The dancer enters the room to the sounds of Arabic guitar gently opening the phrases of a classic cabaret song. Making her way to the Persian carpet in the center of the floor, all eyes gather to her. As the drums begin, and she moves with grace to the music, her spell begins, and the dance unfolds. Sparkling eyes and a bright smile charm her onlookers. A shimmering veil and gems and sequins move upon her costume, casting reflections in the eyes of her audience. For the moment, all else is forgotten, and there is only the dancer, becoming one with the song, becoming one with the audience, and becoming one with the dance! And all too soon it is over, and she bows, collecting applause before she glides away, leaving her spellbound audience behind.
If it sounds like a scene from a classic Egyptian film, it isn’t. This happens at least once a week in Chicago, Illinois. For this is the home of Sonya, and this is what she does best. Anyone who has seen her dance will attest to her presence on the stage, or in the nightclub, or in the restaurant. She makes it look natural and easy, the way only those born to the art can do.
Sonya has been belly dancing since 1996 here in her hometown. She is a committed lifetime student of all things belly dance, from costuming to make-up, from the history of the dance to the most contemporary styling, from the music in all its forms to the glorious performance of belly dance itself! For most of the last eight years, she has mentored under the world renown Jasmin Jahal, learning all the subtle movements and nuances that great teacher had to show her. This firm grounding in Egyptian style belly dance would be the foundation she built on forever. Once Jasmin saw that she really had something special in her student, she invited Sonya to join her troupe, Desert Moon, with whom Sonya performed in the years 1997 to 1999. Later, after Jasmin dissolved Desert Moon, she moved Sonya to a position as principal dancer in her dance company, Ward el Sahara. Here Sonya’s star really began to burn brightly, as she danced in more than twenty five staged theater shows, under her mentor’s tutelage. She also began to teach in Jasmin’s school of belly dance. The dance company’s ultimate expression came in the form of their full theatrical performance of ‘Kismet: One Man’s Destiny’. This ballet-esque dance-as-theater show took place in August of 2002, and was the culmination of more than three years worth of work. Sonya played several major roles in the performance, and was the official costume designer for the show, proving her versatility in belly dance culture beyond anyone’s doubt!
Sonya’s performances have developed through the years. Once upon a time, she was the student that all teachers marvel over. The unpolished gem that shows such natural talent and ability, and an affinity for the music. Her capacity to lose herself in the song is unquestionably her greatest asset. Over time, hard work, practice, and bold determination have uncovered a jewel of surpassing charm and beauty. Haflas and student shows and fests and restaurants and weddings and parties have all enabled her to grow as a performer, and it shows. She now possesses the poise, grace and charm of a seasoned performer. If she still gets the jitters before going onstage, no one in the audience can tell! As a featured dancer at three weekly venues, Sonya never fails to dazzle her audience with her skills at improvisation. But she will tell anyone who asks that her true love is the discipline of choreography that is a must for the theater stage.
Never one to let the dance stop with her, Sonya acts as an educator. She realizes the value of knowledge, and subscribes wholly to the belief that all her talents mean nothing if she cannot teach them to others. Sonya taught for many years at the Jasmin Jahal School of Dance, and continues to teach 6 classes a week. Her own dance instruction company, Arabesque Belly Dance, can be found on her website at SonyasSouk.com. Sonya is frequently invited to do University demonstration lectures on belly dance and various other folkloric dances from across the Middle East. The Desert Moon Dance Academy of St. Louis has hosted her to teach workshops away from Chicago, giving her the opportunity to both teach others in her very natural style, and also to learn a bit about the dance community away from Chicago. Her choreography workshops and make-up/costuming seminars are always a hit with the local dancers as well!
Her list of dancing credits is simply astounding. In Chicago alone, she has performed in countless restaurants and nightclubs, including the now-famous Raw Bar, and chic Sigara, a shisha-bar catering to the up and coming nightlife downtown. Tizi Melloul, a Mediterranean Restaurant here in Chicago, saw fit to award Sonya the Golden Navel award after a daylong competition and show in the spring of 2004, and to add to that honor, she has become a featured performer there. Sonya has been privileged to leave the city she calls home for numerous out of town performances, including the MEDINA (Middle Eastern Dance In North America) belly dance conference, and acted as judge to their annual competition, both in 2003 and 2004, and will again in 2005 as well. She was invited to dance in a highlight performance in Peoria Illinois for Pava’s “Celebration of Dance” in late 2003. She shimmied onstage at the Arabian World Fest in Milwaukee Wisconsin in July of 2004. She has been blessed with the privilege of dancing in the Farid Fahmy “A Night of Oriental Travels” show in Kalamazoo Michigan, and found herself back onstage in Milwaukee for the Kerensa DeMars show in the summer of 2004. Grand Rapids, Michigan for the Yasmina Ramzy “Expressions in Orientale IV”, and then right back to Milwaukee for a performance at the Suhaila Salimpour show. Part of Sonya’s philosophy is to keep busy, and it shows!
Such a dedicated and talented performer is certainly fated for great things. Sonya hopes every day for greater opportunities to learn and teach and perform her chosen craft. All of her life rotates around the celebration of womanhood and femininity that is belly dance. It is this intense focus and stubborn will to succeed that drives her, and she hopes to be an inspiration to other young dancers everywhere. This dream, and her passion to follow it, has carried her to her current state of recognition as one of the rising stars of the Midwest.