• Lydia Tzigane as a child in a Caravan
  • Lydia with her Mother and Sister
  • Lydia Tzigane, Dubai
  • Lydia Tzigane, Dubai
  • Lydia Tzigane, Dubai
  • Entara
  • Lydia Tzigane, Dubai
  • Badawiya
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Dancing is my Destiny

My journey in life as a belly-dancer has been marked by rhythm, music and learning, spanning over 25 years with over 5,000 shows presented in 42 countries!

I began my career in Baghdad, Iraq. Being part Dutch and part Roma gypsy, I think I have really done justice to my roots.

My great grandfather was the painter B. C. Koekkoeck, while my grandmother was a violinist. Perhaps my artistic skills came from there. In addition to that, in the Roma gypsy history, dancing plays a very important role.

My dancing style combines the dancing traditions of both the Arabic and Roma people.

As a teenager, I decided to make my own destiny. I joined a travelling ballet group. Travelling with this group, I reached Baghdad and there, for the first time, I saw a belly-dancing performance. I fell in love with the music and the freedom of movement.

The idea of being a solo artist, travelling around the world with my show appealed to me. So I requested the theatre manager to at least take some time out to watch my performance. He was pleasantly surprised. He agreed to give me a chance. However, since I was still travelling with the ballet company, I had to complete my contract, leave Baghdad and return in a span of six months.

During this period, I purchased fabric for the costume and sewed it myself. Those were very inspiring days.

The theatre had dance groups from different genres and nationalities. For the next few months, I was listening and learning at every opportunity. I learnt about lighting, choreography, make-up, costumes, etc.

Six months after my first performance, the manager offered me a chance as a solo artist - only if I were willing to come back to Baghdad for a longer period. So that is what I did. I never looked back. I danced at the Sheraton Baghdad and many other hotels. I came to Dubai hi 1986.

Dance is liberating

In the course of the years that I have put into this profession, I have had the opportunity to dance for many celebrities across the continents.

I recall a particularly poignant moment, when I danced for the King and Queen of Malaysia. They showered me with praise. As I stood before them, I thought to myself, "If only they had seen me standing outside my caravan as a small gypsy child!"

It took a lot of hard work and determination to carve my own niche and to be able to hold the attention of people like them. The thought fills me with humility more than pride. I will never forget my roots. That is why the quality of my performance remains the same - whether I dance at a royal function or a birthday party.

My strength...

... is being different from others. This is something I learnt from a senior, retired belly-dancer who was very well-known all over Egypt. She passed away two years ago.

She saw me dancing and told me: "You are different from the others. Stay that way and people will always remember you." I never forgot that and I have always tried to fuse gypsy dancing into my style, while keeping the basics of belly-dancing intact. What I present is an exotic mix of styles, which fascinates people.

I believe in possessing technical skills on stage. I want to be skilled at my art and make people smile. My shows cater to all kinds of people including families with children. I think it is this fact that has made people respect me.

I have been fortunate to last in this field for so many years. I still get repeat invitations from places where I danced ten years ago! I certainly believe that if you are just a pretty lady on stage, you last only till another pretty face takes your place. And then you are out.

Dancing is...

... a lot of hard work. It is glamorous but there is a price to pay. I attribute my success to many years of dedication and practice that included everything from bleeding feet to a non-existent social life and strict discipline - all enough to put up with the workload.

There used to be a time, when I would be doing three shows a night without any weekly offs. This routine continued for four years. I would be performing at nine pm at the then Chicago Beach Hotel, rush to the Jebel Ali Hotel for a 11 o'clock performance and then drive all the way to Holiday Inn, Abu Dhabi, for a 1 am performance. I would reach home at four in the morning.

It was all so exhilarating. I am fortunate that the thing I loved in life became my career.

Dancing takes away the pain of life

You need to be fit and attractive to be a belly-dancer, otherwise you have no job. Dancing is like meditation. When I perform, I disconnect from everything. Everything has to be perfect on stage. I have to concentrate on my performance and I have no time or space to think about anything else -good or bad.

Even if I have had a bad day, I forget everything once I am on stage. When I step off the dance floor I connect back to reality.

My dancing means everything to me. Without it, I would be nothing. I have met so many wonderful people from a variety of cultures and seen so many beautiful places.

I would like to see myself... a perfectionist. This profession has taught me to be 100 per cent committed - 12 hours a day, if not more!

There is a lot to do, as I have no manager. I make the contracts, meet the organisers, take care of the lighting and stage requirements, pick the musicians, give them rehearsals and advise them on their wardrobe as well as do my own wardrobe.

Functions range from birthday parties, hotel contracts, desert safari performances, weddings, engagements or family parties. But I always pay attention to the quality of my performance. If the floor, lighting or the sound elements are not good, it affects my performance. Spectators will not see that, they will blame me for the poor performance.

Hence, it is really important to have all these elements in place.

If I hadn't been a dancer...

... I would have liked to be a nurse or doctor. But as a child I did not have any education. The Roma people travelled extensively, so school was out of the question. I consider myself as the luckiest person in the world to have my hobby and passion as my profession. I do not want to trade places with anybody. It is such an achievement when everybody in the audience leaves the room with a smile.

My other interest is nature. I love nature, wildlife, opens spaces, the sea, the forest and the desert. Even before I mastered dance, I had acquired proficiency in karate. I am a Second Dan Kyoshinkai Karate expert. That empowers me and adds a new dimension to the concentration and poise I require. It, in fact, complements my dance.

My dreams

I have always dreamt of making the whole world smile. Some day, I intend to write a book about all my experiences... a 'happy' book about all the experiences I had in life.

I want to tell younger people, it does not really matter if you have had unpleasant experiences in your childhood, or faced odds. It is not the end of the road, and you can change all that if you have the will.

I dream that I can work until I am very old and teach dancing and just keep on going.

Lessons I have learnt

What I have learned in the course of my life and through my profession is to listen and learn from others, not to judge a book by its cover, but to read it thoroughly - cover to cover.

As told to Suchitra Bajpai Chaudhary
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