Yousry Sharif

Throughout the world critics consider Yousry Sharif a superb and one-of-a-kind choreographer, dancer and teacher, who holds true to the Egyptian tradition and spirit while creating a magnificent arena for Oriental Dance through his acute sensitivity to music and movement, and unique charisma which is matched by none.

He imparts his vast knowledge and teaches his original and sophisticated choreographies in festivals, workshops and seminars to benefit students, teachers and dance aficionados around the globe. His footprints have spanned all continents and cities big and small. He truly is one of the most important master artists in Egyptian Raqs Sharqi, who commands a huge following everywhere he goes.

Native of Cairo, he started his career in Egypt, where he performed in many movies and shows with the most known artists at that time. In 1981, he moved to New York City, the U.S.A., where he founded his very own Egyptian Academy of Oriental Dance School, which up to this day still provides an effective platform for coaching and directing troupes from all over the world.

Most time of the year he is globe-trotting to teach. The little time he is not on the road, he is teaching his regular classes in New York City.

Nour

Nour was born in Moscow where she began her studies of choreography at the age of 8. She was focused upon folk dances from Uzbeck, Tadjick, and Azerbaijan. As time passed, her achievements in dancing were so good that she was invited to the school of a state folk Uzbeck dance troupe called “Bahor”, headed by Kundus Mirkarimova.

At the age of 10, Nour began performing on professional stage, mostly with eastern folk dances. When she was still only11, Nour was fortunate to meet Rina Dayal, the legendary popular dancer in North India. Nour studied two classical Indian styles: BharatNatyam and Kathak, as well as four folk styles.

For Nour, Rina became a perfect example of a Russian dancer who had managed to achieve fantastic popularity in a foreign country with a different culture, and where nobody treated or perceived of her as a foreigner.

Nour traveled around Soviet Union with concerts, and she started to perform solo dance. During that period, Nour began to stage her own compositions.

At the age of 13, she went to a ballet school of Moiseev who was a famous master of ballet in Moscow. This was the apex of her learning period.

By the age of 15, Nour worked on stage on her own, and after 2 years, she organized her own Middle-eastern troupe, which was actually the first eastern ballet in Moscow. During these days, Nour acquired an old videotape showing one composition of some Arabic dancer.

Upon viewing her dance, and hearing her dance music, Nour realized that it seemed very dear and familiar to her heart. Inspired by the new material, and having already mastered the smoothness of the body and hand movements (from Uzbek dances) and the sharpness of the hips (from Indian folk styles) it was quite easy for Nour to switch to a new passion.

In those days, it wasn’t easy to find audio or video information on belly dance in Moscow. That’s why Nour invented many of her dance moves. This helped very much for Nour to find her unique style of the dance. Later, she found out that some dance movements that she had performed from her mind were ones that were classic to the dance.

Belly dance became the only and favorite dance for Nour. This dance, having its own rules, was like the flight of a soul, especially for one who sees dance as art and not just personal exhibitionism.

Administration of a troupe took too much time; that’s why Nour parted with the troupe girls and started a serious belly dance solo career. She began working abroad on contracts. Nour danced in many countries such as Jordan, The Arab Emirates, Turkey, Greece, and even Shri-Lanka. Nour’s mother followed her in all her trips as her best friend and administrator. Between her tours Nour finished in Moscow economic College.

In 1994 Nour won first place in first competition of belly-dance in Mocsow, Russia

While she was working in Arabic countries, artists and manager kept telling Nour that it would be better for her to work in Egypt, not only because she had perfect dancing skills and a work serious attitude, but because it’s only in Egypt where a dancer can really grow in her skills. It is the center of Arabic art and culture and a kind of “Hollywood”. So Nour went to Cairo.

“When I came to Egypt, joy and expectations vanished because I faced many problems of local show business. It wasn’t easy at all, but coming out on stage, I felt happy and I felt a real contact with audience.

That’s why I forgot all about my difficulties. My parents were also with me, helping and advising. But fortunately, in a time of trouble, God sent me my future husband, a Syrian singer, Yasser, who is a fanatic of the art like myself. He helped me to overcome all the difficulties and defended me against dishonest and unfair people. He sacrificed his career of a singer for some time because the career of a dancer is very limited in time,” remembers Nour.

At present, Nour lives and works in Cairo. She has performed (in different years) almost in all of the 5-star hotels in Cairo, but her true concert activity in Egypt takes place at weddings. The wedding is a special ritual for Egyptians. One or several famous singers and artists are invited to perform at weddings, depending on the income of the families involved.

For a belly dancer, the work at the wedding is more honorable in Egypt than work in restaurants and nightclubs. A dancer’s name recognition and reputation is created by her performances at weddings.

In Cairo, Nour became acquainted with a dancer and choreographer named Raqia Hassan. Due to that acquaintance, she has performed three years in a row at Raqia’s Cairo Dance Festival “Ahlam Wa Sahlan” 2000-2002. Also she shot in video tape of Raqia Hassan’s technics vol. 5.

Nour had to performed in opening of Cairo’s Festival 2004, but her show was canceled almost before the scene. Only because of her respect to students who came specially to see her she didn’t cancel her workshop in this festival.

Presently, Nour is very famous in Egypt; she is often invited to appear on television programs, gives interviews for local papers and magazines, takes parts in films and video clips, and gives charity concerts. Now openly we can say that Nour is one of the first stars of Egypt.

“I’m very happy with my life in Egypt now, and I don’t feel any pressure from Egyptians. On the contrary they are very surprised to learn that I’m Russian!”

Tito

When I was much younger the world that floated around me had much more potential than now to emanate enchantment in particular waves of artistic activity.

Art has always occupied a very special place in my world but belly dance, especially, has been, invariably, a source of inexhaustible excitement. Whenever I had the opportunity to watch a performance, the movement was like a narrative that bespoke some magical oracle that I consumed avidly and with religious passion.

With devotion, I would hold the kinesthetic memory, fold it carefully and keep it close to my heart like a relic guarded by and guarding a soldier at a front line in the duress of imminent catastrophe. In the havoc of everyday life only the truth of dance illuminated my hopes. Such has been my adoration that I was even fascinated by the very body of the dancer herself. This is difficult to explain, but I would stare at the dancer before and after the performance, not only during, as if applying all my efforts at exacting the artistic promise from the body even when it was not dancing but engaged in everyday routine movement. Or is it that the body itself as an instrument of art becomes sacralized in the eyes of a devotee who sees the mortal body as the conduit of immortal revelations of universal significance?

This fascination, indeed sacred regard for the dancer’s body has not left me since my very early adulthood, only now, I experience it merely when I find myself in the shadow of a great artist’s magnitude. Therefore, you can imagine my feelings when on a Friday afternoon in April, during Toronto’s International Bellydance Conference of Canada, I find myself seated at a small coffee shop on St. Clair West with three other new friends who are also participating in the conference. One of them, sitting opposite me, is Tito Seif. As discreetly as possible, I study his body with great fascination. He is very striking and well built, his frame inspires a feeling of abundance, his arms are beautifully toned but, fortunately, not unattractively muscular, and his hands, even when resting idly, combine the strength and resilience of a manual worker with the dexterity of an artist. He is an imposing person but more attractive than anything else is his smile and the way his personality exists in his body; a way that is light, playful, kind, and generous.

The hour or so that I spend in that coffee shop remains a significant moment for me, a moment of realization that Tito is not simply a gifted performer but also a kind and thoughtful man.

In my extremely limited Arabic and in his somewhat limited English we talk about his children and his having to be away from them, his love for dance, the places where he will travel to after Toronto, the excitement but also headaches of Cairo. Throughout, he remains simple, uncontrived, immediate. And my gaze traverses his entire body with that religious hunger and that spiritual thirst, for this is the body where the dance comes alive, the body where movement materializes in rapid sequences that albeit evanescent, articulate in their power and eloquence the sadness and necessity of loss, the joy and pain of desire, the undeciphered mysteries of the body’s passions, ecstasies, strength and fragility.

Tito is now an international phenomenon. And how wonderful that a man from Egypt has taken to the West’s belly dance stages establishing himself as one of the greatest belly dancers and showmen today. Such development flies in the face of those American belly dance instructors, students, and performers who have long considered this art defunct in Egypt and dependent upon their kind support and cultivation. And as we are all busy trumping our successes, our elaborate choreographies, our well defined styles, and, more recently, our intricate fusion endeavors, rejoicing at how far we have taken this dance form, Tito emerges to take us all by surprise with stunning eloquence, a powerful style, a rare entertainer’s gift, and an unusual kinesthetic charisma.

Even though difficult, it is nevertheless intriguing to attempt to examine what accounts for Tito’s overwhelming success. One element of his art that is immediately striking is his seemingly effortless choreographic artistry. Even when seeing him for the first time, an uninitiated eye will be impressed by the ease with which he performs the moves. They flow from his body with graceful precision and richness, demonstrating not just great technique but enormous potential to reach a lot further than indicated, physically and beyond. Such facility allows the audience ease and comfort with the performer. Then, there is his smile: at once welcoming, wayward, sexy, kind, and above all demonstrating a rare pleasure in choreographic indulgence. With his technique and smile, Tito does not simply dance; he seems to be creating Dance anew in every performance and even in every workshop. Finally on this point, there is the gellabiya that he wears, shunning colorful, glittering and glamorous costumes that most other male cabaret performers choose to wear. Contrary to expectation, the gellabiya operates in his dance as a prop, something that augments the performance adding a striking aspect to it. Commentators often point out that wearing the gellabiya during performance earns him a greater amount of acceptability as a male dancer in the Arab world. This might indeed be the case. However, when I saw him in performance I felt that the appeal of his garment has gone beyond the politics of propriety of Arab male dress. Tito manipulates it during the dance, modes of manipulation that, along with the gender implications and political dimension of this garment turn it into a kinesthetic fetish during his performances. This is how he adds a performative dimension hitherto unseen on the world’s stages.

Yet, there is another less salient component to Tito’s success and importance that we must consider, engaged as we are on personal or collective quests in art and the cultural impetus of the present. He has invigorated belly dance and breathed new life into it not only because of his talents but also because of his historic situation which is significant and not at all fortuitous. When and wherever he performs, his body becomes the confluence of several historic dance narratives that have had enormous impact on universal sensibilities about this particular art form. I am talking about how he carries on this art referencing consciously or unconsciously, I am not certain, some of the greatest belly dancers the world has even seen.

As he performs, he cites some of these legendary dancers’ greatest skills that he deploys in ways that are quite his own but characteristic of these dancers’ history nevertheless. To make this clearer: he is the capable and heroic heir of a long line of accomplished and adored performers who have pushed the limits of art and expression by giving us superb choreographic moments, especially in the first half of the twentieth century.

Yasser

President of International Association of Artists in Egypt is Yasser Al-Swery – singer from Syria.

Yasser’s singing talent has been discovered when he was child: he won the first prize at musician’s competition between Aleppo, his native land, singing schools.

Later, when he was 11 years old he won a singing competition among Syria schools.
Yasser is not the only and the first singer in his family – one of his older brothers had a beautiful voice and entered to the final of a 70-ies famous competition show similar to modern “Star Factory” show together with Miyada Hanawie (at the beginning of her singing career). Yaaser’s brother quitted the show at that time because he had a chance to enter Police academy, a very prestigious school in Syria.

Yasser entered a music school when he was an eighth grade school boy to study vocal and musical instruments (all rhythms, oud and org). At the same time he also entered another school – Nady shabab el-oruba lel tarab, the school where all the traditional Arabic music arts were taught, together with the most complicated classical styles such as Mowashahat, Andalussian, Kudud Halabeia. All Syrian and especially Aleppo singers are famous for their wonderful voices and professionalism, just to give an example – Nour Mhanna, Miyada Hanawie, Faiza Ahmed and other talented singers came from those places. One of the most famous singers n Arabic world – Sabah Fakhri comes from Yasser’s native land too.

Yasser’s classes were not only limited to vocal – he participated in school Volleyball team, city character dance ensemble.

After graduation school and collage Yasser continued to take private classes of vocal art. At that time together with other singers he founded a singing group named “Rubai shabab el-tarab”, they started performing at concerts and weddings in Syria and Lebanon.

The period while Yasser was in the army (2, 5 years) did not interrupt his vocal development and studying – he was performing at all State and Military activities and holidays, Yasser used his vacation time to continue to sing at weddings. At the same time at a request of his military chief, the General, he recorded the Tank Unit Hymn, which is being used nowadays.

In 1996 Yasser participated in Syrian singing competition and took 5th place. The winner of that competition – Khuwayda is a popular singer in Oriental world now.

Yasser never stopped performing, together with George Wassuf, Nagwa Karam, Aasy Khilyany, Nour Mhanna he had participated in many performances.

Once when he was performing in “Meridian-Damascus” in Syria he was invited to perform in Egypt.

In Egypt Yasser had performed in such prestigious hotels and public places as “Sheraton-Heliopolis”, “Marriott”, “Sheraton-Cairo” , Maryland, Sun-set, Happy-Dolphin etc.

Yasser participated in International singing competition in Cairo and took second prize there (the first prize went to an Egyptian young singer who sang a patriotic song together with children choir).

When with Yasser’s efforts “Foreign artists of Egypt Association” (later named “Egyptian Artists’ association”) was founded it started to take a lot of his time, especially after a law that prohibited foreign dancers’ performances in Egypt was enforced. (See www.nour-orientaldance.com directory “Association” – Activities)

Today Yasser is performing in Egypt at weddings, parties, concerts. At Gala-shows of festivals, where his wife, famous Egyptian dancer Nour is performing he makes an exception and sings in her part of the program. When people see them together often they compare this couple to the legendary duet of Samia Gamal and Farid El Atrash.