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.