Dancing with Jillina

Jillina Fusion Workshop

I've always wanted to study under Jillina. Her precise, energizer style, imaginative choreography and hard hitting usage of East Coast hip hop always attracted me. During her BellyDance SuperStar days, I was super jealous of the woman that won the short-term intern\blogger position with the opportunity to watch, take workshops with and do warmup exercises alongside the BDSS ladies, including Jillina. Did I want to become a dance superstar? No. But, I wanted the opportunity to learn from the best. It wasn't until recently I had a couple chances to study under her, which were all usurped due to work. So, I was super excited to snag a BIPOC scholarship to Jillina's fusion evolution online workshop.

I almost didn't apply as there are tons of awesome BIPOC dancers out there while I'm a community-level dancer and very proud of that. But, in the past year, my focus surrounded teaching in areas like NorthEast Philly and actual West Philadelphia (closer to the MOVE area and farther away from University City). Also, the performance events I participate in or organize typically surround raising funds for domestic abuse victims. Anything I learn does not stay with me, but pushes out to those who might not have access or the pocketbook for that level of knowledge. 

About the Workshop

Clear Your Mind: The workshop was everything I expected. It started off with a roundtable allowing the women to get off their chests their current worries so they could focus on the class. I'd already journaled throughout the day, so I was pretty focused. Although Jillina didn't get to everyone, the transition from talking to dancing was easy and lighthearted.

Dancing Queen: The choreography was what I hoped. It was easy, innovative, and fun with a dash of old school hip hop (with a modified slowed down running man). As a dancer, I love repetition and counts. I love the veil, but I hate overusing it. Luckily we didn't stick to the old standbys and used it 'just enough' in the intro - Personally, I felt that Jillina went a little easy on us.  But, for an on-line class, with people in potentially limited spaces, she provided a choreography with pieces we could use and share moving forward. 

She can See You. Despite over 60-participants, during the beginning she called out dancers who went awry or went well. My pelvic walks  are super slow and over exaggerated, so I needed to make the movements quicker and smaller, it probably looked like a camel to Jillina, but she caught it and I re-adjusted. 

Moving Forward

I'm glad I applied and received the BIPOC scholarship. I was recently let go and again, I briefly feared Jillina wanted to use professional level dancers. However, the class was clearly geared towards all levels. With everything going on, people might wonder are BIPOC scholarships necessary in fringe groups like bellydance and improv? Unfortunately, yes. I recently took an online improv class and was the only African-American out of 11. In my local community, I've witnessed numerous people of color taking classes. However, the amount of those people who audition, are requested to join indie friend-focused teams or are placed on theater-backed teams is either 0 (or limited to 1 Indian and/or 1 Black). Even when people have the money and training, they lack the access or connections to people who will hire them or put them in shows.  Even small items like Jillina's scholarship can help.

There are a ton of Black bellydancers out there, particularly in my community. Last year, I had the same conversation with two different bellydancers of African decent (one in Philly and the other in New York), both complained about the lack of visibility of Black\latina female bellydancers and couldn't think of anyone who had 'made' it at the national level. I immediately tossed off the below list:

  • Arianna Al Tiye - Folkloric Dancer
  • Danielle Hutton of Sera Solstice and BellyQueen
  • Amar 'Gamal' Garcia - Bellydance Superstars/BellyQueen
  • Jamilla Al Wahid (used to teach at Rakkasah)
  • Naima - Art of the Belly Bellydance Creator
  • Ebony Qualls of Bellydance Superstars
  • Lotus Niraja  (numerous bellydance dvds)
  • Oreet (bellydancer of the year)

There are more, but, for some odd reason, the representation/acknowledgement of dancers of color, appears slightly lower in America than it should be. So, while auditions geared towards increasing diversity can help, anything at any level will continue to help push us forward.