Confession time! Rebecca actually submitted her details for the Student Spotlight back in April of last year. But it got lost in a batch of mails and I never saw it. One day I was talking to her and had assumed she had already been in the spotlight. She told me she had submitted but never was featured and always wondered why. Aw! I am a big old JERK!
Rebecca was a member of Nomaditude, the student troupe, and an assistant teacher at Deep Roots for a while. In the time since she wrote this, she graduated from the University of Washington, and she has gotten engaged and head off to Florida to attend graduate school–we miss her terribly! We are looking forward to seeing her when she visits at Christmastime, and in honor of her visit home I am putting her in the December Student Spotlight. Remember, her answers are a year and a half old now (I AM a big old jerk!), and Rebecca, feel free to write in the comments any changes since, or any observations as you look back and read about yourself from over a year ago. See? Now it’s a FEATURE!
Name: Rebecca Slingwine
Profession: Research Assistant at the University of Washington (I do science)
Hobbies: Horseback riding, reading, video games, tabletop roleplaying, and of course bellydance!
How long have you been studying bellydance: Two years, with a break last summer for studying for my MCAT.
When did you first see bellydance? What were your first impressions?
I’d seen cabaret bellydance at restaurants and whatnot a few times, and it seemed fun and very technically interesting (I’d done ballet for many years when I was young, so the style of movement looked fascinatingly foreign), but very much not my style. I am and have always been a tomboy–sparkles frighten me! While the movement looked fun, and I admired the gumption it took to come out in an outlandish, body-baring outfit and dance two feet away from your audience, I didn’t think it would be for me.
I first saw tribal fusion bellydance on YouTube. It was a Rachel Brice video, and I loved that she looked feminine, powerful, and in complete ownership of her body and her dance. Yes, she was out there in an outlandish, body-baring outfit, but I could tell she was dancing for herself, and for her love of the dance. I was enchanted.
It probably helped that her outfit was sparkle-free, too.
The first ATS group I saw was a few minute later on YouTube, and, as fate would have it, it was the inFusion demo video. I couldn’t get over the joy the dancers expressed, and how clear it was that while they were glad they were up there dancing, they were particularly glad they were dancing with each other. It was moving to see such beautiful dancers with an equally beautiful connection with each other. I was hooked! I had to find out more about these dancers! Imagine my delight when I found out they were not only in Seattle, but that Shay taught classes!
Well, besides the YouTube videos (which would’ve made me find time), I’d been very involved in my college’s equestrian team, and our season had ended. What was I supposed to do with my time, now? I’d missed dancing, and it seemed like a good time to pick up a new hobby. I figured I could always stop taking classes when the season started up in the fall, but when fall came around, I couldn’t imagine quitting!
Mostly I remember being nervous. I had stopped dancing when I was a teenager, and had no idea if I’d be able to slide back into it. Plus, bellydance is so different from ballet that I didn’t even know if I’d be able to adapt to this new style of movement! Fortunately, Shay is good at putting people at ease and creating a safe atmosphere to learn in, so I was able to stop being nervous and start focusing on her movement and my movement and how I was supposed to be dancing. I knew at the end of the class that there was a ton of stuff I had to learn, and that I really, really wanted to learn it all!
As a dancer, I think I’ve gained a new perspective on movement and creativity. In ballet (as I was taught it, anyway), there’s no improvisation as you’re performing, moments of contact with other dancers are very carefully scripted and rehearsed, and putting your own “spin” on technique was discouraged. It was pleasantly surprising for me to find that ATS is a dance form that is built on improvising, encourages learning from improvising, values connecting spontaneously with your fellow dancers and audience, and allows dancers to do moves in a way that works with their body. I’m not forced to emulate a woman six inches shorter than me and half my weight and neither are my fellow dancers, and yet shockingly enough, we all look great on stage! ATS taught me that you can be playful with dance, and I’m glad to have learned that.
As a person, I’ve learned to be more accepting of my body. I love that the bellydance community in Seattle contains all sorts of different women (and men!) of different body types, weights, shapes, etc., and all of them look beautiful. I’d always been told you don’t have to be six feet tall and 115 pounds to be beautiful, but it’s very rare I’ve been able to see that. Bellydance can look great on anyone, even me! I wouldn’t say all of my body issues have been resolved, but I’ve definitely come a long way.
It’s also been fun to learn not-necessarily-bellydance skills. Who knew you could wear non-neutral eyeshadow? I didn’t! At this rate, I may even get over my fear of sparkles in a few years!
What is your favorite move or concept you have learned so far and why?
Can I say “all of them”? What a tough question!
I guess my favorite move would be the Egyptian Basic because you’re tall and commanding, and yet earthy and connected, and a group of dancers Egyptianing as they’re stepping forward looks like an army of hips. The move says, “We are ATS bellydancers! Be transfixed, for we are powerful and feminine and awesome!”
My favorite concept is probably flock of birds, because it’s the basis of our improvisation, and applicable at all levels of dance. It’s very basic, yet you can do many, many things with it!
Any advice for other students who are just starting out?
Ask questions! You don’t look stupid, I promise! I know we receive a lot of messages in school and while working that it’s best to not bother people and be a self-starter and push on through and figure things out on our own, but trying to dance through confusion is really frustrating (and potentially harmful, if you’re feeling pain, pinching, discomfort, etc.). Even if you’re doing everything right, it helps to hear your teacher confirm that you’re doing it right, and maybe they have some insight to add on overcoming whatever difficulties you’re facing. And besides, teachers LOVE answering questions!
The Seattle bellydance community is really friendly and welcoming and fun-loving. I know I have only had positive experiences with it! Don’t be afraid to go to workshops or shows, or to invite a few classmates to go with you. You’ll learn a lot, see some dance, and meet some fun people!
Thanks, Rebecca, for taking the time out of your busy school schedule to share your thoughts. Sorry it took so long to finally get your Spotlight published. We look forward to seeing you at Christmas, and wish you well in school!