Read a bit about Monica

Monica standing in front of a gold background

Monica Berini is a San Francisco, California based performer and instructor who has been studying Egyptian dance and music since her teens, with training in San Francisco, New York and Cairo. Monica has an extensive performance history that includes improvisational solo work and award-winning choreographed troupe and company experience. Her soulful, musical, baladi dance style is rooted in 1960s through 1990s Cairo raqs sharqi, 20th-century Arab-, Turkish-, and Armenian-American diasporic “belly dance”, Egyptian raqs baladi, and a dash of Firqa Reda technique, a strong foundation of folkloric roots (both staged and OTP: Of The People!), and a healthy curiosity about and love of dance and music.

Monica likes, performs, and teaches Egyptian, pan-Arab, and Old-School style “belly dance”. Music, cultural context, ongoing learning and respect for the roots are at the forefront of her artistic pursuits. This style provides Monica and her students with ‘farha’—never ending joy, which is at the heart of the style.

She is a faculty member at Alonzo King’s Lines Dance Center in San Francisco where she teaches weekly group classes and which has been her studio home base since 2003.

Dance Education and Background
Had you told this teenage punk rocker that one day she would be a professional dancer akin to the ones her grandparents used to go see on New York City’s 8th Avenue clubs in the 60s and 70s, she might have laughed, but walking into a kitschy old-school dance studio one evening wound up changing her life (and her semi-scandalized grandparents eventually got used to it, too, and even came to some of her shows on occasion).

Monica’s training has been in both dance studios and in Cairo kitchens. She is interested in and inspired by the social (baladi) and the folk dances that are at the root of raqs sharqi (Arabic for ‘Eastern dance’, and the style of solo belly dance that has become popular and recognized around the world since the late 1800s). For over twenty years, she has followed a course of study that includes both classic and modern American and Egyptian belly dance, as well as an expanded interest in and study of folkloric Arabic and North African dances. Along with a lot of social dancing and kitchen ‘classes’ with the best dancers you’ve never heard of, her main formal early instructors were Leea Aziz, Bert Balladine, Lorna Zilba, and later on Shareen El Safy, along with input from dozens and dozens of workshop instructors over the decades (one day she’ll make and share a list!). She has trained regularly in San Francisco, New York, and Cairo, and travels several times a year to festivals and workshops as both a learner and an instructor.

Monica danced professionally under the stage name Zakiyya (taking a stage name was pretty much required to work in the clubs when Monica started, though the admittedly culturally appropriative practice is thankfully not as common today) throughout the 1990s and into the early 2000s, and was a steadily working house dancer at many San Francisco Bay Area restaurants and clubs. No longer working what is left of ‘the club circuit’ regularly, Monica continues to present her crowd-pleasing dances at Bay Area weddings, parties, cultural festivals, and celebrations. She is generally booked these days via referrals only, as the go to dancer for some of her long-time customers and their extended families, or via word of mouth, but you can also see our booking page to inquire about a performance by Monica at your next event.

Company and Troupe Work
Monica was a principal dancer in the award winning Ya Habibi from 1993 to 1996. She subsequently formed her own troupe in August of 1997. Raqs Sahbiat danced together until 2004, and were named Belly Dance Troupe of the Year in 2000. Monica performed with the collectively run, geographically challenged trio Raqs Habibi for many years to wide acclaim. Currently Monica coordinates a project-oriented student performance group, The Zakiyya Dancers, made up of her intermediate and advanced Lines Dance Center students. Monica was a member of the first Bay Area Anar Dana Project with Helene Eriksen, and occasionally performs with North African company Danse Maghreb.

Monica’s Classes
In 2002, with support and training from two of her primary instructors and mentors, several successful Bay Area workshops, numerous requests from private students, and support from Pam Hagen of Lines Dance Center, Monica began teaching group classes. Teaching has become a central part of Monica’s dance work. She is on the faculty at Alonzo King Lines Dance Center.

A proponent of the value of a cross-disciplinary education, Monica has pursued studies in several dance and movement related areas to augment her dance expression and for the health and safety of her students. While her dance classes focus on the pursuit of dance making the music visible, artistic movement requires safety and a deep knowledge of and respect for the body as it becomes stronger through dance expression. Monica provides safe, holistic-based movement for instruction on the path to presenting cultural and artistic dance movement.

All bodies can dance, all bodies are good bodies, and all bodies are welcome in Monica’s classes.

Related Studies
While receiving her bachelor’s degree from the University of California at Berkeley, Monica concurrently studied Arabic in the UCB Near Eastern Studies department with Nabil Abdelfattah. She continued her Arabic language study with Modern Standard and Media Arabic (fusHa) and Egyptian Arabic (ameya, or colloquial) language classes at private institutions in Cairo, Egypt and at San Francisco’s Pacific Arabic Resources. She currently takes private Egyptian Arabic classes with a San Francisco based language tutor and keeps up her Arabic as best she can via friends and colleagues. (Note: Arabic is hard!) In preparation for teaching dance, Monica studied human anatomy and physiology at City College of San Francisco in order to understand safe movement practices, as well as to prevent injury. Monica holds a Masters degree in English with a focus on Second Language Acquisition, TESOL, and applied linguistics from San Francisco State University, along with a certificate in adult education, which she puts to use as a faculty member at a major San Francisco art university.

Monica has traveled to Cairo, Egypt multiple times to study dance, living with friends and family for months at a time, and has done extensive personal and academic research into the regions her dances are inspired by. (Nerdy dancers unite!)

Finally, Monica has studied Middle Eastern and North African percussion (tabla, tar/duf, and riq) with Mary Ellen Donald, Susu Pampanin, Faisal Zedan, and Loay Dahbour. These days Monica sings and plays percussion as a member of the Aswat Ensemble, a popular Bay Area Arabic orchestra, as well as providing occasional back-up percussion with several local Arabic bands. She is also an oud student, studying with Omar Abbad of Jordan.

Current Activities
Monica continues to study the traditional dances of Egypt, the Middle East and North Africa, as well as modern movement influenced by the region, with local, national and international master instructors. Monica has developed a workshop series to present her dance work to the larger dance community (drop her a line if you are interested in booking or collaboration). She has also become a workshop sponsor in San Francisco, presenting Shareen El Safy in 2009, 2010, and 2011, Ranya Renee of New York City for her first San Francisco workshops in 2011 and again in 2012, 2014, and 2015, Outi of Cairo in her first California appearance in 2012, Amel Tafsout in 2013, 2014 and 2016 (and coming soon in July 2017!), and co-presenting Sahra Saeeda in 2008.

Monica performs at select private celebrations and parties as well as at most of the major Middle Eastern Dance festivals on the west coast. She produces two student dance shows per year (usually in July and December). Monica can also be seenperforming several times per year with Aswat and the Aswat Womens Ensemble.