Guild Member Spotlight: Laura

1) How long have you been dancing, and tell us about your dance journey from beginner to professional?  

I’ve been belly dancing for 15 years now!
I started while in college at the U of M. It was getting close to the end of my time there and I decided to take a class in the dance department, for fun. Just because I had no idea what it was, I chose a class listed as Arabic Dance. Little did I know there would be a live drummer and that the teacher would be Cassandra.
When the semester ended, I knew I had to keep taking classes. I used to loathe undulations because I couldn’t do them. I also recall thinking, when I was first presented with finger cymbals, that asking someone to actually move their body through space while playing them was totally insane! Things got easier, and about 2.5 years later I was very excited to join Jawaahir as an apprentice. I should’ve made a list of the all wonderful shows, performances, workshops, etc., that I’ve gotten to be a part of since then, but I didn’t. 
Dancing at restaurants was never very high in my list. Mostly due to a complete shortage of dancers on one particular weekend, I did my first restaurant show in 2013 and continued to dance at the Med Cruise for about 4 years. I found there were things I loved and things I didn’t care for, as anyone dancing in restaurants can tell you. Now that I’ve been away from it for a couple of years, I have fond memories of the glow, the rush, the glitter, the craziness, the stepping on something squishy, and so on. The pandemic notwithstanding, I always thought that I might try to go back to restaurant dancing if there were a super live band to dance to every night! Ah, we can dream...

2) What are your top (three or four) memories or experiences you’ve had in your bellydance life?      

In no particular order, here are some of them:     
-Getting to dance to world class live music in our Jawaahir shows year after year.     
-Going to Toronto with Cassandra in 2016 to help teach a choreography to the Arabesque dancers.     
-Doing my first ever restaurant show at Beirut, on a night that just happened to have a room filled with people who were super excited about the dance.     
-Traveling to Morocco (I love North African styles) and getting to hear the music, see the dancers, put my feet in the sand of the Sahara, and see the expansive night sky in the desert.

3) Tell us about which dancers have inspired you the most in your dance career.     

My main belly dance teacher is Cassandra, so she has of course had a lot of influence on my dance. I’m also a big fan of Nesma, and of Fifi Abdo. I enjoy the softer, more natural style of dancers like Melissa Gamal and Vanessa of Cairo. And when I think of all these women, not only are they skilled dancers, but they’ve also managed to make a career out of the business of dance. That’s not the path I’m headed down or anything, but I admire those achievements - it’s not easy to do.

4) In what ways has bellydancing enriched your life?      

Well besides all the things I’ve learned (and am still learning) from the music and dance itself, and from being a performer, I’ve noticed something else. Being able to pack and prepare for shows, and doing quick changes, has really helped lay a solid foundation for being a mom! Haha. Whether it’s packing the daycare bag, packing the whole family for a trip, or doing an outing to the park, it’s amazing how many things you have to consider. What stuff needs to go where? In what order do things need to be packed? What do we definitely need a spare of, and what can be improvised on the fly if all else fails? There are some remarkable similarities between having your act together as a belly dancer and having your act together when caring for a toddler, I’ve found.

5) Have you noticed bellydancing has changed since you started? If so, in what ways? Where do you think the dance is headed?

The community, the styles, the costuming, the sequence of events from taking classes to performing….feel free to answer it in whatever way you see fit.      
***this is a great question and at the moment I just don’t have a good answer! I’m going to leave this one blank because my ideas aren’t really fleshed out at this point.***

6) Can you give us photos of and tell us about your favorite 3 costumes you’ve owned?      

I just have one to share here. While I honestly do appreciate all the skill and artistry that goes into making a bellydance costume, I’ve never been a costume chaser really. I would be totally happy for someone else to just find something that fits me and looks nice, help me do my hair and makeup so I look presentable, then let me go dance. My favorite costume is this wonderful Madame Abla dress with about 40 lbs of fringe. It was the first one I ever bought.

7) What’s been your favorite performance (or two), and your proudest dance moment?     

The performance that sticks in my mind was during a show with Jawaahir a number of years ago. It was me and one other dancer performing the Algerian dance of the Ouled Nayl. We were doing an outdoor show on a stunning day in late September, and there were bright yellow locust leaves falling like confetti against the blue sky. The costume for that dance is very layered and complicated, and I remember that as piece after piece got put on, I felt more and more powerful. I got goosebumps wondering if that was how the women who practice this dance in Algeria actually felt.
By the time we were ready to go onstage, I felt unstoppable. I didn’t even think in the slightest about counting the beats or which way I was supposed to be facing. The music just took over and I felt both peaceful and on fire for the whole dance. It still makes me smile when I think about it. I’d never performed that dance before, nor have I done it since.     
Some of my proudest dance moments include getting asked by an Egyptian lady to dance at her party, pulling off everything I had to do in Jawaahir’s show Shoma a few years back (singing and acting in addition to dancing, and quick changes I wouldn’t have thought possible), and also just being a working dancer at a restaurant, even though I didn’t do it all the time. 

8) What’s your favorite thing about being in a troupe?

Well for one thing, I have this to affectionately say about my fellow dancers: herding cats would be a walk in the park compared to getting a company full of individualistic women like us to agree! So it’s very dynamic and that lends energy to rehearsals and performances. Plus, dancing together is just so many kinds of fun. In a group it’s not really about you, it’s about the piece itself and what you’re creating or bringing to life. So it’s a very different experience than performing solo. Oh yeah, and road trips are great. Looking forward to the day when we can do all that kind of stuff again!

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