Sahara Bellydancers

Dance instructor Tiazza Wilson wants people to know that "In Middle East countries, bellydancers are not entertainers. It's a social dance. People play drums and dance. It's families, something you do with your mom and dad and brothers and sisters."

The Sahara Bellydancers, under Wilson's direction, will perform a program of mostly traditional dance at 8 p.m. Saturday, May 26, at the Belleview Grange in Ashland.

Sahara is a semi-professional troupe of 15 dancers, all of whom studied with Wilson. They sometimes perform professionally around Oregon, including another Southern Oregon show coming up Aug. 11 at the Historic Ashland Armory. The company's repertoire emphasizes the traditional, Egyptian, Moroccan and Turkish-style dances.

Wilson grew up in Casablanca, Morocco, surrounded by traditional bellydancing, so it was a natural thing for her to dance from the time she was a little girl. She moved to the United States five years ago, attended Southern Oregon University and earned a degree in accounting. She has been teaching bellydance in the Rogue Valley for three years.

"I've bellydanced my whole life and taught since I was 19," she says. "So I'm working in the insurance business and as a professional bellydancer."

Wilson, whose Berber maiden name is Aitbendaoud, says bellydancing in the West is laden with misconceptions.

"Number one is that bellydancers are strippers," she says. "We're not.

"People think it's not appropriate. In other dance forms more skin shows, or even in some ballroom dancing. But it's looked at as a dirty dance because you shake your hips."

Bellydancing, or oriental or Egyptian dancing, as it's also called, did not originate as a dance of seduction as it is often presented in Hollywood movies.

It came from folk dancing done at celebrations for events such as weddings, childbirth, festivals and other events that brought families together. Since people lived in households separated by sex following the rise of Islam, men celebrated with men, and women with women.

Traditional bellydancers did not wear costumes, or jewels in the navel. They did not dance to win a man's attention.

"If you go to the origin, it was movements women did to straighten the belly muscles for childbirth," Wilson says. "And they did it afterward to get their body back in shape.

"The Egyptians used to draw patterns of dance and challenge their bodies to see if they could do them. But the truth about bellydance never got to the masses. A lot of bellydances in the U.S. are performed in bars and bachelor parties."

"What I'm trying to do is show that the way it's done is not right," Wilson says, "to teach those traditional styles and bring the culture behind them."

Tickets are $6 at Ashland Insurance,, or call 621-4812. Proceeds will be donated to the American Cancer Society.

She says audiences will see dance forms ranging from Egypt in the 1920s and '30s to modern-inflected forms as well as traditional Turkish dance and special dances.

"Traditional styles have become more modernized," she says.

The troupe is seeking an experienced drummer and performing in the meantime with recorded music. Bellydancers often match the drumming in movement, but rhythms vary from one Muslim country to another.

Tickets are $6 at Ashland Insurance, at, or call 621-4812. Proceeds will be donated to the American Cancer Society.

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