isn't just some trend in Utah, its a staple in the dance community
and for many its their career. Throughout the city whether it be
at a hookah club, major venue, weekend festival or any number of
events over the year, there always seems to be one of several a
bellydancing groups performing around town. Showing off their latest
skills and combinations for an adoring and supportive public that's
helped those troupes grow and encouraged others to take up the
One of the longest running and most acclaimed groups in the state is Blue Lotus. An ensemble of 5-6 women with various backgrounds who have dedicated themselves to the artform. Becoming some of the best dancers Utah has to offer both in skill and in some cases teaching, while still being a frequent name on the bill of several different festivals and concerts. Today we chat with one of the members, Amanda Borba, about her career in bellydancing, being a part of the group, thoughts on its impact in Utah and on the craft itself, and a few other questions here and there.
Gavin: Hey Amanda, first off, tell us a little bit about yourself.
Amanda: Hey Gavin, first I just want to say thank you so much for this opportunity. I love to talk about dance and I am really excited for the chance to share my passion with a new audience. So about me, I am a thirty year-old Salt Lake City native living the life in Sugar House with my amazing son and two tiny dogs. By day I work full time as a research project manager and in the evenings I teach bellydance lessons in my dance studio, Cairo Classic Studio. I also perform several times a month, practice with Blue Lotus twice a week, maintain my website and make bellydance costumes. I am a busy, happy girl!
Gavin: How did you first take an interest in dancing, and what were some early influences on you?
Amanda: I started dancing when I was about 11-12 years old. My mom had already been taking classes and her teacher also had a children’s class. I was in class with a couple of other girls around my age and our teacher was Shoshanna. She was a beautiful dancer and just a lovely woman, who is unfortunately no longer with us.
Gavin: What made you lean toward belly dancing as your preferred style?
Amanda: I took classes in other styles of dance when I was younger, like tap, ballet, and jazz, but bellydancing just turned out to be the right one for me. For most dancers, myself included, it has always been about more than just dancing, it is the entire experience. It isn’t something that you do for an hour once a week, it sort of takes over your life if you allow it to. You are given a lot of creative license; certain genres within bellydance are very progressive and open to all kinds of new innovations in regards to music, movement, and costuming. I have now dedicated myself to Egyptian style dance almost exclusively. Because it is specifically connected to the dance in Egypt, it is less open to experimentation. There is a certain level of respect for tradition that is required, lest you cross the line between interpretation and appropriation of a cultural art form that doesn’t “belong” to you. That is not to say that it is limiting in any way. The tradition of bellydance, or “Raqs Sharqi” (which means “Eastern” or “Oriental” dance), in Egypt is rich and complex. I don’t think I will ever master it entirely, but one thing I love most about this dance are the endless opportunities for continuing education. I study classic Arabic music, Egyptian and Arabian folk dancing and the Arabic language in addition to Raqs Sharqi.
Gavin: Who are some of the people you've worked with while learning, and what have you taken from each of them?
Amanda: I think I have been extremely lucky to study with some of Utah’s best dancers. My main teacher was Zahirah, who I studied with for about eight years. I credit her with helping me to become a very well rounded dancer, teaching me how to dance with a sword, cane, and veil. There is Aziz, who introduced me to Egyptian style dance before I ever knew that there were different styles of bellydance. Johanna for her extremely creative choreographies and amazing finger cymbal skills. Thia, who always brought new moves back from Egypt to teach us, and who is a shining example of how to be a good businesswoman. Tamar for showing me the wonders of the Reda Troupe. More recently Sahra Saeeda, whose knowledge and passion for the dance inspire me on an almost daily basis. There are so many others! I have encountered so many amazing, beautiful, creative people over the years that I could go on forever. Bellydancers really are an incredible bunch of people!
Gavin: What would you say is the appeal of belly dancing for dancers, and how much of a challenge is it picking a style and committing to perfecting it?
Amanda: I think dance appeals to people for different reasons. Overall, there is a general sense of inclusiveness and fun in the bellydance community, you don’t have to be a certain age, weight, gender, race, or skill level to enjoy bellydance. Anyone with the desire can be involved in one way or another. Not to say that everyone can become a professional dancer, because being a professional bellydancer is a lot like being any other sort of professional dancer or entertainer. But you don’t have to be a professional to participate and there are many very dedicated and talented hobbyists out there. As far as picking a style, I think people will initially be drawn to the style they find most aesthetically pleasing. Most styles have a unique type of costuming and music associated that will attract new dancers. Bellydance in general does not have any sort of standard movement vocabulary or clear path of progression. Picking a certain style, mentor, or school of dance can help to provide focus and direction so you can begin to train hard and perfect the craft.
Gavin: You're currently a part of Blue Lotus. First off, how did you end up meeting the other members of the group?
Amanda: I have been a member of Blue Lotus since 2005 but was not one of the founding members. The original members were Annie, Angela and Stephanie. They were looking for additional dancers for a certain show and asked me and one other dancer, Liz, to collaborate on that performance.
Gavin: How did the idea come about for the six of you to form your own group?
Amanda: Stephanie, Annie and Angela were all students of Aziz and Raffa when they formed Blue Lotus. After the five of us finished that specific collaborative performance, the three members of Blue Lotus decided they liked Liz and I and wanted to keep us! Since then we have had a few girls come and go. Currently there are six of us-me, Angela, Annie, Liz, Natalie, and Meg-although we don’t always have all six at every performance.
Gavin: What was the first time you all performed for an audience like, and what did you take away from that performance as a group?
Amanda: My first performance with Blue Lotus was at the Royal Court of the Golden Spike Empire Salt Lake City Coronation ceremony. It was awesome and we all felt like we did a great job. I think from that performance we decided that we worked well together and would like to collaborate on more performances.
Gavin: What's the process like in deciding on a new routine, and perfecting it from rehearsal to performance?
Amanda: When it’s time for a new routine, we first have to decide on a style. We are known for our Raqs Sharqi, but we also do folkloric, vintage American style-like with finger cymbals or veils-and have even done some fusion/novelty in the past. We like to keep things fresh and interesting, so we are constantly working on new routines. Usually we will bring in several pieces of music and try to find one that everyone likes. For choreography, we usually split the song up and each girl will choreograph a section. We are a collaborative group so we like to have a bit of each dancer reflected in most choreography. The exception would be that I choreograph most of the folkloric dances, simply because I have more training in that area then the rest of the girls.
Gavin: Subsequently, how do you decide the costuming and style in which you'll be presenting yourselves for any given show?
Amanda: The style of dance generally dictates what costume we wear. So if we do a folkloric dance, we have costumes that are reflective of or inspired by traditional folk dancing costumes. You have to put some thought into who your audience is, the general public has a certain idea about what bellydance costumes look like, usually a sparkly bra and belt and a flowing skirt. But when dancing for other dancers, it’s fun to pull out some of the more current, fashionable costumes that don’t necessarily scream “I am a bellydancer”. We have several sets of group costumes to choose from, most of which we have designed and I have made. I love making costumes almost as much as I love dancing, so it’s a win-win for me!
Gavin: You've performed at several festivals around the state, plus private and special showings at clubs. What's it like for you all now having the routine down and being regarded as one of the top dance companies in the state?
Amanda: It’s awesome! We work really hard and I think it shows, but we are definitely not resting on our laurels. We are always working on new routines and cooking up new ideas. We also try to take a trip out of state at least once a year, for continuing education and to perform. Out of state exposure is a great thing both for the group and for those of us who also have a solo dance career.
Gavin: Going local, what's your take on the dance scene here in Utah, both good and bad?
Amanda: I think the dance scene in Utah is probably fairly similar to what you would find in any other community. We have a long history of dance here and each new generation of dancers has their own set of issues. Bellydance can be fairly competitive when you get to the professional level and as with most artistic fields, there are many more excellent practitioners available than there are jobs to fill. Some dancers choose healthy competition and collaboration, while others feel that a more fierce style of competition works for them. I think that too many dancers undervalue the art, which sends a message of perceived value to our potential customers. This drives down prices for all of us. Some dancers are so enamored with the idea of performing that they will perform for free when they should be getting paid. This just perpetuates the idea that bellydancers will perform for free at any event. This is not, or should not, be true.
Gavin: Is there anything you believe could be done to make things more prominent?
Amanda: If bellydance is anything here, it is prominent! You will find bellydancers at most fairs, festivals and parades. What I would like to see happen is for the bellydancers to be not only at the street festivals, but also on the big stages. For example, Blue Lotus has danced at a certain local arts festival for three years in a row. We always request to be on a stage, and we always get put on the concrete. They will put a children’s dance group on the stage but not grown, professional dancers… It goes back to perceived value. We are legitimate artists, we work hard and invest years of training and countless dollars to get to where we are, just like any other professional dancer. Just recently SLCC has started to offer for-credit bellydance classes. I think this is a great step in the right direction.
Gavin: Besides your own acts, who are some of your favorite companies or troupes that you love to watch or perform with?
Amanda: There are so many great troupes in our area, it would be difficult to name every one that I love. Hathor Egyptian Dance Collective, Beaute Derangee, Lunar Collective, Black Star, Shazadi and Midnight Mirage are the groups that I work with most often and love to watch. And my student troupe, The Lotus Buds, are my favorite!
Gavin: On the same level, where are some of your favorite places to perform, and do you wish there were any specific places more open to showcasing dancing?
Amanda: I like to perform in situations where I can interact with an interested and appreciative audience. At this point in my dance career I am not interested in providing atmosphere, sometimes called “moving wallpaper”, and prefer to dance at events where we are invited and appreciated. I would really like to push bellydance into the professional dance arena, at the same level as modern dance and ballet. I think there will always be a place for bellydance at the clubs, restaurants and parties, but would also like to take it to the stages and universities.
Gavin: What advice do you have for anyone looking to get into belly dancing and professional dancing as a whole?
Amanda: Anyone who wants to get into bellydancing should call me! But really, I would suggest trying to catch a show so you can see a variety of dancers before making a decision. Most of all don’t be afraid to just find a class and try it out, and if you don’t like that class, try a different one. Look for a teacher that is aware of posture and safe dance technique, and hopefully one that has a lot of knowledge to share. For existing dancers looking to go pro, get a mentor who will give you honest feedback and teach you how to be a professional dancer. There is a lot more to it than putting on a costume and dancing at the local restaurant or club.
Gavin: What can we expect from you and Blue Lotus over the rest of the year?
Amanda: Well I host a monthly show at the Downtown Hookah Lounge on the second Saturday of every month, the details are on my website. Additionally I will be performing at several other local shows in the coming months, both as a soloist and with Blue Lotus. In early 2011 I will be hosting a show at Caffe Defa, a wonderful coffee shop in Midvale owned by Annie, a member of Blue Lotus.
Gavin: Aside the obvious, is there anything you'd like to plug or promote?
Amanda: My website, and my Facebook fan page. I can be commissioned to make costumes; I specialize in bellydance costumes but can create all kinds of sparkly stuff. Since the holidays are upon us- a bellydancer is a great way to spice up a party, such as a New Year’s Eve party, and a gift certificate for bellydance lessons is a great gift!
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