So in addition to this blog, and writing for NADA magazine I PRODUCE MY OWN MONTHLY BELLYDANCE MAGAZINE (with my mum Sandra), You can read more about how it came about and the history of it below, but before that here are some personal thoughts and reflection on how I feel about the magzine.
Lest get emotional:
The THANK YOUS...........
I want to say a big thank you to all the Zameena subscribers and writers, I can’t put into words how thankful I am to you all. I would like to emphasise just how much my mother, Sandra and I (Zara) do this for YOU our readers. The bellydance community does and has always done so much for me since the moment I became part of it. The classes and teachers have given me self /body confidence, the comunity and troups I was part of have given me support facing some of the hardest times in my life such as my PhD (I thanked the bellydance community in my thesis), the haflas and events gave me a way to express myself artistically and learn to dance professionally in a safe setting, now the festivals and work has taken me around the world and the costumes of Zara’s Zouk have given me a financial support to allow me to pursue all these dreams.
More recently In these current crazy time I was once again reminded of how amazing the bellydance community is. The corona crisis has effected me a lot: I have lost my job, my flat and also the isolation aspect and lack of going out hit me phycologically! But the bellydance community has been there for me, THANK YOU TO EVERYONE that has supported my online events and to all the dancers who contacted me and told me everything was going to be ok. I want to thank Anna who has been driving me to do online haflas with her, before this I was sitting at home crying – now I have something to do and keep me going. Thank you to everyone that attends my onlne workshops they have been a massive financial help - thank you to Catherien Taylor who contacted me telling me I should be doing them and again Anna who helped me host them. Thank you to Shahrzad who is letting me stay in her flat in Cairo as I go house hunting! And thanks to EVERY dancer and friend whose been there for me!
A Labor of LOVE I often say making Zameenas is a “labour of love” (they are not easy to produce) but they are NOT just that - they are my thank you and my giving back to the bellydance community that gives me SO much!
I can't deny I REALLY wish the magazine was more popular we have been at around 2000 subscribers for some time now. Every month I PUSH AND PUSH to advertise for more readers but unfortunately I feel i am just reaching the same people. It does become tiring. SO so so so so much love and effort goes into each episode I WANT IT TO BE READ! Also it upsets me for the sake of the guest writers as much as anyone else that the magazine isn't even more popular than it is. It SHOULD BE I feel no arrogance in say ZAMEENA IS AN ABSOLUTELY AMAZING RESOURCE FOR BELLYDANCERS. It blows my mind when I look over the archive and see what brilliant issues my mum and I have put out!
I have to say I whish more people would share the magazine I try to encourage it in every issue but we live in a crazy busy world i know people online are bombarded with hundreds of things people ask them to share! So I remind myself not to take it personally and to concentrate on all the positive, all the amazing subscribers we do have <3
A great networking tool
I also have to say how, though the magazine, I have benefited from meeting and often becoming friends with so many top dancers. These are dancer who, probably I would have never had the opportunity to have "met" and also that most probably with out Zameena, would be very uninterested in getting to know me...
This has paid MANY dividend, not am I only quite known on the the scene, a recent example is: I have managed to secure some big act names, to dance for free at many of my Online Zoom Haflas which have been an essential income for me and the Egyptian artist that have worked with on them.
It has also given me a good playing card for getting in the know and yes also for a little self promotion (ESSENTIAL for survival in the bellydance world).
So again I have sooo much to be grateful for.
So now all the emotional stuff is over lets look at Zameena over the years:
A LOOK AT THE HISTORY OF ZAMEENA The first Zameena was sent out in August 2011 (OMG sooo long ago). Sandra (mum and boss of Zara’s Zouk) decided we need to have a newsletter: she had read about them in a marketing book – that was it we had to have one. At the time we had built up a few email address from Zara’s Zouk customers. We sent out a manual email to everyone with a few pics and news, by the third one Sandra had done her research we made the move to using MailChimp a proper online email/newsletter platform. This enabled us to make interactive emails and have a sign up form. You can read this first Mailchimp Zara’s Zouk email sent out October 2011 to 63 “subscribers”.
When we send out MOTHER DAUGHTER TAG TEAM
We aim to send out one newsletter a month always with in the first 10 days of the month. The first year we managed that, then we had a couple of years where we managed only 8 or 9 months of the year. However, over the past few years Sandra and I have become pros at making Zameena – we ara a mother daughter tag team with a system. We haven’t missed a monthly instalment of Zameena in over 4 years. And now we are on to our 100th issue WOOOOOW! Even we are shocked.
The name Zameena
As the newsletter grew in subscriber numbers we realised it had gone past just being an update for Zara’s Zouk customers, it had become it’s own entity. We decided to give it a name. I trolled for hours on BABY NAME WEBSITES (well it is my baby) for a name for what now was a magazine (e-zine) not a newsletter. I wanted the name to be Arabic and start with “Z”, I finally settled on “Zameena” – it is an Arabic girls name meaning Intelligence. I felt this name captured everything I wanted the magazine to be. The first issue that went out with this name was in july 2013! and it became Zameena. We updated the header to the current/ logo headed in June 2018
The aim of Zameena
As the newsletter took on it’s own name and it’s new individual identity I set out the aims / motto for Zameena. I wanted Zameena to not just be a newsletter, I wanted it to be a magazine that acted as a platform to empower women though bellydance (at the time I was strugelling heavily from sexism in my PhD and in bellydance I sort refuge). I also wanted it to act as source of education and information about this dance and the cultures it comes from. Also we (Sandra and I) wanted to contribute something back to our customers - the dance community.
As already mentioned we started Zameena with 63 emails addresses: we now have over 2000 subscribers with around a 35% open rate! A mixture of Zara’s Zouk customers and people who just love a bellydance read each month. The majority of our subscribers come from the UK but it is opened in over 20 countries every month. The next top 3 countries, with subscribers are: the USA, Canada and the Netherlands. Sending a big hello to you wherever you are reading this :D
Guest interviews and host writers
As the numbers grew so did our content. Originally we would just update customers on our shop and what we had been upto but Zameena fast became so much more. We did our first feature of a dancer in our 19th issue February 2013 which celebrated the Year of the snake we featured Snakey Sue! Our first ever interview – and main feature of a dancer- quickly followed in our 20th issue March 2013, we interviewed Delilah (aka Delia) former Miss Bellydance UK, promoting her then new book (which I still recomend today) read the interview here. Since then we have had 6 dancer features and have done interviews with over 16 dancers.
Our first guest writer wasn’t until our 25th issue August 2013 before that we had produced all our own material. It was Helan Santa Maria, she wrote an amazing article “Is perfection holding you back”. Helen contacted us and asked if we could collaborate, I write an article for her newsletter and she write one for ours!! It was the start of something magical, since this Zameena has been the platform for over 45 guest writer articles (including a second from Helen). How cool is that? All these artists sharing their knowledge about everything bellydance.
Within in those 45 guest articles includes a lot of article by our Resident writers. In February 2016 Kay Dance of love the beat wrote an article for us “Bellydance Love” for a valentines addition. After writing the article she asked if she could write more..WE LOVED KAY and said yes! From there our resident writer was born, a dancer that writes for us quarterly (every 3 months) for a year. It gives our readers a real chance to learn about a dancer and go deeper than just one article. Our resident writer issues have been some of our most popular issues. We are now on our 5th resident writer: 2016: Kay Dance, 2017:Sophia Fuber, 2018: Farah Haraf, 2019: Cassandra Fox and NOW 2020 Serena Dance. I personally LOVE the resident writer issues and through out doing these and working closely to the dancers for a year really built friendships with each one. Its seriously been an honor.
The first cover
Originally we wouldn’t really push Zameena outside of our own facebook page but in our March 2014 we had an interview with Farah Nasri. I was so excited to feature this dancer that I made the first Zameena “Cover” and advertised it all over facebook. It had a great response. From this I started making covers for every issue and also went back and made covers for some of the older issues – especially those who featured guest writers or interviews. There are now 72 covers for Zameena’s.
Unfortunately, we have lost 2 additions of Zameena from the archives, and in those were some amazing guest articles and dancer features, incluldeing a feature I did on Asmahan’s Sword dancing, Kassandra wrote and article about traing at home, Delilah wrote an article on sexy bellydancing and Clare wrote about bellydance muse. These two issue were special additions we made them using a special magazine website. They were literally virtual magazines that you could flick through.. Unfortunately the website shut down and with it our 2 special addition zameenas were lost!
Diversity and Empowerment
Our moto as mentioned is the “empowerment of women though bellydance” and we believe true empowerment only comes from diversity. We have made it an aim of Zameena to be as inclusive and diverse as possible – this is something we are always trying to improve on! Feel free to send your suggestions. We have featured male bellydancers and musicians, had guest articles on dancing whilst over 60, whilst living with cancer (Yvette Cowles), whilst being pregnant, articles talking about body image and size, discussing and addressing abuse in our community and we always try to get a BROAD range of different dancers to feature from different backgrounds and perspectives (hobbyist to pro). We have featured several articles discussing hard topics such as appropriation one of my favorites is by Esra Warda on Moroccan Chabbi dancing. We also ask you read Ahava’s article on Dancing whilst Black as well as some of our other features on Black bellydancers Including the ALL BLACK DANCER ISSUE.
We hope to continue this diversity in the future and actually one of our set out aims is to try and feature more dancers form origin countries (Egyptian/ Arab/ Turkish women) this can be difficult due to accessibility and language barriers but it is an aim we have set ourselves!
Not only wanting to promote diversity we have also wanted to ensure that the bellydance community stays connected to its roots and the root countries and cultures. When I saw on trips back to the UK that less and less dancers were using Arabic music at haflas I decided of instead of moaning about it, I would do something about it. To make middle eastern music more accessible in August 2018 I launched Music Corner. Every month I have written and features SEVERAL fresh songs from the Egyptian music scene, giving people the updates and celebrity gossip. I talk about the context of the songs, the culture surrounding it plus meanings and translations. This is one of my proudest contributions of Zameena. I believe music corner to be an amazing resource to the dance community. It also means that regardless of the main feature, I do my bit and contribute to each issues. In the same way I manage music corner Sandra launch info section in Jan 2018 – and usually writes this section (unless there is a guest writer or nudge her out like this month) sharing little snippets of info that she finds interesting either to do with Middle eastern culture or bellydance.
Our 100th Issue
I would like to end with a BIG thank you to VANESSA RAQS who wrote the head article for the 100th issue of Zameena...... When I told her it would be the 100th issue she REALLY REALLY rose to the occasion and wrote 100 bellydance tips, advice and wisdom. It is TRULY TRULY amazing resource of info which i can start to imagine took her the time to write! YOU HAVE TO READ THIS ISSUE and you have to share it not for my sake, but because this dancer REALLY share a WEALTH of knowledge that is PRICELESS
Well we hope that you have enjoyed this trip down memory lane and little history class.
Until next time! LOVE AND SIMMIES Zara (and Sandra)