Amani Oriental Festival - Interview with the Lebanese Diva

by Isis Zahara

"Amani defines the Lebanese style of dancing. 
She is the dancer the most famous belly dancers
 around the world watch and learn from."   
Alexandra Ahnide

Amani - photo by  Ohaness Sarkissian

Originally from Hamat in North Lebanon, Amani is graduated from University with degree in Social Sciences and Beautification.

 Since her beginning (late 80’s) Amani has established a new and inventive style that brought her to the legendary dance icon standard. Also She represented in a corporeal form the portrayal of many historical and recent characters in yesterday’s and today’s woman.  
Amani revolutionized the Oriental Dance concepts dividing the dance in different categories. She was pioneer in the use of her dances in a story telling format and the first who presented her dances in a video clip. Amani also showed to the world that Oriental Dance is not originaly Egyptian.

She is credited one of the most important dancer stars in the world and the inspiration for lot of today’s oriental dancers. Called the “La Diva de la Danza Orientale” her repertoire combines innovative interpretation of historical oriental dancing, Egyptian style, Lebanese dabke, Moroccan, Iranian, and Armenian dance.

photo Gabriel Monserrat Lopez

She searched deeply in the roots of her dancing heritage. Amani toured the world for dancing and teaching. She presented her shows at the most renowned theaters in Lebanon and abroad. She was the Guest Star at numerous TV programs as dancer and actress in various countries.

In 1999 Amani moved her shows from the nightclub to the Theatre giving to the dance a new theatrical aspect. The adaptation resulted in a show “Amani around the world” where she toured with her own company presenting several kinds of oriental dancing in venues around the world.

Still very anxious on preserving her heritage, in 2005, Amani started an International Oriental dance Festival, “Amani Oriental Festival” in Beirut, Lebanon. The Festival is largely committed to the real identity of Oriental Dance and offers special guest Instructors, competitions and Gala Shows.

If you want more information or to join the Festival, here are the following links:

"The goal is not only to protect but 
also to gain the respect of the societies and to 
revive the aesthetic  golden era image of oriental 
dance in a theatrical and developed aspect."

IZ - First of all, congratulations on the 4th edition of the festival! How did it all started? What made you decide to set up the Amani Oriental Festival?
Amani - Oriental dance became a wide spread art.. everyone is teaching dancing and also talking about the history of this dance without any control, to the extent,  that the west and the east, the oriental, the folklore and other dance forms have merged together.
So as a leading dancer, I believe it is my duty to work on developing and preserving my heritage, to keep its identity and its characteristics, hence, was to take the practical measures in order to accomplish this objective starting with workshops that is bringing together as many oriental dancers as possible into one organized work and aim. This idea was incorporated under Amani Oriental festival

IZ - You are world-renowned artist and master teacher of Oriental Dance. What are the challenges to organize an International Festival?
Amani - You can say difficulties more than challenges like the economical crisis and the high fees .. everything became more expensive worldwide while the personal income for a dancer became less. We are trying our best to offer the lowest packages and hotels. Also the uncertain political situation in the middle east .

IZ - It’s great to hear that the festival is features the authentic styles of Oriental Dance and innovative workshops themes. How did you select the master teachers to work with on these elements of the program?
Amani - Lebanese teachers were selected for their styles, versatility , and creativity in oriental and folklore and to their wide expertise in dance. I know each one’s forte in dance which allows me to give my suggestions into what to offer as a dance theme according to what dancers can be attracted to, to add to their dance style and vocabulary. I am eager to develop this dance form while keeping its identity and authenticity.

Teachers coming from abroad were selected due to what they can offer as a dance theme. Some they offered what is running through oriental dance community today, some  offered what is classical or traditional , some offered fusion.
Amani Oriental Festival is open to all professional dance teachers. The good thing is that we are gathering teachers and dancers from around the world into one work, we are hoping to host all teachers requests but festival period is only 5 nights 6 days.. hope to extend the festival time in the future and to host the biggest number of teachers .

photo by Ohaness Sarkissian

As of 2011, the first winner, if attending the festival for another year, she is eligible to  teach at the festival if she reaches a certain point at the dance competition. This year we are hosting Juheniya Logvina (Sultana de la danse 2011). At the end we lay on  the participants’ feed backs and requests to fulfill their expectations!

photo Ohaness Sarkissian

IZ -Could you pick few highlights for a dancer that is going to participate at the first time?
Amani - All dancers from all levels and categories can attend the festival. It  is for all oriental dancers . if beginner or professional there is always something to learn.. the most important thing is to have the ambitious for upgrading her level and reach new realms in oriental dance.
For the dance competition each dancer can assets herself if capable of being one of the candidates . At the preliminary round we eliminate dancers until remain 12 candidates who will compete at the final night. the final night is broadcasted on TV .

IZ -  About the competition’s rules you are clear: 

"Such movements were added to the oriental dance vocabulary lately by dancers who would rather rely on explicit expression of their sexuality rather than the artistic quality they could have shown. To keep the high dignity of this art, we should all be careful to not give the wrong image to the public."
Were these rules formulated for the purposes of protecting the Art of Oriental Dance?
Amani - The beautiful thing, the dancers are executing their dances in a respected way and trying to evolve their skills. The effort are working with, cheers me  and incites me to help them to protect their work. The disliked movements, that are our subject,  was taught to them as part of this dance vocabulary. Our beautiful dancers are repeating these steps without noticing the background of these manners and the aspect giving to their dance and to the mass audience that are not involved with this art form.  Hence the underestimation and the big theatres rejection for the shows in various  countries ( I am not talking about the Middle East). For so, the input rules are as a part of the practical measures taken.   

photo Ohaness Sarkissian

I can understand that some dancers who have been practicing and teaching this style of movements for years might refuse, rise up or invalidate the impute rules due to an unconscious feeling as if they have waste their time.. I can understand… this is not their fault.. I just tell them that skipping few movements in a dance choreography doesn’t mean eliminating all dance steps.. but incites them to enlarge and develop their art form.

These manners are to be avoided at the festival too not only during the competition. The goal is not only to protect but also to gain the respect of the societies and to revive the aesthetic  golden era image of oriental dance in a theatrical and developed aspect.


Love this article as I love Amani. You have asked her the right questions and sh answered beautifully as only she can. I taught there at the Festival in 2011. It was a joy to be in Lebanon with people who have high standards. The teachers from Lebanon were exemplary. I feel the level in dance in Lebanon beats NYC any day. And NYC is the mecca of dance in the USA. Cannot wait til Amani can offer more Festivals and Lebanon is a safe place to travel again.

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