My dance days began early in my youth age 4 with the usual ballet/tap/jazz combo but was cut out of most of my childhood years mostly because I wanted to try new things like horseback riding, t-ball, etc. However, at age 12 I returned to dance with a fervor that would carry through to my adult life. I studied ballet, tap, jazz, hip hop and in my high school days danced with a youth performing group called the Spats Cats. We were a teenage Ballroom, Swing and Lindy Hop group that traveled and shared our love for social dance with the elderly, other young kids and the general public. We spent literally everyday engulfed in making our dancing better, more intricate, and more fun forming a comraderie that I would cherish when I found the Tribal Bellydance community.
It was when I entered college that my dancing mostly stopped other than dropping in to a hip hop class or adult ballet class every once in a while at a local studio. For a while, I found Capoeira, (a brazilian martial art) which emphasized fluid movement and real strength and flexibility but is also extremely physically gruelling. It was in Capoeira that I found a love for music accompanying the”dance”. In Capoeira, the music, singing and rhythm are intertwined with the dance/fight…it is a conversation between spectator and players, between the two players. I learned to love deep rooted rhythms, the sound of the berimbau, the tambourine and the voices of those around me, raising the level of fervour with which we would play.
Once college took up too much of my time, I stopped playing Capoeira and continued with my dance classes here or there, just to keep my body aware. It was in my final year of school that I attempted my first bellydance class. It was advertised at my school and was being taught by a fellow art student, Reanna Scott, (now known as Fuschia FoXXX, a burlesque/bellydance performer in the Seattle Area). Reanna’s classes were great, but I lacked confidence in my body and after a few classes gave up and said, “this is not for me.” But Reanna’s classes kept going on and I saw her and a few other girls perform at a Halloween Show at our local music venue. It was after this show that I said..”okay, I think I need to be up there…doing that..yeah”
So I began dancing with Reanna again and stayed with her until she relocated to Seattle. Reanna brought with her a deep knowledge of Egyptian/Cabaret as well as Tribal Fusion, having grown up on the West Coast and being exposed to teachers like Rachel Brice and others. This was my basis of understanding body awareness, breathing, and trusting my body to do the movement. I would carry this with me.
Once Reanna left, I began searching for a new instructor and found Ariel who was teaching at a small studio in Hampden, MD. Her background was varied and she had a great love for the history and music associated with the dance. I ended up taking a few private lessons from her where I put on my first pair of zills, I tried my first drum solo, and had my first experience of seeing a tribal bellydancer in a restaurant setting. Although I studied with Ariel for a short time, I gained a lot from her teaching and an appreciation of the music as an integral part of my dance.
For the next year or so, I was in a limbo of sorts. I moved back to Florida and was living with my sister. Had very little extra money to study and took a few classes here and there with varying teachers that were from many different backgrounds. Two egyptian teachers and a teacher who taught a mixture of Tribal and Cabaret. I was yearning for a steady teacher, someone I could grow from and when my new boyfriend, Marc and I moved to Tallahassee, FL. I would find that lady.
Marc contacted Joyce Young of Tribal Wallah to surprise me with bellydance classes for Christmas. She was happy to invite me into her classes and when I started, I knew I had found a good place, a sisterhood of women mostly older than me, but with a ton of wisdom and support to lend. I began studying with Joyce in FCBD format, with a bit of Gypsy Caravan mixed in. We zilled and learned the vocabulary, transitions, and improvisation. I learned to be a part of a group where we fed off of each other’s cues and idiosyncrasies and appreciated each other’s preferences for certain movements. I began to perform with Tribal Wallah later that year and enjoyed the experiences it provided. We danced with Raquy and the Cavemen..which to this day I am still kind of in disbelief of, we did local events and fairs, and loved learning new things to add to our dancing.
During this time, I was also yearning for a more individual outlet as well, and started classes with Delacey, who had once been a member of Tribal Wallah, but had left to pursue her solo career. I studied Tribal Fusion with Delacey, learning the ins and outs of isolations, layering and choreography. I learned to enjoy dancing to modern music as well as balkan music and even a rap tune here or there. Being able to have a group setting and solo setting to study dance was for me, the best of both worlds. I was a member of a group who I loved and could get my groundings in Tribal vocabulary but I could also be a soloist, learning to carry a song through my own improvisation and interpretation.
I performed my first solo at a Tribal Wallah Hafla and it was very nerve-wracking but I loved the feelingof being up there. I was hooked after that on that high of sharing your own interpretation of music with others and being well received and supported.
After about a year and a half, Joyce moved to Alaska, and I moved back to my hometown and was in limbo again. However, I made it a point to continue my training as much as I could. I got DVD’s and took a few workshops with local teachers and one with Zoe Jakes. We then moved to Pennsylvania and I still studied mostly on my own ..took some workshops from Asharah and then found Jaz and Christi of Ak’Ana. I began classes with them in a group improv setting where Fusion also took a large part. I performed with their sister troupe Dev’ iance and loved my troupemates and teachers.
It was in this past year I parted with them because I was driving an hour both ways to attend classes and when performances came around, it was a few times a week to make that trip. I was exhausted. It was also because I was feeling a need to explore my solo dancing with increased intensity and I felt it was a personal journey I needed to do by myself for a while. So I committed myself to explore my dance as much as I could and get out into the wider dance community. I went to TribalCon in Atlanta and studied with John Compton, Donna Mejia, Zoe Jakes, and Olivia and Maria of Zafira Dance Company. I spent nights dancing with the huge group of attendees to live music and sharing our love for our artform. Learned about musicality and history from John Compton and established a new appreciation for presenting my dance with thought from Donna Mejia.
After this, I began studying with Renee Pappas Fogg, a local instructor with an Egyptian and Ballet background. We clicked right away and I found it so nice to feel like she viewed me as a colleage as well as a student..as friends who could share with and support each other’s endeavors. I am still dancing with Renee and sharing a sisterhood I cherish deeply.
A few months after that I attended Tribal Fest 11 in Sebastopol, CA. It was here I met new friends and learned what an incredible part of our dance history I am blessed to be a part of. I know future generations of dancers will say, “you were there to see Unmata, and Zoe Jakes, and Jill Parker and Suhaila, and Fat Chance Bellydance perform all in one place!” I studied with Jill Parker, Zoe Jakes, Kami Liddle, and Daniela. It was here that my dance really started to “gel”…I felt like I was doing something right, finding who I really was among all these women..and men. I got feedback from these instructors and thanked them for being so influential to me.
It was also here that I began the journey I am embarking on with this blog. It is a journey to find the history I missed and to join it with the history that is being made today. And one day I hope to find myself as a part of that rich history…really we all are already 🙂