Randa Kamel of course - Interview with the Egyptian Star

by Isis Zahara

Tutor 1: What does it feel like when you're dancing?
Billy: Don't know. Sorta feels good. Sorta stiff and that, 
but once I get going... then I like, forget everything. 
And... sorta disappear. Sorta disappear. 
Like I feel a change in my whole body. 
And I've got this fire in my body. I'm just there. 
Flying' like a bird. Like electricity. Yeah, like electricity.
Billy Elliot (2000)

This interview was not possible without a help. Some weeks ago Mohamed Shahin gave me a chance to write few questions to Randa and he did the interview himself in Arabic, than translated to English and sent to me. Most of the pictures here are from Dave Halley who gently gave me the permission to publish on the post.

Randa Kamel is an internationally acclaimed Oriental dancer and teacher with a following across the globe. She trained and toured for several years with the world-famous Reda Troupe before going solo.
Her first highlight was at the Cairo Meridien, were she shared a week with - no more than - Fifi Abdou. After the Sheraton closed the nightclub Randa moved to the Nile Maxime

Her unique and energetic style of belly dancing is legendary - her shimmies have been described as 'earthquakes'. Randa's worldwide success has led to her opening dance schools in Egypt, Brazil and France. Her performances feature in a series of DVDs and she has started her own fashion label designing high quality costumes. She continues to dance and teach in Cairo (Randa Kamel of course) and in cities around the world.

"When I see dancers present my dance
 or my culture in the wrong way 
I feel bad about it.  I want to scream out
 loud and say “No this is wrong!"

IZ - To be a star in Egypt you must to have a talent like you have. You have this special gift that makes dancers unforgettable. Do you believe that you are already a legend in the Egyptian Belly dance history?
Randa - I wish to God to be like that.  But the audience is the critique for that.  I can’t answer this question for myself.  What I can say is that I work hard, very hard, and I love what I do, and of course I would love to be considered a legend one day. 

IZ – Which dancers have been influencing your dance or who inspires you the most?
Randa - Since I was very young, I loved the dance and it captured my soul.  Everyone predicted I would become a belly dancer.  At this time, I adored Samia Gamal.  She was my fairy tale  because she was dancing beside Farid Al Atrash.  I was one of his biggest fans and I would love to be Samia Gamal for dancing beside him. Samia Gamal always inspired me with her elegance in the dance, in addition because she has a high sensitivity to music which I always like to have that in my work. I also love her hands, shoulder movements and facial expressions.  As I grew I started to appreciate Naima Akef another beautiful dancer.  Until now even when they show movies on TV with Samia Gamal and Naima Akef my family excitedly calls me to tell  they are on TV. Until today I derive inspiration from both of them.   I watched so many times their performances that I know exactly all the steps they are doing during the scene

photo by Dave Halley

IZ - Sometimes I hear people say: “Randa is from the old school, she dances with the heart”.  Do you think the dancers are actually missing spontaneity and/or electricity?
 Randa - There is no old school or new school in dance, the most important thing is feeling.  Oriental dance without feeling is not oriental dance and this is what a lot of people are missing.  When you go to see a technical dancer with no feeling, she can lose her audience because she can’t capture no one without feelings.  In Eastern dance you are not a machine, there is no 1-2-3-4.  When you miss the feeling and the soul then you are not producing belly dance you are just dancing.  Anyone that became a star if receives a gift from God.  He gives the feeling, talent and charisma of dance.  This is not about Egypt, this pertains more to people abroad.  Every time I travel I speak about feeling as being the most important part of this dance.  You must also understand the music and have the lyrics translated so you must to know what you are dancing too.  
When I teach I explain the feeling and lyrics of the music.  It's one thing when my students can learn the technique and it’s completely different when I turn around and face them and they can see my emotions and expressions.  I see people that think they are belly dancing, but they are not.  They are far from being belly dancers because they don’t have feelings in their dance.  Belly dance is way bigger than this, you as a dancer need to present all that you have.  If you have only technique the audience will be bored within 5 minutes of watching you.  You must to have technique, feeling and expression, you must to have the whole package to perform the real Oriental dance. 

"There is no old school or new school in dance,
 the most important thing is feeling.   
Oriental dance without feeling
 is not Oriental dance and this 
is what a lot of people are missing."

IZ - When you are not dancing with your body are you dancing with your mind?
Randa - Everywhere I hear music I dance.  Yes I always dance with my mind. My life is only about my son, my family and the dance. I could be sleeping at night imagining movements.  I jump out of my bed dancing with my body.  When my family see me doing this they think I am insane.  Even when I’m driving, walking, or going to my daily life the dance is in my body.  If I don’t dance with my body I’m always dancing with my mind.   

"I see people that think they are belly dancing,
 but they are not.  They are far from being 
belly dancers because they don’t have feeling in their dance.

IZ - What makes you passionate about dance?
Randa -There is nothing specific that I can say that made me fall in love with dance.  The dance is in my blood. I guess I must have been born with it.  I love dancing so much because I really had a hard time with my family about my choice to be a professional dancer.  The obstacles I had to face with wanting to be a dancer have made me more passionate about it. 
When I was younger my family used to beat me because came to my neighbors houses and dance at their weddings and parties.  I was born in a very conservative city called El Mansoura and it’s so difficult to be a dancer in a conservative city.  I really don’t have an answer about why I love dancing so much but if you want to make me happy, just put on music and I will dance. There is something also which I always remember: When I was a child, I would go to parties and sit to watch everyone dance.  I always loved it when people came to me and begged me to dance.  It made me feel loved and appreciated, and maybe those are the reasons why I am so passionate about dancing. 

photo Dave Halley

IZ - Which music style do you like to perform? I have heard you like more of the Classics such as Um Kulthum. Why?
Randa - When I first started performing I loved dancing Um Kulthum and any music that was difficult to dance too.  I always picked the music that was more difficult so people would say that I had an excellent knowledge of music.  After a while I started dancing balady style* and I felt in love with balady also.  (accordion and tabla musical progression  considered balady).  Then I started dancing modern oriental and felt in love with that as well.  So basically, I’m in love with the whole package of Oriental dance music.  I love Um Kulthum specifically because everything in her songs is beautiful: the lyrics, the music,  there are much feeling inside or something unusual about her songs that just grab at my heart.     

IZ - What do you feel right before going on the stage?
Randa - It’s different every time and changes with who I’m dancing for and what I’m dancing to. There is a difference when I dance for dancers, or when I dance for regular Egyptian people. Each audience requires me to be a different performer and if I make them happy I am happy.  

"To be a great teacher,
 you must be TAUGHT how to teach.  
 You have to know what you are doing, 
you must know how to present the proper 
information in the correct manner. 
 This also requires a talent, just as dancing
 and performing require a talent."

IZ- Do you notice anything different when you dance outside Egypt?
Randa - When I dance outside of Egypt I feel like I’m a messenger of my country and my culture.  I want to present my message about the country where I’m from in the right way and I take it as a huge responsibility to be true to my culture.  When I see dancers present my dance or my culture in the wrong way I feel bad about it.  I want to scream out loud and say “No this is wrong”.  On the other hand if I see dancers present the dance in the correct way I feel like I’m flying and I’m so happy

IZ – What is Randa like offstage? What makes you happy?
Randa - I’m like anybody.  I’m a very simple person, most of time I am at home with my son and my family.   Sometimes I go out with my son and that makes me happy. What I really love to do is go back to my birthplace and spend time with my childhood friends, this really feels my heart and soul.  I usually consider this my vacation time, and the other thing that makes me happy is to be successful in my career and my personal life.   

IZ - What do you believe is the future of Egyptian belly dance in the coming years?
Randa - My opinion is that Oriental dance IS Egypt.  There is no difference between the two.  Egypt will always be considered the mother of Oriental dance and the land of Oriental dance.  About the current political problems, I think this is a temporary situation and will not change the history or the future of belly dance. 

IZ - Being a belly dance performer with a live band, does this make you a good teacher or does teaching require a different talent in of itself?  
Randa -  Dancing with live music is not enough to make you a good teacher and it certainly doesn’t give you the proper skills to teach.  To be a great teacher, you must be TAUGHT how to teach.  You have to know what you are doing, you must know how to present the proper information in the correct manner.  This also requires a talent, just as dancing and performing require a talent. You must not be a person that takes from the dance, you must add to the dance.  You must leave your own fingerprint in the dance.  Not every performer can be a good teacher, and every good teacher may not necessarily be a good performer. Please keep this in mind when you are considering who you learn from and when you decide to teach. 

"Belly dance is way bigger than this,
 you as a dancer need to present all that you have.  
If you have only technique the audience will be bore
within 5 minutes of watching you.  You must to have technique, 
feeling and expression, you must to have the whole package
 to perform the real Oriental dance."

IZ - Who do you consider an Egyptian Star? Why?
Randa - Egypt is full of stars, some stars have passed away and some that are still alive.  There are too many stars to name, Samia Gamal, Naima Akef, Tahaya Karioka, Nagwa Fouad, Nahed Sabry, Fifi Abdou, Dina, there are too many to name. For example a dancer I know a lot about Samia Gamal, she’s a real star because she really loved what she was doing and she added a lot to Oriental dance.  She had her own signature style that she created and she worked really hard and studied for.  She gave so much to this dance for so many years.  Every star that I mentioned also had their own signature style and that’s why they are considered stars and legends of the dance.    

photo Dave Halley

IZ – There are rumors that so many foreign dancers are in Egypt because not enough Egyptian dancers, where are the Egyptian dancers? And - do you think there will be new Egyptian bellydance Stars in the future?
Randa - First of all, Egypt is for everyone to dance it’s not only for Egyptians.  It’s normal and I’m happy to see foreigners dance in Egypt.  But we must consider how much real Egyptian dancers are loosing their jobs because the owners of some venues prefers the cheapest person to work at the place.  Now, most of the boats are full of foreigners and the Egyptian dancers are forced to go to lower class venues on Haram street and they are getting really frustrated.  But still there are many Egyptian dancers and of course I believe there will be new Egyptian stars in the future.  This will not be the end of Egyptian stars.  The dance is in the blood of Egyptians, must be new Egyptian stars in the future.  

you can also read: 

* Balady progression or Taksim Baladi is the Egyptian structured improvisation between the musicians and  the dancer. Can be divided in the followed sequences:
Awwady - slow improvised taksim with small moves full of feeling. There is the musical style Mawal as free nostalgic singing without rhythm. 
Me-Attaa - introduction to the rhythm (question and answer).
Maqsoum - the rhythm is established.
Tet - (4/4 rhythm accent on 2 and 4 with "tiit toot tet teeit" played by the mizmar) and transition to fellahi-rhythm.
Awwady Taksim - end.


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