Dancer to Dancer - A CultureFlux Exclusive!

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A very special section of CultureFlux!

Some of the most respected & adored names in the Modern Belly Dance world graciously share what they have learned over their careers with you on a multitude of topics, such as what makes a memorable performance, finding a good instructor, maintaining your health & energy, and more! Kristina Cañizares, Vorona, Gwyn Lister, Onca O'Leary, Maria Hamer, Olivia Kissel, Samantha Hasthorpe, Tjarda, Frédérique, Frank Farinaro, Lucretia Renee, & Ariella Aflalo have all been so incredibly kind and gracious as to offer information, inspiration, and love.

Special thanks to Isa who initially suggested this idea & introduced me into such a beautiful, warm & at times, rowdy group of performers... who would have thought that behind such elegance, grace, & style, they're usually as crazy as us wonderful circus freaks?

Love to you all,


~ kSea

(If you wish to add to this, please feel free to contact me at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it - OR, join (or start) a conversation in the CultureFlux Forum - thanks!)

Kristina Cañizares

Director, The Nekyia

On What Makes a Memorable Performance

Novelist Jessamyn West once wrote: "Fiction reveals truth that reality obscures." While West was referring to literature, she could just as easily have been discussing performance or any other art form.

The stage is a place where we set ourselves free to explore the truth obscured by our "normal" lives because of convention, routine, fear, or habit. We create our own world, one that reflects those buried treasures of our souls that yearn for the light of day. We can be anything, do anything, say anything, move our bodies or lift our voices or stand stock still. And of course, as performers, we hope that the audience feels a part of themselves mirrored in our creations. However, I believe that our loyalty lies first to our truth. While we strive to craft performances in such a way that the audience can identify with us, the power of a performances lies in the risk and vulnerability of lifting one's proverbial skirts and showing the hidden parts that we both love and fear.

I read a book tracing modern performance back to the first spiritual practice, shamanism. The shaman would frequently use song, dance, feats of great strength and dexterity, and theater to transport his or her audience to an altered reality where

healing or catharsis could occur. Contemporary performance serves much the same purpose. Using our skill, technique, passion, wit, creativity, and hopefully some really good lighting design we can fling open the doors to other worlds of our own devising, guide our audience through its heights and depths, and re-depositing them on the edges of their seats a little changed from when they first sat down.

Kristina Cañizares
Director, The Nekyia 



On maintaining mental & physical health through a taxing schedule

For the dancer, I believe that the mental and physical rewards are a priceless gift when the skin of the weary soul can be shed and she is alive in all that is reborn. Aside of the post digestion of the long flights, sore muscles, late nights, homesickness, the rehearsals, and yes…. Sometimes even the hangovers. How do I survive this reverent need for speed and still find time to find the balance? First and foremost, I sacrifice my racing thoughts and close my eyes and meditate which winds up being in a state of half awake and half asleep. Becoming certified in Reiki has completely given me the ability to put all those nervous, distorted thoughts on hold and just “be”. “Be” in the moment of nothing.
In the moment of what is to come down from all the hype.
Next, I do my best to maintain some kind of healthy diet. I try to stray away from eating foods I know are either going to give me #1 An unhappy ending and #2 A feeling of a bloated loss of energy. When you’re in close-quarters weather you’re staying with friends or on a flight for a while, you’ll be surprised what foods high in antioxidants and plenty of water can do for you.
Finally, making time to connect with someone you love is the greatest thing you can do for your soul. When you’re on the road and you’re committing yourself to dance, it’s important to remind yourself that you have a life outside of work. Connecting with that special someone, weather it’s a significant other or a friend who makes you laugh to tears, that’s truly what the doctor ordered. For me, anyway.






Gwyn Lister

Bodhicitta BellyDance


What makes a good performance?

I sometimes find that while watching a good performance I am struck by the feeling that I suddenly know something about the artist that I would have otherwise never realized.... Watching an artist perform can be like hearing a secret.
It's not just a thing of bravery to show emotion in a performance it's the fact that properly communicating your emotion requires honesty. So, beyond the desire to reveal something that only the dance can say, what are the things that make honesty possible in a dance? What are the tools? Technique: Simply, technique is how a dancer represents a dutiful amount of humility and willingness to be taught and led by those who came before. I think it is so powerful to witness the obvious discipline of a soloist or that unmistakable cohesiveness among dancers in a group.. each instance proving a respect for technique. Posture: Posture shows a constant awareness of dance at every moment... it's a permanent mark upon a dancer. Detail: Self respect, dedication and reverence for one's uniqueness within the art is in the details....most notably (for dance) in the costume. The costume builds the bridge between the intention of an artist and the perception of the onlooker. Timing, Rhythm, Movement: For some it is learned. For some it is natural. Either way, an artist's relationship with music is ultimately how dance is relatable at all.


 Gwyn Lister
Bodhicitta BellyDance
Nashville, TN
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Onca O'Leary ~

Baraka Mundi - Founder & Director

On choosing the best instructor for your needs-
When seeking the right teacher and teaching environment, know that it may take a few class drop-ins to find your best fit. In larger dance communities, you may have many options. There are as many teaching and performance styles as there are individuals in this profession.
Do a little research. Most serious artists these days can be seen on YouTube - watch a few of these. Do you like their presentation? Do the music, costume and attitude appeal to you?
Read their website if they have one, and ask around. What is the reputation of the teacher or school? How long have they been teaching? Are they a hobbyist or a full-time career dancer (Many hobbysist dancers are excellent)? What sort of events do they and their students participate in; can you see yourself there with them someday?

In class, watch the teacher for punctuality, linear presentation, knowledge of the body, language appropriate to the studio, and good warm-ups and cool-downs. Listen for positive critique of students and commentary on the larger dance community. Beware of teachers who publicly malign others or belittle students.
Ideally you will feel supported both by the other students and the teacher. What is the classroom culture? Is it generally a welcoming and supportive atmosphere?
IF in your area you only have a few options, it may be worth braving whatever you can get, just to get a foundation for building your independant practice. In this case, you may be called on to be more motivated and vigilant in deciding what the dance will be for YOU.

For more information on Onca and Baraka Mundi click here.


Zafira Dance Company

Maria Hamer ~


On performance:
In my mind, the first thought that hits me is complete abandon of ego. I think to fully rip open the heart and bare all to an audience, would mean to forget everything you've learned for that moment... and give the real human reaction and emotion as a gift to the audience.

With that said, heavy intensive physical training and extensive research in all dance styles, conditioning, and historical backgrounds is a must for an all around excelled dancer.
I honestly think the older we get, the more experience and knowledge we have which only leads to better performances now and for the future. ~ Maria Hamer




Olivia Kissel ~

On Performance:
I have been spending a lot of time working on new pieces for myself & Zafira in the past couple of months. In this process, I keep asking myself "What is my intention as a performer?" "Why am I not satisfied to dance at home in my living room, or at the club?"

From the very beginning of my bellydance experience I have performed. I love it, it is a rush. But, it's truly not a "look-at-me", "look-what-I-can-do" feeling. I It is more of an EXCHANGE between the audience and myself. I love the feeling when I am completely in the moment in the music WITH the audience. In this state, I am able to be both a conduit for the music AND the energy of the crowd. But, there is more to it than that. There is something transformative about performance - something that taps into our psyche both as a performer and as a spectator.

I found this passage the other morning in Rob Brezny's "Televisionary Oracle". It is actually quoted from Jerzy Grotowsky's "Towards a Poor Theater" and it defined my intention as a performer far better than I ever have:

"The holy actor, by setting himself a challenge, publicly challenges others; through excess, profanation and outrageous sacrilege he reveals himself by casting off his everyday mask, and this makes it possible for the spectator to undertake a similar process of self-penetration. If the holy actor does not exhibit his body but annihilates it, burns it, frees it from every resistance to any psychic impulse, then he does not sell his body but sacrifices it. He reveals the innermost part of himself-the most painful, that which is not intended for the eyes of the world. He becomes able to express, through sound and movement those impulses which waiver on the borderline between dream and reality."

-and therefore gives permission and guides the spectator to do the same.

I consider a good/ rewarding performance one in which I completely surrender my ego and become that vessel; a conduit for the song or emotion that drives the piece, and exchange or share that submission with the spectator. THAT, to me, is satisfying. I guess because I love when I come out of a performance effected, a slightly different person than I was when I came to the theater. I want to give that to people when they come to our shows. Whether it is a connection through humor or longing, I want people to come away from our shows slightly more open to the people or experiences around them.

I also have to agree w/ Maria that technique and (historical and cultural) theory are also a must. As a dancer or an actor, the physical training gives you the ability to express your self in a complex way. The more you train, the more you develop your voice. The knowledge of history and cultural contexts help the performer to present coherent ideas. As a performer I want to have the biggest vocabulary of movement and expression at my disposal to present my pieces. And, when I am creating performances, I consider the rich cultural and historical landscape that I am pulling ideas from and speaking to.

As a spectator, the performances that move me most are the ones that effect me emotionally and intellectually. Really the two are like a yin and yang: yin is the emotional content, that gripping part of the performance or performer that is open to the psyche. The yang is the technical skill and intellectual background that really give the artist more of a range and the ability to express themselves more clearly.
~ Olivia Kissel

Zafira Dance Company
Awarded Troupe of the Year 2007! ~Zaghareet Magazine
Pittsburgh, Pa

Samantha Hasthorpe ~ Belly Dance Super Stars


On instructors:
Though I can only speak from my own personal experience, my advice would be to learn from every teacher you can, regardless of style, as you will gain something from every class or workshop which can be relevant to you and your training.

I would look for an open minded teacher, running a mile from those who claim their way to be the only way there is.
There is no one way. Everyone's body, (shape, size, skeletal structure, musculature) is different, so what works for one person may never work for another safely.
Look into the background of the teacher, their experience on and off stage. If I am inspired by a dancers performance, then I am inspired to take from them, thats how it has gone for me so far, and it has worked out well on the whole.
I currently train with a very learned teacher in San Francisco,(Mira Betz) so she is encouraging me to research the background and history of this art form in order to represent the dance in the best possible light and earn respect in the wider dance community.
She is also encouraging me to work on the artist side of what I do, and why I do it with daily homework exercises on paper as well as my regular training.
If you can find a teacher who will critique your performances that is great. Ensure you video your performances to share with your teacher for developmental critiques.
Do you like your teacher?
Are you inspired every time they make the slightest move in class?
Do you feel something when you see them on stage?
Are they patient with you?
Do they encourage you to work harder?
Its a lot to ask for, especially in remote areas, but these teachers are out there. Its just a matter of searching till you find em! ~ Samantha Hasthorpe

Tjarda ~ The Uzumé

On choosing an instuctor:



How to choose the best bellydance instructor for you?
For choosing a bellydance teacher, you have to find out for yourself first where you are in dance, and what you need at this moment. Do you want to work on technique, inspiration, showing emotion, something else?

Mostly you get touched by a performance, and then you take a class or a private lesson and see if it works for you - but the most important part is to know what you want to get out of it and to find out if the teacher can teach you that. You can of course learn different things from different teachers, so it is very good to have mamy teachers. maybe it's a little short, let me know. And please fix my english! :)
{editors note: I just found that so cute that I had to keep it in there... Hope you don't mknd, Tjarda! ~ kSea


Tjarda - Tribal Fusion Belly Dance
0031 (0)6 - 15 03 25 60
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on choosing an instructor

How to choose the best belly dance instructor for you could be easy if you have a variety to choose from. Take as many classes from as many instructors as you can to find the one or the couple that resinate with you provided you are ready (advanced) to jump around. But keep in mind that if you've found more than 1 instructor, you may run into the problem of technical confusion. If you are a total beginner, I advise you to stick with just one to start. Choose wisely and drop in to classes to find that one for you. When your wings are ready, then be open to other classes but be sure not to mistake being antsy, for grown wings. Meaning technique takes a long time and you might want too much too fast, something I see a lot. If you move around to soon and quickly, then you never have time to refine your technique... An instructor that cares about your growth in dance will push you to take classes from as many teachers as you can, when you are ready.

At of the day, the secret is to understand that you will not know what will come next, until you get there. Plateaus are a huge part of growing; don't let yourself get down, keep moving and something eventually will come and push you forward.

Au Revoir,

Personal Website:


Frank Farinaro ~

Freelance Bellydance Performer & Instructor



Hi! This is my opinion on performance...
What makes a good bellydance performance? I think that it is a combination of two elements.

The first being good technique. It is important for any performer to have a strong technique that is rooted deeply in the dance, no matter what style. Tribal, Cabaret, & Folkloric... they all have their roots & their technique & it is important to display that in any good performance.

The second element is what makes a memorable performance. What makes a memorable performance is showing your audience something that they haven't seen before. Wheter it be a new form of fusion, or showing off that one "wow" move that we all keep up our sleeve. Something that some one does not see all the time is what stands out from every other performance. With that said... you are only as good as your last performance, so always be sure to make the next one better than the last. A true perfectionist always leaves room for improvement.

-----With respect,
-----Frank Farinaro



~ Co-founder, Serpentine


There is no separation between performer and audience, except, as a performer, you get to attack the audience in anyway you want! I am passionate about representing love, compassion, and divine femininity through many mediums, especially through performance. On stage, I prefer to create a sacred space, allow my body to become a vessel, and let the music guide me. With that being said, the music and theme is always chosen carefully. Rehearsals, costuming, and bonding a brief moment in time with the audience are my most favorite aspects of dance.... and attacking the audience (in a good way, of course)!

~ Lucretia*Renee,
Co-founder of Serpentine-Theatrical Fire Fusion Bellydance Troupe, Portland, Oregon.







Ariella Aflalo


On Performance:

In my humble opinion, it is my belief that the essence of an outstanding performer is his or her ability to take each audience member out of their reality and into the world of the performer…expressing themselves in such a way that the dancer's artistry is self evident. The dancer's uniqueness, expression and love of dance is poised and evident in each hand gesture, movement and in every glance. The dancer is well rounded in his or her mastery of basic belly dance movements and technique, as well as their stage presence and ability to create dynamic combinations that keep the audience interested, no matter whether the dance has been choreographed or is on the spot improvisation…

...These are the criteria that come to mind when I see a brilliant, inspiring belly dance performance.

www. ariellah. com

Last Updated (Friday, 28 May 2010 06:15)