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Belly dance performer and costumier: Off the clock with Deborah Shaw

Deborah Shaw poses on piano with her belly dancing troupe

Deborah Shaw, Administrator,
Undergraduate Teaching & Learning


Deborah has been at the University of Toronto (U of T) since 2003.


What do you do off the clock?

I study, teach and perform belly dance at Arabesque Academy. I am also the costumier for Arabesque Dance Company & Orchestra, the dance company’s artistic director, Yasmina Ramzy, as well as Arabesque Allspice and Arabesque Earthshakers, of which I am a lead dancer.

How did you first become interested in bellydancing?

I have always been a performer. My first performance was at age five when I was figure skating. Since then I have studied ballet, tap, jazz, and modern dance, and then went on to study acting.

Before coming to U of T, I was a working actor for 14 years and I loved it. I made a living as a performer and it was wonderful, but I got to the point where I felt I needed a full-time job. I wanted to take vacations, have benefits and a pension.

I went looking for a job and was lucky to find a great one here at U of T. I’ve never looked back! I love what I do, but I missed performing, so I started studying belly dance in 2005. In 2006, I became the dance company’s costumier, and in 2009 I was asked to be a dancer with a new troupe called Arabesque Earthshakers.

Where do you teach and perform?

I teach a beginner level 2 belly dance class on Saturdays at Arabesque Academy and I am a guest performer and teacher in Thunder Bay for Arabella Middle Eastern Dance Academy.

I dance with Arabesque Earthshakers as often as possible. There are a lot of wonderful festivals in and around Toronto. We have been invited to dance at many of them. Last summer, we danced at the Canadian National Exhibition (CNE) and it was a knock out! The audience was wonderful and really motivated our performance.

For the past three years we have danced at the U of T Festival of Dance, and I hope to be back there again this March. We have also been invited to a number of dance studios in the Greater Toronto Area, Oakville, Guelph, Kingston, and Sarnia.

The Earthshakers have performed at the CNE, the Rivoli, Buddies in Bad Times, Arabesque’s 25th Anniversary Extravaganza, the Peruvian Festival, and the International Bellydance Conference of Canada.

In 2007, while on a tour of Egypt, I danced on board a day cruise on the Red Sea while visiting Sharm el-Sheik and the Sinai Desert, wearing my flippers and a snorkel mask!

Two years ago I wanted to add a little more theatre and drama to my dance so I put together a group called the Underworld. It’s a fusion of belly dance and horror; it’s really a lot of fun. I’m looking into the future with that as well.

Who inspires or influences your work?

Yasmina Ramzy really inspires me. She lived and worked in the Middle East when other people were afraid to go there.

Yasmina visited dancers’ in their homes and, in exchange for English lessons, learned how to dance the way the Egyptian dancers learned: by watching their mothers and aunts and figuring out the steps. She also made an effort to learn the folklore and understand the music.

In 1987, Yasmina brought the art of belly dancing to Canada and now employs a staff of dancers, musicians, teachers and administrators and offers more than 30 classes per week. How can I not be inspired by all that she has accomplished?

There is also a whole world of belly dancers out there, each interpreting it in their own special way. Professionals and amateurs alike, we all love the music and how the movements make us feel. The power of femininity is amazing.

Our studio — and, I’m sure at other studios as well — is a wonderful place to express the joy of being a woman. Being part of the Earthshakers, a group of voluptuous dancers who embrace our bodies and don’t make excuses for our wonderful imperfections, is empowering. The rush of affection we get from our audiences is amazing, they understand how proud we are, and boy can we dance.

Submitted by Rachelle Allen, Transcript Centre / Photo: Deborah poses on piano with her bellydancing troupe, the Earthshakers