Monday, February 16, 2009

O.C. Belly Dancer Spotlight: Sashi

Sashi is the kind of belly dancer who likes to play with expectations and test the limits of what is possible, and in the process creates captivating performances that showcase her exceptional dance talent as well as her theatrical skill. By layering elements of storytelling, acting and stagecraft into her choreographies, she catapults her work beyond a traditional belly dance performance into the realm of performance art. But it's not all for show. At the heart of Sashi's dance is a deep awareness, understanding and respect for the diversity of cultures from which belly dance draws its music and dance.

In addition to traveling extensively across the nation and overseas to perform and teach workshops, Sashi leads Ascend Tribal Dance, a dance company she founded in Orange County, and conducts an ongoing Gothic Tribal Fusion dance course in Costa Mesa.

Another way this energetic and innovative performer is making her mark on the dance world is with Gothla US, a festival celebrating Gothic belly dance that she co-founded last year. Gothla US: The Conjuring debuted in Fullerton, California, in February 2008 with tremendous success. And it returns next month (March 6-8) as Gothla US: The Divining, primarily at Cal Poly Pomona.

Sashi is busy with the final preparations for the upcoming festival, but she took time to answer a few questions about herself, her inspiration and her unique approach to belly dance.

What is your style of belly dancing?

I am a Tribal Fusion and Gothic Tribal Fusion Bellydancer. I am most known for being a Gothic Tribal Fusion Bellydancer, as I am one of the foremost innovators of this newer style of belly dance, as well as one of the co-creators of Gothla US, the largest Gothic Bellydance Festival in North America.

How long have you been belly dancing, and how’d you get started?

I have been belly dancing for 17 years now. I started because I was fortunate enough to attend college at San Francisco State University in Northern California. Due to their wonderfully diverse dance department, I was afforded the opportunity to experience all kinds of dance and music classes from all over the world. My main focus became African Haitian, West African, Jazz and Modern dance, as well as West African and Native American drumming. After learning so much about other cultures through their dances and music, I realized that I wanted to learn more about my culture through our own styles of dance. I’d already grown up with the folkloric versions of my culture’s dances, but I wanted to get into belly dancing and find out more about my culture that way. So, I signed up for the belly dance class at the studio around the corner from my house. It just so happens that the teacher of that very first class I took was none other than Carolena Nericcio. I’ve been studying the dance since then. I have a broad background in many styles of the dance, including ATS [American Tribal Style], Egyptian and Lebanese Cabaret, Folkloric and Tribal Fusion.

Who are your favorite or most influential teachers?

I’d consider my most influential teachers to be Angelika Nemeth, Sahra Saeeda and Tina “Enheduanna” Elkins. I learned strength and classic technique from Angelika, who had such a graceful and respectful way of imparting the dance to her students. She inspired me to want to be as respectful and knowledgeable about the dance as I could. As a student and member of Sahra Saeeda’s troupe, I learned about the histories, stories, meanings, nuances and intricacies of the folkloric dances of the Middle East. Sahra inspired me to know all the aspects of the dances I took part in and to hold the dance and the people in a place of respect and reverence, making sure not to engage in cultural appropriation or misrepresentation. Lastly, from Tina “Enheduanna” Elkins, I learned the grace of presentation through the body, especially facial gesturing. I also learned about the use of space onstage and in choreography, which is an art form in and of itself. Most of all, I learned a sense of graciousness and patience for fellow dancers by being her student and a part of her troupe. Each of these teachers inspired me because they approached the dance in a genuine way, allowing for me to witness, incorporate and eventually emulate this sense of humility and grace.

What is your favorite place to dance?

I don’t know if I have only one favorite place to dance because, for me, my favorite aspect of the dance is the interaction between dancer and audience that can happen almost anywhere. So really, my favorite place to dance would be wherever the maximum energetic contact with an audience can take place, whether that includes only one member or any amount more than that.

What music do you most like to dance to?

While I would not want to pigeonhole myself into one or two genres of music, I can definitely say that I have an affinity toward Gothic-Industrial and EBM styles of music, but anything with a good strong beat, energy and accent can inspire me to move.

What was your most memorable performance?

For me, I would definitely say that my most memorable performance would be my “pierced wings” performance at Tribal Fest 2006. There was such an amazing energy exchange between myself and the audience. I had entered a trance-like state with the pierced wings and brought that energy with me onstage. As I began dancing, the energy washed through me and into the audience. Most of the audience absorbed the energy, interacted with it and allowed it to flow back to me. So, for the length of the performance, a cyclically continuous flow of energy existed in that large room and impacted each of us, humbled us and moved us in our own ways. I have always been awed by that experience and hold it with me in reverence.

What is your dance regimen?

I strength train for two hours two times a week, run one to two miles a day and do abdominal exercises for 30 minutes daily. I dance three times a week for two hours and drill daily.

To you, what separates an accomplished dancer from an amateur?

I imagine what separates an accomplished dancer from an amateur would be the level of dedication, intent, stamina, technique and performance the dancer has. Some people get involved in this dance for the sake of exercise, to experience the sensuality and spirituality this dance conjures, etc., while others decide that they would like to take this art form to levels of performance and notoriety which requires a professional level of dedication. Thus, I would say that level of dedication and intent is the divisive factor in this realm.

As there is always room for improvement in dance (just as there is in all art forms), what are you still working to improve?

I am always working to improve my creativity. There are times when the performance of a particular style becomes stale and even though this is what is being asked of you in the venues you are hired for, it has the possibility of stifling one’s creative flow and ability to see things anew. Therefore, I always make a point to review what I am doing, engage in new experiences and seek to incorporate new concepts into my dance.

How long have you been in Orange County ?

I’ve lived in Orange County since I was 4. When I was 17, I moved to San Francisco and stayed up there for college and two rounds of graduate school before retuning to Orange County for a job 13 years later. I’ve been here ever since.

For more about Sashi, her performances and classes, visit

For more about Gothla US: The Conjuring (March 6-8), visit

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