My first belly dance class was 15 years ago at a community center in my town. I immediately fell in love with the dance, but there was no one that looked like me in the class and the teacher made me feel as if I didn’t belong there. I felt invisible. After that 1st class, I went home, I said to myself, “surely there’s some Brown Girls that look like me who belly dance. Where are THEY at?!?!”. After a search on the net, I found them and my first teacher Sunyatta Amen. I loved that her classes were filled with Brown Girls that looked like me! I met so many awesome women at that studio, many of whom have become life-long friends. My second and current teacher is Ebony Qualls. Learning from her has been eye-opening, fun, challenging, and dope! Do people still say dope? It was in Ebony’s class that I met Cherra and we became instant friends.
Over the course of our friendship, we realized that we crossed paths and attended many of the same events for dancers of color but never met until years later in Ebony’s class. It’s crazy how that happens! That revelation led to a discussion about the difficulty in finding belly dance classes offered by Brown Girls. Why is that and how can we fix that? Fast forward to Brown Girl Bellydance LLC! It’s our goal to make it easy for you, Brown Girl, to find a class taught by another Brown Girl. We will offer content, that’s relevant, entertaining, helpful, educational and above all, we hope to create a beautiful network of dancers! If you’re a teacher, send us an email so that we can list you in our BGB Roll Call directory. If you’re looking for a class, take a look at our directory. Hopefully, you will find a class that speaks to you, leads you to fall in love with the dance and, if you’re lucky, make life-long friends as I did…BGB will just do the leg-work for you.
“We See You. See yourself”- Brown Girl Bellydance
I grew up a “spoiled” bellydancer. My first dance teacher as an adult was African American. She introduced me to my first Bellydance teacher, Diane “Daliana” Simmons, who was a person of color. Daliana was adamant on making Troupe Bellysima diverse. This included not only different races, ethnicities, and colors, but it also included various ages and body types. Our youngest at one point was my daughter who was 6 years old. Our oldest member would not tell her age! All she would say was she was eligible for retirement! Whenever I walked into my classes, I saw someone that looked like me!
Growing up, my parents always made me aware that there would be rooms I would walk into, where there would only be “one of me.” Have you ever noticed in Bellydance workshops “we” travel in pairs? LOL, We typically will not be in a class alone just so we have another face to identify with! So when I did go it alone to a Bellydance workshop and I was the only face, I wasn’t surprised. What I was surprised about was how many people came up to me and complimented on how “well” I danced. How long have you been dancing? Who taught you to move so well? At first it was I took it as a compliment. However, I later questioned the undertone. Then I wondered, why am I questioning the undertone?
But that’s just it! As dancers of color, people of color, we always question the “undertone” And then I asked myself, why does dance space have to feel THAT unsafe.
I started my research and realized it was very hard to find dancers, especially teachers that looked like ME! Oh yes, we are out there, teaching, dancing, setting stages on fire, and thriving! And our students love us. But where was the platform? Even in the age of social media, I still have to dig for a workshop? I have to hope there is a teacher in my area that looks like me? And then if I find a teacher or a workshop, I better pray they have enough support to continue. Why do I have to hope the person still teaches class? Why did that workshop and/or festival just disappear? Why are they not teaching on a national and international level like some of the more well-known names are? Where is our collective space? And if it is out there, why isn’t it being celebrated on a grand scale?
When I met Yannah, I knew I had my kindred spirit that had the know-how and desire to make this Brown Girl Bellydance platform a reality. We want to see US celebrated! We want to see US on the national and international platforms. We want to see US connected to each other, so we can not only create the network of support but make sure other dancers are aware of us as well. And we see so many that the spotlight should shine on!
So just know We See You! Brown Girls, Black Girls. Even some of our Brown and Black Men!
Dancers of Color…People of Color!
We See You!!!
And we are working to connect you to each other!
Co-Founder of Brown Girl Bellydance