Saturday, April 28, 2012

In the Words of Belly Dancer Arielle Juliette …

I reported in my April 19th blog about the joyous performance of the belly dance students of the Dance Life & Fitness Studio owned by dancer/instructor Arielle Juliette. 

Belly Dancer Arielle Juliette
Arielle takes great pride in her students and used the recital to showcase their accomplishments. But what I found most engaging was her obvious enthusiasm for her art.  She only took to the stage twice during the two hour program that night -- once in a dance with her students and once in a solo performance -- but when she soloed she used stomach muscles I didn’t know humans possessed. Her level of skill was eye-boggling. And she shook and shimmied and thrust her hips all the while engaging her audience with a smile and eye contact that openly invited us to join in the celebration.

What I didn’t know at the time, and what I was most curious about, was what brought Arielle to this particular dance form. As it turns out, she was made for dance from a very young age. But she found traditional dance – ballet, jazz, etc. – to be confining. Hip hop was fun for her, for a while. But it was belly dance that saved her life.

Arielle’s passion for dance – and her dream of being a professional dancer – helped her survive a dark period in her life. Like many young girls, she went through a period of severe depression and self-loathing. She experienced sexual abuse at a young age; and in a story she wrote for her Facebook page in 2009 she described being “disconnected from” her body. According to Arielle, “Discovering bellydance was about more than learning how to move to music in a new way; it was about reclaiming what I had lost.” She went on to say that for the first time since she was 5 years old, her body was her own again. “I found myself through this dance, and pulled myself from the darkest depths to become the person I am today. I do not like to think what would have become of me had I not started dancing.”

Arielle generously agreed to answer questions I posed to her in a recent email interview. Her personal energy and exuberance come through in her answers.  I think you will enjoy this interview!

MCW: Is teaching belly dancing your full time occupation?  Where did you study and for how long?

AJ: Yes, currently I am blessed enough to have my art be my full time profession. I run the studio business during the day, teach in the evenings, and perform on the weekends. Mona N'wal was my main instructor for belly dance, and she now teaches at my studio! I began with her in 2004, and knew that I wanted to be a professional by the time I graduated in 2006. Before Mona, I studied hip hop on my own watching music videos. I've loved to dance for as long as I can remember, but I could never stand Western dance classes as a kid!

MCW: What brought you to belly dancing? What is it about this art form that got you interested?

AJ:  It was actually my mom that got me started in belly dance. She saw a show that included belly dancers, and thought that we would really like it. I found Mona online, and we began together! She is now helping me teach my classes, and foraying into teaching classes of her own. I never would have stuck with it if it wasn't for my mom! And it's awesome to have something that we can do together. We have always been close, but we are closer now than we ever have been! I don't know where I would be without both of my parents.

Besides my mom, what helped me stick to dancing was how much healing I needed to do inside myself, and how belly dance allowed me to do that. By the time I was 17, I had been through much sexual abuse in my life. It left me disconnected from my body, and with very low self-esteem. Belly dance helped me to reclaim my body, and to have the confidence to become the independent business woman I am today!  

MCW: I noticed that the women in the class were of all ages and sizes. That surprised me. Does that surprise you? And why do you think they are willing to embrace this form of dance and be public about it?

AJ: When I first started belly dance, I was very surprised at how different all the women were- all shapes, sizes, ages, and walks of life, all united by a common passion. Now that I'm seasoned to the belly dance scene, it doesn't surprise me at all. All women at some point have felt uncomfortable in their skin, unable to feel attractive or graceful, and unfortunately most have suffered abuse of one kind or another. Belly dance gives women a way to relate to their bodies in a positive way, and to feel confident about themselves as they are right now. I have testimonials from women who credit belly dance with giving them the confidence to pursue things they wouldn't normally pursue- like a promotion at work- and get it! Not to mention that many women love sparklies, jinglies and pretty colors, and belly dance gives them a safe place to express that.

As for why they choose to be public about it, now there's a great question. Belly dance is an art form that almost everyone performs at some point or another. I'm not sure why that is! It's that way in every belly dance circle I can think of. My theory is that everyone likes to be the center of attention time to time, and there's nothing to boost the confidence like a room full of people clapping for you! 

MCW: What do you think is the biggest misconception about belly dancing?

AJ: Absolutely, hands down, no questions about it the biggest misconception about belly dance is that belly dance = stripping. To many people, there's no difference at all. My extended family didn't approve of my choice in career for just that reason. Most people do not view belly dance as an art equal to ballet, modern, or jazz. Unfortunately, there are many dancers who are indeed strippers or close and call themselves belly dancers, so in some ways, I can't blame people for believing it. I present my art as just that, and I teach all of my students to elevate the art as well. We're changing the world and the common conception of belly dance one performance and class at a time!

Arielle said in her personal essay, “It is in my soul to dance; it is written in my destiny.” 

Perhaps that explains why she is able to imbue such a sense of joy and self-confidence in women we might stereotypically not associate with bellydance. It is her destiny. It is their good fortune! 

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