This week I have been musing a lot on how I got to where I am today. What have my roots been? How do those humble beginnings and tentative steps still inform who I am today as a dancer, as a director, as a teacher? So I have been running down the list in brief of all my dance mommas and aunties. I have taken many many workshops of course–and there are many dancers who I have had limited contact with (due to distance or time in history), yet still had a profound effect on me from afar–but I am confining this to teachers I have studied with or been influenced by directly over a significant period of time.
Habib – Habib was my very first bellydance teacher. A friend of mine brought me to the class insisting it would be a good time, but I was going rather reluctantly. In one class I was ready to come back for more. Habib taught a lot of basic Egyptian technique, which she had learned from Delilah and Cassandra, both of whom she had studied with extensively. I loved the challenges of moving in new ways each week. And her BellyMetal was the first real example and encouragement to try my own modern fusions. She was just so cool, and so humble. So exotically beautiful she seemed unreal. I still feel a little flustered when I run into her all these years later. My first Momma.
Elizabeth Dennis – A locally beloved performer, she always blows people away wherever she goes. She is incredibly graceful, and her fusions always flow so naturally with her strong bellydance technique. She only teaches on and off (off more than on), but we got a lot of time with her back in the days when I used to be a part of Goddess Squad – a weekly rotating instructor forum comprised mainly of bare beginners, sweet older ladies, and total hippies. Every evening ended with cheese and wine and hanging out. Those were the days. Elizabeth gave us some tastes of her interpretation of group improv, which we performed at the Women of Wisdom Conference in 1999. It was from that experience that I met my first troupe mates! The fact that she fought breast cancer and won only endears me to this woman all the more, for her combination of strength and grace, in dance and in life.
Aleili – Aleili was an original member of Troupe Yaleil “back in the day” with Jenaeni Rathor, and is godmother to Ansuya. Despite only studying with her for a couple of years, her old school American Cabaret style, mixing in various folkloric influences, was a big influence on who I am today. That love for old school styles still runs in my veins, and learning to play various finger cymbal patterns while dancing classic choreographies was a treat for me and is a skill I have built upon over the years. It was through her classes that I developed an appreciation–and greater understanding of–yoga as a tool for bellydance strength and flexibility. In her troupe I got more stage experience, and met my next troupe-mates. My American Cabaret Momma.
Hasani – Hasani likely doesn’t really know what an influence she has had on me. I only took a couple workshops from her early on, but she is the epitome of grace and confidence on stage to me. Of course, seeing her stunning performances since my earliest baby dancer days, and seeing host her own quarterly haflas and workshops since forever (something she continues to do to this day) also was a big influence on my desire to produce my own events and contribute to the community in some small way. She inspires me on and off stage. My Community-builder Momma.
Cassandra – Cassandra teaches at the Oasis Dance Camps around the US. I got to study intensively with her for five days annually for seven years at Oasis West; which isn’t much really, but she has had a profound effect on my dancing and teaching. She instilled in me a great passion for drilling, and in playful experimentation with movement, finger cymbals, and floor patterns. One of my technique Mommas.
Paulette – Paulette is my first Tribal Bellydance Momma. While I had the FC videos get me started, she was my first in-person tribal workshop instructor, and was for many months during my early tribal development. She was the one who really lit the fire in me for group improvisation, and kept it lit through her continual encouragement, kindness, and mentorship. She believed in me, gave me opportunities and pushed me forward even when I wasn’t sure I was “ready”, and made me proud to call her my Momma. She lead by example on what it means to build a community and nurture connections with others through the dance. She instilled in me a strong desire to develop my own voice as a dancer and teacher. She never expected me to be a copy of her, and gave lots of positive reinforcement as I grew and evolved myself and my troupe. Her playfulness, fearlessness, and creative spirit lives within me today, and always.
Carolena – Feels like coming full circle in many ways to call Carolena a mentor and Momma today. Her videos were the first that made my friends and I say “THAT is the bellydancer I want to be”. “Tattooed One” looked like US to us. Now I have been trained more extensively and personally by her, and I feel I am getting a chance to do greater justice to those heart-centered dreams I had a decade ago. Training with her in the past few years has shifted a lot of my approach and philosophy behind movement development and thoughtful creativity within my dance. I feel in touch with a source of this art that I wasn’t fully in contact with before. It gives greater context to my experiences and more guidance for my instincts to be working at the root. Her incredible openness and encouragement throughout the process has been a pleasure