Bridging Cultures Through Belly Dance: An Inspiring Journey with Oriana

In the realm of belly dance, Oriana stands as a shining example of passion, dedication, and cultural appreciation. With a journey that began in college out of curiosity, Orianabellydance delved deep into the art form, finding inspiration in Arabic culture, music, and the challenge of mastering intricate movements. Through perseverance and resilience, she not only became an accomplished belly dance instructor and business owner but also a cultural ambassador bridging understanding and appreciation. In this insightful interview, Orianabellydance shares her experiences, challenges, successes, and invaluable advice for aspiring dancers and entrepreneurs alike.

What initially drew you to belly dancing, and how did it become such a significant part of your life?

I started bellydance classes when I was a senior in college.  It was an exercise fad at the time and I was curious after having seen it on a news broadcast.  I honestly didn’t know much about it and even though I was an art student I had learned very little about the Arabic culture up to that point.  I really believe that my art studies and my parents having been musicians were the basis of why I got hooked on it so quickly.  Never having danced before, it was challenging but so interesting to me!  There was rich music and language; plus so much to learn about.  The drive to improve and be immersed kept me interested beyond learning new movements.  

Could you share a pivotal moment or experience that shaped your journey as a belly dance instructor and business owner?

Sometimes the right people just need to see you.  We get so caught up in awards or certificates to prove we know something but having the right mentors and teachers see you can make the biggest difference of all.  I will never forget when a very well-known Egyptian Musician contacted me out of the blue and offered to help me with understanding complex Arabic music.  It was so random I didn’t believe it was actually him!  His mentorship is something I still refer to in my classes and workshop instruction.  Every artist can benefit from learning from other artists and understanding the music intimately is something that I encourage my students to pursue as they advance. 

What were some of the biggest challenges you faced while building Oriana Bellydance, and how did you overcome them?

Building any kind of business from scratch has its hardships.  I think building my brand in such a niche field was a big learning curve.  It’s exciting to hear about bellydance and bellydance classes but not everyone has a clear idea of what exactly it is and why they would be interested in it.  So from a sales and marketing perscpective it takes some creativity to reach potential students or event clients.  You can’t even follow the model of a traditional dance school because it’s not the same!  I think the biggest factor is being flexible and willing to try new tactics.  Take as much education as possible wherever you can to build a solid business foundation that operates in the background so that your artistry can really shine. 

Can you describe a particularly inspiring or memorable success story from your students or clients?

I really believe in letting my students be themselves.  I’m not trying to make carbon copy dancers or push a student to perform until they feel ready.  I also stress that “success” can mean a lot of things and should be dependent on your individual goals.  Getting thru a touch choreography is a success!  I have a long time student who really wanted t o make her own choreography without my help and present it at a multicultural festival.  She knew I was there if she really needed help but she also worked very hard to solve those creative issues on her own.  When she finally was able to show me the choreography at dress rehearsal I could tell she was nervous, but she nailed it!  I could see different combinations we had done in class and how she had put them together to make this really beautiful and intentional choreography all on her own.  

What lessons have you learned about perseverance and resilience from your experiences in the belly dance industry?

We are generally our own toughest critic when it comes to technique and how hard we think we’re working.  But, there is a surprising amount of competition out there to navigate through as well. I’ve had several occasions where someone took it upon themselves to publicly and rudely correct me on a detail, point out something about my appearance or otherwise make me feel less-than.  My advice: the only person that can ruin your career is yourself.  It’s totally healthy to take breaks, be angry, be sad; but keep going and just do your best. 

How do you balance creativity and tradition in your approach to teaching and performing belly dance?

This is an excellent question!  Sometimes it’s really daunting to consider your artistic expression in the context of doing a movement vocabulary that belongs to another culture.  It can feel like if you don’t “follow the rules” you either lose your creativity or you’re just wrong.  In my performing and instructing I teach the cultural background as it concerns the history, language and the modern experience (especially based on my experiences).  I always urge students to take classes with source instructors to really get the feel of how it’s done in the culture.  The beautiful thing about Bellydance is that it’s ultimately about illustrating the music as it appears in space and time.  So the trick is compiling your movement vocabulary just like you would any language and learning how to visually match movements to what you hear. 

What advice would you give to aspiring belly dancers or entrepreneurs looking to start their own creative ventures?  

Go for it!  Start somewhere and plan your trajectory.  If you know that you want to really start by being a sought after performer for gigs and events do your research on what kind of marketing it would take in your area and try to get help from people that are doing it in yoru area.  They won’t do the work for you, but offer to shadow them at a performance or pay them from private lessons that are tailored towards your goal.  If you feel that teaching is your path, really take the time to think about your teaching methods and what will make you stand out as an instructor.  Maybe you specialize in a certain style, or you champion BIPOC students.  Be intentional in your start and then stay flexible as you go forward!

Could you share a bit about your creative process and how you continue to innovate within the realm of belly dance?

The creative process certainly is not linear.  Typically I begin with music that is really calling to me at the moment and start mentally mapping what movements or combinations might fit at certain areas of the music.  Something I have found unique to me is that I plan for my entrance and exit first!  I find if I know how the choreography “paragraph” is going to begin and end then the rest will flow easier. Innovation comes with practice, experimenting and to never, ever stop taking lessons.  I’m learning and growing and studying at every chance I get. 

What role do you believe belly dance plays in promoting cultural understanding and appreciation?

When done correctly, bellydance is an exciting cultural bridge that opens a lot of conversations for both participants and audience members.  I always use Arabic music, doing my research on the lyrics and interpretation so when the inevitable questions come up when I’m finished performing I can serve as an educational ambassador.  Time and time again I find that audience members are curious and amazed to learn so much more about the Middle East than they already assumed.
Looking back at your journey so far, what are you most proud of accomplishing with Oriana Bellydance, and what are your future goals for the business?

My biggest accomplishment was being able to teach in Cairo for the first time and perform with other Egyptian performers.  Having the respect and recognition of the Egyptian people is the only real award I need and it drives me every day to be better.  My current goals are to really start exploring video as a medium to present this dance to a wider audience and continue teaching and performing all over the world.  I’ve been really blessed to teach and perform not only in Egypt but also Las Vegas, Miami, on a cruise line and more.  


by Harness Editor

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