Lately, I have been reflecting on how lucky I am to have such a strong 'belly-lineage'.
Western Massachusetts may be quite geographically small, but we have big dance roots. I moved to the area in 2006 and was overwhelmed by the amazing community I found. I had started taking bellydance classes a year before in a small Connecticut town, but there were very few teachers and events. Prior to moving to Massachusetts, I heard about a workshop in Hartford with Rose Champagne. She was one of the teachers I had been researching in anticipation of my move and I couldn't wait to try her class.
I signed up right away and eagerly counted down the days until the workshop. On the day of the workshop I was blown away by her poise and presence; the way she moved was so beautiful, such grace and intention in everything she did. I couldn't wait to relocate and start taking her classes. In September of 2006 I began as a student in her advanced beginners class followed by my first performance at Jewel of the Valley a few months later.
It was a remarkable experience. Meeting the students in her other classes introduced me to many of the other terrific dancers in western MA: the lovely ladies of Sahibat, Sanaa Amel, and many more.
I continued taking classes with Rose until her illness forced her to quit teaching. It honestly brings me to tears as I write this to recall the deep loss felt by our community when she passed away in 2008; a loss we still feel in her absence today.
She is so greatly missed, and the best way to remember her is to take a look at all of the wonderful dancers who she trained and inspired. I am so lucky to count myself among them.
When Rose stopped teaching I took classes with several other teachers before ultimately settling in with Shifah. Shifah was Rose's teacher, and I thought to myself “who better to continue my training with then the woman who trained Rose?”
Shifah's classes were marvelous, I learned so much about Vintage Oriental, and many other dance styles. She has been dancing since the 1980's and was a member of the Crescent Dancers, western MA's premier troupe that had been going strong since the 1970s.
I was also spending a lot of time on the Bhuz forums in these years and I realized something. So many members were talking about newer dancers losing the knowledge of more traditional forms, and it made me realize how very lucky I was to be studying with amazing people who were carrying on the history of Vintage Oriental dance. We were using zills, dancing to 9/8s, dancing out of veil wraps, it was wonderful.
In 2010, Shifah decided to semi-retire (she always used to talk about retiring, but we all know she can't truly stay away from dance- and we wouldn't want her to!). She asked me to take over her classes for her, and that is how my life as a professional dancer began.
I look back now, 5 years later, and I am still amazed at how everything has progressed. I have taught so many wonderful students, some of whom are now moving towards, or transitioning into becoming professional dancers themselves.
The Crescent Dancers 40th anniversary show is this weekend and it has really made me think about the dance community and belly-lineage. Retired Crescent Dancers will be joining in, Shifah will be doing a guest appearance, and three of my students (though one was a classmate of mine in Shifah's classes long before I started teaching!) are now members of the Crescent Dancers. I just could not be more proud to be a part of such a beautiful dance history.
To my friends in the current incarnation of the Crescent Dancers -- Hadama, Aralia, Melissa, and Debira, and to all of the retired members who will be dancing, I cannot wait to see your show (and to emcee it)! And to all of you who want to witness a piece of the amazing bellydance history and lineage from our Western Massachusetts area, I wholeheartedly encourage you to buy your tickets now for the gala on April 25th! It’s going to be a wonderful night and I am so excited to see what is in store!
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