Belly Shakes

Call Tamalyn Dallal the Rodney Dangerfield of dance. Dallal, a shapely attractive woman, doesn't resemble the portly comedian in any way, but she and Dangerfield have one thing in common: Both are rather vocal about not getting any respect.

Dallal is a belly dancer. Although the ancient dance's roots stem from pagan fertility rituals, her vocation is inextricably linked for many with filmy scarves and veils, skimpy costumes, endless episodes of I Dream of Jeannie, or countless stories from Tales of the Arabian Nights. "People used to just make a joke out of it. Belly this, and belly that, and it's all about gyrations," Dallal explains. "Nobody makes fun of flamenco, and this is like a first cousin to flamenco. This is just another dance form that needs to come out of the dark."

Dallal, who nine years ago founded and still runs the Mideastern Dance Exchange on Miami Beach, intends to shed light on more than just the movements from the Middle East in which she specializes. This Saturday she'll be among the cast of 30 participating in the stage extravaganza Sawah: The Traveler, a two-hour show concentrating on works from Israel, Egypt, Morocco, Turkey, Lebanon, Yemen, and Central Asia. An Arab-Andalusian piece will also be performed. Dancers include Argentina's Sarat and Arabian Ballet of Buenos Aires director Amir Thaleb, whom Dallal refers to as "the Joaquin Cortés of Middle Eastern Dance." Others hail from Morocco, New York, Oregon, and Miami Beach. Four percussionists will provide the music.

The title of the show is inspired by Dallal's peripatetic life. Originally from Seattle, she came to Miami in 1979 as a participant in the Peace Corps-like VISTA program and found herself helping out farm workers in South Dade and refugees from the Mariel boatlift. The move away from social work came when she met a former opera singer, who tutored Dallal in the intricacies of show business. Soon she began pursuing her dream of dancing full-time by performing in various countries throughout Central and South America, Africa, the Caribbean, and the Middle East, earning a living and educating herself in the ways of Middle Eastern dance.

Other than dancing, Dallal also has been pursuing writing of late. She just released the book, They Told Me I Couldn't, which details her struggles to dance professionally and touches on her travels through Colombia. Nevertheless her struggle to gain respect and raise consciousness about Middle Eastern dance continues, as evinced by the imminent big-scale production. "I hope people see the potential of this dance form as an art, see all the different things that can be done with it, the depth and the variety," Dallal notes. "I want to reach the real people."

Sawah: The Traveler will be performed at 8:00 p.m. Saturday, July 31, at Miami-Dade County Auditorium, 2901 W Flagler St. Tickets range from $18 to $28. Call 305-538-1608.