Belly Dance

Interview with Melissa Pina from London, England


– Interview with Melissa

What is your specialty and how do people know you?

“I really enjoy all styles of bellydance really but I guess my preferred ones would be the the ones I teach i.e all my fusions and belly dance. As a performer what I specialise in, I am absolutely am in love with drum solos. I love dancing with a sword and I absolutely love Turkish dance.

I guess that (my specialty) depends on how people have come across me and how people know me. Some people come to my classes and know me for the fusions. Some people come to my classes and know for me for my belly dance techniques. Other people have seen me on Youtube”..I guess it depends on how you came across me and how you know me I suppose”.

What belly dance fusion styles do you do?

I do many many fusions based upon my background as a dancer and things that I’ve studied in the past. I would say that my main fusions currently, at the moment, would be Tahitian Polynesian fusion. Which is kind of Hawaiian mixed with belly dance which is Tahitian styled. I do Latin belly dance hip-hop but it used to be Brazilian bellydance samba but I’ve now kind of combined them together.

So it’s like hip-hop and Latin and samba. All that juicy stuff in one class. You’ve got dark tribal which is like really grungy, down, bad-ass belly dance. Turkish of course. Belly balance-yoga which is another really cool one.

What made you want to be a belly dancer?

I really wanted to be a dancer when I was younger and I got started off with hip-hop and street dance as you do. I wanted to grow up like all the cool kids in the videos and on MTV….so I went into hip-hop and commercial street dance and did that for a while.

My first big job was for Nike which was amazing. A month-long dance documentary with a guy called Sean Cheesman and he was a main choreographer for Michael Jackson, Janet Jackson and many other people, so I had the pleasure of working with him for a month. We filmed a music video, a documentary… was an amazing experience. I learned a lot, an awful lot, it was a killer because they were really tough.

I went on holiday to Egypt for a week and a belly dancer came out and I loved it. I thought, this is different, this is cool and then I came back and I said right, I’m going to be a belly dancer. I didn’t know anything about it, I did not know the styles the styles, nothing. I just said right that’s it . I’m going to do it.”

Talking about muscle use

“With all of my personal training background and learning about the muscles and stuff (I thought that) it was a good idea to apply muscular techniques properly and safely to the belly dance movement. because of course, you are using your muscles for maya, for hip drops and hip lifts and you’re actually using your muscles. And if you are using your muscles properly, not only will your movement and technique be really sound and technically correct and beautiful to look at but obviously it will be a lot safer for your back and joints but the second thing is, is that your movement quality also becomes something which is more spectacular. Something deeper and more internal. You are using more so you area training your muscles and toning up, so you are getting fit at the same time.

What was your first belly dance job like?

My first belly dance job? It was awful. Well, it wasn’t awful and I learnt a lot from it. But, what I have to say is that coming from a dance background of commercial and hip-hop where you dance in a troupe or a company, the style of the dance was very specific. Very beat orientated, a bit like a drum solo I suppose…it was about not standing out in the group because you had to blend in to be as one unit so I was used to coming from that. And then going all of a sudden, going into a belly dance show that was me, me literally because it was all my own choreography, a costume that I had selected and the music that I had selected. It was really daunting and you are going out there performing for people who had hire me specifically….my first job was really really scary because you can’t hide behind (now I love it) but you can’t hide behind anybody and again, it’s just you and there’s something about belly dance that creates a lot of freedom.

What was the best belly dance gig you have been to?

The best belly dance gig that I can remember – I think I have many fantastic experiences with many great people but I think one that stands out probably the most for me, in terms of all the different things that I learned and got out of it, was probably was making my own DVDs. That was truly a milestone for me. I had dreamed ever since I decided I wanted to be a dancer I had dreamed of having my own DVD. It was a goal of mine and so to achieve that was a huge thing.

On the day you’ve got the lights, the camera, the action and it was just a fascinating experience and having to set up the content from beginning to end was a challenge, but a really cool challenge. It was awesome.

Who Inspires you?

I think the most obvious answer to that would be my students. Yes, I love my students. I learned so much from my students actually because they give me so much. I go to a class and obviously I am teaching them but I learn so much from them and sometimes I do a move wrong or we miss something and I’ll be like oh my god that was amazing, we’ll have to do it like that now. You’ve just given me an idea or inspired me. I’ll use their ideas. It’s brilliant. Inspiration is such a cool thing and I think the world is a better place for inspiration. Most definitely.

Do you think the UK has a lot of bellydance talent?

Yes and no. I think there is definitely untapped talent in the UK, that we could be honouring our own people that are worth learning from, that have studied and have their own style worth learning from. But equally, there are people in other countries who are well known for what they do and yes, bring them over. But don’t overlook what we have here. Don’t ignore what talent we have grown under our very feet.

I think we need to support each other a lot more. In the UK in particular, I don’t know what’s its like in other countries but other countries seem to be a bit more supportive and encouraging of each other and there seems to be a lot more collaborations going on, with other dancers, and other countries and other dance groups. You see them working quite closely together and in the UK, it doesn’t really happen. I’m not sure what people are afraid of but I think we should get together more and support each other and help the UK dance scene grow more and do what we can to nourish it.

What do you think the general perception of belly dance is?

I think there’s a lot of misconceptions and a lot of negativity around the whole thing. I think people who have done belly dance before, and who have experienced it, or who have seen it or gone to classes, they understand it.

The important thing for me is that, as I have said before, that people that I know from around the world, including myself, that are really trying it push belly dance to be a respected art form – and I’m not necessarily just talking about performers in restaurants or performers on stage – I’m talking about the technical training of the dancer.

You have people that study ballet for years, jazz for years and all these art forms for years. And it takes years to be really good and I think the thing is with a belly dance – yes – there are belly dancers who have trained really really hard and are very good. But then there are also dancers that have taken maybe one or two belly dance classes and decide that all of a sudden they are a professional performer or that they are a professional teacher. And there’s a lot that goes into it. There’s a lot that goes into being a belly dancer and or dance teacher and there’s a lot of safety that has to go into it – especially if you are teaching belly dance. You have to know your anatomy and you have to know about the body. Otherwise, you are going to hurt not only yourself but your students.

I think we need to be ore responsible with it and I think that for me, one of my biggest goals is literally to teach my students properly and how to execute movements properly and not just to shake this or shake that. I think it’s time to build the art form and to give it some respect and give it some technique. Put it on stage and make it respected and appreciated by other people.

What does it mean to you as a woman to belly dance?

It means many many things actually. Personally for me, when I’ve done previous dance styles, Latin and hip-hop and a bit of cheer-leading – when I found belly dance it was like I was finding myself and I’ve always been quite a confident person. But it was like finding myself and going home and then there’s the spiritual level which is very therapeutic, an internal level that kind of happens when you belly dance. It’s hard to describe and to put it into words but it’s special. It’s almost magical. It’s part of me. I have hips, I have legs. It’s a very rewarding dance.

There is also the fitness side of it – I don’t go to the gym although I probably shouldn’t say that! – All of the muscles are really toned and I’ve trained myself. I’ve done it through belly dance.

Tell us about your belly dance DVDs

I filmed ‘Belly Dance Essentials’  and behind that was that I wanted it almost to be a companion, a training DVD that people could not just use once and then put it on the shelf and leave it there but I want people to be able to go back to it. I wanted it to be kind of challenging and for people to go back and learn one thing but then they could go back to it to develop.

So the belly dance essentials is a DVD about the essentials – you learn about your muscle techniques from the beginning. Then you have the ‘Belly Dance Hip Hop Fusion DVD’  which is another one I was hoping would be a challenge for people. You can’t just do it once. You have to do it a few times. You have a few different sections such as the work-out section, the training section, the drill and the choreography section.

You can take classes with Melissa in London. See a video of Melissa teaching shimmies below:

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Valeria is a dance researcher completing a PhD in dance and heritage. Valeria also teaches and performs as a belly dance but also enjoys learning ballet, jazz dance and other dance genres.

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