Being a Sensual Belly Dancer: Finding the Art through Intuition

by Brittany Capozzi (BellaBianca)

We all shed and layer identities; it’s a growth process. At the start of my belly dance journey I thought that by simply immersing my body in movement with music I understood my new identity in its entirety. I only saw one dimension within the dance while studying my reflection, but now, choosing to dance by intuition instead of sight, I explore its unseen dimensions.

A mirror is needed in the beginning; one needs to see how the body cooperates with technique but dance is not only about watching oneself develop using the mirror. It is equally important to learn and grow without that tool as well, after all, the man-made object did not come first, movement did. We need to remind ourselves of that. My reminder is visiting a routine where not only do I strip the reflection from the mirror, but I strip the music, time, and in turn I strip the art to make it become what it needs to be on its own. The process of rearranging the atmosphere allows me to be more genuine in the dance.

This practice is the answer to a question I asked my instructor, who specializes in expressive therapies with a concentration in Dance Movement Therapy: “How can I become more grounded, more balanced?” She smiled, took my hand, and told me to close my eyes. Noticing a neighbor who was outside on his lawn, I smirked, feeling a bit embarrassed but my curiosity was stronger than my feeling of vulnerability. From the sidewalk, she led me a few feet up and around the tree in front of her house. Though initially unsteady and unsure, my small steps grew bigger and more relaxed as I went along. The pressure on my eyelids from the sun lessened. I didn't realize how liberating it had been until we stopped moving and I opened my eyes. The key is to trust what is present.

Since that afternoon, I’ve put time aside to dance by touch only, continuing to learn with this new perspective. As my fingers knead the air, the space constantly reminds me that this insignificant action requires an open mind; I must be patient as the fingers on my right hand open and close around soft curtains and sharp furniture edges. The flow of energy and grace on this side of my body is hidden under muscle tension from cerebral palsy. But I inhale and exhale slowly. My muscles begin to soften. I am calm and patient; this is what it feels like not to be timed by music.

Time, like the space in my room, is open. Naturally, as many would do, I fear pain if I step out of my comfort level so by habit I’ve danced in one corner, close to the door frame. But by reaching forward and embracing obstacles, I accept the idea of learning from and through any hurt. As I push the wall away with each palm, I think about the walls outside this room, limitations that challenge my passion and mental strength. Even I have imposed limitations upon myself. The soles of my feet are magnetized to the ground. Each hand drops just as each heel lifts. The upper parts of my feet remain strong. In the dark I give myself permission to trust my own support.

Staying in this pose for longer than anticipated, I deepen my balance as I bend my knees more. Now I can no longer limit, but surprise myself. It’s in my nature to play with contrast so I experiment with high and low space. I rotate my shoulders while leveling halfway to the ground. I pull at the tension in my shoulder blades and push them back. Burdens from the day roll off my body. As I move to the right my wrist taps a leaf on a bamboo plant; I’m now in front of the mirror. I’ve emerged from the corner to the center of my room. I’m not hiding in or around frames anymore. I lift my heels off the ground once more and turn my back to the mirror.

I turn away from practicing for an audience, and away from any criticism in the mirror. If I stand with my chest facing my reflection, I’ll feel the pressure in front of me even though I can’t see it. Here I practice the Scissor step, a cross lateral movement with feet forward and back, and a few hip lifts. The weight of the coins around my hip scarf challenges me. Unsecure, I adjust the weight on the balls of my feet as I lift my head high. This alleviates the fear behind any what If questions: What if I fall? What if one day I can no longer use my right side, or worse, my dominant side? What happens with dance then? I hear the worries but concentrate on my breath. As my inner voice lowers, my energy climbs.

By feeling the art from the inside out I take it with me from day to day. For instance, if I dance with my eyes closed in the morning, my patience and the need to take it easy lingers throughout the afternoon. And I subconsciously add mobility to my right thumb and index finger as I do routine chores. What used to be dormant energy now stays active. I’m still the same dancer, still an artist outside the perimeters I dance in. Becoming aware of this I realize how we each must be grateful for our senses. We cannot take our bodies for granted but treat them with the utmost respect. Ironically this is when we understand who we are capable of being to ourselves before anyone else.

Brittany (BellaBianca) is celebrating her fifth year of belly dance by weaving the art onto her yoga mat. She teaches Yin and Vinyasa Yoga on the South Shore of Massachusetts. For more information, follow her on Facebook under BellaB Yoga and Dance



Getting the "green light": permission, consent, and art

I was curious about the premise of Jaylee and Lulu Stone's upcoming show Green Light Effect. They both graciously agreed to be interviewed for BDNE about the unique and innovative origins of the show. - Amy Smith

BDNE: Could you elaborate on the show theme of "consensual art", and the various interactions in which permission and consent come into play?

LULU: Permission itself plays a huge role in Green Light Effect - independent musicians from around the country gave us express permission to use their work in our show. However, we chose the word "consensual" as our tagline because we feel it carries even more complex social nuance than "permission". Permission is the act of one party conceding or allowing something; consent is a mutual agreement by multiple parties. Green Light Effect deals with various complex aspects of consent, using it to contextualize relationships, including those among artists and between artists and the community.

JAYLEE:  This is a really multidimensional use of the words “permission” and “consent” which is why I think makes this a unique production. Beyond using music with direct permission from each musical artist and making the artists a feature of our program, each performance piece dives into an exploration of how consent, or lack thereof, affects us in our everyday lives—so it presents an opportunity for connection with our audience on a personal level, too. And the talent involved in this production is just as dynamic as the concept: musicians from near and (very) far lending us songs with an array of stylizations and origins; and performing artists with incredibly diverse cultural backgrounds and dance styles. A great mix of purpose and art.

Jaylee. Photo by Ravenwolfe PhotographyBDNE: Was there a particular reason you were inspired to do this show?

LULU: Jaylee and I were both really excited about the idea of collaboration in general; the Boston belly dance scene has grown so much over the past few years, and some really fabulous professional and personal relationships have flourished. We started brainstorming a way to showcase that, and the idea for this show (and this cast) was born. I really wanted to take the collaborative effort one step further, and convinced Jaylee to support my harebrained scheme to pull a bunch of musicians into the boat with us! Music is the backbone of our dance. I feel that, especially in the era of social media domination, it's really important for dancers to make an effort to seek collaboration/consent when it comes to the music we are using. It's something I've been meditating on for awhile, and I figured I should put my money where my mouth is and make a whole show where the music itself is a collaborative effort. Plus, there is a ripple effect here: now the dancers have been exposed to fantastic new musicians (some of them local), musicians are getting interested in what we are doing, and, at the show, the community at large will be exposed to dance and music they may not yet know!

JAYLEE:  I love Lulu’s passion for this collaborative effort - how could I not get just as excited! I’m so honored to be a part of this effort to bring this concept to light. My personal emphasis has been more on the content of the performance pieces: how we can portray issues of consent to an audience and create some conversation around that.  Right now there is a lot of turmoil surrounding permission and consent in myriad facets of our lives - you see it all over the news and social media.  The Green Light Effect is a discussion with our community on what happens when we get “the green light”— the approval, the go-ahead — and what happens when we don’t?  How does consent and permission mold us, shape us, and change us?  How does it color our community and networks; interpersonally, locally, and globally?  The goal is to explore, and spark some great conversation and connections.

Lulu. Photo by Liam CarltonBDNE: What is the "take away" for the audience?

LULU: Two things. One: belly dance has earned its stripes as a form of high art, and two: artists in general are agents of social change and vital to the essence of every community.

JAYLEE: I want the audience to come away having learned more about our dance form, and the musicians whose music inspires and colors our art. I want questions to come up, networks to be established, and a healthy dialogue started. I want to show that in our dance community, we can collaborate more closely and use music respectfully. In a word, connection. And we hope to connect with all of you at Green Light Effect!


Get the word out: fliers and press releases

by Morgana Mirage

Here in New England, spring, summer and fall are often the busiest times of years for Middle-Eastern dance events. The reason is simple - the weather! Be sure to put the word out well ahead of time for event goers to make their plans and support your event. Same-week reminders are great, too.


Fliers are a great way to get a lot of information out quickly about your event. They can be printed, shared as PDFs, or posted on your website or favorite social media channel. Therefore it's important to be sure to include all the information someone would need in order to check out your event!

All good flyers have the following - apart from attractive artwork and jazzy graphics (which should enhance, and never muddy or overwhelm, the text):

  • Time, date, and day of the week (Year is not necessary if the event takes place in the current year).

  • Location, including complete name of venue and complete street address. This includes street number, which is frequently omitted.

  • Cost, and how event-goers can pay. If it is free, state that clearly; if donations are desired, state that also. Indicate if tickets are available in advance and how to order, if they are available at the door, and so on.

  • A contact for more information. Always provide a contact email, phone number, website, or other means for the public to get in touch.

There has been a recent development in which event promoters cram all the information possible about the event star or teacher on the front of the flier. The result is a visually-confusing and hard-to-read flier, especially if the flier is posted on line. It's much better to keep the essential information front and center; ancillary information, such as teacher bio, can be posted to your web site or Facebook page. 

Press releases

Your local newspaper and its online sources can be a great way to get the word about an event. But for those who've never done it, it can be a little confusing. Here's a few "dos" and "don'ts" based on my experience on the other side of the desk and a long-time news and arts editor.


Read your local newspaper. The newspaper cannot support events in the community if the community does not support the newspaper. Readership and circulation is how the newspaper provides this resource.

Check out guidelines ahead of time, including your newspaper's submission deadlines, any word limits, and other information needed before sending a notice.

Always include the following. This bread-and-butter information is much more important than long descriptions attempting to "sell" the event. This is the information a reader actually needs in order to attend an event:

  • Time, date, and day of the week. The most frequent omission is day of the week. Most event goers need to know this in order to decide if it's something they can attend.
  • Location, including complete name of venue and complete street address. This includes street number, which is also frequently omitted.
  • Cost, and how event-goers can pay. This information is sometimes left out entirely which leaves the impression that the event is free. If it is free, state that clearly; if it's donations, state that also. State if tickets are available in advance and how to order, if they are available at the door, and so on.
  • A contact for more information. An event-goer may need more information than what limited space in a newspaper can provide. Always provide a contact email, phone number, website, or other means for the public to get in touch.
  • Designate one person and one person only as a press contact and include that person's contact information.
  • Include a high-resolution photo. There may not be space to run it in the end, but it's better for an editor to have the photo in hand than have to reach out and ask, which creates an extra step in an often hectic deadline schedule. The photo should have a caption that identifies the people in it, or name or artist or group. If there are children, please be sure to get parents' or guardians' permission first. This may seem like common sense, but on occasion people do submit photos without taking this important step.


Have multiple people sending the same information or calling on behalf of the event. This can be very confusing, especially on deadline, and for editors or editorial support staff who may have literally hundreds of notices to process. Also it makes it unclear whom to contact for more information.

Send multiple "follow-up" emails forwarding the original press release. This can also create confusion and make it harder for the person who is processing all the emails - which again can run in the hundreds. If you don't hear within 24-48 hours, make a quick, brief follow-up call.

Send just a flyer and ask that this run as advertisement. Display advertising is a paid service and most newspapers can't devote space for a free flier except under certain circumstances.

Send a link to a page or website, and ask the editor to look up the information from the link. This creates an extra step including having to filter graphics or other elements from the link.

Send excerpts from an article in another newspaper. A newspaper article is copyrighted, and doing this is asking the editor to appropriate copyrighted material to which their paper may not have rights. Also, that newspaper may be unaffiliated so it's also asking the newspaper to give props to its competitor.

Give an interview to a competing paper and then ask your local editor for an article as well. Again, the news business is a business, as well as a competitive enterprise. Newspaper editors want to present fresh, original stories to their readers as much as possible. If you give a story to a major metropolitan paper and then ask your hometown paper to do the same, this is treating that paper as a second-class news source. Newspaper editors especially get upset if they have been faithfully printing calendar briefs and other notices for a long time only to pick up a competing paper and see the group or person has given that paper a substantial feature.

Send a press release and then send a "revised" version. Once it's in the editor's hand, the process of getting ready for layout and deadline begins and it's not necessarily a simple task to go back and make corrections or revisions. Of course if there is an error such as date or time, it's best to alert the editor right away - better to correct information than not. But carefully checking over the press release can help avoid this step in a very narrow press time frame.

Forget to buy a copy, put a link to an online feature on your website or Facebook page, or promote it to all your friends and families. The newspaper has given space to you and your event; do the newspaper a good turn by, well, by spreading the news!

Morgana Mirage is associate editor of Belly Dance New England.


Meet Jacqui Lalita's mom!

 By Amy Smith

Joyce Zarro is Jacqui Lalita's mom. She lives in Rhode Island has recently taken up belly dancing. We took the opportunity to ask her a few questions about her belly dance journey.

Did you know anything about belly dance before Jacqui started studying it?

I knew nothing about belly dancing before Jacqui started taking belly dance classes, and I still knew nothing even after she became a professional dancer and teacher. I was at the opposite pole on the dance globe. Where she wore exotic dance costumes and performed breathtaking undulations and hip sways to enchanting Middle- Eastern music,  I was out dancing in jeans and Western boots doing boot-scoot boogie and two-stepping to Toby Keith and Garth Brooks. My country-western dance career ended in 2003 when I had part of my foot actually replaced with an artificial joint. Dancing in Western boots for years took its toll on my feet. 

What did you think when she became a professional belly dancer and teacher?

Watching Jacqui perform belly dance from the beginning  has  always been magical for me. Her body and heart are so connected. She radiates love of the dance and of life whenever she dances and teaches. She is a master at belly dance and I watch her with awe. I have always felt such pride in watching her perform all types of dance in her life, but nothing compares to her masterful art of belly dance. 

What finally inspired you to take up belly dancing?

I found myself falling in love with Arabic music and wished I could dance too, but working a tedious desk job and caring for an aging mother left no energy to try it. It was not until two years ago, being retired, that I felt I as ready to share my daughter's passion, to share her love of belly dance, to venture outside my comfort zone and try it. 

I have so much to learn but I am loving it more with each class. My back is not what it used to be in my youth, my movements do not flow effortlessly, and often I feel like awkward, but I love my belly dance classes,  and I strive to get better with time and practice and to continue to learn indefinitely. 

What advice would you give women about starting belly dance later in life?

My advice for women learning belly dance later in life is to just  enjoy pushing your hips further than you have since disco dancing; no pressure, no competition with 30-yearolds. Smile in the mirror as you shimmy and let your heart become captivated with the whole Middle-Eastern culture and dance. All women are sensual at any age. Belly dance is a beautiful art. It is captivating and exotic. It is wonderful exercise that tones body, improves your mind, and can slow the process of osteoporosis. 

I am eagerly looking forward to when Jacqui is in New England and can give me private lessons. She is an amazing, patient teacher; my daughter; and my best friend, and I strive to get a good report card as her student. 



Jacqui Lalita: Dance of the Divine Feminine

by Amy Smith

Jacqui and her Dance of the Divine Feminine tour will be in New England from mid-August through October. She will be teaching at dance studios in NH, VT, CT, RI and MA. Kanina of RI is hosting Jacqui at her studio on Sunday, Sept. 27th. Jacqui's mother is one of Kanina's students - be sure to read our interview with her!

Photo by Jacqui LalitaYou have studied a wide variety of ethnic dance. How did your belly dance journey begin? Why is this dance form especially compelling for you?

I discovered belly dance while in college at the University of Miami 14 years ago. I stumbled upon a class in the wellness center and fell in love instantly. The exquisiteness of rhythms and melodies seemed to transport me to some ancient land and my body danced as if it were remembering a lost language it once spoke. I remember walking out of those classes and feeling my hips and heart so wide open and I knew I was onto something special.

My first teacher kept talking about her teacher and what a master she was and this amazing place she created called the Mid-Eastern Dance Exchange in Miami Beach. I looked it up in the Yellow Pages (people were still using phone books then!) and I began taking every class I could. That studio and Tamalyn's teachings became my home away from home and a place where I found such a huge, wild part of myself.
You have studied belly dance and Oriental dance with a diverse group of master teachers, from Tamalyn Dallal to Yousry Sharif. How would you describe your belly dance style to someone not familiar with your work?
For me dance is a way of expressing the Divine, a way of tapping into that deep longing of the soul to merge with all of Creation. My style focuses on embodying the myriad of human emotions and allowing all of life to dance through me. I spent my early days deeply immersed in Tamalyn's teaching and mentorship, and through her learned what it is to truly be a teacher, to care deeply for ones students and create an environment where dancers can flourish. In her school, dancing alongside Bozenka and other great dancers, we learned precise technique, creative embellishments, and a deep respect for the cultures from which this art has come. I remember Tamalyn had me subbing for her and teaching my own classes before I even knew I was ready to teach. She has a way of recognizing a spark and calling it forth, and I do that with my students as well.


Photo by Jacqui Lalita 

Yousry and his incredible musicality and stunning choreographies that seeem to burst forth out of the ethers have also been a huge inspiration. My time with him in NYC and my four journeys to Egypt have ensured that the essence of Egyptian dance remain at the center of my style.
I've also traveled several times to Turkey and spent time with the Sufi dervishes and incorporate a lot of whirling and devotion into my dancing.
Photo by Brock BradfordYour mother (a New England resident) recently started to study belly dance and attend your retreats. How is this for you?

I was thrilled to hear my Mom started belly dancing! I knew the benefits of belly dance would work their magic into her life, and sure enough they have. When she came to my retreat in Costa Rica it was such a gift to share one of my passions with her and hear her talking about the music of Oum Kalthoum!

What is your teaching style and approach? What are your primary goals for your students?

In California I'm known for my focus on the soulfulness and sensuality of belly dancing. It's not uncommon for me to hold classes and dance retreats in the middle of nature, where students can experience the freedom of dancing barefoot in the forest or beside the sea with a soft wind on their skin, feeling themselves a part of nature. I'm an encouraging teacher who believes the potential to become a great dancer exists inside of everyone if the desire and discipline is there.
One of my goals in teaching is to help dancers feel fully at home in their bodies and to connect with the center of their power and dance from their hearts and souls. Often when I travel I have professional belly dancers and total beginners in my workshops, and I love creating ways to keep everyone equally challenged, fully engaged, and thoroughly inspired.
What's playing on your iPod these days?

Azam Ali and her project Niyaz, the beautiful music of the Yuval Ron Ensemble, the funky fusion music of Chancha via Circuito, all sorts of spicy flamenco guitar, and sacred songs from around the world :)


Jacqui Lalita travels the world teaching traditional dances of the Middle East and devotional dance as a path of healing. She leads belly dance retreats for women in paradise places like Costa Rica and Turkey, and is passionate about helping women awaken to the divine joy of their hearts. She is the star of the "Element Belly Dance" DVD sold in retail stores throughout the US, and is the author of two books, Romancing the Divine and Rebirth of Venus. Her love affair with ethnic culture and sacred movement has led her down many silk roads to study Oriental dance, Romani Gypsy dance, Sufi whirling, Samba, Afro Brazilian, and Flamenco.  Visit her at her web site here.