- Tell us more about yourself. What do you do and how long you’ve been working in this industry?
I am a full-time professional Belly Dancer. There’s not a huge call for belly dancers in the North East, so my business consists of performing and teaching, importing costumes from Cairo and then selling them, taking dancers to Cairo to see the top belly dancers, and organising residential events and festivals. I am also one of the directors of a company delivering accredited courses for those wanting to teach belly dance. I love the diversity of what I do – though it does mean juggling my priorities constantly.
For me, belly dance started as a hobby in the ’80s. I fell in love with it and it gradually took over my life. I travelled far and wide to study, determined to become the best belly dancer I could be (I am still working on that one!). It became my full-time job in 2004. So, it depends where you measure from as to how long I have been working in the industry.
- Who did you want to be when you were a kid?
No one specific. I was a bit of a tomboy – didn’t really go in for girly things and hated stereotypes. I never for one moment thought I would grow up to be a belly dancer!
- What was your ‘punch in the stomach’ or when did you first realise that this is going to become your career?
I worked for BT as a Customer Service Manager, where I learnt a lot of skills that have stood me in good stead running my own business. I chose a career in BT because both of my parents were self-employed and I saw what hard work that was. However, it got to the point where I didn’t really want to be at work anymore. I just wanted to be doing my dance stuff. So I went part-time and built up my belly dance classes and performing work. This was a good halfway house for a while.
Then a friend in Cairo asked me to look after her flat for 4 months one summer – what an opportunity! I asked for unpaid leave from work and it was refused. So what did I do? I resigned! That was the moment I knew it was going to be my career and despite my reservations, I embraced self-employment and have never regretted it.
- What were the 3 biggest obstacles in pursuit of your career?
- Not so much an obstacle but certainly the worry as to whether I could make a living through belly dance, especially as I had a well-paid job with BT. I made sure I replaced anything that might break down before I left the company: the car, the washing machine and the fridge freezer!
- Developing my skills constantly – to stay ahead of the game.
- Coming up with new ideas, new projects, things to inspire people and attract new customers.
- Where do you find inspiration?
- Cairo. This has always been my source of inspiration.
- My Students. They constantly surprise and inspire me.
- Dance shows. Whatever the genre – there’s always something that you can take away.
- What challenges do you face in this industry as a ‘50+ artist’?
I still perform but I don’t feel the need to compete. I am what I am. Now I’m working with my dance company ‘Helwa’ I find that I’m developing other skills as a director and choreographer.
I created a show ‘Belly Dance: A True Story’ which was based on my belly dance journey. I took it to the Edinburgh Fringe and it sold out every night we were in the Fringe programme. It has been a challenge both for me and the girls in my dance company. I tell my story through anecdotes and interesting facts, the girls illustrate through dancing a range of choreographies. It’s been a labour of love but totally worth it.
This show was partly inspired by Yvette Cowles show, ‘Sequins on my balcony’. Yvette was a close friend and encouraged me to explore different aspects of performance. Narrating my own story has meant developing a whole new skill set.
- What advice would you give someone who is about to start their career but is being told that it’s ‘too late’?
It’s never too late but you also have to be a bit realistic about the market. See what you can bring to the table that is different from others in your industry.
- Do you have any idols and if so, who and why?
There are lots of people who have made a difference in my life and they are too numerous to list. I would hate to miss anyone out.
There was one very famous dancer in Cairo. But they are right when they say you should never meet your idols… I am constantly inspired by dancers in Cairo, the nightclubs and the shows but I don’t really ‘idolise’ anyone. I appreciate their skill and if they make my heart beat faster… or make me cry, I love them.
And of course, my mum… a very special person.
- What’s your life motto?
Do what you do and do it well. Be the best that you can be.
- You’re a new addition to the crayon box. What colour would you be and why?
I would be yellow with streaks of orange and the occasional burst of purple. Sunshine and positive vibes with a hint of contrast to make you appreciate the light.
Follow Kay and her belly dancing adventures on Facebook and Instagram. Or if you’d like to try out your belly dancing skills, why not join Kay and Yasmina of Cairo at a week long project ‘Musical Magic’?