Dancing Authentically to Sha’abi and Mahraganat with Natalie – 066

Belly Dance Podcast 66 Cover Natalie Nazario

NYC raqs sharqi dancer Natalie Nazario of Puerto Rico shares how to belly dance authentically to shaabi and mahraganat, as well as her love for Egyptian colloquial Arabic, culture and daily life. 

Natalie Nazario is a Puerto Rican professional Raqs Sharqi dancer, teacher, choreographer, and producer specializing in Egyptian Oriental Dance based in New York City. Founder of Raks Al Zahra Company, her group is the result of great inspiration received from her travels through the Middle East, as well as from her personal experiences that resonate and connect between her dancers and the audience. She has done so much and she is a lot of fun. So let’s jump right into it!

On Facebook: Natalie Nazario Ayala

On Instagram: @natalie_hayat


How to make Shaabi and Mahraganat Dances Look Authentic

Natalie, you have a background in jazz and hip hop, and I can see that come through some of your fun Shaabi choreographies. Do you have any tips for making Shaabi performances look more authentic? 

What is the difference between Shaabi or Mahraganat?

Traditional Shaabi was made with musicians playing real instruments, and it started in the 1970s.

Mahraganat became more popular after the Revolution in Egypt in 2011. They wanted to talk about the difficulties they were having. They couldn’t afford to pay musicians, so they started using computers to make their music electronic. Mahraganat can be more fun, and has hip hop inspiration.

Figure out what time period is the music from

Is it from before or after the 2011 Revolution in Egypt?

Use movements and costumes from the time period of the song you are dancing to

For example, you can wear modern costumes while dancing to the modern Mahraganat music.

Should Belly Dancers Learn Arabic?

I see that you have been visiting Egypt since 2015 to learn about the culture and modern life of Egyptian people in a deeper way.  And you have been learning Egyptian Colloquial Arabic. How has this helped you connect on a deeper level with belly dance?


“Yallah!” (Let’s go)

“Yalla Bina”

“Mish mumkin”  (No way! I can’t believe it.)

“‘Aywa” or “aiwa “ – I say this as approval while someone is dancing. Like yes! Yes! Especially when they are dancing to beledi.

The way words are used for belly dance changes with time. For example during the Golden Era of belly dance, these words were not used the same way or pronounced the same way.

Performing with the Famous Egyptian puppet Abla Fahita at the Apollo Theater in New York City

I also see you were in a show with the famous Egyptian puppet Abla Fahita when they performed at the Apollo Theater in New York City. ; an Egyptian production And you performed while speaking Egyptian Arabic.  Tell us about that. 

It was incredible. It was a dream to perform to an audience of thousands of Arabs. Once you know your audience, you know how to connect with them. An Arabic audience is connecting with the dancers the whole time by making sounds. This is very different in different cultures. I performed in Japan in a big beautiful theater, and the audience did not clap. I thought they did not like my performance. But after the performance the audience came to me and told me that they loved it. Puerto Rican audiences are often more like Arabic audiences by clapping and saying things and getting very excited at the end. But Egyptian audiences can even start saying “Yallah”

I dance differently according to my audience. I dance different in Egypt and Puerto Rico.

Every audience demands something different.

Danceable Ritual: Wake up moving to the sounds around you

Natalie’s motto is: “I write my life with every dance movement. As I perform, I dance my past, present, and future to come.” Do you have a Danceable Ritual you would like to share?

Every time I wake up, I start moving my body with the background sounds. Like birds. I start awakening my body with movements with sounds from life. If a car passes, having a specific sound, I will move with that. Or if someone starts talking, moving with the energy around me.

When the pandemic started, I was in New York City.

I was listening to the sirens from the ambulance, and I start dancing to that.

Moving my body to the sirens of the ambulance. and that reminds me where my movement should come from. I go back to what is natural.

And I noticed that I was dancing even more from inside-out. I started doing it one minute. And sometimes I dance for 3 minutes, up to 10 minutes. Even if I was just raising my arm very slowly for one minute.

I noticed that even one minute of dancing first thing in the morning can change everything.

It makes me connect right away

What is one important thing that many dance teachers forget?

I have featured Kaeshi Chai and Brenna Crowley of Belly Queen, and it seems like such an amazing community of artists.

What are some of your most memorable takeaways from the Bellyqueen Teacher Training Certification?

Use Body Language to Connect with Your Students

Body language and connection with your student is very important for a dance teacher. The way that you present to your students. Be prepared for class. Organize your ideas. Understand the needs of each student. Different ages, experience levels, etc

What do you want your audience to experience?

I visited your website www.natalie-nazario.com and I saw a video of the Raks Al Zahra show which featured some of your most outstanding students. And it looked like you included a lot of different dance styles that Oriental and Folkloric Style choreographies. Khaleeji hair throws, Shaabi in blue jeans, full skirt (this is actually a piece from Dalia Carrella Company, they were our guest in one of the 3th Anniversary show), white galabeya like Fifi Abdou. The show looked like a lot of fun. When you are producing a show, what do you want the audience to experience? How do you want them to feel? 

So much culture is represented in dance. I want the audience to be immersed in culture. To feel like they are traveling with us. Music and daily life.

And see the dedication of the dancers. The effort that they put into learning the choreography and everything that goes behind it. I guide my dancers to read articles, see documentaries, translate the music. The dancers connecting to each other and performing as they are one.

Danceable Song: Nassam Alayna El Hawa

The Fairuz version is on Belly Dance Body and Soul playlist! But we could not find this Elissa Lovers version on Spotify: 

It’s a Lebanese composition. I first thought it was Egyptian. The lyrics are amazing. Longing for your country. The breeze. Wanting to see the fish swimming in the water. Fairuz sang it before. When I heard another version, the energy and the way the instruments were being played was different. The way it was sung. The pronunciation of each word.

Music is like dance. You can see when it is more Turkish, or Egyptian, or Lebanese. The way that Egyptians play the tabla nowadays is completely different than the way they play table in Lebanon.

How do you know what songs you can use in your youtube videos without getting the music silenced?

I am going to ask you more about the fantastic food market dance video you released in April 2021. But first, how did you figure out what music was legal for you to use in the video?

Right now in Youtube you are able to add the credits for the song. Then the musicians allow you to use the song if they approve and of course they will get at least .03 cents for each time the video is played. 

Find out what label the song is on

The music company Hollywood Music Center did approve the video after I uploaded it.

I had to take a risk. I invest a lot. They could have said that I could not share the video. First I uploaded the video as unlisted, and I knew that they would figure out. Then they approved it when I agreed to pay them 3 cents each time the video is played. I thought that was a good deal for them.

Do not assume that you will be able to use the song

One time I did a performance to a live band playing “Zay el Hawa” by Abd El Halim Hafez and I was not allowed to upload it. It was live musicians. They song will never be played the same. But I was never allowed to share that.

Figure out if they are likely to approve the way that you perform the song

I am making their song more famous! But I do understand because I am a choreographer. Sometimes the meaning of a song or choreography changes with a performance. But some people want a specific idea or concept that they do not want represented in another way.

There is a video of a Mahraghanat performance that is banned only in Egypt. You can watch that video everywhere else in the world. It is banned only in Egypt.

Dance Move: Full Body Undulation / Camel

Start by just shifting your weight all the way to your toes, and then to your heels. Your entire body starts feeling the weight shifting and connection with the floor and earth.

Then bring your upper body all the way forward, and feel the weight shift. Then bring your upper body back, and feel the weight shift. Keep your tailbone down. Move your body, but in place.

Then the upper body goes front, weight is in toes. Upper body goes back, and your hips go to the front. And so on.

Be very conscious of your weight.

Weight in your toes, then weight in your heels.

When I rode a camel in Egypt, I found that this is the movement of the camel. Step by step, slowly, connecting with the rhythm of the camel and moving like that. I did full body undulations while riding a camel. It was a eureka moment.

There are many ways to do the camel dance move. You can engage your muscles. But you can also do it naturally.

What inspired you to make a dance video in a fresh fruit and vegetable market?

You were the star in a great video “Baladi”, where you are dancing in front of a fresh fruit and vegetable stand in a market. The words on the signs were in Spanish, and the actors were dressed up like they would have been in a market in Egypt. You were making connections between markets in Puerto Rico and markets in Cairo. It helped me realize some of the similarities in the markets I have been drawn to all over the world as well. The colors, textures, socializing, life, the delight of finding what you are looking for. Tell us more about your inspiration to make the video. 

I wanted to mix and connect both Puerto Rico and Egypt. I wanted to support the farmers in Puerto Rico and to speak Egyptian Arabic in the video. After I made the video, my friends in Puerto Rico wanted to go to the market in the video. So I was supporting the local people. And all of the people in the video are my friends. I dressed them in my costumes. Even my Mom was in the video.

It was connecting and supporting my people. The videographer. The photographer Monzeeki.

Vegan Whole Food Ingredient Natalie Loves: Za’atar and Hoja de Recao / Culantro

Get some leaves of hoja de recao and put it in your beans. It has a great flavor. I learned this from my grandparents in Puerto Rico. “Hoja de recao” or culantro is similar to coriander, but the leaves are longer.

And from Middle East, I love the spice mix za’atar. I mix it with yogurt, oil, on beans, with bread.

Za’atar Man’ouche – Flat bread with herbs

Costume Tip: Never use safety pins

It is very important to keep your body safe. Safety pins can hurt you. They can come open while you are performing. Even expensive safety pins. There are not more safety pins in my life!

And safety pins can damage your costume. Costumes are valuable. We spend a lot of money on them. We spend a lot of time and money on performances.

The Benefits of Beauty Contests

You learn how to carry your personality. You even learn how to walk. How to share who you are. When you share who you are, you will be able to connect with people more.

Dancing in Jillina’s Bellydance Evolution

I just recently featured Jillina in this podcast in episode #61, and I see that you won the People’s Choice Award at the Bellydance Evolution event in Australia. What did that experience teach you about dance? 

This was one of the first times that I traveled to perform outside of the US. I pulled a Puerto Rican flag out of my costume.

Jillina shows us how complete a dancer can be. She is very important as a role model. Her program Paso por Paso (Paso x Paso) supported the belly dance community in Central America.

Feel-Good-Look-Good Habit: Wash cold water all over your body

Even if it’s just part of your shower, try cold water. It makes me feel good. My skin looks good. Younger.