COVER STORY- Jesenia Lopez is on Fire
Updated: Apr 1, 2020
Fanoos Magazine had the opportunity to sit down with this dynamic, award-winning Latina artist. What got you into bellydance?
When I was introduced to bellydance, I did not even realize it. My mother was a dancer.
Her focus was on Puerto Rican Folkloric dances, but she had knowledge of middle
eastern and Spaniard dances too. She would play music, talk about rhythms, teach a
move and we would continue to do it until it we did it right. Since I was so young, I
though it was just fun, but looking back now, she was making me run drills. Around the
age of 8, that is when I consciously made the choice to pursue middle eastern dance.
When I was not at school or soccer, I was constantly doing research on dance and
culture. I was so fascinated by the parallels that I could find with my culture and middle
Tell us about dancing in heels! You're known for stilettos on stage.
Oh my heels! I love shoes. I used never dance in shoes, then one night I almost
stepped on a hot coal. So that when I started to wear shoes, but my decision to have
my shoes become a part of my character is a different story. Heels forced me to stand
more lifted and force me to walk with more control and intent. My character is a woman
who has experienced life, has passion, radiates energy, and tinkers with impulse vs.
restraint. Heels can be viewed as a way of control, and to contrast it with a dance that
is more earthy and sensual, creates that feeling for me.
You've won a lot of awards. What are your thoughts on competing and do you
I have a love hate relationship with competitions. I can see how competitions have
changed how people perform and how the viewer receives it. The performances feel
rushed and is like a sampler platter, but many dancers are not taking the time to explore
all the intricacies of the musics and spaces they are creating. Because when you
perform you’re creating a space for the viewer. If you just shove everything you know
how to do at once, the viewer does not have the time to digest what they saw before the
next performer comes out and throws everything they know too.
But I can also see the pros to a competition. The best part is the valuable feedback you
get from industry professionals. Reading critiques about your self can be hard, and you
do not have to agree with everything they say. It is okay to disagree. But when I read
feedback, I look for the commonalities between all the judges. Every judge has their
own opinion. Some love it when you wink, some think it’s too much, they love the
sparkle, they hate the sparkle- point is it not always going to be the same. But when you
notice a pattern that they are all saying the same thing, then you need to fix that.
Because that is the biggest area you can grow.
As for recommending this is what I think - If you are going into the competition because
you feel you are the best, need an ego boost, and just want the prize- no I do not
recommend competitions to that person. Because they will either become stagnant or
be very disappointed when they do not do as well as they assumed they would.
If you are going into the competition to challenge yourself, to get feedback, and looking
for areas of improvement to take you to the next level- Yes, I do recommend to do a
A dancer does not need a competition to become successful. What they need is drive,
emotional stamina, the ability to face harsh criticism, and the willingness to hear the
criticism to grow as an artist and performer. Some dancers live in areas that have
scarce resources to push them to the next level, so a critique from a competition can
What keeps you motivated?
Constant growth and evolving as an artist. When you are an artist it is very important to
acknowledge, that when you change, your art and your role within that art changes. And
it’s okay for that to happen. Once you reach a goal, you can’t stop, find what is the next
challenge, and embrace it.
Have you ever had burn out and how did you deal?
Absolutely, and I cut my hair off. I am not joking about that, and I will get to that later. It
is easy for a dancer to burn out when dealing with the ins and out of the dance
business. For me, I was dancing multiple shows a night, every weekend, all over
Florida, plus working a full time job, plus taking care of my mother. I would have to take
FMLA without pay to take care of my mom, so I could not decline a gig, because I
needed the money to pay rent and bills. It was an endless cycle that really wooped my
butt. I literally had no time for myself and my art was suffering because of it.
So I made a tough decision and stopped accepting paid performances; I would
occasionally perform in haflas to test out my ideas. During that 4 month period, I
focused completely on my craft. I took several steps back and made myself a student
because I needed to fall in love again. I did all sorts of things to push me out of my
comfort zone. I was relying to much on my hair when I performed, so I chopped it off to
force myself to be more creative with my movements. I started styling all my costuming
to finest details to enhance the way I dance and fit who am outside of dance too. I
started to wear heels. With all the experimentation, I began to get excited again, and I
have not let go of that feeling.
What do you think are the most important things in this dance?
Disclaimer, I have not met every dancer and have not been every where, so what I am
about to say is based on my observations so far. So, I have noticed that many non Arab
dancers and students believe the community just involves the dancers. But that is not
the case, we should acknowledge that this dance does not belong to us, it belongs to
an entire group of people and their culture. So this dances community also includes the
entire MENA community, and we need to actively engage with them. For some reason,
many dancers that are not Arab want to separate the dance from the culture and I don’t
understand that. It is extremely important to learn more than just the dance; it gives
everything you do more context.
Improv or choreography?
For me Improv all the way, especially to live music. I typically create a skeleton to have
a foundation, but for the most part all my performances are improvisation.
Tell us about your efforts in Orlando.
So, I may go on a little rant right now, but I need to say my view on a specific topic to
explain my on going efforts here.
Most people do not consider African, Arab, Hispanic, and many other non European-
centric dances and music as high or fine art. People may disagree, but the truth lies in
the history of what most people collectively in the world consider art and what we are
taught in school to be art. And when our art is acknowledged in the fine art world, it is
treated like a trend. A professor once told me to “stick to painting about being minority,
because, that is in right now and will get you into graduate school.” I am not joking, so
this goes for all forms of art not just dance and music. I have my degree in Fine Art and
know a lot on art history, art theory, and this subject.
What I am doing is making it my mission to bring all dances that are not Eurocentric to
the same respect that dances like ballet have. I have started doing that by teaming up
with the organizations, Orlando African Dances and Africans in Orlando- on a long term
project that is in its beginning stages. I am excited about what we have discussed and
how our mission aligns.
Who's your favorite teacher and why?
Oh this is a tough one because I have a different favorite teachers for different reasons.
-Luna of Cairo because she has such a unique technique and is always challenging
-Esmeralda Calabone because she is not over the top and teaches how to let the
-Najamah Nour because she has amazing arms and hands
-Nourhan Sharif because she has such clear instructions
-Raqia Hassan because she will stay on a technique until everyone gets it right
Anything you'd like to add?
Something I tell myself, that I want to share with every one is -It’s okay to be wrong
sometimes because we are all students, but we must acknowledge it if we want to learn
Jesenia is a multi-award-winning professional dancer based out of Orlando, FL. Her performances tell a story of discovery and preservation that are often described as captivating and dynamic. She began her dance journey at the age of 5, learning and dancing Puerto Rican Folk dances. At 8, she was introduced to North African and Levant dances. She fell in love with the dance, music, and culture immediately, and began her endless pursuit for education in Middle Eastern arts. https://bellydancerjesenia.weebly.com/