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How Musical Theater Helped Create a Belly Dance Troupe

Yesenia Lauzurique

When I first began teaching Middle Eastern dance, I in no way imagined I would be sitting here 17 years later still teaching and writing an article about it. I was a musical theater performer and I had just begun my major in theater. I had no intention whatsoever of being a belly dance teacher. I had some belly dance and other dance training, but I aimed to be a Broadway actress. I volunteered to teach a bellydance class only because the community theater where I was employed at the time was giving belly dance classes by teachers who had never taken a belly dance class in their lives. In their defense, they were forced into it since the powers at be felt "dance is dance"; and if they could teach jazz or ballet, they could teach belly dance [insert eye roll]. As a result, I felt that the dance form was being

misrepresented. The kids were being taught something that seemed to be a mix of Bollywood, The Bangles' "Walk Like an Egyptian"; music video and Shakira. See, at the time, YouTube was still up and coming. It was very hard to research what belly dance looked like without watching shows or taking classes. I was hired to teach drama and voice, but didn't wait long until I requested to teach a belly dance choreography class as well. To be completely honest, it was quite cocky of me. I would never recommend this to anyone now. I was not qualified to teach belly dance at the time. But I felt that I could at least give those kids some real knowledge of the art form that they weren't already getting. 

I very quickly registered myself for belly dance classes again as I was painfully aware that while I at least knew more than the other teachers, I was still not qualified to teach. After all, it had been a while since I had to quit belly dance and I didn't have ample training before that. I’m not sure if it was my teachers or my own students, but belly dance quickly became my top passion.  Because I had so little training, I very quickly had to figure out how to choreograph on my own. Up until then, the vast majority of the choreographies I had been taught were musical theater. My knowledge of dance on stage came from Broadway which I was obsessed with. It's also important to note that in 2006, belly dance group choreography was still at its infancy. There was little how-to available and examples were scarce. Most choreographers taught groups much as you would soloists minus the stage travel. And I was still too new in my dance training to know about icons such as Mahmoud Reda. So I did something pretty risky... I made things up as I went along. I used musical theater as my foundation. I used my past dance experience to drum up formations. I studied the work of one coworker as she

orchestrated her choreographies to build up to climaxes. I recalled the lessons I learned from my own musical theater choreographer who was truly gifted at polishing. I used my musical training to carefully follow the melody so that we, in essence, sang with our bodies. 


But in the beginning, I was terrible. It took a lot of trial and error. But eventually, after a few years, I was playing with levels, suspense, big visuals, build-ups, swift formation changes, silhouettes, and so on all while giving these girls solid technique. My classes started to attract more serious dancers and it wasn't long before the classes became so popular that I was expected to develop a troupe to compete at the big dance competitions that the theater’s other troupes participated in. That was when the Arabian Roses were born.

At first, we feared the unconquered territory. Belly dance troupes didn't compete at those kinds of competitions at that time. I hated competing to be honest. Still do. I felt the pressure to win came from a shallow place. But the knowledge we gained from them was invaluable. These competitions taught a lot in regards to technique, formations, storytelling, entertainment and polishing. It also gave us an opportunity to show these dancers how beautiful belly dance could be. I used to tell the girls "We're not here to win. We are here to show that belly dance does belong on the same stage as all these other dance forms and we're here to learn how to be better dancers." But we started winning, too. I can't

deny that wasn't a plus. 

After a few years of that as the girls grew up and I yearned to do new things, we began exposing ourselves more to the local belly dance community. We took everything we learned from these competitions and applied it here. We quickly became known for our visuals, clean execution, unique pieces and prop work (particularly fan veils). I've always favored props for their visual appeal and storytelling capabilities (thanks to my love for theater).


Today we are increasingly becoming known for fusions (but we do the authentic stuff as well). I've always loved fusions since I've always liked breaking rules wherever I'm able to. We particularly enjoy depicting fantasy stories. That is why we now host a fusion belly dance show each October called Mystic Night where we perform some spooky-time inspired stuff, and we invite other local dancers who inspire us as well. Other dancers also bring in some fantasy stories and it feels very much like musical theater. And that feels very much like home.


The Arabian Roses are an award-winning belly dance company from Miami, Florida under the esteemed direction of Yesenia Lauzurique. They are known for their theatrical visuals used in choreography and their creative fusions. They have earned various awards including 1st place in the professional category at Miami Belly Dance Convention, a finalist spot at the World Dance Championship, and first place and Choreography Awards at various reputable dance competitions. 

For more information:

Follow us @arabian_roses

Email us at info@arabianroses.com

Visit www.arabianroses.com

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