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The dancers:
Shantell Powell, Canada
Maria Martins, Thailand

Shantell Powell, Canada


Shantell Powell lives in Kitchener, Ontario and is a dance instructor, costumer, performer, and writer.

What style do you do?
"I do my own style of belly dance, which draws on my martial arts training, with elements from other dance/movements styles. I do this particular style as it is a natural synthesis of the various movement arts I've studied (yoga, butoh, Martha Graham modern, hip hop, jazz lyrical, ballet, fire dance, etc.). I'm still struggling to find a good name for what I do. In the meantime, I call it by the unimaginative name of world fusion dance."
What are the most popular styles of belly dance?
"This is a trick question, because the answer will vary wildly according to geographical location. Right now, I live in southern Ontario, which is heavily dominated by classical Egyptian raqs sharqi. There are a few tribal fusion dancers, and even fewer American Tribal Style (ATS) dancers in the area. I've seen little to no Turkish, Lebanese, Greek, or American nightclub dancers in the area."
When I lived in the Maritimes, the dance community was more diverse. American nightclub style was the most popular style, followed by ATS and Egyptian raqs sharqi. There were also few Turkish, Lebanese, and tribal fusion dancers."
How did you get involved with belly dance?
"I always wanted to be a dancer, but had bad knees and thought it would never happen. Then I went to a nightclub where a beautiful Lebanese-style dancer performed, and fell completely in love. I knew this is exactly what I wanted to do. I spoke with her after her performance and found out she taught classes. I started taking classes with her the very next week, and have been dancing ever since. I keep dancing because it is a complete compulsion. I want to understand how movement is generated, and to gain mastery over my own body mechanics."
Tell me about your involvement and experiences with belly dance.
"I am a belly dance teacher, student, and performer. I teach dance technique, improvisation, and floorwork. I am also a student, as I am constantly taking classes to increase my knowledge. I am a performer, too, and dance primarily at dance shows, multicultural festivals, and arthouse cabarets. I no longer do birthday parties and bellygrams (except for personal friends), as I feel it cheapens the art."
What is the state of belly dancing in Canada?
"Belly dance in Canada has been steadily gaining in popularity. I believe it started off primarily as American nightclub style. On the world class level, American nightclub style is represented in Canada by Aziza. As the years have progressed, more and more "pure" styles have been entering the mix. Now Egyptian is huge in Canada, with some world-class instructors: Hadia, Yasmina Ramzy, Jalilah, etc. I think ATS picked up steam first in Manitoba and Nova Scotia, and is slowly spreading throughout the rest of the country. Tribal fusion has also been gaining in popularity, and if I remember correctly, one or two of the Belly Dance Superstars are originally from Canada."


Maria Martins, Thailand


Maria is a university student studying communication arts. She is an artist, photographer, writer and dancer.

What style do you do?
"Iím currently learning cabaret style with heavy modern Egyptian elements. I would love to expand to Tribal at the end of this year and start working with props, but I believe that before you fuse, you need to have a strong background in the traditional Middle Eastern form just to give this ancient art the respect it deserves. Not that I have anything against anyone jumping straight to fusion, but I think building up from a strong traditional foundation will give your fusion the beauty and power to make it look even more mesmerizing."
How did you get involved?
"Iíve always had a passion for anything related to ancient history and when I discovered how old belly dancing was, I started researching and reading as much as I can about this mystical art form. The thought of taking classes didnít really come to mind as I was sure you couldnít find classes in Bangkok. Bangkok had plenty of dance classes to offer from ballet to salsa but not a single belly dance class Ė at least, not when I started researching. But in my second year at university, I was rapidly losing weight and muscle mass due to a very high stress level from work and school combined as well as emotional issues from a long-distance relationship. I was very physically active during my high school years but I completely stopped working out when I went to college. I was tired all the time and with my motherís urging, I decided to look into a sport. I did a search for belly dancing in Thailand and found that there was a small, private studio called Rumpuree (www.rumpuree.com) that offered belly dance classes."
What has kept you involved with belly dance?
"When I danced, I felt like I could leave all of my troubles behind and just focus on nothing but dancing. I was performing a dance as old as the earth itself, a dance for women, and it was an experience Iíve never felt before. There was so much peace and joy involved and I canít believe how comfortable I am with my body now. Most of my friends would complain daily about their flaws, whether it was big arms, big thighs, small chestÖsome have even talked about going through medical procedures to get rid of their "flaws". Iíd be sitting in the middle of the group thinking, I love my body. I may not have a 23 inch waist or bony arms. I donít have a body of a model, but Iím healthy, Iím finding joy in my body, and it looks great when I dance! I think ever woman should take on this dance since it does such wonders for how you look at yourself and how you feel. Youíll learn to love yourself more and more everyday."
Tell me about your experiences as a belly dance student.
"Iíve experienced failure, hardship, and disappointment and yet through it all, itís been an incredible journey to where I am today. Thereís nothing as rewarding as being a student when after struggling with something for so long and one day being able to do it Ė the feelingís just euphoric. I would love to teach someday in the future but Iíll never stop being a student."
What is the status of belly dancing in Thailand?
" Belly dancing is still incredibly young in Thailand. It hasnít caught on like it has in other Asian countries such as Japan, Singapore, and China. I would love to see this dance grow since so many Thai women have a body image problem and are constantly pressured by society that they have to be thinner and have lighter skin to be beautiful and I believe that belly dancing can really make a change. The women I dance with have curves, some are dark, but they arenít afraid to put on a sparkly bedlah and dance with joy.
"Belly dancing is still considered by many as part of the "Sultanís Harem" myth. There was recently a music video released by a local pop girl band that had a harem scene in it with women "belly dancing" sensually around a sultan. But thatís not the only tale they believe. Many women shy away as they think you "need a belly" and no one thin would ever consider belly dancing because that would just mean saying that they have excess fat! And the larger women want to take it up so they can "lose their belly". Other people think that itís a sleazy art and no "good woman" would ever pick it up. In my view, itís not so different from the States if you ask someone about it whoís totally ignorant on the subject. I want Thai women to start taking up this dance so that they can come to accept who they are and to feel completely comfortable about their body Ė not picking it up just so they can lose weight.
"Itís hard to say what direction belly dancing will go in Thailand. Thais love following trends and I wouldnít be surprised if thereís a belly dancing boom coming up, but Iíd expect it to die out in six months or less. Most level one classes are filled to the brim during the first few weeks but when the course is over, only a few dancers remain for the more advance classes and half of these are foreigners and expatriates, having studied belly dance in their own country before they came here. At least we know the ones remaining are the serious ones! In a few years, we might be able to form a troupe and spread this magical dance across the country."

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