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El Balie Arabe:

Dancing in Chile

Athena dances in Chile

by Athena
posted April 5, 2012

I first went to Chile for a study abroad program for my undergraduate degree.  After years of taking several belly dance classes a week and performing frequently, I knew I would have to keep dancing while I was there. This turned an already adventurous trip into one of the most memorable trips of my life.

I knew trying to find a teacher or a place to dance  was going to be a bit difficult due to only living in Chile for a month. I thought I should give it a shot. I searched throughout the internet, but the belly dance directories I found either had broken links to non-existent websites or to emails that only bounced back to me. I discovered finding a teacher was going to be a lot harder than I originally intended.

Chilean style belly dancing deviated from the South American belly dance style I was expecting. From watching YouTube videos, I was convinced I was going to see high kicks and scandalous costumes. However, the style I saw predominantly in Chile was Classical Egyptian. When I remarked on this, I was quickly told that there is a new tribal school opening up in Santiago and to not stereotype them.

There were some shocking costumes, one in particular had more cutouts than fabric, but most were the traditional skirt and bra costumes that are common in the US.  They  were a lot more colorful than I imagined, but the colors were put together in a novel way, making each dancer stand out. I felt a bit frumpy in my “easy to travel with” costume, but they fawned over it. Sadly, I could not convince them to part with any of their costumes.

To help any dancer who is thinking of  taking a trip to Chile, (which I would highly recommend) I created a few tips based on my experience. I hope they are helpful for you, or at least, help make your trip as eventful as mine ended up being!

1.  Be prepared

Before you go, dedicate some time to thinking about what you want to do in Chile. Seriously consider if you want to dance while you are there and or if you want to take classes. Dancing is a big time commitment, the same time commitment as dancing professionally in the United States. Also if you are not proficient at Spanish, you do have to be prepared to learn enough Spanish to discuss styles of belly dance, rates and to gather information about any events you might be involved in.

While I was dancing in Chile, I would frequently be booked to dance with a local D.J. In the United States, we would discuss upcoming shows and go over these events in detail via email. But, once I arrived in Chile The D.J. would not respond to my phone calls or emails. On the day of the event he would call me; tell me the venue and how much he would pay me. In the US I would never accept that, and I had to learn how to handle these situations if I wanted to continue to work with him.

Now, this is not how most of my shows worked in Chile, but I was dancing in an area that did not have a regular working dancer, so I had to dedicate time to teaching people how to book me, which was both a test of my Spanish and my patience.

Also, before you commit to dance somewhere, make sure you know where in the country you have agreed to perform. Chili is a long country, and takes a long time to travel through it, so be careful to not commit to dance in the southern tip if you are staying in Santiago. I almost made that mistake, until the dancer I was working with told me it would be a 29 hour bus ride. Even though people were as helpful to me as possible, I made it my responsibility to know these things.

2.  Be patient

Culturally, there is a big difference between the way dancers work in the United States and the way dancers work in Chile. For example, I found most of the people I talked to had a lax attitude towards their email. While in the United States, I could anticipate a response with a day or two, I would wait up to a week for a response email from the teachers I wanted to take from. If you want to take classes or workshops in Chile (and I assume most of South America) you should dedicate at least two months to find a teacher, especially if you are looking for a specific technique or style.

When they did respond, they were happy to be helpful and quite excited to have me there. A dancer hired me to dance at a restaurant based solely on my word that I was a professional dancer! Everyone was so open and accepting, and happy to see how the “gringa” dancer would do.

3.   Be protected

 This next tip is something your first dance teacher will always tell you as you are off to your first event, “always bring another person, just in case.” While in Chile, I had a large group of people, who would accompany me to shows, but they were not used to accompanying me as my escorts.

One night after a show, I dropped off my belongings and we all went out to another club. Without notice, a man from my previous show left the show I danced at, followed my group and went into our club. When he was in the club, he came up to me, separated me from my group and began to try to touch me inappropriately. I, being a woman who does not waste time, took care of it immediately, and handed him over to the club bouncers to take care of.  But, I was shaken up, and left the club almost immediately afterwards.

This is not to scare anyone, or to say Chile is full of dangerous people. The same thing could happen anywhere. Realistically, this could have been avoided if I had told my attendants to keep an eye out, or given them any other sort of tips on accompanying me to events.

However, if you are ever involved in a situation like this, know you do not deserve this type of treatment and do not allow people to treat you in any inappropriate way.  Kick, punch, scratch, heckle, and brandish your sword! No one can treat you that way, and make sure any potential assailant knows that quickly.

4.   Be ready for anything!

One of the most fascinating aspects of my trip was to discover how universal belly dance is. Within minutes of arriving to Santiago (the capital of Chile) I was surrounded by belly shirts and harem pants. It was apparently the new style, and I was immediately in heaven. As a gesture of goodwill, my host family bought me a Chilean belly shirt to match my host sister. Along with this, my professor was taking belly dance classes, and my host sister was involved in a teen belly dance club and was in the middle of making her first belly dance costume. Everywhere I went, I was able to encounter belly dance, with just a little bit of effort. Chile will continue to surprise you, as long as you are willing to work with whatever strange circumstance the dance brings you.

Finally, one travel tip for any dancer going through an airport  if you are like me and will only put your costume in your carry-on bag; dedicate some extra time to security.

In the scanners, rhinestones can come up completely black, making security think it is something dangerous. After they open it up, they tend to get a chuckle, but it is not okay when you don’t have much time to catch your plane!

Overall, my trip to Chile was fantastic. I learned so much about myself, my personal value system, and about the universal language of dance. No matter how far you travel, you will always find the sisterhood of dance.

Athena dances at a school in Chile
Athena dances at a school in Chile


  • Surimay:
    A dancer located in Santiago, she is one of the best initial contacts if you are going to Santiago. She responds to emails quickly, and sends out helpful newsletters including her current classes. Her studio is large enough to have an option most days of the week, which is really helpful when traveling.
  • Karen Elizabeth:
    She is the teacher who was located in the small city I was living in, Valdivia. She does Egyptian style primarily, and has some English skills. Barring any language barrier, she is really skilled at seeing issues in movement and suggesting new ways to think of them.
  • Viviana Flores
    This woman is the ultimate connection in Chile. When I emailed her and told her where I was going, she suggested a person to contact in every area. She is also an amazing dancer in her own right, and I regret not being able to take classes from her.

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  1. Julia

    Apr 20, 2012 - 11:04:26

    Wonderful article! I traveled to Chile and Peru ten years ago when my sister was living abroad during her junior year of college, and it was amazing! I love Santiago and dream often of returning.

  2. marwachile

    Jul 19, 2012 - 01:07:22

    Dear Athena and community,

    As a Chilean Bellydancer, I enjoyed some parts of this article but unfortuately I have to say I was terribly disappointed on how Athena describes how difficult it is to find a teacher in Chile, or to find workshops, etc…

    The reality  cannot be more different. We have a huge dance community. We have many webpages and dance directories. We have many professional venues to dance at (we DO NOT dance just anywhere…).

    As our bellydance comunitty is so big, we have plenty of different styles and very respected teachers to learn from. We also have many international and national festivals and workshops. I’m just amazed Athena could not find them! 

    And I say this because I have received emails from many foreign dancers wanting to come and participate in one way or another. 

    I have to say I was expecting much more from this article. If you ever come back Athena, please do not hesitate in contacting me.

    My best wishes,

  3. Rebecca (Halima) - Director of Zuhur Al Sahara

    Jul 20, 2012 - 04:07:58

    Dear Athena,
    I am glad you enjoyed your trip to Chile and despite what many of my “gringa” colleagues think – yes we do bellydance here! There are some very professional teachers and although the “showgirl” lebanese influenced style of the Argentinians is predominant there are also many others who travel often and are dedicated to improving this art form.
    I have personally taken classes with Marcia Gómez and Paola Jara (who has a real wealth of knowledge in North African Folk and Classical Egyptian).
    In the North of Chile, where I am based, there are several of us who work hard to promote Classical Egyptian and Folklore – Our company Zuhur Al Sahara ( recently won an Arta Council grant and put on a production of Layla and Majnun which will be on tour to Bolivia in September and then back to Chile at the beginning of October.
    I have just returned from Toronto after studying for the second time with the wonderful Arabesque and the inspiring Yasmina Ramzy who is aso very excited about visiting Chile soon – watch this space!
    I do agree that you need to be patient here, but even though things may take a little longer – it´ll be worth the wait!
    Hope to see you here again soon
    Rebecca (Halima)

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