Bellydance Interview: Meet Gemma Arnaiz

In continuing with introducing you to some truly inspirational belly dancers I've had the pleasure of meeting, meet Gemma Arnaiz of Barcelona, Spain. I first met her and saw her perform at a festival in Europe and her musicality, feminity and artistry truly astounded me. She was different and delicate and her fresh and original ideas for oriental dance really expressed the beautiful essence of this art. 


When and how did you start oriental dance?  What about it did you like the most?

I started my oriental dance classes at Deborah Korek’s school in 2001. It was many years since I like oriental music and fantasized about learning how to dance, but in Barcelona it wasn’t a popular dance and it was difficult to find a place to learn. One day my friend told me that she found this school and she was taking classes there for a few months and I went to try a class. But it was clearly a class for girls who had been practicing for a few months and since I was new and had other dance backgrounds, I was incapable of doing any good and was very frustrated. You can imagine, no?

Even though, I returned the next week. And again, I was frustrated.  Until one day, after finishing the session, I slept in relaxation and woke up with a new feeling. I returned and returned with a permanent contradictory feeling of frustration and adoration until I was hooked.

In those moments oriental dance in Barcelona wasn’t considered as a career or profession, only as a journey of personal growth and I think that’s what captivated me. Listening to inspirational phrases from my teacher with a band playing slow and magical music, connecting with my body, understanding me, evading me. Every session had (and I feel this even today ) a part of serotonin that “this moment is for me” helped me alleviate stress, personal problems or any other mishap.


Who are your biggest inspirations and why?

I can write pages and pages about people who have inspired me!

First I consider myself very lucky to have met & started with dancers & teachers in my own city, Barcelona. I can say that if my style has a certain personality, I owe it to my teachers from home: Cristina Manrique, Rachida Aharrat and Salima, whose example they have educated me on creativity, musicality, multidisciplinerary and above all in the pursuit of its own language. They are my primary source and my inspiration, my biggest influences both professionally and personally, as they are close , good people and also good friends and counselors you can always go to if you need help.

From Egyptian teachers, Randa Kamel and Tito Seif I find inspiring. I think they have the alchemy to transform all the intensity and depth of oriental quality fun and entertainment , and it's a brilliant way to bring art to the people, without complications or qubble, but with respect and authenticity. I started to love the great Arab songs watching their videos. And live they have a very special energy , connecting and bringing a smile to the public, which in this day and age I think is a necessity. So many times when I think of how to approach a performance and think 'how they would dance to this song?

And of course, then there's Mercedes Niteo.  Meeting Mercedes marked a before and after in my dance and in so many other dancers! Her dancing, teaching, thinking and certainly feeling the dance, is truly inspiring. She has helped me to trust my instincts and look inside of me, but there are so many things I learned from her that I can only say that if someone does not know, find her and judge for yourself how inspiring she can be.


So far, what would you say is your biggest achievement in your dance career ?

As good Spanish woman, I do not think I have reached any great achievement. Or in other words, always hope it is a great achievement to get to improve. Although there are some moments of my career that have given me much strength and energy to continue. But they are just that, moments.


What is something you would like to have know 5 years ago?

About 3 years ago when I was preparing a very special number for a show, I had this sort of mystical mauntra in my mind: "only what comes from the heart reaches the heart." At that time I really helped create one of the most beautiful performances I've ever done. I would have been aware of it, not five years ago, but from the first day I began dancing. And to be honest, I would not forget about it ever again, sometimes acknowledging that the stress to prove or overly technical information for the pursuit of perfection, I am not true to myself and it is then that I do not like the result. If there is  no heart, in my case, my dancing does not work.


What advice would you give to aspiring professionals?

The same advice I would give to any aspiring professional in any field: don't leave yourself on the surface, dig deeper and take a bigger interest in what you are doing, train and work on all levels. The technique is important of course, but not only belly dance technique; the basic techniques of dance and anatomy of movement are vital to dance safely for many years. In the case of bely dance, a need of physical and emotional experiences prepare the body to think about the futre which I believe is imperative . But there are many more things to work on. Also take care of the body and costuming don't you think so? The cultural background, professional ethics, creativity, relationships , social awareness ...Feel the fullness of making a profession of your life and your life that profession is key so that it can play with love and not be tired and never burn out ... I do not know if that is the secret of professional success, but I think there is a path to personal success and happiness, which ultimately is what we have come to this world, right? 


What are your hopes and dreams for the future of this dance?

I like to get to a state of integration of oriental dance in society, in everyday life and in art. I feel I have been blessed with this passion, I spend a lot of energy and resources into it, and I've seen belly dancing has made me a better person, to me and many other women I've found during my way. However, it seems that we have not yet found a way to return all these gifts and make the world better. Oriental dance today is still marginalized within the world of dance, and isn't well known and appreciated by society in general. No claim is far greater recognition , it's just that if we could highlight all the good things, health benefits and communication, musical, artistic and cultural legacy involved, etc. . the world's opinion in general would improve ...To explain, not long ago yoga was seen as a "gym for hippies  is now not only respected and practiced by a large part of society but it is not unusual to see as yoga classes aught to babies, to people in a state of illness or anxiety, as well as have open exhibitions and workshops. I think belly dancing has all the components to achieve this level of common good , and help us all to be a little more tolerant, creative, sensitive and happy. And I guess to achieve this state we will all have to work very hard, and together, putting aside egos and flashes the cash register. And this is the part I most want to see and work with: a united, humble, tolerant and generous arts community. 


Are you working on any projects that you could share with us?

This past year I have worked on some very interesting initiatives, and for upcoming years I think we will continue with this dynamic to propose alternative visions, experiment with the interpretation and literature to bring dance and oriental culture to all audiences. We are currently working with my company Artsuhat on our first, 100% own work  which will seek the participation of performers to deliver an experience beyond the dance, with a bit of fun , reflections and lots of other art and creativity. Of course, in addition to my own plans and projects, I continue working with my colleagues in original proposals , especially as part of charitable, social or artistic vision with their own projects. Surrounding myself with people who I admire and who wants how I feel in this way for truly enriching things.


To find out more about Gemma, you can visit her website: