World Arts West
SF Ethnic Dance Festival


Zooz Dance Company

DANCE ORIGIN: U.S., Middle East and North Africa
GENRE: Innovative and Traditional
First Appearance in SF EDF: 2006

Over the years, dance of the Middle East has had many names as the rest of the world has tried to make sense of its intriguing, earthy technique that focuses on the hips and belly. Traditionally performed by peoples across the Arab-speaking world for centuries, “belly dance” is a Western term that was coined during the Orientalism movement of the 18th and 19th centuries when the French called it danse du ventre, or “dance of the belly.” Essentially the term “belly dance” is an expression that incorporates many different styles. Looking to how it is named by the people who created it, in Arabic raqs sharqi roughly translates as “dance of the East,” and generally refers to a more urban performance oriented style.

First arriving on American soils in the late 1800s, belly dance has since taken a stronghold among women in the United States as America’s continued intrigue with the East mingled with feminist philosophy. Many see this dance as a means to experience and express the sensuality and power of being a woman. Blending with the American spirit of innovation and exploration, new hybrid forms of Middle Eastern dance have cropped up since the 1960s, often using folkloric inspired movements and fusing them with modern, jazz or other ethnic forms of dance.

Jessica McKee, Jessica Swanson, and Tabitha Sisson formed Zooz Dance Company in 2002 to create and debut three original dances for a Martin Luther King Celebration of Excellence and Diversity event. The performance was so successful it led the company to expand its membership, and create more choreography and performance opportunities. The three founders have had extensive training in Tunisian, Algerian, Moroccan, and Egyptian dance forms.


TITLE OF PIECE: Passage: Moment, Ways of the Mothers, Of the Many
: Jessica McKee, Jessica Swanson
DANCERS: Marielle Amrhein, Frieda Kipar, Jessica McKee, Tabitha Sisson, Jessica Swanson
MUSIC: Armando Mafufo
Transition music
: Meta Bass 'N Breath

Zooz Dance Company performs works deeply rooted in Middle Eastern and North African dance, while incorporating modern dance choreography to create an urban feminine style. The suite of dances they present, entitled Passages, reflect a dialogue between ancestral traditions and contemporary culture while celebrating the value of personal expression. The first piece, Moment, using intriguing 9/8 rhythms, suggests the changing characteristics of a river. The second dance, Ways of the Mothers, employs swords to represent family traditions that are carefully passed down through generations from grandmother to mother to daughter. The final dance, Of the Many, illustrates the interrelationship between individual and community as knowledge is imparted and reintegrated.

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