Performing Arts in a pandemic

People who are drawn to the arts, regardless of our exterior or social media personas, tend to be gentle souls. Souls for whom the harsh realities of our world require an alternate form of expression other than the limited medium of language. Performance artists are drawn to the stage to tell our stories. The stage is a place where we can shed the skins that bind us in our day to day lives and express the pains and glory of the human experience. Sharing our stories enables artists to feel a sense of release of all that we are holding within and helps us to feel understood.

I am now in my 40’s and I am so happy to say that I have had a wonderful 20-year dance career and still going strong. Even so, with the shutdown of events and performance venues, there is a gaping hole in my life. All the feelings that ebb and flow through my being need a place to go and that place is through music, into my body and onto a stage. Of course, I dance in my home studio for myself and by myself – but the shared experience of dance is something that I am missing desperately. Although a dancers experience is a deeply personal one, there is a quality of the community around dance that is so vital to our well-being and I think most of us will agree that are feeling the empty space. We have taken to Instagram to share our videos dancing in PJ’s, many of us have pulled together virtual events to hold our community close and most of us who teach are now offering online classes. These are all wonderful things and help us retain a piece of that important part of our lives, but it’s just not the same.

The COVID-19 pandemic has shaken humanity on a global scale. We are being forced to take a hard look at how we have abused  our planet leading us to these dire consequences, and if you haven’t yet examined our role in this, now is the time to do so – a quarter past actually. Many still refuse to make the connection that our enslavement and domination over other species is at the root of this pandemic. Even if/when COVID gets under control, there is nothing to stop the next pandemic from sweeping the world again without drastic changes to how we treat mother earth and all her inhabitants.

Watching dance studios close by the dozens, my heart aches for what lies ahead for us all, but I want to encourage all my fellow artists to continue with your medium of expression. Do not lie idle and allow those feelings to consume you. Even if it means dancing alone in the dark, continue. All of these feelings need a place to go and the arts and activism are the destination. There will be an artistic renaissance on the other side of this.

My heart goes out to all the victims and families of the victims of this unrelenting virus. I often think about young people growing up in a time like this and how hard it must be. I am saying this as much to myself as I am to anyone who may be reading this – continue. Spend this time exploring those depths of your being that maybe you haven’t visited in a while. Allow your artistic self to be vulnerable and explore those corners that you may be hiding from. Art in its most authentic form is honest and unabashed. We are already seeing the beauty that can result when we stand as one against oppression. When we speak our truth – through language or through art – we are propelling humanity forward.

Performing Arts in a pandemic

Into the Belly of the Beast – Farewell España

“The lust for comfort murders the passion of the soul.” – Khalil Gibran


I am excited to share the prologue to the upcoming chapter of my life’s journey.

As you may already know, I have spent the past 8 years based in Madrid, Spain where I’ve been living and breathing dance, fueled by my passion and love for the arts. This has been an incredible experience for me and I have made monumental bounds in my artistic career and personal growth.

The European dance community has been incredibly welcoming and supportive of my work since my arrival in the early spring of 2011. In the past decade I have had countless opportunities to teach and perform all over the world, giving me the platform to do and share what I love. The people I’ve met along this viaje have been extremely talented, positive, industrious and kind – each of them making a unique and inspiring influence in my life. Without a doubt, witnessing the progress of my students over the years in their journeys as women (mostly) and dancers has been one of my greatest joys and accomplishments, filling my heart with a great abundance of love, pride & gratitude.

IMG_2262 Dance Junkies – Fin del Curso D’Ambra Dance Project – Madrid, Spain
IMG_2251Split Tribal Fest – Split, Croatia

In addition to living a life tethered to the arts, I have also taken advantage of residing in a vivacious European capitol city by joining protests on issues that concern me, giving voice to social injustices and animal welfare issues.

womens march 1Women’s March – Madrid, Spain

One of my most exciting experiences was in 2012 when I joined PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) to participate in a major campaign against the fur industry in Seoul, Korea. The event got a lot of international media attention and since then the alarms have been blaring on this issue. Today we are seeing international laws being put in place protecting animals from this trade and almost every major fashion label and designer dropping fur, responding to the demands of enlightened consumers for cruelty free fashion.

IMG_2252 PETA Campaign – Seoul, Korea

In 2017 I decided to tackle the topic of animal rights and climate change head on with the production of WILD – Endangered Species Through Dance. This production was a career milestone for more me, collaborating with several national dancers to leverage the power of art as a force to raise awareness about animal suffering and climate change. The message was simple – we are not helpless in the face environmental degradation, saving these animals starts with us.  I was honored with the award from my home dance community “Outstanding Accomplishment in Dance” for this production, which moved me to tears.

IMG_2249WILD  2017 – Madrid, Spain

VIDEO: WILD – Endangered Species Through Dance

If you have been following me on social networks, you’ve witnessed me shouting out in the streets of Spain against bullfighting, standing alongside other animal rights activists in protests against animal abuse and even initiating embarrassing fundraisers to raise money for local animal welfare organizations (yes over $1000 for Igualdad Animal by singing & dancing as Shakira in the metro last summer – lelololeloleeeee). 

IMG_2259Igualdad  Animal (Animal Equality) Protest – Madrid  
IMG_2265Tauromaquia Protest – Madrid

As I turn the wheel into my 40thyear, I have begun to ask myself some important questions as to how I can be more intimately involved in raising awareness on the issues that I believe are ultimately are going to define the fate of our planet.  If we look at the state of the world today, it seems that our humanity is slipping away from us. We live in a world where literally billions of animals are mercilessly slaughtered each year for food, where the rainforests are being destroyed to produce said food and palm oil endangering the lives of all their precious inhabitants, where people are starving yet we feed billions of tons of grain to livestock, where we are poisoning our air, soil and water to produce meat, where the list of endangered species is constantly on the rise… and more.  The word humane literally means “having or showing compassion or benevolence.”  We are not only destroying the only planet we have to live on, but we are quite literally redefining what it means to be human. The decisions we make right now in how choose to live our lives are going define the future and what our reflection is when we look in the mirror.

“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” – Anais Nin

This brings me to my news – As of January 1st, 2019, I will be diving directly into the belly of the beast – spearheading the issues of animal rights. I have accepted a job working with PETA in Washington D.C. USA. Activists aren’t born, they’re made.



PETA is my absolute favorite animal rights organization and am very excited to work alongside people who are equally as passionate as I am about animal welfare and making the world a better place. The old saying “Knowledge is Power” is one of the greatest truths of our times – the more people who are enlightened with the truths behind the industries of meat/dairy, fashion, entertainment and animal testing, the sooner we can bring about real change in stabilizing our precarious environmental situation and work toward living in a harmonious and peaceful world.

This move is as much exciting for me as it is sad.  A change of this magnitude is never easy and turning over a new leaf will undoubtedly be riddled with challenges. First and foremost, I will sorely miss the dance community that has been family to me all these years that I have lived abroad. It was a great leap of faith for me to come here and I want to say to all those who have invited me into your countries, homes, dance studios & communities, I am forever grateful for the amazing experiences working, dancing, laughing, sweating (and sometimes bleeding – sorry!) with you. To my students, you are truly irreplaceable. I thank each of you who has ever taken a class or a workshop and above all, my dedicated Dance Junkies for entrusting me as a guide along your artistic journeys. Your openness to make my visions come alive has been inspiring beyond words. You literally have given breath and life to my work and without you my success would never have been what it is.  If I have made even a fraction of the impact on you that you have made on me, then I will consider my time here incredibly well spent. Words truly cannot express the gratitude I have for the love and dedication from each of you.

IMG_2250Dance Junkies – Madrid

I’m also very excited for the chapter that lies ahead, not only to dedicate myself to fighting for animal rights, but also to immerse myself in the thriving East Coast dance community. I look forward to meeting local dancers and discovering wonderful new sources of inspiration.  I am very eager to connect with dancers in the DC area, so please feel free to reach out to me and introduce yourself or share any contacts/leads for teaching, networking and performance opportunities.

I will organize a final event in Madrid, Spain soon to bring together the dance community for a farewell gathering. Do not think this is a final goodbye, I will of course return periodically to dance, teach and join you all for a relaxing cup of café con leche de almendras en la Plaza Mayor. Once I am settled, you can hop across the pond to come dance with me in the capitol!

Words are not enough to say thank you for making Spain feel like home for me all these years. It has been  the people who have made my experience here magical and utterly unforgettable.  This chapter of my life is one that is very difficult to close, but in my heart of hearts I know that the rights for the beautiful animals that grace an color our earth are worth fighting for. I came to Spain 8 years ago for love, and it’s love again that pushes me onward.


“A human being is a part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feeling as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.” – Albert Einstein








Into the Belly of the Beast – Farewell España

Dentro del vientre de la bestia – Me despido, España

“El ansia de comodidad mata la pasión del alma” – Khalil Gibran


Me emociona compartir el próximo capítulo de mi viaje vital.

Como ya sabéis, he pasado los últimos 8 años con base en Madrid (España), donde he vivido y respirado la danza,  alimentada por mi pasión y amor por las artes. Ha sido una experiencia increíble para mi, ya que he creado unos lazos monumentales en mi carrera artística y de crecimiento personal.

La comunidad de baile europea ha sido increíblemente acogedora y ha apoyado mi trabajo desde mi llegada a principios de la primavera de 2011. La última década me ha dado incontables oportunidades de enseñar y actuar por todo el mundo,  proporcionándome la plataforma para hacer y compartir aquello que amo. Las personas que he conocido durante este viaje han sido extremadamente talentosas, positivas, trabajadoras y buenas – cada una de ellas siendo una influencia única e inspiradora en mi vida. Sin duda alguna, ser testigo del progreso de mis alumnas a lo largo de estos años en sus caminos como mujeres (principalmente) y bailarinas, ha sido una de mis mayores alegrías y logros, llenando mi corazón con una gran abundancia de amor, orgullo y gratitud.

IMG_2262 Dance Junkies – Fin del Curso D’Ambra Dance Project – Madrid, Spain
IMG_2251Split Tribal Fest – Split, Croatia

En adición a vivir una vida unida a las artes, también me he beneficiado de residir en una capital  europea vivaz, uniéndome a protestas a favor de asuntos que me preocupan, prestando mi voz frente a injusticias políticas y sociales, y temas de bienestar animal.

womens march 1Women’s March – Madrid, Spain

Una de mis experiencias más emocionantes sucedió en 2012, cuando me uní a PETA (Personas a favor del Trato Ético de los Animales, en sus siglas en inglés) para participar en una importante campaña contra la industria peletera en Seúl (Corea). Este evento obtuvo mucha atención mediática internacional y desde entonces, las alarmas han estado sonando respecto a este tema. Hoy día aparecen leyes internacionales que son aprobadas para proteger a los animales frente a este negocio, y casi todas las marcas de moda y diseñadores más influyentes están abandonando el uso de las pieles, en respuesta a las peticiones de consumidores concienciados con la moda libre de crueldad.

IMG_2252 PETA Campaign – Seoul, Korea

En 2017, decidí abordar directamente el asunto de los derechos animales y del cambio climático con la producción de WILD – Especies Amenazadas a través de la Danza. Esta producción marcó un hito para mi, colaborando con varias bailarinas nacionales, para aprovechar el poder del arte como una fuerza inspiradora para concienciar sobre el sufrimiento animal y el cambio climático. El mensaje era simple – no nos encontramos impotentes frente a la degradación ambiental, salvar a estos animales empieza con nosotros. Mi comunidad natal de baile me honró al otorgarme el premio a “Logros Excepcionales en la Danza” por esta producción, lo que me emocionó hasta las lágrimas.

IMG_2249WILD  2017 – Madrid, Spain

VIDEO: WILD – Especies Amenazadas a través de la Danza 

Si me habéis estado siguiendo en las redes sociales, me habréis visto gritando en las calles de España contra la fiesta del toreo, junto a otros activistas por los derechos de los animales en manifestaciones contra el abuso animal, e incluso iniciando embarazosas recaudaciones de fondos para conseguir dinero para organizaciones locales a favor del bienestar animal (Si, más que $1000 para Igualdad Animal, por cantar y bailar como Shakira en el metro el verano pasado – lelololeloleeee)

IMG_2259Igualdad  Animal (Animal Equality) Protest – Madrid  
IMG_2265Tauromaquia Protest – Madrid

Mientras giro el volante hacia mi 40° año, he comenzado a hacerme algunas preguntas importantes, como de qué forma puedo involucrarme mas íntimamente en concienciar sobre esos temas que, estoy convencida, van a definir finalmente el destino de nuestro planeta. Si observamos el estado del mundo hoy en día, parece que nuestra humanidad se nos escapa lejos de nosotros. Vivimos en un mundo en el que, literalmente, miles de millones de animales son sacrificados despiadadamente cada año como alimento, donde las selvas tropicales están siendo destruidas para producir dicho alimento y el aceite de palma poniendo en peligro las vidas de sus preciosos habitantes donde la gente se muere de hambre mientras alimentamos con millones de toneladas de grano al ganado, donde envenenamos el aire, suelo y agua para producir carne, donde la lista de especies en peligro de extinción está en constante crecimiento….y la lista continúa. La palabra ‘humano’ significa literalmente “tener o mostrar compasión o benevolencia”. No sólo estamos destruyendo el único planeta que tenemos para vivir, además estamos redefiniendo lo que significa ser humano. Las decisiones que tomemos ahora mismo sobre cómo elegimos vivir nuestras vidas van a definir el futuro y el reflejo que nos devuelva el espejo al mirarnos en él.

“”Y llegará el día en que el riesgo de permanecer en un capullo sea más doloroso que el riesgo necessrio para florecer”- Anais Nin

Esto me trae a mis novedades-  ya que a partir de enero 2019 me sumergiré de lleno en el vientre de la bestia – para encabezar el tema de los derechos de los animales, he aceptado un empleo trabajando con PETA en Washington D.C. (EEUU). Los activistas no nacen, están hechos.



PETA es mi organización por los derechos animales favorita, y estoy muy entusiasmada de trabajar junto a gente que es tan apasionada como yo del bienestar animal, y por hacer del mundo un lugar mejor. El viejo dicho “El conocimiento es poder” es una de las grandes verdades de nuestro tiempo – cuanta más gente sea consciente de la realidad tras las industrias cárnica y láctica, moda, entretenimiento y ensayos en animales, antes podremos iniciar un cambio real que permita estabilizar nuestra precaria situación medioambiental, y trabajar para vivir en un mundo en paz y armonía.

Este paso es tan emocionante como triste para mi. Un cambio de esta magnitud nunca es fácil, y esta vuelta de página estará sin duda llena de retos. El primero y principal, echaré muchísimo de menos a la comunidad de danza que ha sido mi familia todos estos años que he vivido fuera de mi país natal. Fue un gran salto de fe para mi venir aquí, y quiero decir a todos aquellos que me han invitado a sus países, hogares, salas de baile y comunidades, que os estaré eternamente agradecida por las increíbles experiencias trabajando, bailando, riendo, sudando (y a veces, sangrando – lo siento!) vividas con vosotras. A mis alumnas, sois realmente irreemplazables. Os estoy agradecia a cada una de vostras que habéis tomado una clase o taller conmigo y por encima de todo, a mis leales Dance Junkies, que habéis confiado en mi como vuestra guía en vuestros caminos artísticos. Vuestra disposición a hacer que mis visiones cobren vida ha sido más inspiradora de lo que puedo expresar. Literalmente, le habéis dado aliento y vida a mi trabajo, y sin vosotras mi éxito nunca habría sido lo que es. Si he conseguido hacer una fracción del impacto que habéis hecho en mi, consideraré mi tiempo aquí increíblemente bien invertido. Las palabras se quedan verdaderamente cortas para expresar la gratitud que siento por el amor y dedicación de cada una de vosotras.

IMG_2250Dance Junkies – Fin del Curso D’Ambra Dance Project – Madrid, Spain

Me siento, al mismo tiempo, muy emocionada por el capítulo que se abre ante mi, no sólo por dedicarme a la lucha por los derechos de los animales, si no también por sumergirme en la próspera comunidad de danza de la Costa Este. Tengo ganas de conocer a las bailarinas locales y descubrir nuevas fuentes de inspiración. Estoy deseando contactar con las bailarinas del área del D.C, así que, por favor, sentíos libres de contactar conmigo y presentaros, o compartir cualquier iniciativa de oportunidades de enseñanza, contactos o actuaciones.

Voy a organizar un último evento en Madrid (España) pronto para reunir a la comunidad de baile en un encuentro de despedida. No penséis que se trata de un adiós definitivo, estad seguras de que volveré periódicamente a bailar, enseñar y reunirme con todas vosotras para tomar una relaxing cup of café con leche de almendras en la Plaza Mayor. Una vez que ester instalada allí, podéis cruzar el charco para bailar conmigo en la capital!

Las palabras no son suficientes para daros las gracias por hacerme sentir como en casa en España durante todos estos años. Habéis sido las personas que habéis hecho mi experiencia aqui mágica y completamente inolvidable. Este capítulo de mi vida es muy difícil de cerrar, pero los derechos para las hermosas animales de nuestra tierra valen la pena a luchar. El amor es lo que me ha traído a España y para el amor otra vez me voy.


“El ser humano es una parte de la totalidad que llamamos universo, una parte limitada en el tiempo y el espacio. Se experimenta a si mismo, sus pensamientos y sentimientos, como algo separado del resto, una especie de ilusión óptica de su consciencia. Esta ilusión es un tipo de prisión para nosotros, restringiéndonos a nuestros deseos personales y afecto hacia las personas más cercanas a nosotros. Nuestra tarea debe ser liberarnos de esa prisión ampliando nuestro círculo de compasión para abarcar a todas las criaturas vivientes y toda la naturaleza con su belleza” – Albert Einstein








Dentro del vientre de la bestia – Me despido, España

7 Years in España

When I arrived in Spain 7 years ago, I was ready for a change. I had been living, working and dancing in the greater California Bay Area already for 11 years and in my heart I was longing for a new atmosphere and adventure.  As someone who made it my business to study dance, languages and culture, Spain was the ideal place to begin anew with it’s rich flamenco music and dance and appreciation for artists with fuego.


I landed in Madrid on April 1st2011, I literally had ties to no one from the dance community in Spain. I had unsuccessfully tried to reach out to a number of dancers and dance schools, but I couldn’t speak any Spanish and most schools that concentrate on oriental dance weren’t looking to take on new teachers. Despite these setbacks, I felt determined that I was to share my knowledge, training and style in the dance community in Spain and I was eager to get started.

It was a lovely Italian dancer named Alessandra D’Ambra who was the first to open her doors to me as a teacher. It was her first year running her new school and she saw that our talents and training were complementary and together we could provide a rich dance experience for dancers and she was right.  Although I’ve worked in a number of dance studios around Madrid over the years, at D’Ambra Dance Project we have created a beautiful dance community and family that houses some of the kindest, most humble and beautiful dancers I’ve come to know in all my years as a dancer.

Dance Junkies, a student fusion dance collective formed over the past few years under my direction and we have even had the opportunity to combine RaksArabi from California with the Dance Junkies (making Raks Junkies) for a few productions uniting my belly dance families across the world.

However romantic my tale may seem thus far, have no illusion that the road was smooth. To arrive in a new country and not speak the language or know anyone and try to make a life for ones self is not for the faint at heart. To go through not being able to communicate or understand, one experiences a loss of ones self.  I am a person who thrives on laughter and that suddenly went missing from my life in those first few years. I will confess that I did debate returning to the safety of my circle of friends and familiar environment, but because I had sacrificed so much to be here, I wanted to make a life for myself despite the disillusionment of the romantic circumstances that brought me here.

I feel that when we do anything out of love, the end result can only be positive. Love begets love. Perhaps not always in the shape or form we are expecting, but my level of enrichment in dancing in Spain far outweighed the trouble and personal suffering I went through to be here. I was able to move forward to create beauty and joy in my new dance community and truly that it was makes me most happy.

The list of people I have to be grateful to is incredibly long, but I do have to mention a few people for giving me the initial exposure I needed to be successful in Spain and in  Europe. Morgana, one of Madrid’s dance jewels, invited me to participate multiple times in her annual event Gothla España and this was a great platform for me to display my work as a choreographer and dancer and to share my art as a workshop instructor. Vicky Qamar has been a loyal friend to me since the beginning of my arrival and over the years and has helped me immeasurably in the best and worst of times. Maytz from Exotica was the first dancer I was really able to communicate with in English and she has been incredibly supportive of my dance journey in Spain. Just to name a few…

Aside from having participated in countless dance productions in around Europe and the world over the past 7 years. I have produced a number of original events in here Madrid.

Skeletons in the Closet was a summer event that was designed for dancers to share some hidden aspects of themselves. In my case, a longing to embody the beauty and grace of a ballerina.

7 deadly2

Bhakti the following year had the intention of giving dancers a platform in which to share some element of love or devotion. I also had the opportunity to collaborate with the beautiful and immensely talented Mistri for an Arab/Indian fusion piece.


The 7 Deadly Sins was another fun summer event where, as you can guess, each dancer had to portray one of the 7 deadly sins. I took on lust.

7 deadly

In 2016 a wave of inspiration hit to use dance as a platform for relaying the dangerous consequences of climate change. It’s very frustrating when you see that so many people don’t know the truths about climate change or are unmoved by scientific reasoning – I felt I’d try an approach that might target the heart.

I created a cast of dancers that I thought could effectively bring to life 17 of our planets threatened and endangered species. I targeted teachers who I knew were open and creative as well as expressive soloists who I thought could bring my vision alive. I was not disappointed. The entire cast was comprised of dancers from Spain and they poured an incredible amount of love and skill into the production.  The show was so popular we had to give it a second go around and the public feedback showed that people were genuinely moved and inspired.


I am eternally grateful to all the dancers that made up the crew of WILD and especially to my beloved Dance Junkies for all their help in helping my vision become a reality and making a production that I believe is unforgettable.

Not long ago a dear friend asked me what I considered success to be.  As much as financial security is a necessity in the world we live in, money alone does not equate success in my eyes.  My success in Europe these past 7 years has been the ability to inspire women to embrace their bodies and utilize their unique internal and external beauty as a means of expression. When we ourselves feel good in our lives, we are able to inspire goodness and happiness in others. It’s been my greatest honor to dance alongside so many wonderful, kind and inspiring people all these years and I hope to continue this journey with each of them in the years to come.

My deepest gratitude,

Crystal Silmi


7 Years in España

Remembering Jamila


I am one of the lucky ones. A dancer who has had the opportunity to learn from some of what I consider to be the greatest belly dance teachers of our time. Not a day goes by that I don’t feel gratitude for these woman who have inspired and educated me in my dance journey. The news of Jamila’s passing left a stunned silence across the globe this past week as many of us mourned the loss of belly dance’s greatest gem.

Every budding belly dancer should know of the Salimpour lineage.  I was in love with Suhaila before I ever met her, but the moment I stepped foot into a class with her, I was immediately hooked.  I wanted to absorb everything that this amazing woman had to offer and so I dedicated myself to training in the Suhaila format.

In those years, Jamila was around the school quite a bit. She was giving classes and was also there as a guide and resource. She was inspiring, witty and ever so wise. Jamila knew about my background in anthropology and we had long and interesting discussions about the roots of belly dance. She shared a very interesting essay with me about Allat – divine female goddesses that were worshipped in pre-islamic Arabia. Truly she was a wealth of knowledge about many many things related to history of the Middle East and North Africa.

Weekly on Saturday mornings, Jamila would teach a badass finger cymbal class. This woman was amazing with the cymbals, something that she has passed down into the Salimpour lineage. I had the good fortune to be her assistant in these classes for some time as a person to embody some of the dance movement while she gave the instruction.  I treasure these moments in my dance history as some of my finest, working alongside a true master of the craft.

Jamila was also a woman who studied the ethnicities she was representing in dance. She collected ancient jewelry from tribes across India and the Middle East and she knew their history, symbolism and value.  Jamila knew that I had spent a year abroad studying south asian cultural anthropology in India and gave me 2 exquisite silver pendants from her collection of tribal jewelry. One of Lord Shiva in his famous image as Nataraja – Lord of the Dance and the other of Shiva and his divine consort Parvati. I treasure these gifts and wear them with great pride.

I had the honor and the privilege to be a part of Bal Anat – the original tribal belly dance company directed by Jamila in my days the Suhaila Salimpour School of Dance (SSSD as it was known back then). The dances of Bal Anat are as diverse as the cultures and countries they represent.  Thanks to Suhaila, Bal Anat is still alive and strong even now and is coming up on its 50th anniversary.

Without a doubt I can say that my life would never be where it is today without Jamila and Suhaila Salimpour.  In mourning her loss, we certainly cannot forget what an amazing treasure she was to the world and how many countless lives she inspired through her love and dedication to the art of belly dance.  Her light and lineage will continue to shine on through her daughter Suhaila and granddaughter Isabella as well as through the lives of all those who had the privilege to know her.

Thank you Jamila. You are forever in our hearts.





Remembering Jamila

Brave New World

tatseena 2To be an artist, one has to possess a certain sensitivity to the world and all that it beholds. To have the ability to capture the essence of a feeling, a mood or a moment and turn it into something tangible requires an inner connection with owns own self and a connectedness with our surroundings.

We are currently living in a time where despite enhancements in technology, human beings seem to be more disjointed than ever before. When we gather together, we are looking at our phones, planning our next rendez-vous and snapping selfies, all the while not being truly present in that moment. We are all victims or our own crimes here, literally we are letting the opportunity to live our lives pass us by.

In this brave new world, many people judge their self worth based on the number of likes a photo gets or how many followers they have on social media. I myself was only using ridiculous hashtags on instagram until just recently. Hashtags that don’t really exist as search tools like:

#bowchickawowow #whompthereitis #northafricanunicornprincessbellydancefusion  etcetera.

I started to see my counterparts in the dance community doing millions of more serious hashtags and started to question my tactics. My instagram has been primarily a photo album of my beloved dogs, but I’m starting to feel I need to step up my game to stay in touch with the cyber dance community. The blessing of social media is that it allows us to stay connected in a way that we never have before. When I lived in India many moons ago, connectedness with loved ones abroad was maintained via airmail. Messages coming and going every few months with news completely outdated by the time it had arrived. Mobile phones were only used by rich drug dealers and so staring at a screen all the time wasn’t really a part of the culture. Because I’m old fashioned and I like to make people feel special, I still try to collect and send postcards to my friends when I travel. I know I can pick up my phone and send a text, but it’s like receiving a treat when a postcard comes in the mail so I continue to do that whilst keeping with the times.

As an expat, social media has served as a great tool to stay “close” with my friends living across the globe and has saved me from the loneliness that accompanies the life choice that I have made. The flip side of social media is that it gives us the opportunity to compare ourselves to others. Of course everyone has the perfect life online. It’s a perpetual love fest of vacation photos, performance pics and lovers in love… We chose to represent our best selves for world viewing which is a positive thing. Just we the viewers need to cross-examine our interpretations from time to time. We tend to over glamourize our notions of the lives others are leading and in turn criticize our own success and happiness.

I pride myself on being a passionate and out of the box dancer. When I dance solo, I don’t do choreography (which many people criticize me for) I dance what I feel to the music in that moment. Personally, this approach to dance makes my experience as a performer so much more authentic and enriching – reacting to music on the spot with a physical interpretation of sound and sentiment. Sometimes I nail it, other times I don’t, but regardless I feel authentic in representing who I am on the stage. That’s not to say my choreographed group work doesn’t come from an authentic part of my being, it does. But there’s a different feeling in “free dance” verses orchestrating a movement on a count. Clearly choreography is the key to a clean performance, but there’s a vulnerability that gets lost in choreography.

I was telling my students in my fusion class the other day where we are working on #northafricanunicornprincessbellydancefusion that performing movement art is more exposing than to be naked before a crowd. A dance should be the revealing of ones most profound self and sensibilities. In order to deeply move an audience, an artist must really reach into the depth of his/her being to squeeze out that hidden essence that exists within each of us. We all have our own experiences of loss, suffering, pain, joy and ecstasy. The artist job is to express the good, the bad and the ugly of life and create a medium where others can connect with that sentiment an also feel a connection with you.

So although this Brave New World is flittered with chaos, disconnectedness, impersonal relationships and fleeting moments – we the artists must stand our ground and defend what is truly sacred about humanity. We must reclaim the human heart in all it’s pain and glory and continue to reach into the depths of our being to extract the beauty and vulnerability of the human condition. The ultimate goal of art is not only to express our own relationship to the rich, glorious and filthy world in which we live, but to be a service to humanity and give ourselves to the people who live in it.

Brave New World


“An artists duty is to reflect the times” – Nina Simone


The idea of WILD came to fruition over some careful self-contemplation. Many of us feel helpless in the chaos that surrounds our daily lives and it is no secret that these are truly perilous times.  I have long wondered how I, as an artist, might be able to merge my connection with dance to my passion for environmental preservation and love for animals, this is how the concept of an endangered species through dance production emerged.

WILD is the coming together of many different dance performance artists and groups from Spain to represent 17 of the earths precious species whose lives are either threatened or endangered (many even critically endangered). Through movement art, we hope to shed light on the beauty and majesty that exists in the animal kingdom and to raise awareness about how very serious the situation is for virtually all life on earth.

Most, if not all, of us are aware of the current political climate in my native country, the United States of America.  A so-called “leader” has been put into a seat of great power, a power that he intends not only to use against his own people, but against the world at large.  He chooses to deny that climate change is a real threat to the world and to dismantle scientific evidence that has long since proven otherwise. This “leader” has not only declared war on women, on minority ethnic and religious groups and the LGBT community. He has declared war on SCIENCE.

I now see the production of WILD as a part of the resistance that has ignited internationally.  We the people, regardless of ethnicity, nationality, religion, sexual orientation, age or gender will not be silenced truth is denied and we stand by the scientific community.

Although this production will take place one day only in Madrid, Spain, we intend to share its message through our social channels. We are at the point of no return now. If human beings do not evolve, this is not only the last chapter for the animals, it will be for us as well.

My goal is to deliver the message that through intelligent and compassionate living, we can create sustainable life for plants and animals and live harmoniously with the earth.  We are not helpless against the forces of climate change and environmental destruction, rather the contrary.  We have the power to halt global warming in its tracts with simple adjustments to our day-to-day lives. A plant-based diet is the number one action each individual can take on to combat global warming, world hunger and environmental degradation. Peace begins first on our plates and will extend outward into the world in which we live.

We will make a significant contribution to the World Wildlife Fund by adopting a tiger with revenue from WILD. If anyone would like to pitch in, we have a fundraiser at GoFundMe and there you can learn more about WILD.

The show will take place on Saturday, February 25 2017 at Teatro Elias Ahuja in Madrid. We have a very special line up of performers that includes 2 guest artists along with myself that will impart a number of workshops over the weekend. Tickets are available online and also at D’Ambra Dance Project.

Thank you for reading, we hope to see you there!





BHAKTI – Dance and Devotion


When I started university at the age 18, I began with a major in Environmental Studies. Like most young liberals on the West Coast USA, my mission was to save the world.  Little did I know that Operation Save the World came with a heavy dose of math, chemistry and other science intensive studies.  Although I did well in the sciences when I applied myself to them, my heart wasn’t moved by formulas and calculations. It was when I discovered the field of Cultural Anthropology that I had at last found my niche in the university.  As an American with parents of immigrant backgrounds, world cultures captivated me and inspired me. How do other people see and interpret the natural world? How do they understand the metaphysical world and relate to it?

The first real “spiritual awakening” had come about in my reading of “Philosophy of the Masters” by Sawan Singh. With a Catholic mother and an Islamic father, I had long ago settled on science as my religion. But something stirred within me at the realization that we are all parts, not insignificant, in the massive, unfolding universe and if we are that, why shouldn’t we be able to know ourselves and all that the universe encompasses completely? Thus began my real journey into what is coined as “self-realization” via meditation.

Along with my process of delving into such spiritual scriptures as the Bhagavad Gita, the Ramayana, etc. also began my focused academic journey into South Asia. To familiarize myself with the culture in a way text books and scriptures alone couldn’t reach, I decided I’d study abroad in the Indian subcontinent for a year.  What I experienced about the cultures of India while abroad thrilled and fascinated me – the lights, the colors, the sights, the smells and chiefly – the humility and devotion people felt toward the Divine.

As Westerners, we look at Hindus and say “wow they have a million Gods and Goddesses that are multicolored and have excessive arms…”  With a closer look at hinduism, you will see that the colorful pantheon of deities is representative of the various aspects of our own nature.  There is a fondness for storytelling as a way of teaching moral principals about life, love and devotion.

The first time I had seen Indian dance was an Odissi dance troupe of 3 sisters that had performed in my university in California.  The moves were rhythmic while sensual and  subtle, gracious and still empowered. I was inspired to understand what the dance “tales” were about and of course to learn the dance myself.  It turns out that most classical Indian temple dances are devotional dances, depicting stories about devotees and their beloved, which is in fact divine in nature.  My senior thesis was a compilation of this work entitled “Lives of Lovers and the Beloved: The Devadasis of India” (devadasis are the women whose lives are devoted to dancing in the temples in India).

Although my own dance interest began with the temple dances of India, they have evolved to encompass the world of middle eastern belly dance and modern fusion.  To be more authentic to my own culture, life experiences and musical tradition, I find that the belly dance fusion genre provides a more personally fulfilling artistic outlet. However, I have not forsaken the idea of dance as an act of devotion.  Rather I have fully embraced the concept of making every dance I do an act of Bhakti. Devotion does not have to be to an offering to some arbitrary “god-like” figure outside of ones self, dancing as an act of devotion can simply mean to be conscious of  one’s place in the humbling human experience and feel gratitude for that experience.

The event BHAKTI that I am preparing for March 5th, 2016 at El Antojito in Madrid will ideally  give dancers a platform to express their inner sentiments toward life, love and devotion. We hope you will join us in this special celebration to commence the beginning of Spring!


BHAKTI – Dance and Devotion

Rak the Casbah

I am experiencing an overwhelming sense of gratitude as I prepare for Rak the Casbah this Friday night in Madrid.  This is only the second event I’ve produced on my own since arriving in Spain, the first being Raks Arabi Cabaret last November that featured my dance company Raks Arabi from California and included a variety of dancers Madrileñas.

For this event, we are trying to bring an “old-time” feel to the stage with a classical belly dance and cabaret fusion show.  We want to take a detour from electronic music and have an evening that blends the music of old with fresh modern faces and training. I’m excited to present a number of my students here as soloists as well as several of my dances performed in duos and trios. We also have a number of talented guest performers that are guaranteed to rak your socks off!

In my previous blogs I touched on the deep gratitude that I was feeling for the dance community at home and internationally.  For the coming together of this show, I am blown away by the amount of supporters that have offered their time, talents and special skills to make our event something extraordinary.  In addition to all the personal upheaval that accompanies moving abroad, with it comes a tragic loss of networks.  In California I had the women I knew who could make my costume ideas come alive, the people who could edit and mix my music, camera people etc.  Upon arriving in Spain it wasn’t only the task of starting over as a teacher and a dancer that faced me, but also how to recreate those invaluable networks.  I can really see with the organization of this event how spectacular the artist community in Madrid is. I can’t deny that my skill set is limited to primarily dance, choreography and instruction.  The team that has come out of the ether to manifest all those other vital elements of producing a show has astounded me.  From the creation of the event flyer (yes my boyfriend kicks ass) to cameras for photos (Miguel Angel), videos (JM Rye), audio controlar (Richard del Olmo) – all of these incredibly talented artists have stepped up to be a part of this special evening. I am eternally grateful for their participation and artistic expertise.

We will donate 50% of all ticket sales to UNICEF to aid in the effort to bring vital medical supplies to the earthquake victims of Nepal.

Thanks again to all the magnificent dancers and to the Madrid community at large for your participation in this event. Countdown of 5 days ’til we Rak the Casbah!

Rak 2 square

Rak the Casbah

4 Years in Spain


April 1st marks my 4 year anniversary of living in Spain!

I will preface this entry by saying that this is not the first time I’ve spent an extended amount of time abroad. I’ve had a series of episodes or traveling, studying and teaching overseas mostly throughout Asia, but this “trip” has been nothing like the others. It was a trip that was not initiated out of curiosity of another culture or language or wanting to help others. It was initiated by the spark of something else entirely.  The one thing that can make even the most sensible and rational person abandon all sense whatsoever – it was ignited by love.

4 Years ago I embarked on a journey from the Golden Coast across the Atlantic, taking a leap of faith to create a new life in Spain.

We all know the brilliant quote “you are that which you are searching for.” In theory we all know it and it makes sense to us somewhere deep inside. But do we really understand it?  This never meant so much to me before as it means to me today. The spark of love that initially ignited my move has given birth to a blazing fire altogether different from the one I had been anticipating.

I’m not going to go Deepak Chopra here and start talking about the importance of self-love, but really I’ve come to know and appreciate my self in an entirely new way due to the trials and tribulations I’ve experienced alone living in a foreign country.

Through spreading the joy and love of my craft and coming into contact with so many amazing and talented people, I can say that my life has been extremely fulfilling here. While it is true that “wherever you go, there you are,” sometimes we need to shake up the external environment to refurbish the internal environment.  For me personally, living abroad in Europe has come to be an experience of immense self-growth and expansion. I feel that I have evolved in a way personally and artistically that I may not have been able to had I stayed within the comfort of my external environment.

I am grateful.

Grateful to be alive and to have been given this unique opportunity to share the knowledge and gifts that I have, and to be able to learn with and from so many others.

I am grateful for everyone who has touched my life along the way and has offered me love and support and to those who have given me the opportunity to reciprocate that love and support.

To all who have been a part of my journey –

dancers, students, friends, family, international dance community, supporters, random encounters and most recently a special person who has made my life exceptionally sweeter…

I thank you for making my life awesome.

Ole Ole Ole!

4 Years in Spain