Stephanie, An American Belly Dancer By Astara

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1 Stephanie, An American Belly Dancer By Astara Elegant. Exotic. Lively. Beautiful. Exquisite. Hard working. Devoted. All these adjectives describe the irresistible dancer from Utah known as Stephanie. She is hard to ignore with her absolute perfection of movement, flashing smile, expressive eyes, and the most fluid undulations in the business. Her hip drops, locks, and pops are drop-dead perfect, sharp and punctuated, yet she can glide across the floor as graceful and flowing as water, all the while flirting outrageously with her audience. Salt Lake loves it, and we love her. At age 28, she has been dancing for over ten years, and with her talent and effort, one can only wonder what the next ten years will bring. Her dancing is precise, gorgeous, and personable. Stephanie can always be counted on to completely wow her audience when she performs. Today, she is moving onto the national belly dance scene, presenting her own unique blend of American and Egyptian style of dance. Stephanie embodies the Middle Eastern technique, but is definitely American in her presentation and style. As she states most definitely, I am an American dancer. Stephanie was born in Salt Lake City, Utah, to artistically open parents. Her mother, a ballet dancer, was offered membership in the Montreal Ballet Company at age 16. However, she had to decline, as her father didn t think being a dancer was an honorable profession. Stephanie s father is a musician who has played lead guitar for several rock bands around Salt Lake, and still gets together with his friends to jam now and then. Stephanie was blessed to grow up in a family that was full of movement, rhythm, and appreciation for the arts. It also helps that, for Stephanie, dancing is as natural as breathing.

2 As a child, she studied ballet, tap, and jazz, but none of these dance styles seemed to tap her deep well of emotional expression. At age 15, while watching a friend s older sister practicing belly dancing, she decided to do a dance for her school talent show. To prepare for this school assembly, Stephanie began taking from the then premier belly dance school in Salt Lake City, Kismet School of Dance. Kismet offered the American stylization of belly dance that came out of San Francisco in the 1970s big movement, zils, big skirts, and colorful. I took dance lessons at the Kismet School for four years, studying with Yasamina, Kimaya, and Isis. But it was Kimaya, my first instructor, that truly inspired me. Kimaya was a happy, joyful dancer, and belly dancing gave her an opportunity to express these big emotions. Through the large, expressive movements, Belly dancing began to offer me an outlet for my own emotions something I couldn t do with ballet or jazz. It was Kimaya s pure joy and happiness expressed through her dancing that inspired me to begin taking Middle Eastern dance seriously. My eyes were opened to the dance. I fell in love with belly dancing, and I was forever hooked. After training with Kismet for four years, Stephanie wanted to explore Middle Eastern dance in more depth. Salt Lake is home to Aziz, the fabulous male dancer, whose main focus was Egyptian Cabaret. Aziz, a true purist in his approach to the dance, became her next teacher and inspired Stephanie to move in a totally new direction with her dancing. Through Aziz s instruction, Stephanie s interpretation of belly dancing became more subtle, more internal, and more beautiful. I owe much of my technical skill to Aziz, though learning this style of dance from a man was a challenge. I fell in love with the intricate and delicate movements of Egyptian Cabaret, and the subtlety of the dance. While studying with Aziz, Stephanie was asked to join his performing troupe, Baraka. She danced for another four years with Baraka, under the direction of Raffa. Aziz had retired from dancing and Raffa had become the director and choreographer for the school and the dance troupe. Raffa was instrumental in teaching me to be a performer, not just a dancer. I honed my skills in projection and engaging an audience with Raffa s guidance. At this same time, I

3 began teaching for the school, and through teaching, my dance technique improved dramatically. Breaking steps down for students requires the teacher to grasp the mechanics of the movement and refine it. This was invaluable to me. After eight years of training and dancing, Stephanie s performing life was about to change dramatically. A group of the students from the school got together and created a new dance troupe, The Blue Lotus Dance Collaborative, exploring fusion and classical Egyptian Cabaret styles of dance, to perform at alternative venues, such as nightclubs, high-end restaurants, and conventions. Stephanie joined this troupe, too, and was soon dancing with Blue Lotus full time. Using American electronic music and Egyptian pop, Blue Lotus began reaching a whole new section of people in Salt Lake City, and their popularity grew and expanded. Blue Lotus is a true collaboration there is no leader, no main choreographer, and everyone contributes their creative ideas and talents to the group. I found this arrangement so appealing, and I found myself dancing more and more with them. We became very popular in the mainstream nightlife of Salt Lake City and the belly dance community. I left Baraka, and I have been with Blue Lotus until this summer, when I decided to focus on my solo work and teaching.. I look back on my four years with Blue Lotus as some of my most creative and inspired dancing and choreography. We were given many opportunities to perform, in Utah and around the nation. Because we didn t have any one teacher, we were forced to step outside the box and study with nationally and internationally acclaimed dancers such as Hadia, and Dina. My attitude towards belly dancing began to expand and change as did my own technique and focus. This was my learning experience pinnacle. Blue Lotus went everywhere and studied dance with everyone.

4 Besides having the luxury of taking weekly lessons from Aziz for an entire year, Stephanie has received intensive instruction in workshops from many nationally acclaimed dancers. Her favorites are Hadia, Sohaila, Aziza, Jillina, Eva Fleming, and Sahra Kent. Hadia has the most amazing knowledge of the dance, and she taught a more body-friendly way of performing the movements of belly dancing. Dina, from Egypt, simply embodies Egyptian dance she is the epitome of dancing from your soul, and I loved the way she doodles across the floor. Sohaila, from San Diego, has a style reminiscent of Aziz, with the softness of a woman. Aziza I love because of her incredible technical skill and her lively performances. Jillina is not only a fabulous dancer, but she is the best instructor I have ever had. Eva Fleming has muscle control to die for and technical skill I can only dream about. And I simply love everything about Sahra Kent. During her four years of exploration and training with Blue Lotus, Stephanie discovered her purist attitude to maintain definite styles of Middle Eastern dance were changing. As she explored the many styles and rhythms of the dance and listened to other teachers, her opinions began to change and expand. I began to realize that I was not a Middle Eastern dancer, I am an American dancer performing a Middle Eastern style of dance. I could feel myself developing an ear for music that I hadn t had before. My style of dance was becoming a fusion of American and Egyptian. This was a huge realization for me, and it inspired and changed my solo performances dramatically. As my perspective shifted, I became more focused on my solo work and instruction. I love teaching, and I teach classes from beginning to performing. I now have a performing troupe called, Troupe Alima. My passion for the dance has grown exponentially, and today, I want to explore the dance to its very foundation and incorporate what I learn into my own style of dance. It is my desire to inspire and elevate our beautiful art form through my own dancing and teaching, and to educate the public so that they will have a greater respect and appreciation for the art of Middle Eastern dance.

5 I have watched Stephanie s growth and expansion over the past seven years. She is an inspired dancer, who is dedicated to her art and her students. She commands the stage whenever she dances with her style, technique, and beauty. With all that, Stephanie is kind, thoughtful, and caring. She fusses over her students like a mother hen, and is one of Salt Lake s most favorite dancing daughters, in all groups. She is a pleasure to know and a delight to watch. I will always be a student of Middle Easter dance. The longer I dance the less I know. there is a Zen statement that says, always be a beginner. This way you are always open to new pathways and ideas. I will always be a beginner. For more information regarding Stephanie s classes, to contact her, or to see where she is performing next to

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