Spiral Skies Bellydance

Bringing Bellydance to the Big Sky!

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Get to know... The Festival!

Posted by Tessa Thompson on August 7, 2012 at 4:05 PM Comments comments (0)

This months’ featured dancer is…. The Yellowstone Valley Bellydance Festival!

Wow! Can you believe that the festival has been running strong for 5 years? We are very thrilled and appreciative that our community and many wonderful belly dancers support this extraordinary event. From Venture Theater that seats 220 people to Alberta Bair Theater that seats 1400, the festival has grown to become one of our region’s top cultural events.

This is helped in part by national recognition from various sources that direct attention to the festival. National magazines such a VIA (AAA magazine) and Shimmy have featured articles plus many online resources such as the official Montana state travel website (www.visitmt.com) list the festival as a destination event. In fact, the festival was recently selected as a “Healthy By Design” event by the Healthy By Design Coalition Partners comprised of top medical facilities and groups in Billings, MT. The festival has been acknowledged as an event reflecting thoughtful planning with attention to: Safety, Nutrition, Environmental Stewardship, Physical Activity, and Prevention/Overall Wellness. To be accepted as a Healthy by Design event is very encouraging and rewarding for us. We’re so grateful for this honor!

Each year the festival is brought to you by the members of Spiral Skies Bellydance. All year long we spend countless hours developing and promoting this festival. Much of our time is spent: securing sponsors, negotiating contracts, orchestrating the entire 3-day production which includes writing articles, working with the theater, creating PR material, and a myriad of other important jobs, such as gathering workshop and performance registrations. We do all of this in addition to our weekly group practices, numerous performances and community events.

We volunteer our time and energy to create a festival that we hope will be successful and fun for all. Did you know that we do not get paid a cent for our efforts? So, what happens to the money generated by the festival? It pays the bills! Multiple factors such as rental costs, headliners contracts, advertising and many other expenses figure into the finances. Rarely is there money left over, but if there is it goes straight towards next year’s event.

In addition to Spiral Skies, there are many wonderful businesses and volunteers that also help make the festival happen each year. We’re lucky to have the continued support of businesses such as Barjon’s Bookstore, Mojo 92.5, Bin 119 and Silverstorm. And of coarse, there’s you… area belly dancers, family, friends and the community. Without you, the festival would not exist, so thank you again for your much needed support and encouragement.

The Yellowstone Valley Belly Dance Festival is the heart and soul of Spiral Skies Belly Dance Troupe. We dedicate ourselves to creating a professional polished 3-day event that provides training, shopping, and performance opportunities as well as a quality showcase for the public.

We are delighted to celebrate the joy of belly dancing for a 5th year, and can’t wait to see everyone in a couple weeks!

We can’t wait to see everyone in a couple weeks!

Get to know "Betty"

Posted by Tessa Thompson on July 2, 2012 at 10:15 AM Comments comments (0)


I took my first belly dance class on the first Saturday of January 1975 at Meara’s dance studio in Dallas, Texas. I had never even seen a belly dancer but I wanted a fun exercise class and my sister-in-law told me a friend of hers really enjoyed belly dancing. After my first class I was hooked. Back then you weren’t considered a real belly dancer unless you could play zills while dancing. It took me a year to learn to do that. After a couple of years of classes the studio started sending me out to dance at private parties. I had a great time doing that but I never had a desire to become a regular dancer at a restaurant since I had a really good day job and small children.

My favorite thing about belly dance is the costumes. When I started dancing you had to make your own costumes. Since I could sew I had no trouble with that. In fact I also started sewing for other dancers, including my teacher Meara. In 2008 I purchased Desert Dancer Imports from my good friend Donna Thompson and retired after over 30 years as a computer programmer. I love making beledi dresses, harem pants and Turkish vests. I also enjoy making my Desert Dancer Flair Pants and Ruffled Capri Pants.

I don’t have any one specific favorite movement but I love everything folkloric. I loved what we used to call “ethnic” dance back in the 70’s and I was very influenced by Jamila Salimpour’s Bal Anat and belonged to an ethnic dance troupe called the Marrakesh Dancers. I think that is why I loved American Tribal Style so much when I started taking classes with Carolena Nericcio in 1997 when I lived in the San Francisco Bay area. Before I moved to Montana from Dallas, Texas in 2006 I was the director of a small dance troupe called the Tribal Crones. The three of us were all “ladies of a certain age” and we loved dancing together. I did all the music selection, choreography and costume design.

My greatest inspiration for my dance, both for costuming and for choreography, have been the Orientalist painters, in particular Jean-Leon Gerome. I was inspired by his painting of the dancer with two swords to create the first sword dance performed in Dallas in the late 1970’s although I only used one sword.

My current goal is to work on a cane choreography so I can perform in the Saidi dress I purchased at Ahlan Cairo Nights last year.



Get to know "Jennifer"

Posted by Tessa Thompson on June 1, 2012 at 4:55 PM Comments comments (2)

 I saw my first bellydancer when I was 18 at SummerFair, a regional arts and culture festival in Billings, Mont. I was captivated, spellbound, entranced — and utterly intimidated. I wanted to be that person, my body flowing as water, my fingers and neck sparkling with antique silver like riffles on a stream. But at the time I struggled so deeply with body image issues that, though I picked up a brochure on where to take classes, I could not pick up the phone to enroll.

Nearly ten years later, as my life underwent major personal and professional transition, I decided as a gift to myself I would name my birthday year with a motivating theme. When I turned 27, days before yet another SummerFair, I declared the coming year to be, “The year of change.” I threw myself headlong into that motto. I took salsa and pottery lessons. I joined a number of non-profit organizations, volunteering ten to 20 hours a week. I rejoined choir. I painted my kitchen. I dyed my brunette locks salmon pink then candy apple red. And in January of 2008 I went to my first bellydance class.

I was terrified, so sure I’d be the most awkward, the oldest, the fattest, the least of all. To my surprise, I discovered I was one of many in room crowded with women of all shapes and ages, each taking tentative steps toward a closely guarded dream — some to become dancers, some to recapture their vitality and confidence, and some to inject a little shimmy into their lives. My initial instruction was by Laura and Julia of Bindi Bellydance, who emphasized that each of us was blessed with individual gifts. They encouraged us to drill the basics, and then seek our own path of expression.

Since then, I have studied with 30-year veteran instructor Sonja Alarcon in Billings, River and Cairo of Urban Sands Bellydance in Billings, Pat Luptak at the Red Lodge School of Dance and performed with Munirah, and Bobbi Lambertson from the Dancing Lotus Center in Helena. Thanks to the Yellowstone Valley Bellydance Festival, the premier bellydance event in Montana, I’ve been privileged to learn from international stars Ashara, Mira Betz, and Ruby Beh, as well.

Like so many women, I’ve spent years at war with my body. Through dance I’ve learned to love my abundant curves (perfectly designed for show-stopping hip drops), my odd flexibility (and the boneless undulations it creates), and my tendency to fixate (all the better for designing costuming). Bellydance showed me my supposed weaknesses were strengths. I am my most beautiful and most confident self when I dance.

When I hear music, my mind’s big screen is suddenly filled with colors, shapes, and emotional tones, rather than words, numbers, or definitive images. This “feeling” context rather than “thinking” context drives my musical interpretation and costuming: Does this song sound red? Does this skirt mimic the push and pull of waves? The bridge of the song feels arching, so how can I communicate that fullness with my body? This music-triggered stream of consciousness informs my improvisational work and choreography, as well as costume design. Choosing music is a kid in the candy store situation — I want it all! — but recently I’ve been focusing on Scandinavian folk songs, Beats Antique (so in love!), and the viola d’amore. When it’s time to drill, I tap Balkan Beat Box’s “Adir Adirim” and Nine Inch Nails’ “Closer.”

Currently, I’m obsessed with American Tribal Style (ATS) and its ancient, earthy look. I love its insistence that dancers communicate with one another to move as a single body in synchronized group improvisation. ATS is the foundational training of so many of the dancers I admire — Rachel Brice, Unmata, WildCard BellyDance, and Sashi. I figure, if I want to be good then I need to go to source, or at least buy as many Fat Chance Belly Dance (FCBD) DVDs as I can get my hands on.

When I dream big, I envision being part of a Billings-based ATS troupe, maybe three to seven dancers, rigorously schooled in principles and dance theory that shape the genre. Really, really big dreams? I want to earn my General Skills for ATS/ATS Teacher Training through FCBD and give to other women the gift that helped me discover my truest self.

- Jennifer

Get to know "RaLynn"

Posted by Tessa Thompson on May 1, 2012 at 1:00 PM Comments comments (2)

In 2011 I began taking classes from Urban Sands Bellydance. The confidence, fluidity of motion, and tension with intention, that my teachers shared with the class held an undeniable draw to be a part of that community. Women communicating through dance and interpretation, I was hooked!  I wanted as much as I could get and began co-op the same week with the teachers of Bindi Bellydance, and started attending their classes. Again, I was mesmerized by these women finding so much beauty in music, telling me stories with their body movements, sharing it through their expression. I wanted to be a part of that, so I began this journey with belly dance and mold my hoop dancing to mirror its form.

The expression and interpretation are my favorite things in belly dance.  I am able to completely let go of the ego and just be in the moment with my muscle memory and the music. The moves that have been taught to me and I have drilled while practicing seem to flow out and into the audience. The moves dance with you and you cannot fight expressing yourself and interpreting the feeling of your inner being in that very moment. Seeing this in a fellow dancer is what can bring me to the foundation of all my senses.

Trying to pinpoint favorite moves is a challenge. I am in love with them all,it depends on who is executing it. I do have some that I could watch over and over, and they are my favorite personal practice challenges.  Hip Circles/chest circles/anything circles:-) I love the way it stirs the energy in the room, pushing out and pulling it in.  Downs - in any form to me are such a contradiction to what is normal that I am drawn to do them, watch them and am locked on anyone who can do them.  Sustained Spinning - blows my mind, I love the precision of this move.  Back bends - want to marry them, need to practice them more.  Pops & Ticks - give me as many as you can. Love Love Love!

My artistic expression comes from many places. My teachers play a huge part in this because they are the people who will expose you to new things, and challenge you to try new boundaries. I think I have only begun to scratch the surface of belly dance. I love music so I find a lot of expression comes from there. I am determined to be a better hooper and fire spinner and find my drive in that. I was pleasantly surprised when I started belly dance to help better express myself with my hoops, that I felt love with belly dance on its own and it is where I look for artistic expression.

COSTUMING! COSTUMING! COSTUMING! I cannot get enough of costumes, and I love the women who make them for me! I love the concept of layering motion. Making all the sounds and shines that will go with the music, the lighting, and the other dancers. Using that to draw in the eye, and not letting you go until it is completely out of sight! Getting ready for a performance, or just playing alone with the costuming, I love transforming from the outer being to the inner “Oo la la” being and it is one of the best things ever! The textures and tucking things in places you would never have dreamed to add to the allure of your dance is, to me, like blowing bubbles -you never know how big or small they maybe or how far the will go.  Where will they land? Who cares? They are all beautiful when they float in their own path.

The journey of belly dance has taken me to the next level. It has raised the bar in my life and will always keep me setting new goals and challenging me to grow. Now, my goal is to continue educating myself in Bellydance/HoopDance/Fire Spinning. I want to absorb all I can, find my expression and interpretation in what I learn, and then apply that to tell my stories. Giving back to all my fabulous belly/hoop/fire sisters and brothers with the same precision, intension, and love that they so kindly and bravely give to all of us.

RaLynn Hoop

When in Rome

Posted by Tessa Thompson on April 5, 2012 at 10:00 AM

When in Rome…

Have you ever wondered why hosting troupes have certain guidelines for dancers to follow? As another open dance floor event approaches, we would like to offer a brief explanation along with some fun facts. Have you ever heard the saying, “When in Rome, do as the Romans”?

Interestingly, that saying has direct relevance to us as bellydancers here in Billings, MT. In Egypt only licensed dancers may perform publicly. Here, we have no restrictions placed on who can or can’t dance. In order for an Egyptian dancer to get a license, the dancer must perform in front of a group of commissioners. If the dance is viewed to be lewd or provocative, a license will not be issued.  Furthermore, bellydancers are forbidden to show their stomachs.

Ninety percent of Egyptians view belly dance negatively, a sentiment echoed in many other parts of the world. Billings, to a point, is no exception. Many people in our area have no idea what belly dance is, confusing it with a variation of exotic dancing often done in topless nightclubs. Most people aren’t even aware that there’s such an active and burgeoning  belly dance community here in the Magic City. Nor that at its base there is a strong community of women—all ages.

The way a belly dancer looks and the costume he or she wears also differs in acceptability from place to place. On one extreme we have Egypt, where it is a criminal offense to expose your belly. On the other side of the spectrum is Las Vegas—Sin City. As the name implies, anything goes.  People flock to Vegas every year to be shocked and awed. Billings, however, is more of a midline between these two extremes, though leaning toward conservative.  And, while area residents don’t expect us to cover up from headto toe, our family-oriented audiences don’t expect to see any parts of a woman’s body that they would travel to “Planet Lockwood” or “Shotgun Willie’s” to see. They like dancers to dress in a way that won’t cause their 90-year-old mother to suffer a stroke, or little Johnny to ask unexpected anatomy questions.

Layers and modesty still allow us to be creative and entertain our fellow Montanans. Fact is, they don’t mind being awed with our colorful costumes, ethnic music or lots of sparkles, but they don’t want to be shocked by low cut tops, high slit skirts and songs belting out profanity. Modesty is the key.

This brings us to choosing music, which can also cause headaches for us at times. But we do have more choices than some. Did you know that Greece, back in the 1930’s, outlawed all Turkish music? If you were a belly dancer you could only dance to Greek inspired tunes. Today in Turkey, most of their music is played by people of Romani descent, which perfectly suits the athletic, energetic style of Turkish dancers. In Vegas, as with costuming, almost anything seems to go. Here in Billings, the conservative nature of the community dictates that the music we perform to not contain words that may be seen as morally offensive. In public, family friendly lyrics are essential.

We are so fortunate that we don’t have laws inhibiting us like those in Egypt, or in Greece from decades ago, but there are moral codes that we follow out of common courtesy and respect for our patrons.  Only 12-years-ago, even in Billings, belly dance was taboo. We all want to see belly dance continue to grow and thrive; we’ve come a long way since those taboos, working hard to find acceptance amongst our conservative, fun-loving Montanans. We don’t want to lose the progress we’ve made. So if you’re wondering what costume to wear or what music to dance to, remember that old saying, “When in Rome…” or in this case, “When in Billings …”