Few dancers have made a mark on the belly dance world as quickly as Mia Sha’uri. The vivacious 22-year-old dancer who was born, raised and lives in Puerto Rico’s capital city, San Juan, was named Belly Dancer of the Year on May 30 at the San Ramon Performing Arts, but that is just the latest in a string of honors that includes the People’s Choice Award for solo cabaret professional in 2008 and 2009, and Belly Dancer of the Universe for 2008.
In addition to majoring in chemistry at the University of Puerto Rico’ Rio Piedras campus, Sha’uri is busy these days performing and teaching workshops worldwide, but she took some time out of her hectic schedule to answer a few questions to let us get to know her a little better.
How did you first get introduced to belly dancing?
In 2002, my uncle and his wife came to visit from California, and we all went to an Arabic restaurant here called El Cairo. There was a belly dancer there, and in the middle of her show she asked me to dance with her. I enjoyed it so much! After her show she gave me her business card, and that was that!
Who have your belly dance teachers been?
I've had the pleasure of taking lessons from quite a few teachers, and I've been able to get at least one solid lesson from each of them, but here are the ones that have truly inspired my growth as a dancer:
Yashira Yamilet: My first teacher, she gave me history, music and very good basic technique to work with.
Mohammed Kazafy: Beautiful orientale and folkloric moves and a clear and generous, yet firm teaching style. He shared plenty of advice and life experiences with me. His conversations have been enlightening and his classes and performances quite inspiring!
Karen Barbee & Horacio and Beata Cifuentes: They are amazing technicians, and I want to be just like them! I love the detail and complexity!
Helena Vlahos: I always admired her excellent zill work. I just could not keep up with her! (Not to mention her belly rolls!) Sahra Saeeda: She is like an encyclopedia! I love to talk to her and learn about everything! I hope to someday reach her level of expertise.
Aziza: Ethics and what to carry in your dance bag. Also, she taught me to flutter my tummy, which is awesome.
When and where was your first belly dance performance?
Officially, the first was my Arabian Fantasy graduation. However, my first completely public performance was in Pasha restaurant sometime in the second half of 2002, before Christmastime. I remember running back and forth, through the kitchen, between the restaurant and the basement. It was a completely new and exciting experience that I'll never forget.
What is your practice regimen?
During the semester, I study and work full time, so it's not so easy to take time to practice. I have two ballet classes a week, and I practice with Arabian Fantasy (the dance company I belong to) on Sundays for five hours or so.
What has been your most memorable performance so far?
I think it was the finals at Belly Dancer of the Universe in 2008. I was so nervous right before going on, but at the same time, I felt so incredibly happy to be able to do what I love (and with live musicians!). The combination of nerves and live music made it the most memorable experience I've had so far.
What is your favorite style of belly dance?
Honestly, I like them all, though I do tend to use styles that have captured my attention most recently. My tastes are quite capricious. What really excites me is to borrow a little from a variety of styles and see what I can come up with. I am happy to say that some people whose talents and opinions I greatly respect seemed to have noticed what I try to do. Watch sometime and you decide!
Do you have favorite belly dance music?
I can't say that I do. I try to select different kinds of music to match whatever style I might fancy in the given moment, so I guess it depends on that.
Who are your belly dance heroes?
I still have to find out more about many dancers' personal history. There are a few dancers I admire and hold in high esteem, but a hero, my hero, I've yet to encounter. I do greatly admire Jamilah Salimpour for all she's done for the bellydancing community, such as the structured classes with different classifications, as well as the fact that she continued dancing although she had to hide her performances for many years because of social pressures.
What is it about belly dance that continues to attract you?
You can express so much through this dance. The music, costume, range of movement, and facial expressions give a belly dance performance such a texture that can hardly be reproduced in any other form. For me it is the ultimate vehicle in self-expression, and that's what makes it so enthralling. It is never a stoic art; it changes and matures as you do. It's a life-long relationship.
Do you teach?
I teach a few classes a week at School for the Performing Arts in Guaynabo, Puerto Rico. I've been blessed enough to be sought after for some workshop instruction throughout the United States, Central America and Europe. I also give private lessons in my local area.
If you could give one piece of advice to a new dancer, what would you tell her?
Patience and humility in dealing with people, be they potential clients, teachers, or peers. Practice, practice, practice. Obsess over every movement. Give thought to every detail. If it was all easy, it wouldn't be worth it. Finally, know that you never stop learning. The worst belly dancers are the ones that think they know it all.
What’s in your belly dance future?
I hope to continue dancing for the rest of my life. I would like to at least keep it as a hobby, but if I'm able to make a career out of what I love most I would consider myself blessed. All I know is that I cannot imagine a life in which belly dance does not play a large part.
For more about Mia Sha’uri, or to get updates on her workshops and performances, visit http://www.stellaradvantage.com/miashauri.html.
First photo via Belly Dancer of the Year
Second photo via Isis and the Star Dancers
Third photo via Isis and the Star Dancers