Time for July’s feature! This month we present to you the lovely Jenn Shamsa!
A belly dancer for 12 years, I am also a classically trained pianist with a Bachelor of Music from USU. In belly dance I have found some fun and interesting angles to apply my musical knowledge. I love choreographing because to me it is a lot like writing a song, yet there is that physical element that has the power to draw the audience’s attention to help them hear parts of the music I want to highlight. I analyze the music so that I can direct the audience to hear composition concepts such as the musical form, repeated themes, and interesting chord changes, which all help in the understanding of the song itself. I feel very strongly that when we dance, we should be saying something. This is art—we are creating art.
I am very passionate about music, and early on I had ideas about how to express all of this musical richness in dance that I wasn’t seeing in other troupes. So I took matters into my own hands in 2009, and formed Troupe Tarab to pursue my creativity and explore choreography. Over the years, I have refined my choreography technique, and continue to challenge myself in that area. I chose the troupe name after watching a documentary about Middle Eastern classical musicians. They said that when they play, they try to reach “tarab.” I knew exactly what they meant. They translated it as, “a higher state.” That is what I try to do with my troupe.
I try to take every workshop from every visiting belly dancer that comes to town, as well as classes from our many renown local teachers. I am proud to have studied with Yasamina Roque, Zahirah Sheya, Amina, Trisha McBride, Mandy Williams, and Stephanie Buranek. Some international dancers that have inspired me in their workshops are NagaSita, Fahtiem, Colleena Shakti, Jill Parker, Irina Akulenko, and Aziz, to list a few. There is so much to learn, and it is something I am excited to continue for the rest of my life. I will never stop learning and practicing as much as possible, and incorporating new moves, techniques, and ideas into every choreography I create. I recently have started presenting an advanced choreography series each summer, where I invite interested dancers to join my troupe for several weeks. I plan to expand these to more a year, and for more levels.
I would love for everyone to try belly dancing. I like to tell people that it will take over your life—in a good way!
Odessa (Jessica Menasian) was born into troupe Little Armenia four decades ago, as much a gypsy as one could be. Thanks to her Mireeg’s enchanting dancing and singing as she grew up, her background is rooted in folk music and dance passed down from mother to daughter. She fell in love with “bellydance” in 1996 and quickly recruited her mother (Sirana) and sister (Araylia). In 2004 her dance audition was accepted by her mentor, Halima (creator and director of Desert Gypsy Dance Company). Over the past two decades Odessa has accentuated her folk foundation by taking dozens of professional dance intensives, boot camps, and workshops from masters such as Cassandra Shore, Ava Fleming, Dalia Carella, Paulette Rees-Denis, Helena Vlahos, Suzanna Del Vecchio, Carolena Nericcio, Rachel Brice, Zoe Jakes, Kami Liddle, Ruby Beh, Colleena Shakti, and so many more, on going… Currently Odessa is an instructor for the Covey Center Middle Eastern Dance program in Provo, UT; as well as dance member of troupe Desert Gypsy and co-director for Desert Gypsy Dance Company. But her greatest joy is as a member of Little Armenia, a troupe of 3 (mother/daughter/sister), which continues to bring her closer to her roots. Outside of dance Odessa strives to be the mother that her mother is to her; and with three incredibly creative children to inspire her, dance holds unlimited possibilities. She has come a long way, and has a long way to go in her search to be what others have been for her in the world of dance.
I am a belly dancer, hula hooper, and artist. Visual arts have been in my life for as long as I can remember. I have been dancing for about six years total within many styles of dance (including belly dance, ballroom, jazz, and modern), but the past three years I narrowed my focus to American Tribal Style. Sometimes I play with Tribal Fusion, but I find I am mostly drawn to ATS because of its style and community. When I first moved to Cedar City, Utah a few years ago I was looking to get back into belly dancing when I found out my college had a belly dance club. I started attending classes with the club and hit the ground running. I recently graduated with my MFA and spent my summer at a circus school in Seattle. Dancing and visual arts will always be a part of my life. When I’m not dancing or hooping, I enjoy reading, playing video and board games, and spending time with friends.
I teach my belly dance classes at a yoga studio in Cedar City, Utah called Sage Hills 108. Typically classes are held on Wednesdays in the evening. Students can join the facebook group Sage Hills Belly Dance to stay up to date on class information.
Email is probably the easiest way to get ahold of me, CircusOrBust@outlook.com
Liliana, originally from Ukraine, came to America two years ago. Before that she and her husband lived in the Middle East for five years. During that time, she fell in love with Oriental music and of course Belly Dance. Her very first teacher was Miriell and local instructors. In 2014 in the Belly Dance competition “Kiev Stars” held in Ukraine she won 1st place in “Folklore” and 2nd place in “Drum solo”. Liliana has taken additional workshops from Alla Kushnir, Sadie Marquardt, Alex Delora, Tamalyn Dallal, Nourhan Sharif, Simon Sako, Mariana Leus-Savytska and others. She has participated in Orleans Raks, Bayou Belly Festival, Seattle Oriental Bliss, Shimmy Soul and other events. Having recently relocated to Utah from New Orleans, Liliana is excited to meet local performers and artists in the Belly Dance Community.
Rosalind is originally from a small town in Washington State, and has been bellydancing to some degree or another since she was a teenager, after she picked up her mother’s copy of “The Complete Bellydancer.”
Growing up in Seattle in the 1990’s she was fortunate enough to have regular opportunities to dance to live music with the MB Orchestra – a family of musicians from Cairo, Egypt. She herself has traveled to Egypt twice, for a small firsthand taste of the culture as well as a chance to see some of the great Egyptian dancers—such as Nagwa Fouad, Fifi Abdo, Souhair Zeki and Dina – live in person. Her most influential teachers have included Feiruz Aram of Los Angeles & Seattle, Mish Mish and Delilah of Seattle, and Mahisha of Port Townsend, WA and Colorado.
Because dancing doesn’t pay the bills (very well), she focused on building a career in the IT industry, with dance being a passionate hobby for weekends and evenings. Twelve years ago she moved to Utah, where she was delighted to find a vibrant and welcoming dance scene. Currently she is a member of Hathor Dance, with Rebecca Clayton and Amanda Major Fox. She lives in Salt Lake City with her husband and a cat, and when she is not dancing or working, she is trying to get out into the spectacular Utah desert country!
You can check out her YouTube channel, where she has videos of many local dancers: Rosalind Yoakum
What got me interested in belly dance?
Living in Maryland, and exercising at the local YMCA, I fell off the back of a treadmill when someone tapped me on the shoulder to ask if I would be interested in trying a belly dance class. Everyone starts somewhere. By the way, I am only slightly less awkward now.
What keeps me interested in belly dance?
Personal growth, always learning, and teaching. I am a certified instructor of ATS ® at The Velveteen Serpent. Co-director of Allele, with Temis Taylor. Co-founder of Mirage and Tribal Synergy (East Coast) with Janet Hughes. Co-producer of Tribal Café (Intermountain West) with Aaliyah Jenny. A member of Michelle Sorenson’s ITS troupe and dance troupe Aduro; along with, Elaine Raber, Kristen Morales, Lyra Zoe. Former member of Davina Tribal Collective (DTC). While residing in Maryland, I began teaching belly dance and formed several student troupes.
I had knee replacement surgery in October 2016, and am working hard to regain full range of motion.
In 2017 will be performing at East Coast Classic with Aaliyah Jenny and Michelle Sorenson. I am so excited for the monthly Tribal Cafés, local workshops and festivals of dance. In July 2017, I will be participating in R.A.W. Epiphany, right here in Utah!
So, what’s my background?
ATS (Amercian Tribal Style)®, ITS (Unmata Hot Pot), Tunisian, Nubian, World Tribal Fusion, tribal fusion, fusion, folkloric, and ballet. I am currently studying with Michelle Sorensen, Aaliyah Jenny, Lyra Zoe, and Aziz.
I continue to take workshops throughout the United States with many talented dancers/instructors, so that I may grow as a dancer and a teacher. I have had the honor of performing at Fusion Fest, Third Coast Tribal, Tribal Fest, Cues & Tattoos, Tribal Synergy, Fall Fest, as well as many wonderful Utah-centric workshops and festivals. I have lectured, demonstrated, and taught at Pennsylvania College of Art & Design “Folkloric Dance”, McDaniel College (formerly Western Maryland College) “Body Image and BellyDance”, and Culture Day Frederick County, Maryland Public Libraries, Mt. St. Mary’s College “BellyDance and Cultural Awareness”.
I love learning something new every day, vegan food, coffee, dark chocolate, genuine laughter with good friends, creative expression, creating art in many forms, and I love my fur-kiddo.
Our community is fortunate to have mentors and history keepers. Dancers who share their knowledge with, and encourage those who are newer. I am so pleased to present to you one such person for our next spotlight-Charles. In his own words:
“Belly-dance for me started about the time it first grew rapidly in Utah: Aziz had a troupe, and Kismet was just forming. The U of U had started offering recreation classes.
I first started dance, in high-school. Not so much to dance, but to avoid ROTC or boys-gym.
Plus being interested in one of the girls… (She dropped out of the class. But I stayed with it a second year.) Followed up with ballet in college (non-majors), as an early-morning wake-up class for a few years.
(Actually was a struggling engineering-student at that time.)
Not really a natural talent — but ballet was structured, and allowed me to develop skills, one plie’ at a time. Just a few years later, I thought I’d throw in a summer belly-dance class (U of U) — just for variety.
(I’d known a few belly-dancers from science-fiction and historical-recreation groups.) I’d already had some dance — why not just start with the intermediate class?
(Beginning class would just be learning to move, after all…) Intermediate-class had foot-work, zills, and undulations — all on the first day. Oops.
I took classes from a number of local (Salt Lake) teachers — and many visiting workshops.
One of the U of U teachers formed a troupe, and after that short run, some of the remaining members formed Norlel Kumar. This included Munierah, and Misha Muhar — long time friends and costumers,
who both continued to play in the dance and science-fiction worlds (and are now, sadly, gone). About the same time (1980’s) I taught belly-dance at Sunwest Art of Dance, and only had a few students (many I still know).
Due to traveling to science-fiction conventions, I’ve performed in many western states, and even taught a sword work-shop in Iowa(!)
Also along the way — took some other ethnic dances, flamenco, etc.
Male belly-dancers are not common. But we’ve had a number of good male dancers in Utah, plus my previous dance made it feel less unique. And the women always did seem supportive.
It has always remained an outlet — where we always found a place to perform. Something I couldn’t say, about ballet, for instance.
For those men that think it’d be great to be in a class full of belly-dancers — sure, it’s great, if you don’t mind being a total clutz, in a class full of talented students, for at least a few months.
In the past few decades, I’ve also leaned to do stage-lighting for small shows. (Having some equipment, connections, an artistic eye, and enough tech-skills to keep it all running…)
I hope we have folks out there learning to take over, some day. So I’m often busier with lighting, than performing.
As to style — I call mine “American Cabaret” — not particularly traditional Egyptian or Middle-Eastern, in either style or atire. My technique comes largely from the West-Coast Jamila-School.
I think my biggest challenge — has been finding music that I like. My favorite pieces have strong openings, musical changes, and dramatic endings (beginning, middle, and end?) My second challenge perhaps being costuming…
Props seem to draw me — swords, capes, etc. In fact, not too long ago, I took fire-poi and staff classes — which I quite enjoy. (But less chances to perform.)
The easy part, was never having to worry about someone looking the same, or even using the same music.
My bits of advice for beginners (or anyone):
1. Never tell the audience what you don’t know — just focus on what you do know (like when I sprained my knee — they didn’t need to know that…)
2. Be nice to everyone (or at least curteous). It’s a small world — you never know when roads cross later.
3. Challenge yourself with something new — style, costuming, music, etc.
4. Enjoy what you are doing — you’re not likely to get paid enough in $.
Recently, I’ve spent more effort on music (hammer-dulcimer). Been slowing down on dancing, but still have dances scheduled for next year!”
Photo credit: Marty Johnson
Starting in January 2017, Angelia will be teaching a beginning‐intermediate performing class for the Desert Journey School of Dance at 1367 Major Street in Salt Lake City. The style will be Egyptian Cabaret and the name of the class is Zoraya. The class will either be on Wednesdays at 6 pm or Sundays at 7 pm, depending on the majority vote of interest. Please contact her at Danielle.firstname.lastname@example.org or contact Fvorboda on the web page at www.desertjourney.com if you are interested!
Angelia started belly dancing in 1998 as a student at the Kismet School of Dance under the direction of Yasamina. Her dance background consists of jazz – drill team, color guard and musical theatre. The first couple of times she saw belly dancing were at the Grecian Gardens Restaurant, where she saw the fabulous Aziz perform; and when she went to the Belly dance Festival at Liberty Park hosted by the Kismet School of Dance.
Angelia has had the honor and privilege to learn different styles of belly dance and perform under the following teachers across the Salt Lake Valley: Shazia – Scimitar Dance Company, Yasmina –Kismet School of Dance, Jamileh – Midnight Mirage School of Dance, Amanda Borba – Cairo Classic Studios, Heidi ‐ Bellydancing by Thia, Sulisha, Raffa, Stephanie Buranek, Michelle Sorenson, Trisha Mcbride and Fvorboda –Desert Journey School of Dance. She has also attended many workshops through the years and learned from world‐renowned performers like Aziza, Virginia, Jillina , Nadira and many more.
Aneglia enjoys bellydancing because of her passion to perform and to inspire the audience. She loves to create a choreography that interprets the music and tells a story to the audience. She has made many lifelong friends in the belly dance community and the sisterhood is amazing! She also enjoys volunteering as a stage manager at the belly dance festivals across the Salt Lake Valley. She is currently also part of the planning committee for the Craft Lake City DIY festival with Director Angela Brown.
She would like to thank her husband, Luke for all the support through the years when belly dancing became more than just a hobby in her life.
She is currently dancing in the Amara Troupe – Midnight Mirage School of Dance under the direction of Jamileh, Nepenthe ‐ Desert Journey School of Dance under the direction of Fvorboda, and part of a newdance group named Troupe Taqsim with Durdana, Jennifer Long‐Pratt, Karen Eason, Ber‐Lynn and Kelsey Covington.
Born and raised in Russia, Olya has studied dance and movement in its various forms since she was a little girl: gymnastics, ballroom dance, hustle, social dance and jazz. However it had not occurred to her to try belly dance until she moved to a VERY small town in the USA, where it was hopeless to try & find a dance partner. It all started in her living room, with a mirror and YouTube, where she picked up moves by watching dancer after dancer. Since then, Olya has danced group and solo pieces at various events throughout Southern Utah, studied with many stars of Tribal Belly Dance and taught classes Tribal Fusion & ATS classes in St George. She is also certified in Initiation and Cultivation phases of Rachel Brice’s “8 Elements of Belly Dance.” Olya is also a Health & Fitness coach at Pure Vibes, where she offers tools, support & motivation to help people with their goals. In her personal and professional life, Olya found her calling in helping people (especially women) break away from limiting beliefs, discover their power and illuminate the world with their light, inspiring others to do the same in a ripple effect. Her own life is an example of such a story. She came from an extremely poor family with super-strict parents who held the belief that life is hard. She grew up without a sense of worth, which has put her through several abusive relationships, depression and looking death in the face. Luckily, she was able to find help and support in this state full of people with big hearts, and start living her life in a new way, changing her powerlessness into empowerment. Olya lives in Lehi,Utah now with her husband, two-year-old son Archer and a boxer Scarlett. She is excited to join this dance community and meet all of you!