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Pangaea Dance Studio - Ishara's Bio

Ishara Gamal


1973 - 2007

~ The following is taken from Ishara Gamal's original website, unedited ~

tribal face
I began my study of dance when I was three years old. For twelve years I attended class in ballet, jazz, tap, acrobatics, but ethnic and interpretive dance forms were always my first love. I spent countless hours trying to figure out Hawaiian hula, Indian kathak, and Irish step dance from a few bits of public television footage, and dancing improvisation in my yard at home. In high school, I found opportunities to perform the Italian tarantella, Medieval "Courtion De Magdalena", and lyrical interpretation to poetry. I took my first Middle Eastern Dance with Maresha class while in college at the University of South Alabama in 1994.

Beginning in 1998, I studied with Habeeba's Dance of the Arts in Cincinnati, OH once a week in Azha's class. Within a few months, I added private classes with Conchi Madson to my weekly schedule. These classes combined highly technical instruction with encouragement to learn to piece the movements together in my own way without choreography. I was in heaven! For the first time I found a dance form that was structured the way I love to dance. I am fortunate to have had two expert teachers with such complementary styles and strengths. Their combined influence lead me to develop a unique blend of Egyptian/ Lebanese precision and Turkish fire in my own performance style.

In 2000, I began performing with Alhambra, Conchi's professional dance troupe. In addition I had the opportunity to lead supplementary classes for a group of fellow students, and give a seminar for the Crazy Ladies bookstore titled Mending the veil: healing women's body image through the ancient art of Belly Dance. This workshop remains one of my favorite teaching experiences. I had been asked by a friend to prepare a spiritually aware approach to my dance for the store's annual women's workshop. Before I began planning, I didn't know that my dance contained an embedded message I needed to share with other women. But by the time I had completed the workbook for this event, my approach to teaching belly dance had been changed forever. At the workshop women of all shapes and sizes helped me learn to teach others to value their bodies for their strengths instead of being ashamed of what we had learned to see as their weaknesses. More than shimmies and hip drops, I learned to share pride and personal power with my students. This has been part of my goals in every class since.

Ishara at verde gallery
I moved to Bloomington, IN in 2001, to begin college again at Indiana University and to expose my children to the area's open and culturally diverse atmosphere after my divorce. At that time I became part of the Blue Nile dance troupe, and also joined Salaam on additional local and out of town performances. I learned so much about the dance from working with this improvisational Middle Eastern band, and I am very grateful to have had such a rare opportunity. Dena, who is an Iraqi-American and the band's violinist, generously shared my name with several local Middle Eastern families as well. Because of Dena's kindness and Salaam's welcoming spirit, I got the opportunity to perform belly dance in art, educational, and traditional settings, for joyous audiences who understood its meaning. (Salaam just released their fourth CD, and is currently traveling for shows through out the Mid-west.)

In late 2001, I joined with Angela Ditman and Kristen Orlousky to form Pangaea Tribe. We offered a multi-cultural show with live music to the educational and art communities of Bloomington, IN. Our group repertoire was primarily American Tribal, but our solos ranged from Raks Sharki, and Folkloric Gypsy, to Flamenco fan dance. At its height this group had four dancers, three drummers, and an outstanding woodwinds musician. Although it was short lived, we enjoyed incredible artistic opportunities including an afternoon performance in association with the Lotus World Music Festival. Through out this time I continued teaching private lessons with both beginners and advanced students.

In 2003, I remarried and moved to Champaign, IL. I transferred to the University of Illinois at Champaign in the department of Psychology. As I acclimated to the Champaign-Urbana area. I was trilled with my new family, and the opportunities available to me in psychology department, but surprised to find that there was almost no belly dance happening in the city. So at that time I began slowly helping to build a dance community and new opportunities for myself and others here in Champaign.

Currently, I maintain a studio with over fifty students, and travel to study and perform with nationally known teachers in the regional area. Additionally, I am fortunate to direct two dance groups, the Reflections Dance Co. with members of my advanced Egyptian Fusion class, and Pangaea Tribe with the members of my advanced Tribal class. These groups and I have performed at various events including Nargile, Cafe Hookah, Pizza Garden family night, Night of 1001 stars in Chicago, Mediterranean Echoes in Cincinnati, Culture Shock at the University of IL, and a two hour presentation on the history of Middle Eastern Dance in America called Reflections of the Middle East at Verde Gallery.

In 2005, I completed my honors thesis in attachment and emotional development and graduated with departmental distinction. I worked in the mental health field briefly before discovering that I have breast cancer and having to take a leave of absence. Most of this past year for me has been spent in treatment, but it is almost over and I have gained a great deal from the experience. Throughout this time my Pangaea dance family has been an incredible support to me, and we have all grown in ability as we struggled together to keep our studio growing and productive. I have three new teachers, a strong troupe, budding new choreographers, and many new close friends because we were able to reform our roles and expand to accommodate each other’s needs and limitations during this difficult time. This experience has only brought home what I learned that very first time I began teach women this dance. When you work very hard to force this dance into some competitive staged-drama box, it will eat you, your friendships and self-image alive... but when you let belly dance work it's magic... let it expand into all that it has been throughout it's history and can become again, it is a force of strength and a story of women's power and ability to heal eachother. Sometimes adversity makes you stronger.



ishara signature

~ The following was written and added by Pangaea Dance Studio members ~


From October 2005 till May 2006, Ishara Gamal received aggressive chemo-therapy that was followed by radiation treatments for a few months. All the while she kept coming to the Studio (on good weeks) and leading the practice. She did not let treatment and its harsh side effects prevent her from performing in Bellies For Life 2006, and her greatest achievement probably, during that time, was attending the GRE tests, applying to the Psychology Grad school at U of I and being accepted!

Ishara at Bellies For Life 07 Ishara had started the PhD. program in Fall 2006, and only mere 2 months into the semester, about Thanksgiving, she had discovered that the cancer had returned, and had advanced to stage 4. A new battle had started for Ishara, where the statistics were not on her side. She fought this battle with all her might, and LIVED during the good days with the same fierceness. This time around, chemo-therapy started taking its toll not only on the cancer's cells, but also on Ishara's healthy body as well. But she reserved her energy for what mattered most for her:
She kept attending Grad school whenever she could and even served as a TA for one of the classes. It seems as this activity had put some sense into her everyday-somewhat-mundane-life.
And there was dancing... Ishara could not come to the studio for practice. This and the commute were too much. So the studio came to Ishara's house. We practiced in her living room on the good weeks. It was more than wonderful to have her dancing with us, and for her it was a highlight, for that day, as well. She was invited to perform on New Year's Eve in a restaurant, and so she did. And for Bellies For Life 2007 she prepared 3 numbers (!): She danced with her daughters at the beginning of the show and performed solo as well as with the troupe.

But shortly after Bellies For Life 2007 the routine of chemo-bad week-good week-chemo again was replaced by one hospital stay after the other, with respect to the sever side effects chemo therapy had. She felt she had to quit TA-ing her class, because she could never predict when she would be outside of the hospital.

In mid April she was hospitalized for the last time. The condition she went in for improved and she resumed chemo therapy. But shortly after that her liver began failing and did not recover.

Mere 5 days later Ishara Gamal's soul was freed of her suffering body. She died on Tuesday night, April 24th 2006, with her close family and loved ones by her bed side.

Ishara Gamal had always been a source of inspiration, and forever will be the wind beneath our wings. While we practice in class or dance in a circle at a Hafla or performing on stage, Ishara Gamal is dancing with us and in our souls.