Penticton. Catch them on stage headlining New years at Esther’s Inn. For more information, visit www.zahirahbellydance.net.
REPORTER FOR THE PRINCE GEORGE CITIZEN
Journalist, west coast native, music lover. Made in Canada.