20-09-2013

Amel Tafsout

Paola Maluje
Bailarina y profesora de Danza Fusión Tribal
www.tribalfusion.cl

Version en español
  1. Amel, tell us how did your love and passion for dance begin?

            Since childhood I was very aware of music and dance.
As I grew up during the French colonization of Algeria, I was exposed to various dance cultures. At home I integrated our traditional dances in my daily life, as these dances were not learned at school but it was something we absorb as children like the air or the water, we danced, drummed and sang without thinking about it. Our games, our story telling’s were told always with music and dance. The French culture exposed me to the walz, the twist and rock and roll as well as the cha cha cha and other dances. The French used to have their tea dances in the big square of the city, so, hand in hand with my little brother, we used to go to watch them, I was fascinated by all the formations they did. At that time, Algeria was a real melting pot of cultures. Many Spanish, Italians and Maltese’s came to live there. That is how I started being fascinated by flamenco not only because of the costumes but also because of the pride and strength of the women when they danced. When Algeria became independent, many Russian teachers came to teach us. My Russian math teacher was also my dance teacher, she thought me European folk dances and I was so excited to learn them. One of the reasons of my joy to attend these classes was because I could learn them in the frame of education and didn’t need to worry about having the permission of my parents to do it. I remember how I loved what my grandmother was wearing and I still remember the colors she used to put together. In the high school I was very good in art and all the visual was always my strength that is another reason why I started loving music, dance and costuming.
I realized how much passion and freedom the dance brought me, and how connected I felt when I danced. The dance empowered me and that is what I like teaching my students and dancers of my company, because Oriental (Middle Eastern or North African) dance is an amazing way for every woman to express herself and celebrate the most feminine art form, where beauty, strength and spirit meet. Although passion is a term so often used, I prefer the term inspiration because when you are inspired, you are connected to the higher source and can have the trust and motivation to do what ever you want without making it become speed and greed.

2    What has it meant for you to dedicate your life to the art of dance?

How I started dancing professionally was so different from a Western woman, I never thought to make of the dance a profession. I came from that culture and my concern was to represent the dance with dignity and pride. I was exposed to two cultures that could condemn my dance or give it other meanings than what I wanted. First of all, as an Arabic woman I was exposed to the image of being not a “respectable dancer”, then considering the Western society I was confronted to the prejudices this society had about Arabic women, therefore my task and moral duty were to inform, educate and change Western people’s opinion about Arabic women, such as the cliché: Arabic women are ‘oppressed’ or to ‘sexy’.
I also founded a company, called Banat as Sahra in Germany and another, The Tafsoutettes in London, UK.It was my first dedication to my dance culture. Through my experience (more than 40 years), performing and teaching I needed to see the dance and the music as my identity and my best healing: Thanks to the dance, I overcame homesickness, relationship issues and diseases. The dance gave me my roots back and my identity not only as a North African Berber woman but also as a woman with the same values, feelings, and qualities as any Western woman. To be dedicated to the art of dance is being responsible… to know how I present myself, to be professional and make sure that my dance is not a cliché of orientalism. I have a big responsibility in helping the West to understand my culture and values.
To be dedicated to this dance form is to make sure that this dance is accepted as an art form. We shouldn’t forget to dance with our heart and soul neither limit ourselves artistically. It is possible to learn techniques and become skillful but it is more challenging for a dancer to dance with her heart. I do try to express it to my students and give them the opportunity to explore in their creativity.


3    What does it mean for you to merge styles and how far do you think you?

     Can merge without being disrespectful to the culture in which one is inspired to make a personal proposal?

Merging is a complicate term, is it appropriating what it doesn’t belong to me or taking what I like from another culture? I believe that in order to merge styles, it is important to study various dances within their culture and get familiar with them. if they are ethnic dances that belong to a specific culture and have a function within that community; the dancer needs to understand that so that she can incorporate these movements in respect to that culture, after that she is able to create her own dance and that in that will be her fusion, performed with confidence and skills, with respect to the culture and to herself; therefore she will experiment, create and expand a new way to dance. It will be more challenging and time consuming for the dancer to study more; but it will be more rewarding when she will create her own style that is more personal rather than copying always what other people are doing.
Merging to me is not only about the movements but also about understanding the music; let the music help you to explore new ways. Every dancer needs to listen to the music and find the stillness in order to let the vibration of the music enter her heart and make her body an instrument of the music. A good dancer is when she becomes the music of her dance piece. If merging means trying something new and accepting to come out of a routine, than merging is positive and can be a unique experience.
Arabic music is a very soulful music, and as an Arabic North African ethnic dancer I found it a pity that many dancers are more focused on using Western music. I do understand that they are more related to it but it is much more easier to dance to, as the dancer doesn’t need to know the various rhythms and melodies or Maqam the Arabic music is based on.
However, we are living in a time where we travel a lot and we are more exposed to various dances and music styles and perhaps we are heading towards one style in the future, I personally think we will loose so much of the roots of the music and dance. In the Middle East we do have an Arabic kind of MTV. It is sad that every singer looks more like Western Pop singers.  Today we have so many different dance styles and there are so many stars in the sky and that allow the dancers to express themselves in many ways.
I do like when the dancer is trying a new approach and finding herself in her dance.


4    We know you've lived and traveled many places in the world, which has been the places that have influenced you most in the field of music and   dance?


I really think that I am very grateful to every country where I lived because I got from each one what I needed for that time. Algeria never stops to teach me, Germany was important for my awareness as a woman and also enabled me to find my identity in my 20s. It is in Germany that I started to teach and create a framework for my dance. I also founded my first company in Frankfurt and started touring with a very famous ethno-Rock band: “The Dissidenten”. I also started to be aware of living differently and being more outspoken about racism and injustice. I also integrated that in my dance style.
Living in London, UK was an amazing opening for music, world music, Jazz and Latin and African music. I was exposed to so much music from all over the world. I was surrounded by musicians and that helped me to listen to the music differently.  It is in the silence that I could communicate with the musicians about music. This also helped me to understand my own music. There was also jazz and Latin, Indian and African that touched my heart. As far as dance is concerned, it is in London that I became a solo dance artist, I also had my own band and I was part of the music as well as the dance. I started singing and drumming and I was featured on various British TV channels.
The US inspired me tremendously. I found here respect and the willingness to try to understand ethnic dances. Despite all the amazing influences in various countries I still get my source of inspiration from my home country Algeria.


5    When you impart your workshops, what matter you most to convey to your Students?


It is important to me that the students get the technique and background of the dance I am teaching. I like breaking the movements so that they understand them and also practice them. As I am teaching Maghreb dance (North African style) I want my students to understand about the music and mainly the rhythms, as they are different from the Egyptian rhythms. It is also important to me that the students feel good in class and communicate with each other. As it is easier to dance in a nice atmosphere. I like starting with a good warm up and end with some stretching exercises. Teaching the feeling in dance is possible only when the students have the knowledge about the music and the culture. I do teach choreographies when the students get the technique and cultural background. Not every student comes to class to become a performer and we need to remember that. Some women like to be with women together they are coming for the joy of dancing with other women.
I like helping my students to know how to choose their music and try to find a theme to their dance performance.


6    What have been your greatest accomplishments as a teacher and artist?

My great personal accomplishment is when people feel my dance, enjoy it and are moved by it. As a teacher that would be when my students remember me and recognize the quality of my teaching. I am very grateful that I had many accomplishments. I founded two dance companies. I was an active member of music bands such as Chackchouka, Mambo Duniya, Noor Shimaal and Saladin’s Orchestra. I traveled tremendously and shared my knowledge and dance skills with so many people, I performed in various dance and music festivals, and I met amazing performers, dancers, singers, and actors. I am a very well respected dance artist by different dance styles. All this in keeping my integrity and inspiration for my art. I also helped many dancers in coaching them about their art and personal life.

7    What projects are you now and what's next for the future?

I do have a great project in working with music and dance artist to create a North African music and dance ensemble, and also doing some collaboration with some dance artists. I am also thinking to do an instructional dance DVD and do some recording.

8    What advice would you give to the dancers to be better performers on?
      Stage?
They need to remember that it takes time to perform on stage, so patience is a virtue. They also need to love the dance piece they are performing, as they will put more feeling into it. It is not necessary to be perfect but so they need to give some breathing time to their piece otherwise it will be to much for the audience to digest, therefore they don’t need to do to many movements but to make their dance more expressive and dare to explore.

9.   What advice would you give to women who want to dedicate to the tribal?
      Belly dance fusion professionally?
The fusion is beautiful when the dancer knows what she is going to fuse. Every fusion should be a personal expression. It is important to remember to breathe as breath work can help to release anxiety and   develop a better technique as well as allow you to feel confident and have a better stage presence. Another issue that needs to be discussed is how to use the stage to your advantage and be able to dance in a small place as in a big stage and make it useful for your dance.  Lighting is important but unfortunately it is still not used to advantage of the dancer, as festivals are limited in finding the good equipment to help dancers to have a better performance. Communicating with the audience is weaving the energies together and the dancer gets more from it. It is not about the costume or the technique, it is about the joy, the humor and the vibration that a dancer can create when she is dancing, she is like the spider weaving the energies and making them become whole.

    10.  What is the role of sensuality in your dance?
     Sensuality is very important, as any kind of Oriental dance needs it. That  
     is also the reason why this dance is so popular. The sensuality is not only   
     In the hip movements or the belly rolls or undulations. It is in the arms,
     the Shoulders and in the facial expression. Not to mention that sensuality  
     is not being sexy. The sensuality is the essence of every woman, we
     express it in so many ways and we need to connect with it, the fluidity, the
     grace and the beauty of being a woman is unique and we should never
     forget it. In my dance all depends on the theme, I like putting sensuality in my dance pieces.

 

Mohamed Shahin
 
Mohamed Shahin
Mohamed Shahin
Mohamed Shahin
Mohamed Shahin
Mohamed Shahin
Mohamed Shahin