In the decade-plus since Miami Dade College started it's Middle East Dance Program, the curriculum -- and it's accompanying, annual Belly Dance Show -- has become the biggest and best place in the state of Florida to hone the ancient art of danse du ventre.
Saturday's showcase, titled Arabian Dreams, is put on by an incredibly expansive cast (over 80 dancers) from a very wide range of ages (14 to 60). We shot some questions to Irene Baquero, the performance's production manager (and MDC Kendall Campus program manager), to glean a little insight into Arabian Dreams, it's chief choreographer, and the revival of seductive, ancient dance in 2011 South Florida.
What is the history of Miami-Dade's Belly Dance Show?
This show is an annual recital performed by our Middle Eastern Culture & Arts Program, directed & choreographed by Samay since 2001. The first show was held on campus in our auditorium for family members and friends without an entrance fee. Our auditorium seats 350 and we were not able to accommodate all those who attended. From then on, we had to charge an entrance fee to cover the costs of costumes and props. Since the auditorium could only hold 350 people, two performances were given in one night. We switched venues in 2007 due to the increase in enrollment that translated into larger audience numbers that met unprecedented success with a sold out performance where more than 2,400 attended.
What can you tell us about MDC's Middle Eastern Culture and Arts Program?
In this non-credit program, students of ages 14 and up can learn all aspects of the Middle Eastern art form. Students may acquire achievement certification from beginner level classes all the way through professional levels. In order to move on to the next level, students need to be evaluated at the end of each course in order to demonstrate that they have mastered each skill. A certificate of accomplishment is given to those who master all levels. Students look for the different classes offered each semester - Cane, Veil, Zills, Shammadan and Sword.
What is Samay's connection to MDC? How did she come to found the department in 1997?
Samay began learning to belly dance in 1993 in different dance studios with world renowned instructors. After joining a dance troupe and performing in many shows, she taught a class in Middle Eastern Dance Exchange and was motivated to continue teaching. She then brought the program over to Miami Dade College Kendall Campus for non-credit. The program started with basic level classes of 10-15 students and then grew to more advanced level class of 35-40 students.
She has been teaching with Miami Dade College for 14 years and has directed and choreographed each of the 9 Belly Dance Shows. She is an internationally renowned, award winning, professional instructor and choreographer focused in the art of Egyptian dance. She has traveled extensively to the Middle East to acquire the technique and cultural aspects for the authenticity of the oriental and folkloric dance styles. She has had the honor of teaching and performing in many places around the world such as Europe, Middle East, and Asia. Samay was recently featured in Fall issue of Yallah Magazine, a Florida based publication created to promote and showcase the growth of belly dance. A beautifully written three page article along with photographs portrays what inspired Samay to pursue the studies of this culture and reveals her accomplishments along the way.
MDC's Middle East Dance program has grown into one of the most successful in the state of Florida. What are some markers of this growth?
Our growth is by the great student following that Samay carries. This program holds about 250-300 students per semester, many being repeat students moving on to more advanced levels.
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Why do you think the program/show is so popular?
Belly dancing itself has significantly grown in popularity in recent years for its health and mental wellness benefits, including helping to boast self-esteem. Students are not only learning how to belly dance but learn about the Middle Eastern culture as well. They look forward to having the opportunity to put on a beautiful Egyptian costume and perform their choreographed techniques on stage. The show provides entertainment and performances by a variety of special guests from around the world.
Miami-Dade College's Belly Dance Show, as presented by MDC's Middle Eastern Culture and Arts Program at the Kendall Campus School of Continuing Education and Professional Development. Friday, October 28. Manuel Artime Theater. 900 SW First Street. Tickets are $25 through TicketWeb. More info here