Interview with Ellie Pickering: Belly Dance Performer/Instructor
Interview with Ellie Pickering
Belly Dance Performer/Instructor
May 5, 2005
The sinuous movements of belly dance have recently been attracting new devotees and students. Ellie Pickering, a professional dancer and instructor in belly dance, joined me to talk about her art. But first, I felt she needed a more exotic sounding name. She liked my suggestion of Na'ama (pleasant or beautiful) and added Rose, a family name. She is professionally known as Na'ama Rose.
SW: Why belly dance?
EP: My degree is in dance. I studied ballet and modern, and eventually branched off into jazz and after I graduated college that's what I did. I studied down at Lou Conti's dance studio for many years. I did musical theater. I was in opera. I used to sing. And then after the birth of my first daughter, I continued to dance but not perform. After the birth of my second daughter, the demands of classical dance were too much for me physically, but I wanted to dance. So I began to study all different forms of ethnic dance. African dance. Spanish dance. Belly dance. And I just had an affinity for belly dance. Like I do everything, I made a study of it, and here I am.
SW: It seems like anything else. Once you start to get involved, you realize there's a portal to a world you didn't know about.
EP: There's a huge belly dance world. It's becoming very trendy right now to do belly dance.
SW: Why is that?
EP: A couple of things. I think women are becoming more comfortable with the idea. I think socially it's becoming more acceptable for women to be more sexy. When I used to dance professionally, I turned my nose up at belly dance! I thought it was beneath me. I had a misconception about the dance that a lot of people do, but when I got into it, I realized this is really an art form and there's much more to it than people realize.
It's fun! The music is joyful. It's something that given a little time, every woman can do. And it's becoming more socially acceptable.
SW: When you say they can do it, what is it that makes belly dance accessible?
EP: Everyone can do ballet. That doesn't mean they'll become a professional dancer. It's the same thing with belly dance. Not everyone is bound to become a professional. Technically speaking, it's not demanding the way that ballet would be. You don't need the flexibility or the kind of strength that one would need to do ballet. It's a dance that's designed for women's bodies.
SW: You say most people don't aspire to reach a professional level, so why study belly dancing?
EP: It feels good. It's joyful. Exercise. It's a social outlet. It's a safe environment. A lot of women want to dance, but it's uncomfortable when you think of the opportunities to really dance other than nightclubs. And that at times, can be uncomfortable for women. They can be self-conscious about their bodies
SW: Well, you once said to me, "It's OK to have a belly. That's why it's called ÃŽbelly dance.'"
EP: Right. Hips are good when you're a belly dancer. It's OK to have a fuller figure. It's a dance that compliments curves on a woman, whereas in ballet, you're always looking for as straight a line as possible. The skinnier the better. In belly dance, that's not so. It's more accepting of those extra little curves we put on as we get older.
SW: What should I look for when I watch a performance?
EP: Personally, I look for precision and purity of movement. It's a dance of isolation. That's really where the skill is, learning how to isolate different parts of your body. So I look for clean, pure technique. I look at a lot of things: costume, physical appearance, musicality. Do they hear their music? Do they know their music? Do they really feel it when they're dancing? You could be a good technical dancer, but it's an art. It's really about self-expression. In ballet, you could appreciate the pureness of movement without the dancer showing any emotionality whatsoever. In belly dance, that emotion is what's really important. It's very passionate music and very passionate dance. It's an expression of not just physical beauty, but inner feminine beauty.
SW: What is a hafla?
EP: It's like a belly dance party. It's a casual performance. Dancers will bring music and dance. Some dancers use set choreography. Some dancers improvise. They wear costumes. It's beginning performers, advanced performers. It's more of a casual venue than a stage performance. It's very social. For the most part, the audience is made up of belly dancers, friends, family. It's a supportive environment.
SW: Where do you see yourself going with belly dance?
EP: I love belly dance. It's my passion. I see myself continuing to teach. The area I want to excel more in is choreography. That is one of my niches, especially as my students get more advanced. Doing choreography in some ways is more fulfilling than performing. I don't think I'd want to have my own company, but I can see bringing dancers together, creating dances and bringing them out, performing.
SW: Can you learn to do choreography or do you have to have an innate feeling for it?
EP: I think that one can learn to do it. When you know a dance really well and you're inspired by music, you can have the vision to put it all together. Every performance I go to, whether it's belly dance or not, I store it away in my memory and at some point pull it out if it seems right. Everything I do is a culmination of everything I know. But what inspires me is the music. I don't like putting restrictions on my imagination. There aren't any laws that tell me I can't do whatever I want. It's a love of labor and something that comes from my heart.
Friday, May 13, 7:00 - 9:00 pm Southside Hafla
Tommy's Place - 12237 S. Western Ave.
Blue Island, IL (Information: 708.389.7810)
Saturday, May 21, 6:30 Buffet, 7:30 pm Belly Dance Student Showcase
Aladdin Pita Restaurant - 3750 W. 80th Lane
Merillville, IN (Information: 847.864.6464)
Saturday, June 4, 7:00 pm Yasmina Ramzy Seminar & Show
"Where the Mid-East Meet the Mid-West"
Chopin Theatre - 1543 W. Division St.
Chicago, IL (Information: 773.742.5250)
Na'ama Rose Performing
Photo courtesy of Marlene Rounds