Get to Know a Bellydancer: Zahira




Where are you from?

I consider myself a citizen of the world, although Zahira may be from somewhere in Middle Earth 🙂 I’ve been in Toronto since 2002 and I was born in Pachuca, Hgo., Mexico

Astrological Sign?

Leo (Snake in the Chinese, Hazel in the Celtic)

Who do you dance with (Soloist/Company/Studio affiliation)?

Ruyah and my own Dragonfly Bellydance Studio; we opened its doors in October 2010 and it has been quite a wonderful journey ever since. We often perform duets. I’m a soloist in Toronto and the GTA, I direct and dance with the Dragonettes, our Steampunk inspired troupe, and until recently I was a member of Mirage. I’m also artistic director of Dragonfly Student Troupe. Dragonettes, Mirage and Dragonfly Student Troupe often participate in special projects (Hobbit, Airship Pirate, etc) often alongside other fantastic dancers such as Laura Atma and Lisa Raks.

I have had the privilege of dancing with many beautiful artists in our community and beyond. I was a founding faculty member at Hannan’s Bellydance Studio under its founder, creator and original owner Hannan Sultan, was a member of the Sultanettes (both student and faculty troupe), and later became a lead dancer in Rhythm of the Nile. I also had the delight to dance with Roula Said and taught at Om Laila. In Mexico I danced with Shazadi.

I love working on special projects with other dancers and I just wish I had the time to do more!

How long have you been dancing?

Dance has always been part of my life in one way or another. As a kid I was always part of some dance number at school; as I grew up I took movement/fitness classes as well as basics of Mexican Folklore, Ballet, Jazz and Modern.

I started bellydancing in September 2002 at the Athletic Centre at U of T, but it was a year and a half later that I got to meet Roula Said and Hannan Sultan and a whole bellydance world opened for me. I became completely obsessed with it. At some point I was taking 5 – 8 classes a week, everywhere: 1 class/week with Ilana Salazar (my first UofT teacher), 2 classes with Roula Said plus some privates (in addition to her 10 week drumming/zilling workshop), 1 private with Hannan (she didn’t have Hannan’s Studios yet back then), 1 class with Mayada, 1 class at Arabesque.

I had to leave Canada for a bit, in Mexico I continued my training with Shazadi who is a wonderful teacher and who also hosts lots of amazing workshops with world known bellydancers several times a year, something I deeply cherish as it gave me the chance to study with many bellydance luminaries at a crucial time in my life.

What is your favourite music?

Oh dear! That’s a ‘toughy’! As with almost everything in my life, I’m very eclectic with music. Music that moves me!
I fell in love with Abney Park in 2010 and the affair continues: the sound, concept, lyrics and pirate shanties!

I have always been drawn to dramatic pieces and epic music, thus I’ve always felt attracted and inspired by ‘epic’ soundtracks (John Williams, Howard Shore, Jerry Goldsmith, Xena). The Phantom of the Opera (like Melissa!), the Carmina Burana, Bizet’s Carmen, Beethoven, Bach.

Arabic-wise I was first drawn to Abdel Wahab and Warda and over the years I’ve developed a deep delight in the classics: Umm Kalthoum, Halim Hafiz, Farid al-Atrache, I find Asmahan (Farid’s sister who died very young), fascinating and love her music. I am deeply attracted to the sounds of the accordion, the mizmar, the qanoon & oud, as well as heavy and earthy drums. I love Andalusian/muwashahat rhythms. In general anything that makes me want to dance (and that’s a whole lot!)

I find celtic music magical, enthralling and soothing and I have an affinity I can hardly explain towards Bagpipes, Balkan and Roma music. Loreena McKennit, Woodland, Nightwish; there’s lots of Goth, Metal, Jazz, Blues and New Age music that I love or have loved throughout my life.

Favourite costume piece?

Hmmm I would have to say a hair-thingy, any hair-thingy whether it is a beaded hair-band, a flower, a sparkly diadem, feathers, goggles… depending on the costume and music of course! I often feel “naked” or “not well put together” without one, it is just that little extra thing that totally makes the character bringing the sass, the adventure, the sweet, the luscious, the dangerous…

Your Vices?

Procrastinating, coffee, cake, warcraft. I can be a perfectionist, passionate to the point of obsessiveness and my own worst critic. I’m an introvert and that sometimes translates as antisocial, even though I would love to be more outgoing. I’m a dreamer and so I often “check out” to day-dreaming and la-la-land instead of focusing on “real life”. I cry for everything (tears both of joy and of sadness).

Your Virtues?

I’m a dreamer and I work hard for what I want. I’m very loyal and devoted to my loved ones including to my lovely students as a teacher. I’m an eternal student of the world and the art. I’m compassionate and honest (even though that has put me in troublesome places at times).

Upcoming project/event?

We are currently preparing the Student Showcase at Dragonfly (May 25) and I’m very excited about an upcoming big Steampunk event in Niagara on the Lake in September!

Why bellydance?

It brings out the best in me and it completely changed my life! It can be incredibly outward and extroverted and incredibly inward and contemplative; it touches the depths of emotion from the utterly joyous to the tragic and sad. It is community and spirit. It is pure magic: magic when a dancer becomes the music, when you let the music and the movement touch you deeply, magic when you see how much this dance can transform the lives of people for the best, bringing healing, confidence, joy, incredible friendships, a deeper self awareness and knowledge both cultural and inner knowledge. There’s a fountain of wisdom and delight in the dance and its woven poetry. Everyone should bellydance!

Who inspires you?

Life itself! Nature, magic, mythology, fantasy, the enormous range of human emotion and art. My teachers and mentors, Roula and Hannan most specially: I wouldn’t have even consider being a bellydancer without them, they saw something in me, they opened their arms to me, believed in me and took me under their wing and for that and their incredible teaching I will be forever grateful and inspired. My beautiful students. My partner in crime and my shining star Ruyah. My mother and grandmother, my uncle, their strength, their love, their courage. Inspiration can be found in the most likely and unlikely places. My kitties. I admire and feel inspired by many dancers both international stars and local luminaries in our wonderful community.