There are many wonderful performers, but very few true artists.
We were fortunate to interview one of them.
Raised on the Caribbean island of Curaçao and now based in the Netherlands, Rachid Alexander has become one of the most sought after performers of a style we commonly call belly dancing. That term, by the way, is a product of the Victorian era. The preferred name for this sacred art form (which originated as far back as 6000 B.C.) is “oriental dance”. Also, while the existence of male belly dancers (oriental dancers) may come as a surprise to many of us, there has been a long-standing tradition of men playing a significant role in this celebrated art form.
As for Rachid Alexander, what sets him apart is his exquisite musicality and his earthly (or maybe even unearthly) elegance and grace. When you couple that with the intricate movement that is unique to oriental dance, the result is…magic.
As noted in a previous interview, Rachid is not only phenomenal by oriental dance standards, but by any dance standards.
Here’s our interview:
DanseTrack – Since you started performing, have you noticed a trend towards more men wanting to study oriental dance, or increased opportunities for them to perform?
Rachid – “When I started dancing 15 years ago, there were some male dancers already performing in other countries. These men, however, were very few in number and were primarily from an earlier generation.”
“At that time, many people were still skeptical of the idea of a male bellydancer, and the only existing videos were primarily of women. Later, with the advent of YouTube, viewers from around the world saw that men not only practice this art form, but that they could also be very successful at it. As a result, male dancers have felt empowered to try oriental dance.”
“When I am teaching at workshops abroad, I find that, in some continents such as South America or Asia, there are many male oriental dancers. Here in Europe, male participation is growing slowly but surely.”
As for opportunities to perform?
“While many performance opportunities are out there, female dancers are more frequently hired. Unfortunately, some event organizers still consider this to be a female-only art form.”
“Something else that I occasionally hear about from new male dancers, but have not experienced personally, is that they are not allowed in class because the female students do not feel comfortable with them there, or religious beliefs prohibit males from dancing with females. Differences do exist from country to country as well as for different dance studios and teachers. Each country has its own way of seeing dance, and whether it should be done by males and/or females. The result, I believe, is that it creates a social pressure that affects how males participate or evolve in this kind of dance.”
“Fortunately, with an increased number of theatrical productions that incorporate male oriental dancers as the guest stars, over time, it should alter the public’s views. It is my hope that, someday, oriental dance will be seen as a non-gender biased art form rather than a style that exists solely as a means for female dancers to seduce a male audience.”
DanseTrack – Do you teach dance?
Rachid – “I do teach, but only occasionally for workshops. Due to my hectic travel schedule, I unfortunately do not have the chance to teach classes on a regular basis. When I was living in Curacao, however, I did teach regular classes for several years until I moved to the Netherlands.”
DanseTrack – Growing up, what performers most inspired you?
Rachid – “During my earliest experience in dance, I was particularly inspired by ballet and jazz dancers. I attribute that to the fact that a good friend of mine was teaching and performing these styles, and also because this is what I mostly saw being performed on stage and in theaters.”
“As for what did inspired me to do oriental dance, I’d have to say oriental dance in itself.”
DanseTrack – The costumes are typically quite beautiful and elaborately detailed. Do you design (or even make) your own costumes?
Rachid – “Yes, I do design them and make them mostly myself. When I’m inspired to create a new costume, I come up with the design and take that idea to my friend Wendell Elisabeth, who is a fashion designer. From there, he sews the basic form of the costume. and when that is done, I do the crystal work, embroidery and fringing.
Over the years, Wendell and I have worked well together. Although I like to create the design myself (because I know the style I am looking for to accompany a particular dance), Wendell has a good understanding of my ideas. Also he has tremendous experience to draw upon having designed costumes for theater and Carnival as well as customized fashion and gala wear.
DanseTrack – What about future opportunities to see you perform here in the United States?
Rachid – “Actually, I will be in New York and Washington D.C. in May of this year (May 2014) for workshops and performances. The event in Washington D.C. is for the Bellydancers of Color Association (www.bellydancersofcolor.com), and the New York appearance is hosted by the renowned dancer, teacher Tarik Sultan.”
DanseTrack – Thank you, Rachid, for so generously sharing your time and thoughts with us and congratulations on all of your success!!
Here’s more about this celebrated artist:
Raised on the Caribbean island of Curaçao, Rachid Alexander was inspired to begin oriental dance lessons as a young teen. He crafted his exceptional skills under the tutelage of dancer, mentor Zareefa al Noor and at the Middle Eastern Dance Exchange in Miami, Florida.
Now residing in the Netherlands, Rachid is in great demand as a performer throughout Europe, Asia, the Middle East, the United States and the Caribbean. He also teaches internationally at oriental dance festivals and workshops, and serves on judging panels at numerous dance competitions.
Highlights of his dance career include winning first prize in the University of the Netherlands Antilles Talent Competition and performing at the prestigious Amstel Hotel, the Holland Casino and for the annual Celebrity Society Lunch, also in the Netherlands. Other career highlights include performing at the Dunya Festival (one of the Netherlands’ biggest world stage arts festivals) and being chosen as one of the best acts out of 2,500 auditioners in “Holland’s Got Talent”. Rachid has been prominently featured on television and in numerous articles for magazines, newspapers and online.
- Official website for Rachid Alexander – http://rachidraqs.nl
- Interview with Rachid Alexander from OZY.com -The King of Belly Dance: Rachid Alexander – http://www.ozy.com/good-sht/rachid-alexander/3396.article
- A general description of the style: Masculine Belly Dance – http://www.bdancer.com/Masculine.html
- From HipMix.net: Do Men Belly Dance? – http://www.hipmix.net/hip-to-know-article.php?pid=57
- New York Times article: Making a comeback – Male belly dancers in Egypt – http://www.nytimes.com/2008/01/02/world/africa/02iht-letter.1.8984242.html?_r=1&
- DanseTrack: Bellydancing, Oriental Dance