Josephine Wise is one of the UK’s leading exponents of Egyptian dance, and is a leading international performer and teacher. Her style is known for its authenticity and deep expression. She has been in demand for her accessible and precise teaching style for over thirty years, and the depth of her knowledge is a huge asset to the UK dance scene.
Josephine Wise was born in London, which has always been a great dance hub, and has huge opportunities for dance development. As at teenager and young adult she studied European style Contemporary Dance with Ernest Berk who, along with Laban, continued a legacy passed down from Isadora Duncan and Mary Wigman. Her training from Ernest included Classical Ballet, mime, drumming and elements of Japanese, Spanish and early 20th Century expressive improvisation. Jo performed in experimental Contemporary Dance companies and specialized in performed improvisation as well as lyrical choreography.
During her early twenties Jo went on to study Flamenco and Jazz dance, along with elements of African and Far Eastern styles, before discovering Middle Eastern dance and music in 1981. She trained with Wendy Buonaventura and Suraya Hillal for three years, before going to Egypt to see and study her new dance form in its country of origin. She saw Fifi Abdou and others onstage, and asked performers to teach her what they knew. Her dancing developed radically during this time, and she created her own style, using elements of Baladi from observing dancers such as Fifi, Suheir Zaki and Tahia Carioca, and Oriental from Mona Said, Samia Gamal and others. Her folklore was gleaned mainly from Mahmoud Reda and Benat Maazin.
Jo began performing in cabaret in 1983, and spent a couple of years dancing in Greek and Turkish restaurants, before graduating to Arab nightclubs. There were seventeen of these at their height in London in the ‘70’s and 80’s, so there was plenty of work. Jo danced at the Omar Khayam, the Kitkat club, Gallipoli, Arizona and others. Her dancing was particularly loved by Prince Khaled and others of the Saudi and Kuwaiti royal families, and she danced at many private parties for them. She also danced for many high society weddings in the lavish hotels in central London including Le Meridien, the Sheraton and many more. She was flown to the Middle East to dance at weddings for royal and multimillionaire families and once for the mafia!
Since 1995 Jo has performed at hundreds of theatres and festivals, in London, Edinburgh, San Francisco, Berlin, Cairo, Oslo, Tel Aviv and a vast number of other cities. She has performed in the UK, Germany, the USA, France, Italy, Norway, Denmark, Cairo, Israel, Spain, Belgium and more.
Creating a Style
The style that Jo developed for her performances is unique and has a number of elements. Her skill comes in the form of an exquisite flow of moves, coupled with superb isolations that look completely effortless. Having wonderfully elastic muscles and a fabulous control of each part of her body enables her to combine any number of elements in her dance. The power and drama she creates is born of an emotional nature unleashed on the audience, giving them access to her inner thoughts and expressing a subtlety of feeling that can hardly be expressed in words. However, it is her humour that draws the audience in, and reveals a humanity and a connection that few can resist.
In 1989 Jo developed her first dance company ‘Sharqi’. They performed at Covent Garden International Dance Festival and other festivals around London and the south of England. They worked with live tabla, and improvised onstage as well as performing Jo’s choreography until 1992.
From 1993-2004, she was Artistic Director of ‘Masriat Egyptian Dance Company’, a new project with bigger ambitions. She also performed as soloist with them at the Place Theatre, Lilian Baylis Theatre, Jacksons Lane and tours around the UK. During this time she also choreographed works for theatre and opera, including Bizet’s ‘Djamila’, which was performed at the Royal Opera House and in Villa Ephrussi, France.
Then in 2007 she formed a new dance company ‘Johara Dance’.
Between 2008 and 2015 she choreographed three full length shows for them:
Johara Dance has toured the UK and northern France, and has performed at Sadlers Wells Lillian Baylis theatre, Jacksons Lane and the Bloomsbury Theatre in London.
Jo choreographs authentic Egyptian style works for Johara Dance and for classes and workshops, but she also creates a fusion of styles, mixing Middle Eastern, Flamenco, Latin, African, Hiphop, and Contemporary, for a dramatic and unique effect.
JWAAD Summer Residential
The first event to be developed by Jo was the annual JWAAD Summer Residential, which is a week-long intensive, in which the participants can attend dance classes all day, learn choreography, take part in a show, shop for new costumes, party and join in extra sessions on anything from costume making to makeup to wacky fun sessions on different dance subjects. There’s also a swimming pool and great food! The first Summer Residential was in 1990, and it’s still going strong. It is now in its 28th year.
Between 2000 and 2015 Jo ran the Fantasia festival, London’s festival of Middle Eastern dance. For the first 10 years it took place twice a year, and after that was once, to make room for other events. It was the first festival of its kind in the UK, with a weekend of workshops, a huge souk for shopping, a show on Saturday night and sometimes a competition. The Fantasia festival is now up and running again, with JWAAD Belly Dance Training at the helm.
The International Bellydance Congress
This enormous event ran in 2007 and 2009, and had around 1000 dancers attending. Stars came from around the world to teach workshops and dance in huge gala shows each night. These included Fifi Abdou, Raqia Hassan, Randa Kamel and many more….
Jo is a singer-songwriter, with a CD coming out in 2017. She writes songs about the human condition, with humour and insight. She has a four-piece jazz band and they tour the UK, delighting audiences everywhere.
Development of Teaching
Jo has taught dance, including Contemporary, Jazz and Dance Therapy for mental health, since 1979. She has taught in several schools and colleges, and four hospital psychiatric wards as part of the occupational therapy departments.
She started teaching classes in Bellydance in 1983 in London, and since then she has taught classes and workshops all around the UK and at festivals and events in many parts of Germany, France, Italy, Norway, Denmark and several other countries.
Jo teaches her own exceptional choreography, precise technique, improvisation, performance skills, working with live music and more. Her Professional Performance Course, which runs every Summer at the JWAAD Summer Residential, is attended by a number of well-known dancers, often the best in their city or country.
During her teaching career, Jo has developed a precise and accessible way of teaching, enabling dancers to learn without stress and to develop their skills and creativity. She uses elements of the way she has learned from others, but has developed a unique method of training. This method divides isolations up in a way that teaches the dancer to control different sets of muscles at different times, without strain or over-working them. The result is a dancer with control but also with a flow and a relaxed look to her dancing that is perfect for drawing in an audience and being creative in her own right.
Jo is a demanding but entertaining teacher who can get the best out of the students in front of her. She teaches one-to-one sessions to the highest professional level, and is exceedingly proud of all her protégés. Many of the best dancers in the UK have studied with Jo, along with more from around the world.
Creation and Development of JWAAD
In 1990, Jo set up the Josephine Wise Academy of Arabic Dance (JWAAD), to oversee all courses and classes from beginners to advanced/professional level. This was a busy year, as she also set up the annual week long JWAAD Summer Residential in Hertfordshire, a week-long intensive, in which she taught and brought in other Middle Eastern Dance teachers, to develop the skills of student dancers.
In 1993 Jo qualified as a teacher of the Alexander Technique, and as well as working as an Alexander teacher, she added the theory of working with release in the muscles to her dance teaching. During this time she became aware of shortcomings in the level of Belly Dance teaching in the UK, and in 1995 she set up the first JWAAD Teacher Training Diploma course with Maggie Caffrey, who was Laban trained and an experienced teacher. Between them they were able to use their previous training and experience to develop a comprehensive course that included elements of anatomy, physical training, background history, music study and teaching methods. The course was a huge success in the UK, and after Maggie retired, the course continued with Kay Taylor taking over her role. Jo and Kay worked together to update the course for the 21st century, and divided it into the four separate elements you can study today.
Since the creation of JWAAD (now JWAAD Belly Dance Training) 90 dancers have received the full Diploma, and over 300 more have studied on four stand-alone courses in Safe teaching, History & Culture, Understanding Music, and Creating a Performance. Qualified teachers now teach all over the UK, Europe and as far afield as Australia.
Passing On the Legacy
JWAAD Belly Dance Training has created a community of teachers and dancers, provides a free resource area for all teachers who study with JWAAD and encourages mutual support of events and courses. JWAAD teachers know they have a support group and a career path they can pursue if they want to. They may start by teaching beginners and improvers, but they can work their way up to being a Technique Assessor/Mentor for other dancers, and even become a Teacher on the accredited courses.
The continuation of good teaching of this wonderful dance form is of huge importance to all of us at JWAAD Belly Dance Training. Kay Taylor, Gwen Booth and Yvette Cowles joined Jo to make the Academy and its courses into something world-class. The courses are all accredited by the One Awards, and we are proud of the progress both we and our trainees have made.
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