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Ispahan aims to dazzle..!

But who is/are my shining example(s)?

I consider myself very lucky. The very first 'Belly Dancer' I ever saw, was the superb Salomé (Margot Widdershoven-Sijbers, 1960 -2006). She became my teacher and role model for many years to come.

Salomé had it all, phenomenal technique, intelligent dance, a wonderful stage presence and great creative ideas. Originally, she was a sculptor, who discovered Hawaiian dance ‘on the side’ and soon after, became one of the first Dutch Oriental dancers. At times when this was not yet common, she had ‘the outfits’! I was mesmerized... It all came together: her choreographies, her stage and costume designs, the music she selected, the people she worked with…, it was all so artistic, bold, new and exiting! Most of her pupils looked up to her in amazement and, obviously, so did I. Sadly, we had to part from her much to soon, but she will always be in our hearts.

Which such a high standard, it is hard to find a new idol. I guess that is why I didn’t. Not that there aren’t any great artistic and creative dancers at the moment, like Shahrazad for instance. If I run out of ideas, I now turn to her, watch her magnificent costumes and stage designs, her brilliant choreographies, her knowlegde of different dance forms…and feel inspired again. If can mention a third, it would be Rachel Brice…for obvious reasons.

Outside of Oriental Dancing, I greatly admire Kate Bush.., my stage name origins from her song: ‘Kashka from Bagdad’. Her music is intelligent, she is always reinventing herself and her videos are works of art. I guess its because I am a painter by profession, write columns for a magazine for women on the internet, organize creative en inspiring workshops, design, dance and always try to make things different, creative and original myself, that I feel attracted to these magnificent, multi-talented and original, authentic women, who are shining examples to me.

Salomé - Shahrazad - Kate Bush - Rachel Brice


Kashka in the Epilepsy Project, Maastricht (NL), 2010.
For more Kashka: click here.

Kashka in the Exils Project, a modern belly dance choreography
made by Kashka, based on the second generation migrants,
Maastricht (NL) 2010.
For more Kashka: click here.



About twenty years ago..
when I discovered Oriental Dance..

Kashka on Oriental Dance:

What I like about ‘Belly Dancing’, or rather: love, is that anyone can practise it, whether young or old, tall or short, slim or heavy.. it doesn’t matter. Very much in contrast to my first (and everlasting) dance love interest: ballet.
Auditioning for a famous ballet company at ten years old, I was told that the top of my feet were a couple of millimetres to low, or thin to be accepted. I was talented, I could dance, it was just my feet.. My father asked one of the judges from the auditioning committee, why I needed to have bigger insteps and the answer was: ‘Because the public wants it’. It was prettier to look at, when on pointes. Fortunately, in Oriental Dance my feet proved to be no 'problem' at all, in fact, any body shape will do, as long as you are able to move gracefully..!

Of course there also is no Oriental Dance Academy (at least not recognised as such) and Oriental Dance is not yet really accepted as a professional sports or serious, theatre worthy, art form. Not yet! Since I started to follow lessons in Oriental Dancing, twenty years ago, I witnessed a significant change in this particular dance scene. Back then, it used to be for the odd and artistic few, mostly women studying at art academies, who were interested in anything new, strange and mysterious.. It was quite brave in those days to tell or admit you were a 'Belly Dancer'.. Often we were considered to be involved with kinky stuff, or just simply lunatics, possessed by some evil genie, or worse. Since then, Oriental Dance has become more accepted and women from all walks of life are practising it. And dance in general has become more and more popular.

about ten years ago.. still dancing!

New trends..
At the same time that Oriental Dancers have become more ‘normal’ dancers in the eye of the public and also have become more professional, training almost like regular ballet dancers and striving to perfect their moves, the artistic part of it seems to have shifted a bit to less regulated and ‘new’ trends like Tribal Fusion and other Oriental fusion forms, that are developing at the moment. Not only Oriental Dance in Europe has changed, so has the audience. As a matter of fact, Oriental Dancing has become so popular that you can find a performer or teacher in almost any city or village, whereas ‘in the old days’ you would certainly have to travel.. Even though we are all happy that the stigma had gone, this also kills the mystique surrounding it a little.

One thing I have never really understood is the ‘classical’ Oriental thing.. I understand that there has to be a word to differentiate between old and new Oriental Dance styles (like Tribal/ Tribal Fusion/ Oriental Hip hop, etc.), but to me, the term gives a false idea of its origin. The question is: how far back in time do you want to go? Classic Oriental Dance usually pointes back to the 1940-1960's: the days that the Egyptian film industry bloomed. But in fact, Oriental Dance has developed from a mixture of so many cultures and has so many influences, from the Orient ánd the rest of the world that ‘a classic style’ really doesn’t exist, in my point of view. Since learning at bit about Persian Dance, for example, I found out that a crossover has taken place, about two centuries ago, between Persian Dance and Ballet, leaving its marks in both dances and costumes.

Persian fresco

The origin of dance..
Apart from that, cultures have always mixed, people tend to travel, tell stories back home about the new cultures they have discovered, conquerors bring back dancers… African, Indian (‘Gypsy’), Spanish (Flamenco), Egyptian and other dance forms have mixed since the beginning of time. In more or less isolated area’s new mix-forms have become trend and are now considered classical.., or specific for that region. Like the American or Hollywood style, dramatic and sensual, with lots of props, based on what the Western world imagined the mysterious Orient to be. It’s the style shown in old Hollywood films that travelled to Europe and was thought of, for some time, as ‘Oriental Dancing’. But dancers, travelling to the Orient, soon discovered that it was much more complicated than that.

Some of them, have gone to extreme length to describe the many different dance styles, from different regions, by different clans or cultural groups. But since people are travelling the world for many thousands of years, this mixing of styles has been going on for so long, that the name ‘classic’ always seems a bit silly to me. Folk Dance, the dance you will still find in secluded areas of the world, in tiny villages, that has been transferred from mother to daughter for centuries, is probably the closest you will come to traditional dance. But these dance forms can differ from town to town, or family to family (clan)..

1001 Dance styles..
The effort modern Oriental Dancers make, to be ‘true’ to classic Oriental Dance, opposed to new (fusion) trends, are valuable, but I do not understand the rejection by of some of them of these new dance trends, as the classical form once was a new trend as well! (In costume, trends like Tribal and Tribal Fusion may even come closer to the Oriental traditional costumes, mind you!)

New frontiers, new challenges bring spice to the world, rejecting them, or thinking less of them, seems silly to me. As I mentioned, the arty way to approach Oriental Dance has shifted to these new trends and dancers who do not like to follow, but want to created themselves, without boundaries, have found a place there. Let’s embrace all. Let’s not consider one style to be ‘the real thing’, leaving the rest out. Let’s not forget that not so long ago, any 'Belly Dancer' outside the Oriental world was considered a weirdo! ;-)

my own choreography, a cross over between Oriental Dance and Modern Ballet

Speaking of embracing…
If you, like me, grew up in the most southern province of the Netherlands and are in your thirties or over and 'Belly Dancing', you will probably have heard of Yamila and Salomé. Not their real names, obviously.. They were two Dutch Oriental Dancers who, in the early ages of Oriental Dance in the Netherlands, formed a duo and performed successfully together, but later found themselves in a bitter fight. The fight was never resolved and sort of split the region into two camps.

I, completely new to Oriental Dance at the time, took lessons in Maastricht, taught by Salomé. She sometimes brought me along when they performed together and I sat backstage and watched in awe. I wanted to be her. Everything I have learned about Oriental Dance, I learned from her. It was never talked about, but for us, her students, it was understood and agreed upon that, whether informed about the grounds of the feud or not, we were and would ever be, loyal to her. And I always was. As I am sure Yamila’s students were as well.

myself and friends at Miep's Party

Miep's Party..
Salomé’s friend Miep taught Oriental Dance lessons in the region as well. One day, a long time ago, Salomé organised a Oriental Dance party in honour of Miep’s birthday. It became a tradition and also the first stage that I performed on and would continue to perform on, every time it was held, up until this very day. It was also at this party that I first saw Shahrazad dancing, a very memorable day about twenty years ago. After Salomé’s tragic death in 2006, Miep’s parties slowly ‘crumbled’ a bit and gradually lost some of the fun and good atmosphere they used to have.. The audience slowly disappeared too. We all felt very sad, because the nice thing about it was that it never was a place of competition.., anyone could perform, the joy of dancing was key. But the venue it was held was demolished and new venue’s never seemed to have the right atmosphere again. Miep’s Party was held for the very last time on 10 October 2010. I was there… I danced and it was an emotional day.

the final goodbye

This year, the Miep Party however has a rebirth.., across the border, in Maasmechelen/ Belgium. It is no longer called the Miep Party, but has gotten the contemporary name of: the Belly-2-Belly Festival. It is organised now by two lovely dancers Luna and Chadia, both educated (amongst others) by Yamila..
Ispahan also accommodates dancers from both the Yamila as the Salomé ‘side’ and the dancers of the present time have grown up and entered a new era.. I have to admit that at first I had my doubts about the Miep Party ‘falling into enemies hands’, to put it strongly. But I have realised that we all have to move forward and I do wish both organising ladies all the best. I hope to be able to dance at their Festival for many years to come. Miep will be there too, by the way..!

Miep at the Festi Village