Bellydance Superstars - Petite Jamilla

by John Noyd
March 2009

Petite Jamilla has been belly dancing her entire life, bridging the generation gap between traditional folkloric style and modern belly dance fusion. Studying for over ten years, Jamilla toured the Southeast U.S. at fifteen, a seasoned instructor by seventeen, with two instructional DVDs before she turned twenty. A member of the BELLYDANCE SUPERSTARS for the past three years, Petite Jamilla was kind enough to answer a few questions in anticipation of her troupe’s arrival at Madison’s Union Theater on March 26th.

MAXIMUM INK: What are the biggest misconceptions about belly dance?

PETITE JAMILLA: Due to Hollywoods’ early depictions of ‘belly dancers’ I think the biggest misconception is that belly dance is done for exploitive and seductive reasons, but it really has become a self-exploratory and self-improvement tool for dancers in the U.S.

MI: The Bellydance Superstars fuse together many different styles for their performances, combining Egyptian cabaret, Polynesian hula and Las Vegas glitter. What are the art form’s roots?

PJ: This is a tough one to answer because everything influences everything and belly dancing has always been a fusion of styles. In the Orient belly dance began as social celebratory dancing with family members from Grandma down to the smallest child dancing at weddings, birthdays, even dinner - any family gathering worthy of celebration. 

MI: A BDSS show has amazing music and dancing but also incredible costumes. Do the costumes reflect the different cultures incorporated into the show?

PJ: Some of the costumes are specific to the dance, and some of them are just reflections of the dancer’s personality. For most Cabaret pieces the costumes were chosen to reflect the dancers’ personality and energy of the dance; bright colors for upbeat music, cool colors for moody sultry pieces. The Debke dance is a traditional imitation of the Mens’ Lebanese army so those costumes are pretty specific. We have tannoura whirling dervish skirts and in the finale of our show we use Melayas -black shawls with shiny beads on the end used in a specific dance from Egypt where a modest girl stays covered to go to a market and ‘shop for a man’.

MI: How are the Superstars recruited?

PJ: For Cabaret BDSS are always looking for dancers who have Jazz and Ballet training that can pick up and retain choreography quickly. I am a second generation belly dancer, my mother Jamilla Rasa was my teacher and I grew up watching her dance, so I had a really strong belly dance background. I had taken Polynesian dancing but no ballet or jazz, so when I auditioned for the company, it was obvious I was a strong soloist but I wouldn’t be able to keep up with the choreography; I guess they saw something in me they felt worth investing so BDSS hired me and pays for my classical training. . One dancer, Samantha Hasthorpe, was found by Rachel Brice at a workshop she was teaching in the UK, but most of the girls have been chosen by attending BDSS auditions.

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