Middle Eastern dance connects audience with Iranian culture

Pooneh Alizadeh, dancer, artistic director and choreographer at the Academy of Middle Eastern Dance.| Photo courtesy of Acadaemy of Middle Eastern Dance.

Pooneh Alizadeh, dancer, artistic director and choreographer at the Academy of Middle Eastern Dance.| Photo courtesy of Acadaemy of Middle Eastern Dance.

Pooneh Alizadeh has been chosen as one of the ambassadors for this year`s Culture Days and will be teaching a dance workshop as her Culture Days activity. BC Culture Days run from Sept. 30 to
Oct. 2.

Alizadeh has been engaged in dance since she was five years old and since then, her passion for dance has only grown. After receiving her Masters of Fine Art in ballet and folkloric dance, she immigrated to Canada from Iran and started her own dance studio, Academy of Middle Eastern Dance (AMED).

“I combine ballet, flamenco and Iranian dance to make my own style,” says Alizadeh. “I teach everything from traditional Iranian dance, ballet, belly dance to samba and zumba.”

In addition to her own studio, Alizadeh also teaches at a few community centres. She describes Middle Eastern dance as very sensual and graceful while incorporating a variety of arm movements. Costumes are usually long, flowy dresses characterized by bright colours and may include props such as scarves and fabric ‘wings’.

“All of the costumes are custom-made or ordered from overseas,” says Alizadeh.

Connecting through music and dance

As the artistic director and choreographer of AMED, Alizadeh feels that she must first be connected to the music before she can create a dance.

“We use movement to connect with the audience and it’s like we are part of the music,” says Alizadeh. “I believe with Middle Eastern dance you can express your feelings; it’s like a language for your soul.”

She says that even though there are people from different cultures that cannot communicate in English, they can still communicate through dance. She explains that every part of the dance is matched to the song. Anything from classical music with violins and the daff (a Persian drum) to more modern pop fusion music can be used for the dance. Alizadeh welcomes all levels, from beginners to advanced students and even offers private lessons. Although her students are mostly female, she does occasionally teach males for events such as weddings.

Breaking down the moves

Alizadeh is no stranger to performing and has appeared at multiple local events and festivals such as the Caribbean Days festival and the Canada Day parade. For her Culture Days activity this year, she will be sharing her passion for Middle Eastern dance by leading a free interactive dance workshop at Lonsdale Quay. Last year, she had over 700 attendees and expects an even better turnout this year. She will be teaching three to five different dance movements to the group in attendance. At the end of the workshop, they will put the moves together and perform the dance. Alizadeh explains that she breaks down the moves for beginners by telling them a story.

“I tell people to imagine they are warming up for their guests: you go to the door and you bring your guest in. Then you tell your guests to help themselves to some food and ask them to look at how beautiful your dress is,” says Alizadeh.

With each part of the story, Alizadeh shows her students corresponding arm movements and steps; the story helps students remember each movement and the choreography better. She stresses that Middle Eastern dance is for all ages and requires no prior experience.

Alizadeh also dances with a group that has received invitations to perform internationally and she looks forward to having more of these opportunities. Most recently, they performed in Las Vegas.

“I love people, connecting with people and sharing my talents with people,” says Alizadeh. “Dance is all about love and passion, if you have them then you are a good dancer.”


The Middle Eastern dance workshop will take place on Oct. 2 from 3–4 p.m. For more information on how to join, please visit www.culturedays.ca.