Former fashion designer Beverley Smith’s hobby has become aN obsession. Now she wants to put Arabic dance on the map. Interview by Neil Hudson.
I teach mainly Egyptian dance but I am starting to introduce Turkish and Kurdish dance. These styles of dance are from folklore and include what we in the West refer to as belly dance. I teach at the Yorkshire Dance Centre at West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds and also at Harrogate High School. My passion is traditional, folklore dance. I have my own dance troupe, Egyptia, who perform at events, including weddings, parties, fundraisers, team building exercises and community events. Our youngest member is 15, our oldest I think has just gone 60 and they all perform. I also run my own dance costume label called Baladi Bazaar and I make dance costumes for women of all sizes and ages. Some of the costumes are imported all the way from Cairo. We are building a good name for ourselves, with our vibrant, some say intoxicating, mix of lavish costumes and even more lavish dance. Our next show will be on March 2 at Northern Ballet.
“The best thing about Leeds is it’s where my family and all my love ones are from. Home is where the heart is. I grew up in Bramley and I went to Intake School, which I left at 16. I now live in Horsforth.
“My first job was on Leeds Market selling clothes, I was terrible at it and think I only lasted two weeks. I was too shy to deal with people.
“I started working for myself in my late 20s, after I was made redundant. I went to Leeds School of Art, or Jacob Kramer College as it was then and I studied fashion design and after I left there I got a job training people at William Read’s in Leeds. Now I import costumes all the way from Egypt and I make my own.
“The best piece of advice I have ever received was to appreciate the things you have no matter how big or small. I try to appreciate everything I have in life and make the most of the things I do. I also believe in doing things now, while you can.
“My guilty pleasure? That’s easy, food. I love eating and that causes a problem as I am always struggling with my weight.
“My pet hate has got to be arrogant, rude people.
“The one thing I could not live without is companionship. My friends, my family, my cat Sanchez - he is the special thing in my life and I always miss him if I am not at home.
“If I could meet anyone, living or dead, it would be someone from history like Queen Cleopatra or Nefertiti. I am just fascinated by historical figures like that. I think I would ask them what it was like to be a powerful woman.
“My philosophy on life is to do as many things as much as you possibly can afford to do and be pleasant to people, because that doesn’t cost anything at all and yet it makes such a big difference.
“To relax I have to get away from the house. Because I work from home, if I stay inside, I will just end up doing more work and at the end of the day it’s not good for you to just be so obsessive with something, you have to do different things. So, when I do get time to relax, I like to go away for the weekend or go for a walk, something like that.
“As a child I was painfully shy and didn’t like mixing with other children at all. I was only really happy when I was with my mother. I have certainly made up for that since my 30s, which is when I really started to become brave.
“My first love was a toy doll, called Tiny Tear, which I still have, she sits in my bedroom watching the years go by.
“Something that might surprise people is I have been to Egypt something like 10 times. The first time I went I stayed in Luxor and I have done all the usual touristy things like going inside the Great Pyramid. I can’t say I was that impressed with it to be honest, it was very cramped and very smelly. There’s not much air inside and it’s a tight squeeze. I love going to Cairo, it’s one of those places you either love or hate. It’s so busy and hectic, from the traffic to the markets and all the people. I’ve travelled to other countries too, in fact, I am teaching Arabic dance to tourists in Morocco later this year.
“One thing I would like to do more of later in life is travel the world. I have done a fair bit of travelling already but there are loads of places I would like to go see. I am really interested in discovering things about other cultures and people and things like that. It’s just something which interests me, always has.
“Dance was my hobby but it has become my livelihood, my obsession. I would say I am more of a voluptuous woman and this style of dance suits me more than others. Not that others can’t do it, they can.
“I am a member of a number of different dance groups, including once called Qamar 14 and Funoon Al Jazeera and we have bookings all up and down the UK for that one.
“One March 2 we will be staging a special show at Northern Ballet, which will be attended by the Turkish Ambassador. The show is called One Night in Istanbul and will feature a style of dance called raqs sharqi, which is traditional Arabic dance.”