in West Virginia! You may be surprised to know what a rapidly
growing community we have here in the Mountain
State. It has ebbed and flowed over the years, but in recent
years, Bellydancing has begun to take off in what
is a primarily a rural state. I have lived in West Virginia
my whole life and learned that what you love and where you
live can be reconciled even if there are challenges along
On a lovely
spring day in 1993, I attended a Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA)
May Day festival in Hurricane, West Virginia.
a group of Bellydancers began a demonstration of improvisation,
my best friend Safia and I were drawn like magnets
to their energetic and fluid movements. We knew we just had to
learn to do that!
lessons with Amie Lamborn and soon found ourselves part
of a community of women excited to guide us on our Bellydance
journey. Amie’s classes were heavily folkloric and Turkish
style. She taught us the proper isolations and instilled a
reverence and respect for the dance form and ourselves. When
Amie hosted a party at her house, which of course included
Bellydancing, my future teacher, Brigit, declared I
was ready to perform and invited me to dance with the current
troupe at an upcoming performance at the Huntington Museum
of Art. My excitement at the invitation grew as we learned
choreography based in a horseshoe shaped formation, featuring
improvised mini solos and duets.
took a teaching hiatus, Brigit and Susan West took
over instructing our group in a community fashion. Sometimes,
we had live drummers or used our small-change jar to buy an
instructional video. Susan and Brigit branched
out, teaching classes to a larger community, primarily using
a focus on Egyptian Cabaret styling.
Egyptian Cabaret influence came from Zahleh Fereshteh who
taught at Pennsic, a large SCA gathering, every
year. At Pennsic, we took class after class, met dancers
from all over the nation, and improvised together around
the campfires through the night.
When I moved
to Morgantown to go to college I sorely missed our dance community!
(There was none in Morgantown then.) When I visited home,
my sister Jala and I attended Bellydance practice
at the house of our friend, Cerridwen,
not knowing of any current classes. Over summer breaks I started
my professional knowledge when Brigit sent along some of her
“Belly Gram” gigs and invited me to dance at at Aladdin’s Restaurant in
Back in Morgantown,
I put in “Bellydance” in an internet search engine and found
Fat Chance Belly Dance. I was struck
by the sense of connection I felt with these dancers who danced
as a group and wore earthy-styled
costumes. I bought a performance video and the complete instructional
series! Two of my roommates asked me to teach them Bellydance
when they saw the FCBD and Zaleh Fereshteh videos repeatedly.
Feeling thoroughly inspired, I went on my first dance pilgrimage
to Portland and San Francisco to attend classes from Gypsy
Caravan and FatChance BellyDance. I felt
I was “home again”! They used the same style of music
I love and the movements and costumes really suited my fusion
Egyptian and Turkish-style background. I felt a
part of a community (even though I had just met them, and they
lived across the country) because it was familiarly similar
to my experience with SCA.
I started to teach my own classes; if there were other
Bellydancers, I had not found them!
Tribal Desires (from far left going clockwise)
Kali (director), Kamaria,
Rikka, Aja (co director), Serafina, Vikki
I approached Alias,
the owner of the Ali Babba’s Restaurant, about
dancing for his customers. A very gentlemanly Lebanese
man, he used to import dancers from Pittsburgh, which is about
north. He said that he had learned from experience that
his customers were not interested in watching dancers; they
just wanted to eat. However, he did hire me when his
catering business hosted wedding and engagement parties.
wore my Tribal costumes and while he praised my dancing,
he encouraged me to buy a “real Bellydancer’s costume”,
such as a beaded Oriental style costume.
When I joined
the West Virginina University folk dance club, they were excited
to find out I was a Bellydancer and asked me to perform solos
University also hired me to perform and lecture at their multi-cultural
festival events. Even though I turned down offers to
dance at fraternity parties, I received some nice opportunities,
such as performing for a girl’s coming of age party. Dancing
in the medical school
talent show with Maria Hamer (then
of the troupe Ghawazee,
now of Zafira) was a fun experience and a chance to
improvise with a friend again. By the time of the next year’s
talent show, I had taught a group of students long enough so
that we could perform choreography together. Most of the students
were in the SCA, so my suggestion to costume in Ghawazee
coats went over quite smoothly.
(during my last Occupational Therapy fieldwork), I moved to
Charleston, close to where I grew up and started Bellydancing.
Though field work took most of my time -and basic functioning
the rest- I was excited to find out there was a Tribal dancer
in Charleston who wanted to take lessons from me. Kali and
I stayed in touch and she waited patiently until I graduated
for classes to begin. That first class grew to be bigger than
any weekly class I have ever had and later the more advanced
dancers were formed into a student troupe. Alexandria,
who directs the Amber Gypsies, teaches classes and
has long been sponsoring out of area teachers, invited me to
Style in Beckley on a couple of occasions. One year at the
Capitol’s Multi Fest, there were two Bellydance
acts- my dance partner Azurah and me and the
neighboring Cabaret Bellydance
troupe, Jeanie’s Genies. By that time, there were members
of both groups taking my classes. My first Spirit of
the Tribes was that year, marked by an adventurous ride from Daytona to
Hollywood with my Pennsic buddies Ziah Ali and Asim.
the voyage to SCA event, Gulf Wars, in
Mississippi, where there was much Bellydance and live music
similar to Pennsic. Performances
until 2002 in Charleston also included WV State College’s multicultural
festival, weddings, parties and a charity event where I was
connected with Sinbad’s Restaurant. The owners
of Mykono’s Restauant are
Greek and Arabic and hired me to dance at their sons’ baptism
celebrations and friends’ engagement parties. I even traveled
back to Morgantown to dance at Ali Babba’s on occasion.
that time, Alias even complimented my costumes, which now
had more mirrored cholis, belts and vibrant silk skirts.
I was busy, had gone full time as a Bellydancer, and hungered
for more instruction, more connection.
Tribe of Fire : Andi, Nandita, Narah, Genevieve, Krisy
'Just having fun after the State College, PA Fire of the
So, I traveled
south to Lexington, Kentucky to take a couple classes from Teresa,
director of Rakadu and the Mecca Dance
Studio. Boy, did I know I was in the right place
when she played my favorite artist, Prince, in class! When
Rakadu put on their dance theater production at University
of Kentucky, Kali and I made the trip to see it. We
were so amazed by their creativity! She even took another dancer, Vikki, with
her a second time. When I took a Morocco workshop
in Lexington, I ran into Kali and members of Jeanie’s Genies.
When I knew we were moving from Charleston, it was Kali whom
I encouraged to start teaching Tribal Bellydance. She now
holds weekly classes and directs her troupe, Tribal
days, Multi Fest, the Stern
Wheel Regatta and other festivals
in Charleston feature several Bellydance performances.
all over West Virginina travel to Kentucky, Ohio, New York,
Pennsylvania, North Carolina and beyond to attend workshops
and shows. Since
my students and I have performed and taken workshops in Pittsburgh
regularly, I consider it Morgantown’s sister community. Pittsburgh
dancers and musicians have also come to Morgantown to teach
I took my student troupe, Tribe of Fire, on a performance
tour with me.
of the most rewarding parts of that experience was making
connections with dancers out of state, within the state,
and seeing the connections that were already there.
show was in Charleston and I had a wonderfully surreal moment
when I realized that most of the performers on stage had either
been my student at one time, were taking classes from my former
students or were currently my students. There were enough
to nearly fill a full length show; all but one performance
was Tribal! I was in awe of how much the Bellydance
population in West Virginia has grown since that first class
I taught in 1997, when there seemed to only be a handful of
between Charleston and Morgantown.
Avani and Sharon Smyth.
Both used to live in Morgantown and
take classes from me. Avani taught and
Sharon assisted with the WVU lifetime activities belly dance classes.
They both moved: Avani to Petersburg and Sharon to Princeton area.
my husband and I had planned to move to San Francisco after
the tour. While getting our house ready and waiting for
it to sell, some of my students wanted to start teaching since
I would no longer be there. I was so glad when Avani called
to discuss it with me since she had some reservations. Happy
for the respect she was showing the dance form, I suggested
we set up semi-private lessons so they could learn to teach
dance. They attended the lessons, did their assignments, and
now I recommend them.
our house did not sell in a good market and we re-evaluated
what was most important to us, we realized we were happy
right where we were.
“apprentices”, Avani and Nandita, with assistance
from Sharon Smyth, stuck with their original plan, taught
through WVU’s community program and contributed to growing
the Morgantown Bellydance population. Inspired to also expand
our community, I opened a public studio in 2006. My sister Jala,
with whom I have made two DVDs, drove from Cumberland, Maryland,
to teach a weekly class and I added several different levels
types of Bellydance classes to my agenda.
classes and weekend workshops were primarily what paid our
bills and were a good indication of student attendance.
Jala, Narah pregnant with Angelo
Me and sister Jala after performance honoring baby/pregnancy in Pittsburgh- “Shimmy”,
sponsored by Sterling Painton and Kari Merlina
We held haflas
and students had an opportunity to perform and casually dance
in a fun, supportive environment. My students and I put
on a show for Hurricane Katrina relief and participated in
multi-cultural dance productions. In the summer of 2007,
I sponsored West Virginina’s first out of state Tribal instructor, Ziah
Ali, in a workshop. It
was thrilling to have so many dancers attend; large groups
came from the southern part of the state.
the workshop, I was unusually tired and I thought it odd-
until I found out I was pregnant!
Since I was
tremendously busy running the studio (and have an autoimmune
condition that is exacerbated by stress), I knew I would have
to close the studio in order to relax and have a happy, healthy
baby. It was not easy to do, but at 4 months pregnant,
I closed my studio and took a teaching hiatus. While I was
taking a break, Krisy Rosier and Genevieve
students of mine, started classes on their own. They, along
with Krisy’s daughter Andi perform as Wild
I did my
first post-baby performance when my son was 3 ½ months old.
My midwife hired me to perform for a “girl’s night out” before
her daughter’s wedding—a dinner at Chem’s Lebanese
restaurant in Parkersburg, WV. There I met Sabehah and Serina, Oriental dancers who dance at Chem’s
on Fridays, and say it is like a family there. Zahra, who has
an annual show, used to teach at the local YMCA and some of
her students once performed as a group. Chavi, also from Parkersburg,
is of a Tribal persuasion and performs at family friendly events. Raven’s
Dance studio offers Egyptian Cabaret classes in Vienna,
not far from Parkersburg.
dancing at the Charleston Stern Wheel
Wheeling, Sherry Miller offers Bellydance classes
for children and adults at the Oglebay Institute. Martinsburg
and Berkeley Springs are in the eastern panhandle, where Noor
el Sahar performs American Classic Bellydance and Tribal,
directs a troupe and teaches classes. Moorfield, also in
the eastern panhandle, is where Avani is teaching
after moving to small and rural Petersburg. Her last
class enrolled 30 people! They will have a student
recital in June and Avani hopes to shed some light on the
true nature of Belly Dance.
you can imagine in a state where there are fewer than the
average number of Belly Dancers, we have to do quite a
bit of education, quite often.
average West Virginian has not seen much, if any Bellydance,
so seeing some of their stony, confused, or shocked faces
sometimes makes performing a bit challenging. Those
dancers who have experienced this do not let it stop them. We
find the dance, itself, addictive!
the Jim Boz workshop in Beckley, dancers from around
the state came together to learn and perform at Tamarak, a
West Virginia artisan’s
showcase. Alexandria, who
sponsored the workshop, directs the Oriental dance troupe The
Shades of Amber and the student troupe, The
Amber Gypsies. Saffa
Newal is a Beckley based Bellydance teacher and directs
the Hadrah Dance Company as well as the
student troupe Zayna
Ziyad. In October, we will have our second out
of state Tribal instructor when Amira, director
of the Samadhi
Dance Troupe, sponsors Onca of Baraka
Mundi. Amira is
currently taking a break from teaching in Teays Valley
and Ravi is taking over her classes. Ravi
founded the music and dance troupe, Gypsy Rock Stars.
Close to Teays Valley is Marshall University in Huntington,
which includes a Bellydance club in its organizations. Tonya,
a local dancer, is currently forming a Tribal dance and
drum troupe and is teaching classes at the Dancer
Within Studio. The
troupe is scheduled to dance at a Lebanese family reunion
this summer. Summersville, southeast of Charleston, is
home to Sherry Davenport, who performs Egyptian
and Lebanese style Bellydance and teaches classes for children
of these dancers are members of Tribe.net’s West
Virginia Belly Dance Tribe. This group is active
and has brought together many dancers of the state and surrounding
events and topics pertaining to WV Bellydancers and musicians.
has allowed us to build upon the ties we already have and
extend them to other dancers, making a community of sharing
from this state are linked to each other and with neighboring
dance populations. Tribal and Cabaret dancers
form the local communities, which are growing rapidly now.
You are likely to find us at a neighboring state’s Bellydance
workshop, a few states away or even across the country.
there are a small number of restaurants employing Belly
Dancers, we quite often make our own opportunities, just
the way we like it.
click for larger image
Belly Dancers at the Jim Boz workshop May 10th, 2008
row left to right- Narah, Kali, Alexandria,
Zahara, ?, Zahira Luna,?
row- ?, Aja, ?, ?, Chavi, Kamaria; Back row-
Neesah, Amira, Kaileena, ?,?,?,? Saffa Nawal, Serafina,
Denise, Rikka behind
her, Krisy, Andi, Sharon
|More photos from the West Virginia Bellydance
T'Lula (from California),
click photo for enlargement
at Blackstone Raid, an SCA event in Ripley, West Virginia.
Left to right: Neesah (Teays Valley), Chavi (Parkersburg), Asta (new to Morgantown; formerly Charleston, also drums),
Nagi (Teays Valley), Narah and Angelo (Morgantown)
click photo for enlargement
students- Angie, Denise, Ashlee, Swan
Kali and Swan
Gypsy Rock Stars
Dancers at Samadhi's Halloween Hafla - front row Left to
right: Angie, Razi, Sumer
Back row left to right: Marcia,
Cimmeron, Kaileena, Nena, Paula, Saffa Nawal and Amiee Lamborn
Workshop with Carolena
Andi Rosier, Carolena, Krisy Rosier, Jill Hess,
This photo is truly special- Bonnie was a
fellow dancer and wonderful friend
who was supported by
her sister dancers in her final weeks fighting cancer (I
believe she only was given weeks to live when diagnosed)
Jim Boz and author
These are from the Jim Boz workshop in Beckley:
Sharon and Kamille of Rockabelly
Sharon Smyth in Buffalo, NY fo Kamille’s workshop
a comment? Send us a
Check the "Letters to the Editor" for
other possible viewpoints!
Web Apps for Busy Dancers by Asim
part of my day job is to keep up with technical information,
I thought I would write about three free useful online services
for busy dancers, and see if these can give you a hand—without
killing your Bella Budget!
Masterful Teaching: Drum Solo Master Class with Jim Boz Reviewed
by: Rebecca Firestone
With his shaved head tied up in a bandanna, with a burly torso, powerful
legs, and a thick neck, he looks more like a biker, a bouncer, or a circus strongman.
Thus, his grace and posture is even more amazing.
Moment with Amy Sigil, Interview and Videos by
life doesn’t get any better than this, then, it’s okay with me!
I feel so fortunate. I know so many dancers that are more talented
than I; yet, here I am! When my time is over, I will bow out gracefully.
I am thankful from the bottom of my heart.
for Cinderella: The Glass Dance by Tasha Banat
new glasses whenever possible, and never put them in the dishwasher!
Egyptian Dance Code: Technique to the Perfect Dance by
years after my first class in Belly dance, I looked at all the
dancers once again and realized what they were doing to look
Egyptian. I had discovered the Egyptian Dance Code. That was
back in 2000.
Th’Builder: a Little Something Extra to Shake Co-written
by Najia Marlyz and Salima
year's "Grand Dancer" tells of her transformation from
body builder to Bellydancer
Gala Peformance Part 1 of the International Bellydance
Conference of Canada video and photo report by
include: Lopa Sarkar, Sacred Dance Company of Victoria, Nath
Keo, Roshana Nofret & Maria Zapetis of Bozenka's BD Academy,
Ensemble El Saharat of Germany-
Mayyadah & Amir of Germany, Ferda Bayazit of Turkey, Arabesque Dance Company & Orchestra
Cairo: You live a whole lifetime in one week! by
builds bridges, and in today’s world, bridges –between
individuals and between cultures, are becoming more and more
of an imperative.
Ancient Art of Keeping Your Mouth Shut by Neon
one’s casual presence in the forums infested with negative-spirited
discussions can instantly strip a successful artist of her magical