Tamalyn Dallal has been gracing stages and delighting audiences for over 30 years. From Bogota to Buenos Aires, Miami to the Middle East, she has traveled around the world teaching and performing. She has won numerous awards and has worked with the world-famous Bellydance Superstars. In addition to being a talented dancer, Tamalyn is also a published author and a movie producer. Tamalyn recently re-opened the Ottoman Bellydance studio under a new name Zamani Culture House. When she's in town in March and April of 2013, she will teach classes and hold film showings at Zamini, as well as sponsor Roshan Nofret from Miami for a series of workshops
I recently completed a week-long teacher training intensive with Tamalyn. (Highly recommended!) During one-day of the intensive, Tamalyn and I headed out to lunch to chat. Settling in over chai tea and butter chicken, our interview begins.
Alessandra: What dancers have been the biggest inspiration to you?
Tamalyn: Azza Sherif and Nebawiya Moustafa. Azza Sherif combines a mix of oriental and beledi. Her style is earthy, but elevated with classic hands. Nebawiya was an Egyptian beledi dancer and movie star. These two are probably my all-time favorites.
Alessandra: You've traveled all over the word. Has anything taken you by surprise during your travels?
Tamalyn: The response to belly dance in China has surprised me. The very first time I ever performed in China, I was wearing a beledi dress and performing to a Bedouin song from the 1940s and the young people in the audience were just screaming. I knew right away belly dance was going to be really big in China.
Alessandra: Any other surprises?
Tamalyn: Yes, actually the U.S. surprises me. For being one country, there are so many sub-cultures and differences across the various regions of the U.S. I really saw this when I was touring with my film, 40 Days and 1,001 Nights. In some places, I was met with a lot of resistance, even in places that are typically thought of as liberal cities.
Alessandra: Why do you think that is? Because the film is set in Muslim countries?
Tamalyn: Yes, there is a certain level of "Islamapohobia" in our nation. I also think it's that people don't know what to expect, so they don’t want to be involved. For instance, one bookstore owner in Santa Fe, while agreeing to let the film be shown in his store, didn’t want to be present for the screening. However, as the film was starting, he ended up seeing the beginning and then ended up staying and being receptive to the film. Overall, the dance community has really been instrumental in supporting me at times when the general public was not.
Alessandra: Continuing to delve into your travels, have you had any moments while overseas that were either transformational or really touched your heart?
Tamalyn: I've had many, but one that stands out was when I was working in Spain and had taken a trip to Tangiers for the day. I was told that female belly dancers are no longer working publically in that part of Morocco, but Shikkat (male dancers impersonating female dancers) are and I was hoping to find a restaurant having a show. I came across an old man in the street and inquired of where I should go and he took me to a restaurant. However, upon arriving, he told me that this establishment was for tourists, and that it was expensive and I shouldn't spend my money here. Instead, he took me to the Andalus Club where master musicians drink tea, smoke hashish, and play music. They said this was the same music that was played in Spain before the inquisition. People have been continually playing this style for hundreds, if not more than a thousand years. While listening to the music and absorbing the culture, I realized that the practice of playing classical Arabic music merely for enjoyment, relaxation, and joy is a piece of history that's stood still through the years. People have been seeking the juxtaposition of community and music across time and across cultures. Whether it's a club in Spain or in Zanzibar, or where I was in Morocco, whether it's the present day or a thousand years ago, little has changed in this approach.
Alessandra: You've had some amazing experiences, and been involved in so many different projects. What's next on the horizon for you?
Tamalyn: In addition to the studio, I began filming the second of the Dance on Film series entitled "Ethiopia Dances for Joy". Ethiopia is a totally different world, with over 80 ethnic groups. They have dances that people cannot imagine, which I was able to film. I went to Ethiopia last March, filmed the first segment, and will be returning in January to continue. I hope to finish filming and editing in late 2013.
Alessandra: You have been involved with belly dance for many years now and seen how it's changed throughout your career. What are your predictions for the future of the dance?
Tamalyn: I foresee more dancers showing interest in getting back to the roots of the dance and the "Golden Age" dancers, such as Tahia Karioca and Samia Gamal. I think there will still be those doing belly dancing for fun, but the dance is maturing. People want more depth. Those who are genuinely into it want to learn the history and the culture. For example, for awhile, I was seeing a trend of sponsors in certain areas only booking belly dancers who'd been in the Bellydance Superstars, as this was the only type of workshop that would sell out. But this is no longer the case. Dancers who can share research are becoming more sought after. I've also seen an increasing interest in, and respect for, the elders in the dance, with younger dancers wanting to hear the elders talk and share their insights, and I think this trend will continue as well.
Alessandra: For a student dancer looking to take her dance to the next level, what advice would you give her?
Tamalyn: I would advise getting a good solid base. Dance is built on basics. Take the time to learn the dance and don't rush to get ahead. If you do rush through the fundamentals, you'll just have to go back and learn them later, and then it's much harder. You really have to put in your six to seven years before you're ready to graduate from student. Being a baby dancer is an amazing time – enjoy it!
Alessandra: And what advice would you give to experienced dancers either looking to make the leap to professional or who are newly professional?
Tamalyn: Don't dance for cheap. The only people that can bring up the respect and compensation for dance is dancers. It's in our hands.