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Spotlight On: Kamrah and Drake




Nizana: I’m so excited to be doing a double interview with the two of you wonderful dancers! Since it was the fusion/transnational issue, you both came to mind and I appreciate you agreeing to do this interview. I first met Drake at the Hawaii Belly Dance Convention of which I was a team member, and was wowed by their performance. I invited Kamrah to dance in the Night in the Global Village online haflas and that was also a big “wow.” How long have each of you been dancing, where did you meet each other what is it about fusion that you are passionate about? How long have each of you been dancing?

Drake: I’ve been dancing for 15 years. I noodled around with dance and theater throughout my childhood, but I found belly dance when I was 16, and I’ve been loyal to it ever since.

Kamrah: I’ve been dancing for 22 years! I can hardly believe it’s been that long. As a kid, I dabbled in jazz and ballet, but they didn’t much like me in either class, so I didn’t stick to it. I found belly dance in adulthood and never looked back, though I didn’t take it seriously for about 9 years.

Drake: We initially met online via Facebook, and then we met in-person at a belly dance festival called Bayou Belly (BB) down in Louisiana. We did our first dance together at BB as part of the “ATS All-Skate,” but we did our first duet at Migrations in Austin, TX.

Kamrah: Yep, we became friends on Facebook first, and I messaged him after the All-Skate to see if he wanted to perform together.

Drake: Fusion allows me to invoke the breadth of my dance training. I primarily identify as a belly dancer, but I have a BA and MA in contemporary modern dance, and I’ve extensively studied both modern and West African dance for about 10 years now. When you have a strong interdisciplinary background, it’s natural that your other influences will ask to come through in your dancing. With fusion, it allows me the latitude to make the artistic choices that best align with my creative expression.

Kamrah: I love the “traditional” styles of belly dance (raqs sharqi, Am Cab, etc.) because I’ve always had a fascination with Egypt, but belly dance didn’t “click” for me as an artistic outlet until someone said “gothic belly dance” somewhere in my hearing. I didn’t know I could do that! Sadly, that was right as gothic fusion was headed out as a popular style, so I didn’t get much chance to dive into that style and I struggled a little bit to find where I felt comfortable as a fusion dancer. So, I’ve always felt I’ve held on to the “traditional” style much more than other dancers who moved over to fusion. But I have such a connection to gothic/metal/alternative music that I will find a song I love and just have to find a way to

dance to it. For me, it’s all about the music. I love Middle Eastern music, too, but as a musician trained in Western styles, and as a music fan, I connect much more easily to Western-style music, especially anything dark and/or fast.

Nizana: That is awesome, thank you for sharing that. Tell us about your new joint project,

congratulations! How did it come about and how is it going?

Drake: Yes, we opened a dance studio in North Chicago: Arcanum World Dance. It was Kamrah’s idea to do it, and it’s been picking up speed every month. I’m still decorating the space and organizing, but otherwise it’s looking great.

Kamrah: I was contacted by a friend of mine who dances in a related style after Arabesque Studios (where I taught previously) closed down, and she told me about the space. It had been a burlesque studio previously, already had mirrors, and it was really close to both her and us. I wasn’t 100% sure I wanted a studio, but the rent was decent, and there really aren’t any more studios dedicated to belly dance in Chicago anymore. I wanted to give space for other World dance styles, too. It’s growing every week, and we hope it keeps up. I’d really love to have a successful space that centers non-Western dance styles.

Our mission is to bring community and space for dance styles that do not normally get that sort of recognition. Go to any university and try to find any sort of World Dance class. If there is one, it’s usually an elective and varies style from semester to semester, giving the impression to students that there isn’t anything substantive to learn about non-Western styles. “If I can learn it in a semester, how hard can it be?” Students can study dance and never be exposed to non-Western styles. It has been a continuous frustration to me that everyone gushes over ballet being added to belly dance and claims it will “improve my lines.” What if that’s not the aesthetic I prefer? Why center the aesthetics of a Western

dance over that of a non-Western dance? So, I wanted a space that centered non-Western dances, that recognizes that they are valid styles, worthy of detailed study.



Nizana: I’m so excited to hear that, what a great addition to the dance community! I hope it continues to grow and thrive. What is each of your favorite things to teach and favorite thing about teaching?

Drake: Teaching is spiritually fulfilling. There’s something satisfying about helping another human connect with their body, or being the person who triggers a “eureka” moment for them in their training. Belly dance is such a niche subculture in the US that every time I get to share it, I feel like I’m doing my part in maintaining the artistic ecosystem. I’m like a belly dance pollinator haha.

Teaching is also a great learning tool for the teacher. You never realize how much you don’t understand how to actually do something until you try to teach someone else how to do it. Teaching shows you all the gaps in your own embodied knowledge, the concepts that you take for granted because you don’t think about them anymore, and challenges you to put things into words that a variety of people can understand. Students are also great teachers because they know their bodies best, and can help you connect to challenges that you don’t personally face by empowering them to put their sensory experience into words. In other words, the teacher learns the most when teaching.




Kamrah: Haha, Drake took the words right out of my mouth! My favorite part of teaching is helping my students grow into the dancers they want to be. Nothing makes me happier than to see dancers having fun, connecting to their bodies, figuring out those hard movements, and making progress over the months and years. It takes me back to my early training and how hard I struggled with learning dance, and it reminds me how far I have come as well.

We sometimes lose sight of it, but dance is such a huge topic that there is an infinite amount of knowledge to learn, even in a niche style like belly dance. When a student asks a question that makes me scratch my head, or connect something I hadn’t realized could be connected, or gives me my own “Eureka!” moment, it re-energizes me to learn even more. I’ve gone down anatomy rabbit holes, history rabbit holes, and more, just from questions my students have asked me.

Nizana: Who are you studying with these days or planning to study with next?

Drake: For belly dance training, I am mostly a Dance Cohesion dedicant in April Rose’s belly dance training program. I’ve studied with a variety of instructors my entire dance journey, but I’ve been training with April Rose for the longest. I’ve been working with Dance Cohesion intensively since 2019, and through my work in this program, April and I have become great friends. I’ve also started studying with the Salimpour school over the summer of 2023, and have certified in both Suhaila and Jamila level 1.



Kamrah: I’ve done a bunch of certifications over the pandemic, and studied in Zoe’s DanceCraft for the first two levels, Diamonds and Spades, and in the Salimpour school. I got my Suhaila level 2, and both Jamila level 1 and 2 recently. My next goal is to get certified to teach the Salimpour method, and then attempt my Suhaila level 3 (eek) coming up in the next year or two. I’ve technically been a Salimpour dancer my entire career, without knowing it, so I figure I should make it official haha.

Nizana: Admirable choices and accomplishments. Ongoing study is so important. What else do you have coming up in 2024, either together or solo?

Drake: Belly Boys world tour!! We are going on tour throughout the year for various events and performances, but I’m most excited about our first trip to Europe together. We will be doing France and Germany in April and May, Mexico in November, and hopefully we’ll get to add Greece to the list.

Kamrah: More teaching! And tours! I’ve never been able to leave the USA before, so I’m very excited to be performing in a world tour (I’m crossing my fingers Germany will happen for me, France is more solid). We’ll also be in Hawai’i, and I’m very excited for that as well. We have a couple of other projects that are more secret and more tentative, so we’re keeping a lid on those until they’re more set. And of course, growing the studio!

Nizana: Wow, how exciting! Good for you both! Do you have any advice for dancers you share with your students you would like to share here?

Drake: Since we’re talking fusion belly dance, I am gonna go ahead and give prescriptive advice: You have to study raqs sharqi (RS) first. I know we all see the superstars of this industry and want to dance like them—Rachel Brice, Zoe Jakes, Ebony Qualls, etc—but most of the big names in fusion belly dance started off with training in a regional style before they started fusing. The reason they’re so great is because they reached technical excellence with belly dance before they started stylizing.

You have to know the rules before you can break them.

Another reason I say this is because we all have an obligation to study the source culture, music, and dance practices, and this goes doubly for fusion dancers. Fusion belly dance has a sordid reputation for being unethical, appropriative, and culturally insensitive (a can of worms for another article), so as self-identified fusion dancers, it’s my opinion that we have to be extra educated on these things because we are often much more heavily scrutinized. You need rhythm knowledge, technical knowledge, historical knowledge—it’s not enough to just love the dance. Your approach to belly dance must be holistic and foreground the sovereignty of source cultures before your own aesthetic and commercial goals. You’ll be surprised at how much your technique and love of belly dance will grow with these practices than if you were to only stay within your “fusion bubble.”



Kamrah: Everything Drake said haha! My own training was all Am Cab and raqs sharqi for nearly a decade before I had even heard of fusion. I still lean heavily on my early training in my fusion styles, and you can still see those influences. You can’t be an ethical fusion dancer without some connection to the cultures of origin. You aren’t fusing belly dance if you have no belly dance training. I encourage my students to learn not just from me, but from dancers of origin, too.

But also, enjoy the journey. I know everyone wants to be a performer on stage with the beautiful costumes and the glitter like, right now, now. It’s a small pond and everyone is racing to be the biggest fish in their side of it. But that takes the joy out of learning. When I found myself in that mindset, it was torture to not be able to get the latest cool stylization or do that move or layer I’d seen Zoe or Rachel do. It’s a long, long journey to mastery so why take the fun out of it? No one will stick to learning dance that way. So, I tell my students to make sure they’re still having fun and remind themselves why they are dancing in the first place. Usually, that reason is connection - to their bodies, to their friends, to a community, to a culture. Here’s the secret: if you are having fun, your brain will remember what it’s learning much faster, so…having fun makes you learn faster…which makes mastery more attainable. If you aren’t having fun, you aren’t learning.

Drake: Something that I think doesn’t get talked about enough with fusion is why so many people turn to it. I think the prevailing assumption is that fusion belly dancers don’t have an appreciation for Middle Eastern music, culture, or history, and just want to use belly dance movements to self- aggrandize. This is rarely the case (and to be fair, fusion dancers are certainly not the only ones guilty of this). Most fusion dancers I know turn to fusion because they’ve experienced rejection from the RS community for one reason or another.



It’s not a coincidence that many fusion dancers are visibly tattooed, pierced, have unnatural hair colors, and hold membership in other countercultures in their pedestrian lives. Most of us were weirdos before we were drawn to fusion. RS and Am Cab environments have historically spurned us in a variety of ways, from aloof attitudes to downright exclusion from their classes and events. Hell, there was a time where you couldn’t even attend certain belly dance classes if you wore Melodia clothing. Fusion dancers were not allowed in the high-profile events and belly dance festivals, and as recently as 2017 the “Raqs Sharqi/MENAHT Dance Discussions” (formerly “Belly Dance Matters”) Facebook group outright banned any discussion of fusion because it’s “off topic” to “real” belly dance discussions. As a result of this, we found solace in each other, and created our own events and communities.



Historically, the fusion community in the US formed out of a need to foster a safe space for dancers with kindred spirits and life experiences. This is part of the reason why festivals like Tribal Fest didn’t allow sequins and rhinestones—they experienced a lifetime of rejection for their creative expression, and wanted to curate an environment where those expectations were not placed on them. While this allowed for the fusion community to flourish, it also tended to play into the rift between fusion and RS dancers. In my opinion, the popularity of the Bellydance Superstars also contributed to this rift due to the way it was structured—there were the RS women and the fusion women, and they were different and stayed in their lanes (which is funny, because earlier in US belly dance history, this rift was practically nonexistent). By creating their own events and establishing an aesthetic distinct from RS and Am Cab, fusion kept their community separate and attracted people who matched their vibe.

I think this rift is weakening in the newer generation of belly dancers in the US. I know so many more dancers who started dancing in the early to mid 2000s who actively participate in both fusion and RS, and I think the global belly dance community connecting online via social media has fostered more tolerance and acceptance of each other. I want to conclude by saying that not all fusion dancers have this life experience of feeling rejected by RS communities, and I’m certainly not trying to imply that all RS dancers are toxic mean girls who don’t want fusion dancers in their club. I think we still have a long way to go in understanding each other, but we’ve come a long way already.

Kamrah: This is its own can of worms, but I really want to challenge the idea that there is a “pure raqs sharqi” on one hand and “fusion” on the other, and never the twain shall meet. Lately the discussion has kicked up again about some dancers not liking fusion (which is fine), but then point to all these other dancers who do 90% ballet with a shimmy and pelvic tuck here and there and claim that it is “better” and “more authentic” than fusion. In reality, that is also fusion. Just because the dancer is dancing to Middle Eastern music and wearing a sparkly, sequined bedlah does not mean that they aren’t dancing fusion. Just because a dancer doesn’t like heavy metal fusion belly dance doesn’t mean that ballet sprinkled with a touch of shimmy isn’t also fusion.



There is a huge miscommunication about what is fusion. People just see it as a noun: a style of dance that has a certain aesthetic. In the case of belly dance, the term fusion brings to mind certain dancers, most with tattoos, maybe some piercings, dancing to heavy metal or electronic music, and wearing lots and lots of black. But fusion is also a verb—in our case, fusion dancing is taking two or more styles of dance and putting them together in a coherent way. Thus, any style that fuses a substantial amount of two dances together is, by definition, fusion. All of those fabulous dancers that others gush over who do lovely pirouettes, high kicks, gliding chasses with no hip work, multiple chaines, and soft flowing arms are also dancing fusion.

I think it’s high time, considering the popularity of these dancers, to stop the “us vs. them” mentality of “raqs sharqi vs. fusion.” We need to acknowledge that all dancers these days are fusion artists, to some degree, and we can be more specific about what type of fusion we do or do not prefer. I don’t particularly care for the 90% ballet style, but I’m not going to claim “it’s not belly dance” because I don’t care for it. I don’t care for Russian competition style either, but it’s still belly dance.

And to Drake’s point, we can’t continue to use the “fusion dancers don’t know what they’re doing” argument anymore either, because fusion dancers have continuously proven this statement to be false. Many of us have come from raqs sharqi backgrounds and found the community and acceptance in fusion dance we did not find within the “traditional” belly dance community. That does not negate the years of training we did previously, nor does it invalidate the continuous study and dedication many of us have to raqs sharqi and other traditional styles.



Nizana: Some great advice, and so cool to learn more about you both. I appreciate what you’ve shared about fusion dance for this issue. Thanks again for the interview and hope to see you both on the dance floor somewhere!

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