“The Music is in My Blood”: The Artistry of Belly Dancer Randa Kamel of Egypt – 068
World-famous Egyptian raqs sharqi dancer Randa Kamel on the importance of belly dancing to live music, feeling the music, and why oriental dance developed in Egypt.
Alicia: Randa Kamel has been blowing my mind for some time now. She is based in Cairo, and I love her strength. I love seeing her dance barefoot. I have sprained my ankle too many times to wear high heels, so seeing a master dancer perform barefoot really moves me! And she dances with such passion. Randa moved to Cairo as a teenager, where she danced with the Reda Troupe for years. She traveled the world with the Reda Troupe, learning folkloric styles. After that she started her solo career as an oriental dancer and has performed and taught all over the world. Randa is hosting a festival in Egypt starting June 25 2022, and it looks incredible. Check out Raqsofcourseofficial.com for more info on that. There are a TON of teachers, a competition where finalists get to dance with Randa’s orchestra, it sounds like a dream come true, and an event to add to your vision board. Whew!
This episode of A Little Lighter is going to be different from every episode that came before it. Why?
Because I will not be the one asking the questions. A long-term colleague and friend of Randa Kamel, the amazing dancer in Egypt right now in Cairo, her friend named Sara Farouk conducted this interview with Randa in Arabic. Sara is also a seasoned performer based in Cairo.
Sarah gave me her blessing to turn these interviews with Randa into a podcast, and I think what Rhonda says here is profound and moving. And I hope you will too. And oh my goodness. It’s so exciting to have somebody who’s performing in Egypt right now sharing their perspective! And sharing this dance that comes from their motherland and one of the motherlands of this dance that we love so very much.
Why do you think Oriental dance developed in Egypt?
Look habibti, oriental dance is feeling. It grows from our feelings during improvisational dancing and on the stage. When we feel something, we live it and our feelings show it, and the dancing develops.
The technique is enhanced.
Dance with this quality and feeling can only come from here, from Egypt.
Oriental dance is not technique. Feeling is first. Feelings from the music, the audience, the rhythm, and feeling the words.
Some people use the songs without the lyrics and by doing this, they think they make performing easier. That’s not true. Everybody knows all the lyrics of the songs and their meaning. If you take the words away, it doesn’t mean that I don’t know them. As an audience member you are forced to add the missing words yourself.
So of course the dance developed here because Egypt is the land of Oriental dance. It’s language, it’s music, and it’s rhythms.
With all of this, you will continue to evolve as a dancer. And of course you will flourish in Egypt.
How important is it to follow a strict choreography?
To begin with, when we dance we don’t choreograph. By we, I mean the renowned Oriental dancers. For example, I have never danced a choreography. I always respond to the feelings of the moment. I rely on the audience and how they feel and respond to their feelings, the situation I’m in and how the venue wants me to dance.
All of this dictates what kind of dance I will perform on the stage. No choreographies. We only started using choreographies when we started teaching in the West.
We never learned choreographies. The only people who did this were groups like Reda and El Kaomeyya. They had to learn choreographies, but Oriental dancers don’t have this.
How important are the music and the words of the songs?
The music is everything. The music makes me move.
The music is in my blood. It’s what makes me laugh and therefore makes other people happy. Music is everything. It’s an international language. Many people will say that a song is happy or sad. If they let themselves feel it for a minute, you will know how it makes you feel.
Everything an Oriental dance comes from your feelings and the music. That’s why we all dance a different way from each other. We all feel and hear the music differently. And in this way, the feeling is translated into movement. Nobody’s the same. They all have their own talents, their work ethic, their power level.
Everything is music. Music is my feelings and my body translates the music, rhythm and words.
We dance to the music to reach the words, to feel the words, everything is inseparable. In Oriental dance nobody should just follow the music or the melody. Nobody should just follow the rhythm or only the words.
A top quality Oriental dancer is one who can follow all of these elements together and say it all.
I am the tongue that expresses the music. People see my body as an instrument of translation, the voice of every member of my orchestra.
Everything they play and sing is incorporated in the movement of my body and the expressions on my face. I am the translator because it is me that’s talking and singing.
Being a dancer here is a big issue. It’s very hard work. How are you going to achieve all of this at once? It’s not easy. Some people think it’s technique-based, but absolutely not. No.
You need to get the feeling.
To understand the audience. Know the technique well. Feel good. Express the words to the people, and make them see you in the right way.
This is very hard work and it takes a very long time. It requires a lot of practice to become a top quality artist. The people who are prepared to put in this effort are the people who love and respect the dance.
If someone is using just their looks, they have to know that Oriental dance has nothing to do with just being pretty. There are a lot of top quality dancers that are not in this category.
It’s not just being pretty or having a good body. It’s about art. It’s about talent.
We’re born with that talent, and we let it grow. We make people happy because it is honest and not fake.
What makes Egyptian dance different from any other dance style?
During my travels, I’ve seen a lot of dance and it’s always been connected with choreography or couples doing a choreography or something similar.
Oriental dance is not like this. It has depth, and it comes from inside me. And I project these feelings. If I feel hurt inside, then my body shows this because I choose the song that I want to dance to and I share my feelings.
I express my feelings and express the feelings of a woman.
That I am female, a human being and an artist.
Because I’m free.
I feel that when I’m dancing Oriental dance, that I am free. Nobody’s in control of me. And I am able to express my inner feelings. I’m happy.
What makes me the happiest is when I see the audience feeling the same emotion while they’re watching me dance. This pushes me to do more and more.
Are there rules in Oriental dance?
There are a lot of people who say that Oriental dance has no rules, but there are a lot. Who knows these rules? That’s the core of the problem.
As I say to all the dancers that if you don’t come to Egypt, know what the dance means in Egypt and understand that it is in the blood of Egyptians, then what you witness will be something else.
It’s going to be a mechanical display of technique, rhythms, and hair. It’s not going to be the Oriental dance which has developed over 7,000 years and was based on feelings.
Why are the musicians so important?
Oriental dance changes from minute to minute and in every venue.
If I’m talking about the venues, there are cabarets, large theaters, festivals, restaurants, places for weddings and engagements, and everywhere requires different dancing. Oriental dance has many forms. I have to know how to dance in each venue, and what I should wear.
This is very important. About the musicians. They add the power. They make me express my feelings with more power and make me perform in a way that is suitable for the venue and for the people who are watching. For instance, if I do a show that has an Umm Kulthum in it for a wedding, and there are a lot of young people in the crowd, I will not perform that song for them. I have to do something else. What is that something else? Whatever comes out of my mind.
I can only do this if I have musicians.
The musicians are the dance and the dancer. Without musicians, there would be no Oriental dance. All of my dreams come true.
The opposite is when you dance to a CD. I dance to a lot of recorded music abroad, but I feel like I’m in a prison as an artist because if I don’t exactly follow the music, I won’t look good.
But live all the musicians compete to see who is the best. It is always a competition between us to see who plays better. Everyone wants to be better and better, and that’s where the quality comes from. With recorded music, I’m in prison.
There’s a big difference and I adore live music.
Oriental dance is live music.
What’s the difference between dancing on social media and live dancing?
I’ve watched a great deal on social media and a lot of it has nothing to do with reality. Sometimes I see a very big issue on the phone, and I think what’s this? In reality, it’s different.
Social media for me is like advertising. And to be close to each other and to know who we are. But at the same time, we have to know exactly what is true and what is fake, or it will knock us sideways.
I have to see you as a strong, true artist. Not just someone’s beauty or a dancer with a lot of power that is incorrect. It’s very nice dancing, but not Egyptian. Everything has to be in harmony so that I am satisfied with the quality of the dance.
I like reality and truth, and that’s why I don’t appear on social media a lot. Social media can be deceiving, and I prefer to have dancers in front of me live.
Why do you think Egyptian dance attracts so many foreign dancers?
Because all the foreigners are women and artists and they feel something. It’s not only me who can feel. Anyone who listens to the music and sees a dancer expressing herself in a liberated way wants to join in and free themselves from their day to day life.
Like for me after I finish a show where I feel I have done everything that I wanted to do, I forget whatever problems I may have.
After the show, I go to sleep because I don’t want to explain anything to anyone or get involved in the normal problems of life. Because I’ve said everything in my performance. I’ve asked all my questions and exposed everything inside of me during the show.
There is no woman with the talent of tasting the music and who loves dancing that can resist Oriental dance.
Because Oriental dance is a pleasure for us as women. It’s like a cure for us to feel that we are free, we are human and that we can fly.
For me, Oriental dance is my medicine, my life and my soul. I’ve never regretted being a dancer and whatever is in my future, it will be with dance. Dancing has given me so much. I cannot count the benefits and still I have to give more power to the dance. It deserves it.
What do you need to be an artist?
An artist is always suffering. They feel more, hurt more, love more. And because of this, the life of an artist is difficult and tiring. What makes us persevere is the ability to use what is inside of us and the music.
I’m talking about my experience. Nothing but music transports me. Music, practice and dance. Dance is the cure. Artists are different. Each field has different feelings.
I’m talking about my experience.
I’ve never felt that I am enough of an artist. I never liked to watch a video of mine because I always get angry.
Why did I forget this finger, this movement, this hand?
I become crazy because I should’ve been better, and I wonder why I made mistakes. I feel from inside that it’s never enough, and I want to practice. Every time I practice, I know that I could get better and strive for this.
The combination of practice and having a gift makes an artist, not just having a gift alone.
There’s a saying about dance. If I leave dance for a day, the dance will leave me for 10. That means that practicing the dance is important.
Without having a gift, practicing, and having a stage, it is hard to be an artist of quality.
The artists should be like a role model. Their words and actions should encourage others to behave in the same way. For example, people will copy the color of my nails or my costumes. I am like an idol for those dancers. So I have to be respectable and protect that image. I have to know how to walk, talk, dance, and communicate with people.
Everything an artist does involves responsibility for others.
People watch and imitate, so we have a responsibility towards Oriental dancing. It needs this kind of support.
Should you continue learning all your life?
I think it’s the end when you feel it’s okay not to practice. That would be the end of me as an artist. An artist should be learning until the end of their days. They will never stop learning.
Throughout life we learn every day and discover something new through our work. We have to practice every day to understand and learn. Without this, there is no dance, no development.
What is the best thing about dancing in Egypt?
The most beautiful thing is that I can share my feelings with my audience and I can see them admire my work.
I can see the respect in their eyes when I’m on stage. And because Oriental dance is problematic in our culture, this makes me very happy.
I feel cleansed after I’ve danced because of this.
Inside me, I’m happy because I want to show everybody what Oriental dance and Egyptian culture mean. What the rules are. What is right and what is wrong and where Oriental dance is supposed to be.
If all the people who care about Oriental dance disappear, the dance will vanish.
I always feel that I have to work hard to show the people what Egypt is and present Oriental dance from the past until the present. How we feel it. I have these responsibilities. I’m happy with this and I will never get tired. I will always continue to celebrate Egypt and Oriental dance.
And she gives a *kiss* at the end.
Alicia: So now you are marinating in the profoundness I alluded to at the beginning of this show. Wow. There’s just so much to unpack here. On my website aliciafree.com, go to the podcasts page and open up this interview. Like many of the podcasts posted there, the show notes page is super helpful if you like to read the highlights. I also send a podcast highlight email out once a month, and you can sign up for that on my site too. Here are some of the highlights of this interview for me:
Randa feels incredibly connected to her orchestra and musicians and music. She practices a lot, but she is not just focusing on technique. When she is performing, she is focusing on each moment. The suffering, the joy. She is asking the universe her questions with her dance. As she said, it’s “because Oriental dance is a pleasure for us… It’s like a cure for us to feel that we are free, we are human and that we can fly.” Her dedication to her art has given her wings.
And if you look for Randa on social media, she’s not someone spending tons of time making her Instagram feed perfect. She’s spending her time dancing and getting people together to dance and play music and enjoy art.
You might want to listen to this interview again and visit the show notes page. If you get just one thing, one concept, one idea or one practice that brings you joy each time you listen to a podcast, then you are winning. Your time is well spent. I bet if you listen to this episode again, you’ll get another gift. We have so many gifts in our lives. This interview that Randa Kamel and Sara Farouk have created for us is a gift, and I am so grateful.