Duniya Studio

Jocelyne’s Comments for the 10th Anniversary Hafla

I abbreviated my comments at the hafla last night because I didn’t want to take up all the party time with talking, but thought I should share what I had originally written so that my intended sentiment is known by the special people who have been on this wonderful journey with me, to that end I’ve decided to post them here for all to read.

Comments for Duniya 10th Anniversary Party

I wanted to try to keep my comments brief, but to be honest there are so many people to honour and thank, this might be difficult to keep it short. I do understand the main event is the performances and everyone having time to get up and dance, so thank you for indulging me a few words of reminiscence and gratitude.

Thank you to Persis Grill for the good food and this beautiful setting to hold our event. If everyone agrees, perhaps we could do this more often. In talking with other dancers, one of our collective goals is to rebuild our local dance community, and regular events is a great way to do this. Please talk with me if you would like to see regular events similar to this happening in the future.

OK, on to my rambling about things I feel I need to say this evening, bear with me for a while….

My Dance Teachers

Elaine Hunter
Elaine, or Ms. Hunter as we called her in class because we were all kids and she was a grown up, was my first dance teacher. That was almost 50 years ago! I was actually one of her very first students when she started teaching in a church basement in Cumberland (I think we were four kids in the class back then when it started). Though this introduction to dance for me wasn’t in Oriental dance, it did lay a vital foundation of movement technique and love of dance that I still treasure. The experience in ballet, tap, and jazz classes – yes, I was one of those kids who took 5 dance classes a week – and the fun of performing for annual recitals, at senior homes and in community halls, and events like the Navan fair sparked an interest that has stayed with me all my life. This paved the way for my journey into other dance forms as an adult. Later in life when I started teaching and found myself applying a class structure and professional teaching principles that I learned as I child I came to fully appreciate everything I learned from the Elaine Hunter School of Dance.

We should always remember our first teachers; they started it all for us.

GeeGee Robinson – GiGi Amine
GeeGee was my very first Bellydance teacher back in 1996. This was my introduction to the music and movement vocabulary of Oriental dance, and from my first class, I was hooked! GeeGee was also my first Bellydance teacher to guide me through costuming ideas, push me to perform, initiated me into the dance volunteering experience by bringing me onboard with OMEDA (the Ontario Middle-Eastern Dance Association) which was a big thing in Ottawa back in the day. She also brought me on my first road-trip to a dance workshop, which ended up being with Raqia Hassan of the Reda Troupe, in Sherbrooke Quebec. I was so new that I didn’t even know who Raqia Hassan was at the time, but boy did I love the road trip and workshop experience. GeeGee is no longer with us since 2017, but as the first teacher for so many she was responsible for initiating a lot of us old dancers into the Ottawa Bellydance community. She was a fascinating personality, who had toured around the US, danced with Gene Autry, and she choreographed the Ottawa Rough Rider majorettes. She also taught tap, Irish dance, hula and more. She had the most beautiful long legs, even at 75 years old, that I have ever seen.

Joan Savage – Jauhara
I found my way to classes with Joan when she subbed in for GeeGee one session while GeeGee was away in California. As someone who had a background in traditional Ballet and Jazz classes, I really liked the way Joan structured her classes, so I followed her out to Laurentian Highschool to her regular classes. Joan had a degree in theatre which contributed in a very positive way to how she taught and performed.
Joan is the person who is responsible for me starting my own journey as a dance teacher. Somewhere around 2001, Joan had an accident, backstage at a dance event of course, where she broke her foot, and was out of commission for a number of months. She invited me to take over her classes while she healed, and I was flattered at her confidence in me. I quickly prepared 5 bellydance and 1 jazz routine for the session. When she was recovered and ready to return, she encouraged me to keep teaching at other locations. Sometimes it’s that little push from our teacher that is all we need to set us on a new and wonderful path.

Sadly, Joan is no longer with us since 2021. She had a lot of dance-daughters over the many years that she taught Bellydance and Jazz at various locations around Ottawa, and a few of them are here tonight. Her real-life daughter is also here celebrating with us, and I know that Joan would be so happy that her daughter is continuing on with her legacy by taking dance classes. There will be a hafla in the fall to celebrate Joan’s life and all that she did to help grow the dance community in Ottawa. I’m going to invite Joan’s daughter Brynn now to say a few words about her mom…. Speak with Brynn about that upcoming event.

Denise Enan
I found my way to classes with Denise when Joan broke her foot and I needed someone to coach me for my very first solo which was to happen in New York City because I was attending Morocco’s weeklong seminar that ended with all students performing in an actual restaurant. I booked a few private classes with Denise to help me with my first-ever solo, and from the first moment I tried to follow her movements, I was mesmerized. Denise was a principal dancer with the National Folkloric Troupe of Egypt. She performed all over the world with the before moving to Canada in 1975 and becoming the premier Egyptian Dance Master instructor in Canada.

What I saw when taking classes with Denise was something else for me; it was the soul of real Egyptian dance. My New York solo was generally a success, and the most satisfying comment I remember from that experience was someone telling me they felt like it was a good old Egyptian-style representation. That was all thanks to the coaching I received; I didn’t really know the difference at the time. Of course, after those private lessons I started right away taking every class I could with Denise; driving all the way to northern Hull to take multiple classes in a row. Up until then, I was pretty good at learning a class routine, but from Denise I gained insight into improvising and to feeling the music the way an Egyptian dancer does. I can never express the depth of the impact learning from Denise has had on me as a dancer. One of the most exciting and proudest moments of my dance life is the day she invited me to become a member of The Enan Egyptian Troupe. My 16 years of dancing with her Troupe were the most culturally and artistically developmental experiences of my Egyptian dance life.

Denise sent her regrets that she couldn’t be here tonight because it is her granddaughter’s 18th birthday party. As we were corresponding, she reminded me of the many late nights up sewing and embellishing costumes. I learned a lot from her and Amido about linking an appropriate regional costume to the style of dance. I also spent a lot of time complaining about sewing, which I am terrible at (though I do love shopping for costume supplies!).

Thanks to Denise I also learned so much about other aspects of dance and dance studio management, by her guidance into my performing career and also when I was helping Denise get Studio Oasis de la danse set up. Going through the process with her of taking a crusty old former bar space and turning it into an oasis for dancers took weeks of deep cleaning, painting walls and ceilings, selecting dance floors and mirrors, decorating (and re-decorating). I dragged my poor spouse along to help fix drywall and install dance barres and kept him there until the wee hours working; we cajoled the other teachers at Oasis to come help decorate; most importantly we had fun! Plus, I got experience in setting up a website, music editing, helping with print marketing, general organizing, and all-round gophering. In helping support my guru and mentor, I got a real sense of what being a dance studio owner is like. Trust me, there is a ton of work that goes on behind the scenes to run a dance studio!

All of that sounds like a lot of work, and it was, but it was also fun because we were friends who were working towards something artistic and bigger than ourselves. This artistic and inspiring goal was something that was missing from my mainstream career in government, and I relished it all.

I was also pleased to help Denise and Amido organize three tours to Egypt – because I also love to travel! – and happily participated in two of them myself. Those were really trips of a lifetime and something I hope to re-create for others to enjoy sometime in the future (stay tuned on that). I encourage all dance students to travel to the source countries to experience the culture and history.

In short, everything about my time with Denise was a magnificent growth experience, and I will always be grateful for all that I learned from my time with Denise.

To sum up my comments on my dance teachers, all I can say is that I am forever grateful for the different learning opportunities they each presented in their own unique ways. A teacher of any subject plays a special role in someone’s life, beyond just the material they are presenting. They shape us and teach us in ways that they don’t even know.

Duniya Teachers

In chronological order, I need to say a few words about the wonderful teachers who have graced our classes at Duniya Studio.

Cathy; dance name Caaatheee (ask her to explain why). I don’t know if she realizes it, but Cathy was actually the initial impetus behind my starting Duniya Studio. So, here is the story of how the idea of Duniya Studio started to become reality…The Enan Troupe members were all over at my house for some social time, and Cathy was talking about how she was wanting to start teaching again. Our teacher Denise’s studio is located on the Quebec side in Gatineau, so speaking at least a little bit of French is a requirement, and though Cathy speaks three languages, French isn’t one of them (in case you are curious, she speaks English, Arabic, and Spanish). I mentioned to Cathy that I had heard that Studio X was renting out space by the hour to other dance teachers and Cathy mentioned that she didn’t want to take on the administrative work required of running independent classes. In that moment, it occurred to me that I could handle the administrative side of things quite easily, being the busy-body that I am, and how much I was already doing to help out at Oasis de la danse. Follow that conversation up with me convalescing at home after major surgery and having nothing to do but fiddle on my computer getting a business registered, scheduling rental time, setting up a website, advertising classes, and creating way too many spreadsheets… and Duniya Studio was born!

Cathy was a founding member of the Enan Troupe, and also a professional dancer who worked in Ottawa, Toronto, and Montreal before she moved to Lebanon for a few years where she had her beautiful daughters. Cathy is so much more than one of our dance teachers. She inspires, she encourages, she keeps me going when I think I can’t continue. Duniya Studio would not be still in existence if it weren’t for her. She is the person who offers to teach a free class while we wait for enough registrations to cover costs. She is the person who points out inspiring students and nurtures them to one day possibly being one of our teachers (you know who you are). She is a great road trip buddy, and so far, the only person who can keep up with me when the wine is flowing and I’m primed to stay up all night chatting about anything and everything. She is the person who kicks me in the butt and makes me perform when I feel my muse has gone on vacation. She has a drive and perseverance that is positively motivational. Her very presence contributes in ways that cannot be put into words. She has my eternal admiration and gratitude.

Thank you for being on this journey with me habibti!

Along with Cathy, Tia, dance name Taheya, or Tooya as Amido dubbed her while we were travelling in Egypt together, was the first of Duniya teachers, as another Anglophone Enan troupe member who was looking for a teaching opportunity in Ottawa. Her background and ballet and classical folk dance made her a quick entry into the Enan troupe and gave her a strong foundation for teaching classes.

I’m so thankful that Tia was a founding member of the Duniya team and persevered through those early days when sometimes we had only one or two students signing up for classes. Her solid teaching approach and warm personality means that I still have students asking when she will come back to teaching, even six years after she has retired from dancing to focus on her family and daytime career as a scientist (besides being a talented dancer and teacher, she had little this side-gig as a PhD in Biochemistry – we dancers are a multi-faceted bunch!).

Aletta, Vera, Audrey
We’ve had a few other teachers join the team for short periods during Duniya’s first 10 years, and I need to recognize them.

Aletta is an Ottawa dancer who has won awards for her salsa dancing, and who went on to establish Golden Flame Dance Company and studio with her dance partner.

Audrey is a beautiful dancer who continues to offer Graham technique and modern dance classes in Ottawa.

Vera was well-loved in the Ottawa Bellydance community before she moved to British Columbia. She taught a few sessions of online classes for Duniya when we were in the COVID days.

Though these teachers are not currently teaching with Duniya, I encourage you to reach out to them to expand your dance learning. I’m thankful for the time they gave to Duniya studio.

I first met Gwen in 2016 when she was bringing a group from Renfrew to Ottawa to practice for the Shimmy-Mob event, and her natural leadership was evident from the beginning. As a dedicated dancer, she began commuting in from Renfrew for Cathy’s Kanata classes and eventually agreed to take on teaching some classes for Duniya in Kanata and online. She was crucial in helping Duniya pivot to online classes during COVID and continues to be our only online dance teacher. Gwen won the Association Quebecoise de Dance Orientale (AQDO) gold medal in the Diva category, and has been a wonderful friend to share the experiences of Aziza Dreamcamps, various dance workshop road trips, Duniya performance group, and generally inspiring the future of Duniya Studio ventures. She’s another motivating person who keeps me going when I need a push. Dance friends really are the best!

Substitute & Guest Teachers
I’ve been fortunate to have dance friends who have been willing to step in and help out when we’ve needed replacements or special guest to teach a specific subject, and want to take a second to honour those friends as well.

Johanne, dance name Johara, and I met when we joined the Enan Troupe at the same time back around 2001. She has been helpful in jumping in to substitute teach a few times when our regular teachers were unavailable, travelling all the way from Aylmer to Ottawa and Kanata when we needed her; and the students always loved her classes. Aside from being a gifted dance teacher and beautiful dancer, Johanne is also a close friend who has unfailing integrity, is an awesome travel partner, and an event-organizer extraordinaire. She teaches ongoing classes at Oasis de la danse in Gatineau; check out her classes, you will enjoy them!

Mylene, dance name Mayada, is not currently teaching since she is focussing on raising her young family, but she was a captivating dancer, winning first prize in an AQDO competition a few years ago and was a teacher for many years at Oasis de la danse and fellow Enan troupe member. She graced us with a few special guest-teaching sessions focussed on classes for dancers who wanted to become professionals in the restaurant circuit, and her experience in that regard was enlightening for the students.

Julie, who I met many many years ago through OMEDA is returning to teaching, and I was fortunate that she agreed to substitute for some of my classes in Orleans last year while I was travelling. When Julie used to perform professionally, I was always captivated by her natural charisma. Her and I have also enjoyed some dance road trips together, and she is a kind soul. Julie currently teaches yoga in the Ottawa area.

Joelle also substitute taught for some Orleans classes, and I hope she will go on to teach again in the future. You are lucky to see her perform this evening, as she is one of the only young professional Oriental dancers currently active in the Ottawa area, and she has also won awards from AQDO. I know she will enjoy a long and successful professional dance career ahead of her.

I encourage dance students to learn from many different teachers (even if those aren’t Duniya classes) because each teacher has a different way of imparting their expression and this can help you develop your own personal style.

I always want Duniya Studio to be a studio that supports its colleagues, rather than treating them as competitors, and these professionals I have just mentioned have embodied that shared sentiment. I thank them for being supportive of a sense of shared community, and for being an example of women who life each other up. When one of us succeeds, we all succeed!

Event Volunteers

No event happens smoothly without a lot of help, and there are some very special people who have contributed to making things happen tonight. It is such a huge relief to have competent people around who just know how to take care of things, so I don’t have to be everywhere all at the same time. Especially with the week I have had this week, I can’t possibly express how much your help and kindness means to me. Thank you for everything you have done before the party started, behind the scenes, and out here on the floor.

  • Laura
  • Sylvie
  • Joelle
  • Erin
  • Niki
  • Johanne
  • Cathy
  • Gwen
  • Katheryne (my wonderful niece)
  • Daoud (my amazing husband)

Tonight’s Performers

There wouldn’t be a show without the performers, so I want to thank all of you who shared your talent and passion with us this evening. I’m honoured that not only Duniya Studio dancers, but also friends have agreed to be part of the performances this evening. You should know that the 5 or 15 minutes an audience sees are the final result of a lot of unseen effort; wading through music choices, practicing, polishing routines, choosing costumes, getting all made up, schlepping props and so much more. Even though it is a lot of fun, it is also a lot of labour. Whether they are amateurs or professionals, they’ve worked hard their respective styles to entertain you this evening. Please encourage and support your local artists.

  • Joseph Khalil – Joseph is the brother of one of Duniya’s dancers in the Orleans classes. He is performing with tabbel drum to music he composed.
  • Aaliyah – Aaliyah is our friend who came all the way from Brockville where she works to improve understanding of our artform and organizes dance fundraiser events in support of victims of domestic violence.
  • Niki – Niki is a teacher of fusion dance in the Ottawa area and the organizer of the twice-annual community class recital.
  • Gwen’s Intermediate Class – Gwen’s intermediate class meets on Thursdays in Kanata. Brynn, Daniela, and Manal will perform their class routine from the spring session.
  • Eleeza – Eleeza is another friend who travelled from out of town this evening. She hails from Smith’s Falls. She also works with Aaliyah on the domestic violence fundraiser dance events.
  • Erin – Erin recently returned to dancing after a break of a few years, and has been participating in the Kanata classes with Cathy in Thursday evenings.
  • Corazon – Corazon is Niki’s fusion group. Tonight Ida and Niki from that group are performing a duet.
  • Anika – Anika has studied with a number of Ottawa-Gatineau teachers over the years and is currently participating inin Gwen’s Wednesday evening online class.
  • Cathy’s Advanced Class – Cathy’s advanced class meets in Kanata on Thursday evening. Natalia and Shahd join Cathy to perform their class routine from the spring session.
  • Alessandra – Alessandra is a budding professional dancer who recently started teaching classes in downtown Ottawa at Studio X.
  • Shenkman Level 2 Class – the classes at Shenkman centre in Orleans happen on Tuesdy evenings through the city of Ottawa. Hetal, Jessica, Mariem, Nasim, and Tania are performing the Level 2 routine they learned this past session.
  • Gwen (Gela) – Duniya teacher Gwen, or Gela as known by her dance name, teaches our Wednesday online class, and Thursday intermediate class in Kanata.
  • Cathy – Caaaatheee teaches our Wednesday beginner and Thursday advanced classes in Kanata.
  • Jocelyne Khan – Duniya studio owner, Jocelyne is currently teaching the Orleans classes at Shenkman Centre.
  • Shenkman Level 3 Class – Azzah, Jessica, Mariem, Nasim, and Tania are performing the Orleans level 3 routine they learned this past session. They were good sports at changing around the spots when we had some last-minute line-up changes before the community recital on June 8th, and before the presentation this evening.
  • Joelle – Joelle is currently the only active professional Oriental dance performer in the Ottawa-Gatineau area.
  • Duniya Teachers – Our last performance of the evening. The Duniya Studio teachers perform a shamadan trio, and then will get you all up to dance.

Final Thank You to Our Students

Oh, our students, it is really all about you! Obviously, I can’t name all of you because Duniya Studio has had almost a thousand students grace our classes and workshops over the past 10 years.

I am especially thankful for those of you who keep coming back session after session; those of you who stuck with us through the pandemic and working our way through figuring out online classes, and those who came back to in-person classes when the time was right.

Without you, none of this would matter. At the end of the day, it is all about you!

Now I’m done talking and we’re ready to perform for you. We’re going to aim to keep the performances rolling one after the other as best we can, so we reserve a lot of time for everyone to get up and dance right afterwards. We’re in a beautiful setting, you have some wonderful students and professional dancers coming to entertain you, the food is good, and the bar is open – so let’s party!!!

Thank you everyone who helped make our party a very special evening. Check our Facebook page for photos and videos of the festivities.

Jocelyne 🙂 <3 <3

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