When did you start belly dancing?
In March 1999, I wanted to learn Spanish Flamenco, but couldn't find a group to join, since it was end of the year and there were no open classes. I was a dancer for years, until I was 18, but never learned to belly dance. I found in the Yellow Pages a bellydance stuido for all levels that was open for begginers that time, i thought "why not" and gave it a chance. The first time I came to the studio I was enchanted.
My first teacher was Tina from Sahara City. Sometimes her sister, Pessy, and sometimes Asi, would substitute for her. It was fun to get to know Asi then, and later we became close friends - now he designs my costumes. My curiosity was not fulfilled by the classes; I wanted to learn more. I was really intrigued by old movies and Egyptian dancers. I would stay for hours late at night to learn dances by heart, by watching them on old video tapes, playing back the same dance over and over.
When did you first go to Egypt?
In 2002 I went for the first time, with my friend Galia. It was just to tour around Cairo, I didn't take any classes. We went to the Semeramis hotel to watch Fifi Abdu, and as soon as the orchestra started to play I ran to the stage to dance with them. My heart was racing from the nerves, but I couldn't stop. Any dancer will remember her first time dancing with live music in Egypt, and I remember mine all too well - the audience liked me a lot, and kept sending drinks to our table, it was funny. Later, the queen, Fifi Abdu herself, started her show, and I almost had a stroke when I saw her. I was so excited, and I knew all her music and costumes from the videos I memorized. Watching her was so overwhelming, I couldn't even stay till the end - I had to leave to freshen up and relax a little bit… the funny thing is that while I was in the ladies toilet to get freshened up, Rana Raslan, the former Miss Israel, who is Arabic, came in - she was at the show with her friends - she came to me and told me that I danced great, and that I shouldn’t be embarrassed to be from Israel. Her friends were all Arabs from different countries, so I took it as a big compliment. After that show I knew my next move - I wanted to stage my own live music show starting with Gana El Hawa, exactly like Fifi Abdu’s show. And that’s just what I did.
Who did you study with?
I visited Cairo three more times after that trip, and took classes with Diana Tarkan, a very good and generous teacher. My trips to Cairo were with other dancers, and we both took classes with Diana and Randa, who at the time was not so well-known, and she reminded me a lot of myself. After taking a class with her I felt that I should keep my own style, with strong legwork and my own musical interpretation, and this individuality is what makes me unique even today. My last trip, I went by myself. I already felt at home in Cairo, and stayed in Diana's house. I studied folklore with Hesham Saleh, who at the time was a choreographer and rehearsal manager for the Reda Troupe. He invited me to see their full show, with 40 dancers and 40 musicians - a really big show, and impressive, with all the acts of Egyptian folklore.
I watched the live shows of Dina and Lucy, both of whom were very committed and experienced in putting on shows. Dina was very entertaining and glamorous. I believe Dina will always be remembered as a revolutionary who changed the whole concept of how to dance. Lucy's show weas at her club, the Piramiza - not a 5-star hotel - and the audience was small and mostly drunk. You could see her real feelings, how upset she was when she stepped on stage, and that true emotion made her so authentic and convincing in her dance. As the evening went on, her show just got better and better, especially when she started to sing. She was unexpected and very human; I was most inspired by Lucy's show.
Do you still visit Egypt?
Not any more. The terrorist attacks over there and in Israel in 2004 made me feel that it was unsafe for me as an Israeli to go there. Then when things got more relaxed, I was already touring myself, and had no free time to go there. Last year I was invited to the Ahalan wa Sahlan festival in April and June, but couldn't go because I was going to be teaching in Russia and then Brazil. Someday I'd love to come back, and I believe every dancer in the world should visit Egypt at least once in her life.
Which dancers inspire you?
I will always continue to love and learn from the classics of the Golden Era, and the vintage style of Fifi Abdu, Mona Said and Nagua Fuad. I loved Dina in her early years, and just before contemporary Egyptian dance became too masculine (to my eyes). I still prefer the more soft and feminine dance, and also the esthetics of the older decades - that's why Golden Era dancers are always gorgeous to me. Mona Said's style really influenced me when I was beginning - I learned all her dances by heart, and finally I made a group dance to honor her, based on her legendary performance in the blue and pink costume. This group dance was a great experience to work on, and we got good reviews from other dancers who also learned that performance of hers by heart.
I keep getting ideas and inspiration from all the dancers I meet worldwide, the shows I see and the competitions I judge in. When I see professional and well-known dancers in my classes, I am very honored. I can also learn by watching them, see how my choreographies look on others, and get feedback on my work.
Before you studied belly dance, did you have any dancing experience?
Not professionally. I danced my whole childhood, until I was 18, and I was dedicated, but never performed in recitals or shows. It was my love, but not a professional aim. I also played music and studied theater and drama, and my major hobby was painting. My focus in high school was the arts, and later industrial design, which also became my professional career for a time.
When did you start performing professionally?
Depends how you define "professionally"… After I got back from Cairo after watching Fifi Abdu, I worked for a year to create my debut show for the stage. The show had everything - a big live orchestra on the stage, a designed set of palm trees and golden arches, dreamy lighting effects, a story-teller, three dancers as a small troupe to accompany me, beautifully designed costumes and makeup, and a fairytale I created to program the show. Public relations, exposure, an important theater, and a spot in a dance festival in the gala show - it was all there. But I cannot say about my own dance that I was half of what I am today. I was very confident, and after the show all the dancers in Israel knew who I was, but I stepped up my dance only later, in the next shows. I can't find a video from that show, it’s all gone …
Before this ambitious show, I was already performing with live music and singers on stage, and I also had a lot of experience working weddings and parties. In Israel belly dance is very popular, and I worked a lot, never turning down a job. I worked as the house dancer in many Bedouin tents hosting Oriental events, and I was very good with the people - entertainment was my forte. I had a big car, where I spent half of my life, driving around from one gig to another. I kept this up for a few years intensely. I was on many TV shows, and got a lot publicity. It all happened quite fast: by 2005 I already had the first Eilat festival, and ever since I’ve become more and more well-known abroad. When was on stage, I still had this strong connection with the audience. It took me a long time to learn how to relax and keep an elegant poise, give some distance on stage, and not be too full of energy all the time.
When did you start teaching?
My philosophy is "If you want to learn something, teach it!" So, around the same time I started to perform, I offered to teach at a few places. It helps you keep in shape, clean and polish your moves, become more clear and focused in your dance and your attitude, and also create a large community of people who will invite you to dance and come to your shows.
How did you start your international career?
In the end of 2005, I was invited to Istanbul in Turkey to perform live on their Star TV channel, and then to Moscow to their New Year's Gala show with the local bellydance stars. Both organizers saw my videos in my website - there was no YouTube back then, and somehow my site got popular in many countries. I managed to go to both events one day after the other, and it was the start. The Turkish show was an awful experience in so many ways, but the disappointments made me focus and try my best in Moscow, and indeed that show was such a success that I still go there every year. I was not ready for so much affection, the Russians went mad over my show. It was so weird. I have to give credit to Marina Oganyan, and her team, Iirina Lulina and Margarita Drozdova, who produced the show and took such good care of me, and then kept inviting me to Moscow again and again. The videos form these concerts were then uploaded to YouTube by a fan, I believe from Argentina, and I got even more exposure. I got more and more invitations to come, and I guess it was before the big wave of Egyptian teachers touring everywhere, so I was in demand, and spoke English and Russian, so I could communicate very well with everyone, not just dance well. The more I traveled, the more I improved my teaching and skills. I always had special costumes made for me by Asi, and my look and style were different from any other dancer. Each place I went led to more invitations. I was never afraid to release full dances on the net, and I always encouraged students to film my workshops, without worrying about being copied. I think it made for very good publicity, and in hindsight it was the right decision. To this day, I insist that students can film whatever they want and use whatever they want. To me, being invited is not the only achievement - it's also what comes after,answering mail and questions, helping dancers worldwide with music and offering them tips. I know I am unique in the way I teach, because I give explanations about the cultural background of the music and the style - I don't just teach choreography and nothing else, so I guess it made me more welcome in many places. Many of the dancers I met became dear friends, and many of them became teachers themselves, and I can clearly see my teaching in them. I keep looking for new music and ideas, and hope to tour as long as I can.
What do you prefer, teaching or performing?
Both! They complete each other, and I enjoy both a lot.
What is important to you in the dance?
There are a few factors that are important for any performer: the audience must understand you and connect with you. Bring yourself, don't cut corners, express your personality - your choice of music, choice of costume and styling and your dance must be 100% your own personality. As performers, we need to be two people at once - the dreamy fantasy who is admired by many, and the heartwarming close friend everybody wants to hug. Be both!
What kind of public reaction do you usually get?
There are two kinds of audience: the general people you dance for at events like weddings and parties, and the professional audience, who come to see you in festivals and workshops - dancers and their students trying to learn and to be inspired. I want to appeal to people who nothing about bellydance, as well as professional teachers - I want both of them to be moved by what I do. I’ve gotten so much correspondence over the years, phone calls and letters from people who told me how I changed their lives, or made them so emotional in the performance, brought back memories and feelings, or helped someone they love to feel joy again. Women write to me a lot, and a lot of them became dancers or teachers after we met. I also starred in two documentary films, so I got a lot of reactions from those viewers. Any major event that was successful due to my performance made me feel that I am doing something that is positive and emotional, not just physical.
For the professional audience, the fact that I keep getting calls and invitations to teach, when there are so many teachers out there, means that I must do something right. I am always happy to be in demand, but I don't take it for granted, and always work to improve myself. I know when I am not at my best, and I try to learn from those times. In Israel, people are very warm and direct, you get feedback on the spot and people are loud and expressive - I get positive comments very often, and appreciate them, but they would be like that to anyone, so sometimes it's hard to know what they really think… But getting so much feedback from people abroad - dancers, people who don't dance but watched the show, musicians, students - this is really outstanding, because I know it's not as common in Europe, America or Asia to be so loud in your support. What I try to do is to be very artistic, and try different music that’s maybe not so popular for dance, and see how people react to that. I can see by their reaction what works and what doesn’t, and learn from that. Dancers have told me how one specific video changed their whole direction, and I can see what an effect I’ve had on my students or dancers who come to classes, so I get a lot of confidence from that. Today I see "Orit" in many other dancers, and it makes me smile to myself with satisfaction.
How do you keep studying?
I am always learning, though not by taking classes, because it's hard for me to schedule - even though in the festivals I go to, or in my own Eilat festival I have great teachers, I simply can't go to class when I have to work myself. But I absorb new things from meeting and watching other dancers.
I always film my own performances and watch them, study them and critique myself very harshly. I still don't have a perfect full dance, but I hope I will get there some day.
If you were not a dancer what would you like to be?
It's hard to imagine my life without dancing - I dance in my sleep, choreographies pop into my head the first time I hear music - but… Everybody who knows me knows I’m crazy for interior decoration! I just love decor and architecture, and can spend hours in shops… I help friends design their homes, and enjoy my own home, which is in the countryside in a very beautiful part of Israel. All the cool colors of the Mediterranean, blue, green and white, decorate my house.