After studying the art for many years abroad, Beverli Al-masrah is bringing oriental dance to the Sea Point community next month with the Theatrical Oriental Dance Festival (TODF): The Fountains of Eternity.
The festival will be held at the Sea Point High School from Friday October 7 to Sunday October 9, and Beverli, who goes by her stage name, is excited about the art form growing in Cape Town.
“Some just come out moving, and by about three years old my folks sent to me to ballet classes,” says the Sea Point resident.
“I used to watch all the productions, and my folks were very supportive of me dancing. I think that is a huge thing to be supported as a dancer. It is a huge thing to be able to dance so freely and having family support you. I think of it as a great honour. It’s a hard life as a dancer because you are fighting for the arts and your own personal expression.”
From ballet, Beverli went on to study jazz dance. She says if you train from a young age, you get used to the discipline of dance.
“Some of us dedicate our lives to it, we just get sucked into it and it consumes us. It becomes a part of the being.”
But even though she started dancing from a young age, her dance career did not take off immediately. There were many odd jobs along the way, including everything from PR and marketing to hotel management.
But through it all, she never stopped dancing. “I was living in the UK for a while, and through that I got to train with some of the top West End dancers. It was phenomenal and very confidence building to work at such a high level. I never set out to do oriental dancing. My background is Jewish dance, but it is great because all the Middle Eastern dance is connected. They are all connected by foot patterns, so if you learn one you can learn the next one.”
While in the UK, she responded to an advert for a vegetarian house share. The owner of the house was a belly dancer guru. It was also at this time that she started studying yoga. Another turning point came when she travelled to Lebanon where one of her favourite dancers, Amani, was setting up an oriental dance festival in Beirut.
“I spent a lot of time learning dances from all the different areas. It helps me with my teaching as well because I want people to get the feeling of dancing and not just the steps. The feeling comes from knowing the background, culture and history of dance,” says Beverli.
After returning to Cape Town in 2005, Beverli now works as the resident dancer in a Kurdish restaurant and has learnt a few traditional Kurdish dances.
“The dance scene here is a little bit isolated. The community was much smaller, but just in the last 10 years it has grown here. Oriental dance is now very popular here, and I am so excited to see that. That is because of getting together at festivals. As an artist, you always want to see the standard of the art grow.”
The International Oriental Dance Festival used to be held in Cape Town during October, but when the organiser left the country, the festival stopped. “The dancers were all looking at each other and saying what are we going to do,” recalls Beverli.
That was when she decided to start the festival which is taking place at Sea Point High School next month.
It will feature 32 studios from the Cape, Johannesburg, Durban, Pietermaritzburg, Zambia, Namibia, America, France and Italy with about 120 dancers, of all ages. Some 30 dance workshops will be held over the weekend. Tickets are available through www.quicket.co.za or you can visit www.todf.moonfruit.com for more information about the festival.