Beautiful Bohemian: Meet Belladonna, tribal fusion and sword dancer

Belladonna is an ever-evolving artist and teacher. She is a tribal fusion belly dance performer and instructor from Washington DC. Belladonna is best known for her sword dancing and balancing, musical expression, technique, and creativity. She is the producer of Raven's Night, an annual gothic/ steampunk fantasy event in Washington DC, as well as the co-producer of the monthly DCtribal Cafe. Belladonna believes in creative expression and exploring the full spectrum of human emotions. She believes in the healing power of dance and strives to help others find and develop their creative voice. She is the owner and director of Bohemian Belly Dance. Look for her new instructional sword DVDs and the industrial rhythms CD
Devrim in fall 2012.

Mathura and Baseema host Belladonna for two sword workshops and a belly dance showcase in Newburyport, MA, on November 3. For more information and to register, see the event Website.

Belladonna was kind enough to pause in her busy schedule to answer some questions for Belly Dance New England by way of introducing herself to the New England dance community.

One of the terms you use to define your style is "bohemian". Can you explain that a bit more?

Well...I chose the name Bohemian Belly Dance for my business and style because I identify with the ideals of Bohemianism, which is defined as " the practice of an unconventional lifestyle, often in the company of like-minded people, with few permanent ties, involving musical, artistic or literary pursuits".

This use of the word describes the non-traditional lifestyles of people who choose a creative and often less socially-acceptable path. I have been deeply into the arts since I was young, years before I got into belly dance, and was always intrigued by the romantic artist lifestyle and fascinated by history and other cultures. As my life has progressed all of these interests and passions have come together - like rivers leading in to the ocean - with belly dance. As a woman whose mission is to live a life of art, creative expression, and empowering others, I choose to do it on my own terms. I live and work outside of social norms and make a living teaching dance, as an entertainer, and by providing opportunities for artists to express themselves through producing shows. I live for freedom, beauty, truth, and love… as cliché’ as it may sound, it is what keeps me going. The Bohemian lifestyle is "show what I am and what I do". I support myself, I travel, and I live for art.  

You describe your sword dancing as a "new form" - what differentiates it from what other dancers are teaching?

I describe my sword technique as “new” because is unlike any other style of sword dancing. I never had a belly dance teacher who taught sword, or any regular belly dance teacher for that matter. I was really into medieval reenacting before I discovered belly dance, so I have some sword fighting experience. On the field I was a pretty good fighter and it was important to me as a woman to be able to hold my own in a battle. I approach my sword dancing the same way.  I have no traditional training in sword fighting and there were no belly dance teachers where I lived in Tennessee when I started dancing. My style developed through my hard work and passion.

In the beginning I collected every tidbit (and there wasn’t much in Clarksville TN in 1998) of sword dancing material I could find. Because I was completely obsessed with belly dance and the idea of adding a sword to my dance fit perfectly, I took what I could learn and melded it together with my own moves, balances, poses, and transitions. Over the years I have had the privilege of working with some amazing dancers and through that and my continued commitment it has developed into a language of movement with powerful poses, concise transitions, tricky balances, and smooth transitions. It is more sensual than most martial arts and more assertive then traditional sword belly dance. It is a hybrid developed to help the dancer express the warrior within, to be smooth, flowing, and entertaining.

I don’t really know what other dancers are teaching these days, but I know dancing with my sword inspires me and watching my students develop in confidence and grow as dancers keeps me motivated to share what I have spent years working on.

Tell us more about DCTribal Collective and Café

DCTribal is a grassroots collective of tribal and fusion belly dancers in the Washington DC metro area. We originally came together out of our individual love for tribal and fusion belly dance, in order to build  a Tribal Belly dance community and to host tribal dance workshops in our area. Over the years we have hosted a plethora of talented tribal and fusion dance instructors, and produced amazing tribal and fusion shows, student shows, and haflas.  As more studios are opening in the area, we now focus more on maintaining semi- annual haflas and events to continue to build community and tribal sister/ brother hood.

DCTribal Café is a monthly Tribal and experimental bellydance show that Mavi and I started in August 2006. As fusion dancers, we wanted opportunities to showcase our “non-traditional” style of belly dance and also to provide opportunities for other like-minded dancers and community supporters to explore this style of bellydance.  In order to do this, we created our own dinner show event. Each month we take over our venue with enthuastic audience members and a show featuring three different professional dancers or troupes. 

Unlike traditional restaurant gigs, our audience is here to see  a show. We stop food service and really highlight the dancers. As the years have gone by the dancing just gets better and better.  I believe having a regular outlet for performance helps people stay motivated and having a monthly event really brings our community together.  Mavi and I have worked hard to keep this going, to provide a very professional event, to pay the dancers the going rate, and to maintain a fun atmosphere. It is very important to us to grow and celebrate tribal and fusion dance.

Love the idea of your "Bohemian Belly Belt of Achievement"! What's that about?

The belts of achievement program was designed to help my students monitor their progress and to have goals they can set and reach in their belly dance training. It is inspired by the way martial arts have belts of different colors, or how Girl Scouts collect badges.  However, I wanted to put my own twist on it and make it unique to Bohemian belly Dance. Since I always wear a leather belt in class I thought it would be cool to have it be based on my personal fashion sense, as well as something they can wear in or out of class. The belts are custom made by me and each level of achievement is awarded with a different kind of decoration. As they test for different levels of accomplishment, they are more decorated…kind of like a military officer.

There is no particular order to the levels. The only universal rule is everyone has to start at level 1-2 in order to get their belt. Each test level has a written and a practical portion so it shows that you really know the material.  It is a fun way for my students to stay motivated and show off what they have worked hard to accomplish.

I see you offer a special workshop just for help with creating a personal practice. Can you give us a few tips on doing that for all us busy New Englanders?

5 in 5! Practice for 5 minutes 5 times a week...everyone can squeeze in 5 minutes. If you practice 5 days a week you still have 2 days off.  If you wait for that hour you think you have on Saturday, the dog will need to go to the vet or something else will come up.

Muscle memory is built through repetition. Set a goal… (3/4 shimmy full time on the down etc.) and do it for 5 minutes, 5 days a week. If you still don’t have it at the end of the week do it for another week. If you want to have more than one goal… do 2 blocks of 5 minutes. Stay goal focused, and practice repetition, smoothness, speed, and maintaining the correct size and shape of the movement. Find a hidden place on your lunch break,  in the mirror when you get out of the shower, before you go to bed… and DO IT!

Amy SmithComment