Note: Dahlena will be appearing in Albuquerque, New Mexico to teach & perform, March2-3, 2013 at the Oriental Potpourri Festival!
…Master Instructor, Choreographer & Performer
“How could a blonde know how to belly dance?”Who is the legendary Dahlena??? Although she is an American, her unusual ability to perform the essence of Middle Eastern dance earned her the respect of Arabic, Armenian, Turkish and Greek people alike. Dahlena is one of the leading experts in the actual breakdown of dance movements and developed a notation called the Dahlena Method. Dahlena has taught, lived and traveled through out the United States, Canada, Germany, France, Iraq & Syria.
Born in Oregon, Dahlena’s first dance training was in ballet. But for her, any type of ethnic dance was even more fascinating--- Hawaiian, Spanish, etc. Like most young people, she was impressed by the movies especially musicals. She was intrigued with Rita Hayworth performing as Salome. Dahlena describes Salome’s dance as, “magical, wonderful and exciting!” beyond any dance she had ever seen.
As a young woman she traveled to New York City and Boston where she met the the Jamal Twins from Egypt and Princess Yasmina from Algeria. By watching them, she was again attracted by the sinuous movements and by the Middle Eastern music.
HOLLYWOOD: In the early 1960s, Dahlena fresh from the Boston/East Coast circuit, began to work in the Hollywood area. Says Dahlena, “The only well-known dancer before me in those as Jamila Salimpour. Jamila saw me and asked, "How could a blond know how to dance?"
Famous costumer to Cher and other stars, Bob Mackey and his wife, Lulu, were around at that time also. Lulu was a dancer and Bob Mackey got his start by first designing Lulu’s belly dance costumes. Dahlena recounts, “Lulu told Jamila that I "didn't do anything on stage"! This was a compliment to my way of thinking, since the Americans were all running around the stage, "over-dancing"!”
SAN FRANCISCO: Her travels took her to the San Francisco/North Beach area from 1962 to 1965 where she worked the club scene for about $35 a night. The Middle Eastern dance scene there included the infamous nightclubs: “12 Adler, The Bagdad, and Gigi’s. Dahlena appreciated working with live musicians in all 3 places--- Live music and the art of improvisation was an inspiration to this dance artist. ”Performers on Broadway would all visit each other. On Sunday nights each club took turns having a late show for all of us performers to see each other; they called them "Breakfast Shows". We all learned a lot from the Algerian dancers too. They taught us how to do more extensive floor work. We learned by watching them balancing pots on their heads. All our sword routines came from watching those Algerian girls balancing their pots! This was the first time I had seen people roll around on the floor with stuff balanced on their heads; no help just their fuzzy heads!”
In the early days, professional working dancers had a union at "Gigi's" and "12 Adler" and "The Bagdad". Dancers used agencies to represent them and wages were good. At "Gigi's", most dancers were "on the circuit". There were many more dancers later and the unions lost their power. And then, of course, the pay dropped.
IBRAHIM FARRAH: A special chapter in Dahlena’s dance history is her collaboration with New York dance choreographer, Ibrahim Farrah. Dahlena met Ibrahim Farrah while working in a Sacramento night club in 1964. Soon thereafter, they began performing as a dance duo throughout California and Oregon. Their special friendship lasted until Bobby's death in February of 1998.
FAME: Dahlena's expertise and fame quickly spread and, as Americans began to discover Greek, Turkish, and Arabic restaurants, her approach to the dance as a healthy and liberating art form won interest and admiration. She relocated to the Chicago area where a group of suburban women asked her to teach. Their response was so phenomenal that she subsequently opened studios in two separate Chicago locations. Since those early beginnings she has trained many teachers and students in the Dahlena Method.
During the 70's & 80's she produced 2 record albums of Middle Eastern music & published "The Art of Bellydancing" in 1975. In 1982, the American Academy of Middle Eastern Dance recognized Dahlena as one of the first inductees to their Hall of Fame." Dahlena was one of preeminent pioneers of nationwide workshops.
Today, Dahlena continues to tour, teaches master classes and has been a guest teacher at numerous colleges and universities. She divides her time between Chicago, Illinois and Yuma, Arizona.