E Komo Mai! Welcome to my blog.

I'm delighted that you dropped in! E Komo Mai: WELCOME! This blog is basically an online visual journal is modeled after a concept I learned of in psychology 101... waaaaaaay back in college. That concept was somewhere in the chapter on The Significance of Dreams, where it mentioned someone's theory on dreaming about a house usually means that the house represents you. So I have used my actual house (Mauna Lea Manor) to structure my blog. In different rooms you will find different aspects of my life; different interests I like to blog about. This is a way to bring a little organization into my life and thoughts for myself... (dreams are in The Bedroom, Family updates are in The Living room, etc.)
This also, I would imagine, make reading this blog more convenient for you as well. If you are a grandparent interested in seeing photos and hearing stories about my boys, but maybe not so interested in my bellydancing obsession: you can just read what goes on in The Playground. But if you are an Art Collector more interested in my latest work and information on collecting, but not especially interested in my personal life: you'd enjoy The Office. Mauna Lea Manor is sort of the foyer to all the other rooms. If you would like to tour my online portfolio, please visit: www.stephaniebolton.com.
I hope you enjoy your time here ;) & continue to stop by!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Nouveau GYpsy rides again

I would love to see you at this event:
Artist Stephanie Bolton
December 18, 2010
6:00pm - 8:00pm
Artist Reception & Open Stage Event

come share your talents!

Bellydancing, coffee, pupus, & art!

I will be exhibiting my collection of BellyDancer portraits.  
19 mixed media portraits
The Kona Coffee & tea Company Coffee Shop is behind the Tesoro Station across from the Marina.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Neglecting the blog

So I got a little neglectful of dear ol blog- but here's why:
two upcoming art exhibits,
5 bellydance classes,
2 upcoming bellydance performances,
2 portrait commissions,
3 new galleries requesting work,
parents flying in for the holidays,
2 sets of old college buddies flying in too!
KIDS with field trips, birthday parties, christmas parties, end of year school projects...
Finding a new tenant for my beautiful, charming, but currently unoccupied studio cottage.
Husband just had a birthday!
But amongst all this fun stuff.... I knew three magazines were publishing my artwork this winter
Belly dance Magazine & Yallah & Zaghareet
but this was a surprise:

Somerset Studio Gallery!!!  Winter 2011 issue!!!

...I wonder what they published?  I don't remember what I sent in (that is pretty bad- my memory is getting dreadful, i swear!)

They suggested I set up a meet & magazine signing at my local bookstore
Hmmm... never done that before- it would cool to meet the other readers who love that mag in my town
Wonder if that is something I ought to do for the other ones, too- it would be fun to meet people in my town with similar interests
have any of you ever tried that?  is it a good experience?

...just so you know, I wouldn't expect too much quality reading here till next year- I need to hibernate for a little while and attempt to relax- hope you have a relaxing Merry Christmas & a Joyous New Year!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Makara's veil dance

A little birdie told me that your favorite color was pink and so I pulled a fairy godmother dress color change on you!

worked from this photograph

and now to see the amazing Makara in action

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Makara... unveiled

I became interested in Middle Eastern dance when I saw a belly dance troupe perform at the renessance festival in Arizona. I knew right away 
that I wanted to be a belly dancer.

 Dance keeps me healthy and happy. Without dance I would rarely get exercise. To me, dance doesn't feel like exercise, I am getting a workout
but it doesn't feel like it. Dance also keeps me happy spiritually. It allows me to express my emotions. I dance when I am happy, sad, overjoyed, angry, etc. 

I consider myself a fusion dancer. I take a great deal of workshops from belly dancers of many different styles. And if I see a dancer do 
something in a show that I really like, then I track him/her down and take their workshop. I guess the reason why I have not really settled on a 
particular style is that I love them all. 

 I have only recently moved back to Arizona. I was just living in Hawaii for the past nine months but, previously had been living here in Phoenix for 
about 8 years. So, I am now only getting classes started. I will be teaching at the Plaza De Anaya world dance studio in Tempe Arizona beginning every monday, October 25th, 2010 at 6:15pm. This class will be double veil. I also will be teaching, starting the beginning of November a Belly Dance Fitness class and a Beginning Belly Dance Basics class. The details are still being ironed out but, you can always go to my websitewww.makarainternational.com for updates and information on classes and workshops.

 I currently do not perform regularly at any particular venues. As I have recently returned to the valley I have not set anything up just yet. But, am hopeful to be getting back to performing regularly. The most unusual place...... hmmmm...... Maybe not the most unusual but definitely the most heartfelt was performing at the Phoenix Children's Hospital. I was a dancer at the Arizona Renaissance Festival and they asked for volunteers to go and perform for the children at the Phoenix Children's Hospital. So, I thought that sounded like a really cool thing to do and I volunteered. It was the best thing I ever did! The children had the biggest smiles on their faces. They appreciated us being there so much. You could see it all over their faces. It still brings tears to my eyes when I remember it. If anyone gets a chance to do something like that they definitely shouldn't pass it up.

 I am a solo dancer for the most part. However, I have been in a troupe before. My first style of belly dance was Tribal Style and I eventually became a part of the sister troupe to DOMBA!, Bedouin Tribe. I really enjoyed my time dancing with Bedouin Tribe. We had so much fun! Being a soloist is not as lonely as it sounds. I often collaborate with other dancers to put on shows and events around the country. I think being a soloist allows you much more flexibility in your activities as a dancer. But, I also miss the feeling of sisterhood and connection that being in a troupe can give you. There is a bit of a trade off.

You know, I have wondered what it is about my performance that audiences like and I watch videos of myself perform, and you know we are the harshist critics of ourselves, and I try and see what they see. I think it must be my emotional expression of the music. I believe I am a kind of "in your face" dancer. You know I am in the room. I see myself as being a bit of a spaz to be honest but, audiences seem to like it and like I said, we are our harshist critics. I recently had a close friend and dancer exclaim after a recent performance, "Wow! I didn't know you could be so graceful." I thought oh geeze I really am a spaz. lol She meant it as a compliment but it still makes me laugh and smile. 

There are several aspects to what I would say makes up my philosophy toward dance. I can say what I love most about this style of dance is that anyone of any age and body type can do it. I have seen women of many ethnicities and from many different countries perform this dance and do it beautifully! In belly dance you don't have to be a size 0 to do it. You don't have to be in your 20's. You have to just want to do it and take the inititive and do it. Too often we talk ourselves out of doing something we want to do before we ever give it a try. Its just fear and we need to let that go. 

Its important that you are having fun! Whether your a beginner or a seasoned professional, it is important that you are still having fun dancing. That what you are doing still brings you joy. If not, then why do it? Just before a performance I often tell my students not to stress about the performance, or grill themselves over and over again about the choreography. They are not going to learn and retain anything new. What they now know is what they know and to have confidence in that. That it doesn't have to be perfect. Just have fun. 

We are such critics of our bodies and self image. I rarely find a woman that comes into my class that doesn't feel self concious about some part of her body and that can really affect how she dances. It shows in her body when she dances. What is important to me is not whether or not you get the moves perfectly but, that you leave my class feeling a little bit more confident, sexier and a whole lot happier than when you walked in the door. 

I ask that all my students be patient with themselves. Understand they are teaching their bodies to use muscles they might not have concously used before. That learning to control and isolate individual muscle groups is a great challenge and one that requires a great deal of patience and perserverance. They will eventually get it and that we all learn at different paces. So its important not to compare yourself to others around you. What might come easy for another dancer might be a lot more difficult for you to master and vice versa. However, practice is important because the more repetitions you do the quicker you develop muscle memory. 

That gets me to taking care of your body and treating yourself right. As dancers its important for us to listen to our bodies. Make sure that if you feel pain or discomfort that you stop whatever it is that you are doing that is causing that. Dance should never cause you pain. And due to limitations from injuries and sometimes just body structure not everyone will necessarily be able to do all the same moves. The good news is that there is such a huge vocabulary of moves a dancer can do in belly dance that even if you cannot perform one move there are a hundred others that you can do. 

 I guess my advice for other dancers and would be dancers would run right along with my philosophy toward dance. To make sure your having fun, be patient with yourself, take care of yourself and listen to your body, and don't be so harsh on yourself. 

October 16th, 2010 there is a show called One With the Music. There will be 7 soloist dancers and 7 musicians and they will be pairing up for an evening of improvisational music and dance duets. When I was offered the chance to do this show I immediately snapped it up! I am for the most part an improvisational dancer and this just seemed like not only a great challenge but a lot of fun! I love to dance to live music and I think this is most definitely an event you don't want to miss! http://www.shes-got-hips.com/Events.html

    October 23rd & 24th 2010 is the Arab American Festival. The festival is a weekend of concerts, performances, food & shopping and so much more. It is a major event in Phoenix and has had over 50,000 attendees in the last two years! I am honored to be performing this year as the 2010 USA Belly Dance Queen. http://arabamericanfestival.com/index.php

     October 25th, 2010 Double Veil Class with Makara at the Plaza De Anaya World Fusion Studio. Classes will be held on Monday nights at 6:15pm
Double Veil is one of my favorite belly dance props and I am excited to be sharing some of my tips and tricks and knowledge. It's just one of those props if done right is a show stopper!! http://www.plazadeanaya.com/

     October 30th, 2010 Mystique in Motion will be holding the Mystique in Motion Masquerade Ball at Mijana restaurant in Scottsdale. The evening is sure to be an event to remember as some of the valleys most talented dancers gather for an evening of masked festivities and performances. I love doing shows where your imagination is put to the test. I am going to have to come up with something quite imaginative and special for this performance. www.mystiqueinmotion.com 

      November 2nd, 2010 Belly Dance Fitness and Basic Beginning Belly Dance classes with Makara begin every Tuesday morning from 9 to 10am and 10:30 to 11:30am in Chandler, Arizona at Arizona Wado Karate & Martial Arts studio.  To keep up to date on current classes and workshops you can got to www.MakaraInternational.com

      November 6th, 2010 is the Fall Festival of Music and Dance which will be held at the Alwun House in Phoenix, Arizona. The event will go from noon to 9pm on Saturday. There will be performances going on through out the day, shopping, food and hookah, live drumming and lots of fun surprises! The gala show begins at 7pm and I will have the honor of performing in that show with Princess Farhana and several of the valleys top dancers! This event is held annually and every year is different from the last! http://www.levantalsonora.com/fallFest2010.html

      December 5th, 2010 Black Belt Belly Dance Intensive mini workshop series will be held at Arizona Wado Karate & Martial Arts Center on Arizona Ave & Warner in Chandler, Arizona. Rukshana will be teaching a workshop on balance props such as tray, sword or basket. Carrie Konyha, who is also the 1st runner up 2010 USA Belly Dance Queen, will be teaching a workshop on Musicality which is a highly important skill in dancing. I will be teaching Beyond Shimmies which is a workshop that focuses on bringing dimensions and layers to your shimmies. We will be doing lots of layering exercises and combos and will go up to 5 layers and perhaps more. Classes are going to be only 20 dollars each or take all 3 workshops for 50 dollars. That is a steal but, we realized it was in the middle of the holiday season and wanted to give dancers a chance to work off that Thanksgiving feast without breaking the bank. www.MakaraInternational.com

My competition record is as follows....
   2006 Miss Bellydance USA Competition in Canyonville, Oregon 
            Categories: Miss Bellydance USA (did not place)
                              Dance of the Seven Veils ( 3rd place and 1st place peoples choice)

   2009 Wiggles of the West Competition in Las Vegas, Nevada
            Category: Entertainer of the Year (made it to the finals)

   2010 Wiggles of the West Competition in Las Vegas, Nevada
            Categories: Alternative Soloist (3rd place)
                             Tribal Fusion Soloist (3rd place)
                              Entertainer of the Year (did not place)

   2010 So You Think You Can Bellydance Competition in Las Vegas, Nevada
             Category: Ultimate Bellydance Artist (made it to the final 6)

    2010 USA Belly Dance Queen Competition in Phoenix, Arizona
              Category: USA Belly Dance Queen (1st Place) 

I decided to compete originally because I wanted to see where I stood in skill level within the belly dance community and I thought it was an excellent forum to get feedback from some of the worlds most respected bellydance judges. I was interested in using it as a tool to improve my dancing. What I did not expect to get was all the other wonderful things that come along with it, such as the friendships I have developed and the wonderful people I have met. I feared the atmosphere might be one of negativity and cattiness. However, I have not found that to be the case but, actually rather the opposite. I have always felt an overwhelming amount of support and comraderie from other dancers that I compete with. I love being able to watch my fellow competitors dance and see what they bring to the stage. It is a very exciting time as we all bring out the best in each other and it is always a treat to see each other dance. After all, we all love the dance! 

The first thing I do when before I even decide if I will enter a competition is look at the rules for the competition and the rules for the individual categories I might be interested in entering. I check to see the length of time I am allowed to perform, if props are allowed, what style of music must be used in that particular category and so forth. I also look over the sample score sheet and see what the judges are looking for. I look to see who is judging the competition and finally what workshops if any are going on in conjunction with the competition. If I decide to enter the competition then I decide what it is I want to portray during my performance whether it be an emotion, character or whatever. I look for my inspiration and I build on it. I choose music and costuming and props based on what my inspiration is. I have a general idea of what I want to do during particular portions of the music but, as of yet I have not choreographed any of my competition pieces. I am actually considering some choreography for 2011. I make sure I know my music from front to back. Every note, sound, melody and drum beat. I know I am ready when I can hear my music in my head if I so desire. I stay sharp on my techniques by taking classes. Yes, I still take classes. It is important to always be learning or else you stop growing. I take classes online from other professionals in the business that I respect. I am constantly taking workshops from other dancers across the nation. I practice, practice practice. I find if I don't my technique gets sloppy. My isolations are not as sharp and some moves not as smooth. It is also important to maintain my flexibility as well. Therefore, I spend time stretching daily. I try to make sure I eat healthy meals and not over indulge on anything in particular. Must be the libra in me, I try to maintain balance.

That is easy! Winning the 2010 USA Belly Dance Queen Competition is hands down my most memorable contest experience! This competition meant a lot to me because it was put on by the Arab American Association. The dance we do has its roots in the Arab culture and I consider them to be the foremost experts in this dance. Everyone on their panel of judges were people I had a great deal of respect for. So, when I was chosen as the Queen I was really overwhelmed. 

Being the USA Belly Queen is really such an honor for me. It really validates all the years of hard work I have put in to my dancing and still continue to put in. It really inspires me to continue to work hard and to keep on learning. I find myself wanting more than ever to expand my belly dance vocabulary to learn more about the culture and history behind belly dance, to continue studying the drum rhythms and zill patterns. It makes me want to never stop dancing! 

The next step for me is to expand my belly dance world. I would love to go to Egypt and Dubai this year both to study and perform. I plan on competing again in 2011. I will continue to teach classes and workshops and do what I can to support my fellow belly dancers and our dance community. I hope to be traveling a lot in 2011 teaching workshops and performing across the country. 

 I would like to compete in next years Bellydancer of the Universe Competition. I will definitely be back to the Wiggles of the West competition next year in Las Vegas and I am considering a couple more as well but, haven't made any definite decisions. 

My advice for dancers considering competing is this..... Some people say enter the competition expecting to win. I say enter knowing you can win, expecting the best, understanding that dance is art and art is subjective, and being able to lose gracefully. Know that the competition does not reflect who you are as a person. Allow the experience to be a positive event in your life by looking for the best. Even if you don't win the trophy that year you have gained so much in experience. Make sure you are entering for healthy reasons and go with a good attitude. Talk to the other dancers. Don't be shy introduce yourself. Competitions are a great time to network with other dancers! Be friendly and open. You never know you could win something better than a trophy like a friend for life. 

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Next Dancer I am painting is my beloved...


not just the face but the inner depths will be revealed tomorrow...
you'll want to be sure to return and discover the woman
behind the veil!

Monday, November 1, 2010

Khadijah in Paint... among other things

Here is my painting of Khadijah
It was interesting because it almost looks as though she is holding back some laughter as she plays her ziller.  The mirrors on the banjara embroidered top are actual shisha mirrors that catch the light.
below are some shots of the work in progress...

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Interview with Khadijah...

How do you define “Belly Dance”?

Is a dance that holds a strong cultural background that has been passed down for
generations. This danced has been preserved to tell “stories” about out ancestors.
The dance has a strong focus on an internalization and reflection of the music and the
emotion therein. The music is as important as a vocabulary of movements from which
to draw, and therefore the most revered of dancers will generally be those who are
either the most charismatic or the most emotionally projective (even if their movement
vocabulary is limited). The dancer becomes the vehicle of communication to make
sound and emotion visible to the audience

How & when did you first encounter belly dancing?

First encountered this dance as a child (I was 6 years old) in an “after school/day
care” program. There were many choices to choose from; basketball, kickball (VERY
popular overseas) or dance… of course chose dance.

How long have you been dancing (professionally/teaching)?

I have been training hard (yes, we are athletes too) for 12 years and professionally
teaching and performing for 8 years.

Where did you grow up and where do you live now?

I grew up in Saudi Arabia and I currently reside in Denver, CO

Where is the most interesting place that belly dance has taken you?

This dance has taken me as far as Egypt. Back to where it ALL began, Egypt is like
my home… opps correction, Egypt IS my home!

Who were some of your mentors/teachers/inspirations along the way?

My biggest inspirations in this dance of course are the pioneers of this dance; the
legendary Mahmoud Reda and Farida Famy. I LOVE Randa Kamel, and she is a great
representation of a strong Egyptian/Raqs sharqi dancer should be. Last but not
least, My grandmother is my biggest inspiration. She has supported me in more
ways than one. I have been told to just quit to get married and have children…. My
Grandmother always have told me to continue to do what I love and don’t listen to
the negativity of this world. She believed in me when no one else did. I love her so
much and I do this because of her.

What valuable advice would you like to pass on to novice dancers? 

Practice, practice and PRACTICE some more, we ARE athletes too, just like a football
player drills his drills everyday … we MUST do the same! Make sure that you are
getting into this dance for all of the right reasons. When performing this dance, do
NOT forget that you are representing a strong nation/culture of people. Of course
know the music and instrumentation, if you don’t know Arabic please have it
translated for you. Also know the appropriate costuming that goes with your music.
It also helps to educated you on the history and religion of the Middle- East and
beyond. The MORE knowledgeable you are the stronger the foundation you have in
this dance.

What is the most unusual experience you have had belly dancing?

I have only experienced this in America (and NO other part of the world), but
many people seem to “approach” belly dance artists as if they were approaching
a stripper? I think many Americans that are uneducated about movement/
dance that contains undulating movement will resort their thinking to whatever
seems “familiar” to them, and that’s to exotic dancers or sex? I do my best to educate
everywhere I perform, but as they say, you cannot educate the ignorant and it’s so

What is the topic of the article you are contributing to Zanbaka’z Belly dance for
the Versatile Dancer Vol.4?

The proper representation and approach to Arabic dance and music.

Do you have any other special talents/skills/occupations besides (or that
compliment) your belly dancing?

I am a scientist and a performer. I hold a degree in Veterinary medicine and I have a
deep compassion for animals. This has always have been a life dream of mine right
along with performing Middle-Eastern dance. Science and movement for me is a
perfect balance in my life.

What is your favorite or signature style of belly dance that you teach or perform?
Do you have a specialty that people recognize you for?

I am known for my upbeat energetic Egyptian style (raq sharqi) and folklore. I am

mainly and widely known for my expertise in performing Khaleej style dance and

Do you have any special projects you are working on personally that you would like
to share about? 

Currently my best dance friends we have formed a trio by the name of “A’dawiya” it
means “wild roses”. The trio consists of: I (Khadijah), Taka and Sonia of Denver.
Here is a clip of us performing at a Denver community event:

Why do you love belly dancing?

This dance helps me to tell “my story” without saying a word. The stage is where my true
personality comes out. When sound of the music fills my ear, the feeling that comes over
me is completely unexplainable. This feeling is a spiritual feeling almost next to God. The
benefits of belly dance are both mental and physical. Dancing is a good cardio-vascular
work out and helps increase flexibility. It is suitable for all ages and body types and can be
as physical as the dancer chooses to make it. Mental health benefits, for many bellydancers,
include an improved sense of wellbeing, elevated body image and self-esteem as well as a
generally positive outlook that comes with regular, enjoyable exercise.

What is your favorite music to dance to? Why? Any favorite bands/groups/artists?

I LOVE Khaleej music especially from Iraq and Kuwait (VERY African influenced).
I love sha’abi. My music collection is very extensive I have over 7,000 songs on my
Ipod anything from classic rock, classical to hip hop.

Favorite costume elements? 

ANYTHING bright! I love bright colors; they go best with my dark skin tone. I get
my costumes designed in Egypt; I buy Egyptian only, for Khaleej style I purchase
straight from the Gulf. I love big heavy jewelry. I love anything silver or turquoise.
I tend to mix silver and gold together, the more the better. I do my own stage make
up. I love creating the “Arabic make up style” w/ heavy Kohl around the eyes and
for the brows. I love deep purple, orange, silver, cranberry, fuchsia, shimmery
browns and gold. My favorite props to use are assaya (cane) or my 48” Indonesian
swords (2). Shoes I tend to dance barefoot, if I am dancing on a surface that looks
dangerous, I will wear ballet slippers.

Favorite Colors?

I love blue, burnt orange, black, gold and maroon.

Favorite Quotes (regarding dance or life):

Never give up what you want in a lifetime ... for just one moment (life)
It Takes an Athlete to Dance, but an Artist to be a Dancer (Dance)

Thursday, October 28, 2010

And the next dancer I am painting is...


Khadijah is a dancer who actually grew up in the Middle East.  
She shares her dance knowledge with first hand cultural experience that will enrich your understanding of Middle Eastern Dance.  Come back tomorrow to read her interview!

I was thrilled to discover that you can find a great article about her in this month's issue of 

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The moment you've all been waiting for...

Not that there is such a thing, but if there were...
Masha would be the textbook belly dancer.
Tall and beautiful, skillful dancer, sweet disposition, musical, with a classic aesthetic.
The heavy dark outline comes from the somewhat cliche Nouveau influence that afflicts all bellydancers- belly dancing artists in particular.
I gave her a gift... added an anklet to the costume that wasn't there but I thought she could use one.
Persian flower motif decorates the left side in metallic gold.
Background scene is a Ukrainian landscape in California Impressionist style to reflect her "background" (pun intended).

Do you want to recommend a title for this painting?
(not yet sure what I'd like to call it)

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Learn about Masha

How do you define “Belly Dance”?
              I define “belly” dance as a celebration of life in the present, past, or future; It is a very personal expression of existence. Also, a celebration of femininity. Although “belly” dance is most often revered as a dance of Middle Eastern origin, I also believe it cultivated from nomadic Gypsy culture as well. Belly dance is about being in total unity with the music and your own emotions... no fear or insecurity.. ideally, total self confidence and acceptance.

How & when did you first encounter belly dancing?
              I first encountered belly dancing in Pacific Grove, California. I was about 13 yrs. old and noticed there was a belly dance class being offered in a small yoga studio, downstairs from the restaurant I worked at. I was intrigued, so I tried a class then suggested to my mom that she try the class as well ( her boyfriend at that time was Jordanian.) My mama and I began learning belly dance together.

How long have you been dancing (professionally/teaching)?
              I have been belly dancing professionally and teaching for about 4 years now. However               I’ve been dancing in other forms since I was 4 yrs. old (starting with ballet.)

Where did you grow up and where do you live now?
              I was born in Odessa, Ukraine (along the Black Sea) and raised there until age 5. Both of my parents were/ are artists ( they divorced when I was 3 yrs. old.) When I was 5 yrs. old, my mother got the opportunity to go to America and took me with her, right before the impending collapse of the Soviet Union. She had a 1 yr. student visa but we ended up staying and living in the US for the past 19 yrs. Since that point, I’ve grown up in central California, specifically Monterey Bay. I currently live in the Monterey area. I feel we were very fortunate to end up in such a naturally beautiful, scenic part of the US. I became an American citizen last month... July 2010. As soon as I applied for my expedited passport, I bought a ticket to Ukraine.

Where is the most interesting place that belly dance has taken you?
              The most interesting place that belly dance has taken me is into the depths of my hidden/ subconscious emotions. I’ve grown to love classical Arabic music...  the compositions are so rich that they bring me to tears sometimes... for reasons I am not even fully aware of.

Who were some of your mentors/teachers/inspirations along the way?
              All of my teachers in various dance forms have been my mentors and inspirations: Various ballet instructors throughout my childhood ( most recently in my adulthood,  Deanna Ross.)
Valeria Batista-Mason: my first belly dance instructor ever.
Alicia Morena Di Palma: my Flamenco teacher during my teenage years.
* Janelle Rodriguez and Crystal Silmi of Santa Cruz: the teachers who’s belly dance class isolation and layering techniques challenged and excited me to get back into belly dancing.
* A primary reason I decided to commit to learning belly dance again, in addition to the challenging technique format I was exposed to, was that my grandfather in Ukraine passed away during the same time I began trying the classes in Santa Cruz.  I had never got to meet him since leaving Ukraine at age 5, and was distraught at his passing.  At that point in life, I wasn’t doing much for my self other than working double shifts to pay the rent to live with a boyfriend I wasn’t compatible with. I decided in my grandfather’s memory, to commit to doing something beneficial for myself... and that’s how i got back into dance ( after a number of years hiatus from dance of all kinds): my mom told me about some interesting instructors in Santa Cruz and we began to drive up, every week, to take their belly dance classes there together (sometimes 2-3 times week.)
Authentic Middle eastern Dancers inspire me, particularly Egyptian style dancers.... Most recently,  Mohamed El Hosseny ( he is an excellent Egyptian dance instructor currently based in Finland. His passion for the art form is very inspiring.) Yousry Sharif has also been an Egyptian Dance inspiration ( It’s funny how these men can sometimes belly dance better than women... but it is their culture after all.). I also admire Dina, Fifi Abdo, Randa Kamel, Maria Shashkova (Russian) and the list goes on of international belly dancers I admire.
I am inspired by ALL talented dancers I see... of any genre. Flamenco dance, Gypsy dance, Persian, Ballet..  everything that catches my eye.
My mother has always been an inspiration as well... she is the most creative, productive, multi-talented woman I have ever known.

What valuable advice would you like to pass on to novice dancers? 
First and foremost believe in yourself, follow your passions/ interests, be disciplined in your training and practice, educate yourself about the art form culturally and historically, study from as many instructors as possible and with the best instructors available, challenge yourself, and never NEVER stop learning... you will never know it all, but strive to learn as much as available to you. Also, don’t let the critics get to you.

What is the most unusual experience you have had belly dancing?
              The way my solo performing “career” began is rather unusual, I think.
In 2007,  my mom decided to set up a weekly variety show in the middle of a shopping mall in downtown Monterey. She hung a roll of fabric off a stairway balcony as our “stage” backdrop, and she and I and as many other dancers/ performing artists as we could round up would perform every week for the public, free of charge/ by donation. We had belly dancers, musicians, and even a magician. It was called the “BellySema Mystique Show” named after our dance troupe’s name “BellySema”. Our show became rather popular, we had our regular audience members showing up every week. This went on for over a year, and then the show had to end due to the owner of the building citing ‘insurance liability” issues.
There, an admirer ( our dance student/ show videographer/ now friend) consistently tipped me one hundred dollar bills, every week, for a couple of months.. until he ran out of money I guess.. haha.. or realized he could not buy my love ( also, there he met his girlfriend in the audience.. now ex, but good friend.)

Do you have any other special talents/skills/occupations besides (or that compliment) your belly dancing?
              I feel that my background in ballet and Flamenco dance has enriched my belly dance style/ vocabulary greatly.
I also played cello for three years in middle school, so I believe that my musical experiences have also helped me in understanding/ translating music into movement. I have a natural sense of timing. For a period of time I was instructing basic Middle Eastern Rhythms for the Doumbek classes in Monterey.

What is your favorite or signature style of belly dance that you teach or perform?  Do you have a specialty that people recognize you for?
I admire classical Egyptian style belly dance... but I like to fuse that inspiration with other dance experiences... I don’t want to copy anyone.. we all take and borrow from our inspirations, but i strive to find my own presentation.  I’ve been told  my dance style is very fluid.

Do you have any special projects you are working on personally that you would like to share about?
I hope to soon make a website for my mother’s belly dance costume designs. It will most likely be titled “BellySema Couture”. My mother is an artist but her creativity extends to many directions, fortunately or me: costume design. She hesitates to advertise her costumes to the public because they are very time consuming, one a a kind, hand sewn creations. She prefers to focus on her art work as that is her profession. However,  I get so many compliments on her designs that I feel if someone fully understands the value of her rare creations they should be able to inquire about owning or commissioning one of her costume designs.

Why do you love belly dancing?
I love belly dancing because anyone can learn it with enough focus and training... and it is especially complimentary for female overall well-being. The dance form  itself does not discriminate based on age, body shape, weight, height, sex.. etc. Any one can be a belly dancer with enough dedication.
              I also like belly dance because it partially stems from Middle eastern social dancing. I’ve noticed many people are afraid to dance in public, and I like to set an example for them/ inspire them to get out of their shells and live a little more. Seize the moment..  we are our own worst critics, so it’s only our own judgements we have to conquer.
When I studied ballet as a child, I never felt I would become a ballerina because i didn’t fit the standard ballet body type: I was tall and later curvy, and that wasn’t ideal for ballet. In studying Flamenco dance, my feet began to hurt having to wear the traditional heeled Flamenco shoes, and I have have bunions which made performing Flamenco even harder on my feet. I liked that belly dance can be performed with out shoes.
I love the fluidity of belly dance, the richness of it’s cultural origins, the variety of styles in the dance form, the complexity of it’s music,  and the overall health benefits of the dance.

What is your favorite music to dance to?  Why?  Any favorite bands/groups/artists?
              I LOVE the accordion... it’s nostalgic to me, i think because it reminds me of Russian music from my childhood. I also love Baladi songs... something about the music suddenly dropping into that heavy rhythm grabs at my soul. In general, since I admire the Egyptian style of belly dance, I listen to a lot of Classical Egyptian/ Arabic songs. The music is very complex and it takes me a few days of listening to the same song to fully grasp all of the subtle accents in the classical songs I am captivated by. I also like the “classical’ songs because of the way Middle Eastern audiences react so emotionally to them. I try to research the translations and emote the corresponding sentiment into my dances because i know that Middle Eastern audiences appreciate that... and it’s an homage of my respect/ admiration for the music and artists of their cultures. Some favorite composers include Mohamed Abdel Wahab and Abdul Halim Hafez (singer.) Recently, I’ve fallen in love with Om Kalsoum.... her song “Ba’eed Anak” ( Far From You) is on repeat in my play-list right now. I’ve also taken notice of her song “Ana Fi Intizarak” ( I’m Waiting For You).. the composition is by Mohamed Abdel Wahab and the intro that song is striking. Another musician I enjoy is Hossam Ramzy...  he’s an excellent drummer. When I feel like dancing a fusion style, I am inclined towards gypsy/ flamenco-esque music. I feel that my mom and I are gypsies... but sometimes I like random funk, pop, rock, or rap songs too ;p
In terms of “local” musicians, I love the music of George and Elias Lammam ( Lebanese musicians/ brothers) based in San Francisco.. the are excellent musicians and I’ve had the opportunity to dance to their live musical accompaniment a number of times.

Favorite costume elements?
              Very fortunately for me, my mama is my personal costume designer and 99% of my costumes have been created by her. I like floral designs.. roses... Russian shawls. I only shop for jewelry.... earrings, bangles, anklets. Also, I like mysterious head pieces ( which may only reveal the eyes) and Afghani tribal style mirrored or Bangara style accessories. I also like cymbals and drums.. musical instruments as props.

Favorite Colors?
              I like bright colors: Red, purple, blue, hot pink, piercing tropical blue.. also, I like metallics: gold, bronze, silver. I am generally fair skinned so pastel or light colors don’t complement my complexion as much (sometimes not enough contrast.)

Favorite Quotes (regarding dance or life):
              We ought to dance with rapture that we might be alive... and part of the living, incarnate cosmos. “        - H.D Lawrence

“ Dancing is my religion. Movement is my practice. When everything is in sync, music and movement are my direct links to the divine.”  - unknown

You are originally from Odessa but have grown up in the US.  You have recently returned to Odessa after 20 years- this must be very exciting for you.   Is the place how you remember it?  You were quite young when you left, did you even remember much?
              (I am right now responding to these questions from Odessa.)
I have a few childhood memories of Odessa... mostly of the city.
I have a memory of learning to swim.. my mom (and/ or her boyfriend at that time) took me took the beach, and later to my surprise, threw me into the Black Sea, simply telling me to swim back to them.. and that’s how i learned to swim; survival instinct.
I remember the apartment I lived in with my mom in downtown Odessa, and the grapevines in the center of the apartment courtyard. I remember our neighbor and her grandchildren who I would play with when they came to visit. Our apartment itself was one large room, and we had to go out into the communal hallway and enter another door to get to our kitchen. I remember for having a box of yellow baby chicks in our kitchen for some time. In that apartment complex, we had to share one bathroom among several families living on the same floor ( again, had to go out into the communal hallway to access it.).  I have a strange memory of levitating... hovering a few inches above the floor in the living room as my mom stepped outside onto our porch, and when I called her name to come back inside and see what was happening, my feet had lowered to the floor by the time she returned ( I realize now that, logically, it was most likely a dream.) I vaguely remember my mom having a female friend/ model over, posing nude, but tastefully draped in fabric ( in our living room )  for her painting.
I remember walking by the bakery downtown and seeing “bubliki” ( similar to thin, dried bagels) threaded in a row, hanging in the bakery window.
I remember the in-comparable delicious taste of home-made apricot ice cream being sold at the beach/ boardwalk/ port area  where my mom would sketch portraits outside for people.
I remember walking down the sides of the Potemkin Steps ( at the sides were larger block shaped steps, which seemed very large to me at that time.)

Did you keep in contact with your relatives there or do you feel like you are meeting many of them for the first time?
              Ever since we left, my father’s parents have called me every year for my birthday to congratulate me and give me their blessings. My father’s father, Grisha (short for Gregory) passed away about four yrs. ago, and sadly I never got to meet him again. I remember the last time I spoke to him, he and my grandmother had called me on my 18th? birthday and he was wishing me a happy birthday yet crying at the same time... telling me he loved me.. it was always very emotional getting phone calls from them. It was frustrating knowing I had family in Ukraine who loved me but not being able to go visit them due to legal issues and my mom’s fear that we would not be able to return to the US if we went to Ukraine before becoming American citizens. My grandmother was the one who consistently called me ever year after that.. my father was always shy for some reason... it was also frustrating because I couldn't communicate with them very well.. I stopped learning Russian once I came to the US, so my understanding was very basic.. and they didn’t know any English.
Last year, I saw my father of skype video chat for the first time. Last week I met him in person for the first time as an adult.. it’s all still very emotional for me but i try to focus on the positive and be happy and enjoy the somewhat sureal present moments rather than allow myself an emotional breakdown.
My mom didn’t keep much contact with her family throughout the years (or vice versa) so it was definitely like I was meeting them for the first time.
Actually, it feels like I have met all of my relatives for the first time.

Do you think you will be doing any performing or teaching dance while you are there?  What is the belly dance “scene” like in Odessa?
I definitely intend to find a few “gigs” while I am here.. we shall see how that goes. I would also like to take some dance classes while I am here.. but that is yet to be arranged. I have not seen any belly dance performers or venues yet.

You are going to be performing in a competition before returning home to Monterey, right?  Can you tell me a little bit about that?
I’ll be performing in the  Miami Belly Dance Convention competition in early September. Last year I entered that same competition at my mother’s urging.. it was my very first competing experience.. and last year I knew I wasn’t ready or prepared.. but my mother urged me to do it anyhow, so I did. There are many good dancers in Miami.. I look forward to the event again.. and I approach it as a learning experience... I am not a competitive person.. I do it more for the experience and exposure. And to see who my international contemporaries are. My mother is my biggest motivator.. without her support, I definitely would not be where I am now.

I got to take my family on more than one occasion to a restaurant in Pacific Grove called the Persian Grill to see you dance.  The food was excellent and you really put on a good show.  How long have you been dancing there?  You seemed very close with the restaurant owners- do you have a personal connection with them?
              I have been dancing at the Persian Grill ( in Monterey) for about 2 years now.. and that also began at my mother’s urging (she’s like my agent.. haha.) I definitely have a connection with the Homami family ( the owners of the restaurant.) It’s an intimate, family owned business and they are very sweet people. I’ve never had any problems with them in terms of business and getting paid (unlike other restaurant owners I’ve dealt with.) The Homami’s have always been very loyal and consistent with me in regards to my dance gig there, so I try my best to treat them them with the same respect.

When you return you will resume performing & teaching … how can readers find out where you will be performing or teaching so they can come see you?
              I update all recent info regarding my class and performance schedule onto my website: www.MashaRaqs.com
( “Masha” is my name.. “Raqs” means “dance” in Arabic, for those who may not know.)

Now it is YOUR turn to ask the question!

Masha wants to know:

“ Who is the biggest inspiration in your life and how have they altered the course of your existence?”

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The next dancer I am painting is...

I had the privilege of taking some classes with Masha this last summer in Monterey.
She teaches in the most beautiful studio on Lighthouse Ave called "Shall we Dance"
My family & I also saw her perform at The Persian Grill multiple times.
Her show was so exciting- she danced with her veil, played her ziller, balanced vessels & a sword on her head IN THE TINY restaurant - my kids loved it!  The food was also delicious!
She is so stunning I just knew I had to paint her.
So get to know a little more about her tomorrow and see if I am able to do her any justice.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Nouveau Gypsy Part II

see more photos at this blog post on a fellow gypsy's blog ;)

ccdoodle booth

E. Lily Art's debut showcase of her photography & paintings

Magharet Rahr of Rahr Bazaar

Wendy Rosen of Stir Crazy Hawaii

Mahelani vending Graffiti Bikinis & OrchinLan Handbags

Tori & her beautiful jewelry & up-cycled clothing

Lynn of Lynn's treasures & me!

Kathryn of Resoul'd Designs

Michelle making some sales ;)

Art on Plywood! 

Me & Danielle BOLTON (my sister- see the resemblance? Other people seem to)

Below are some extra super cool guests who came to our event in costume!!!

Sunrise over Honolulu