A Look Into 4 Belly Dancers and their Unique Journey

Helen Blondel | 5/2/2020

Have you ever wondered what it's like to be a belly dancer?

Can you imagine what challenges they face beyond the glitz and glamour?

What if I told you that ageism, sexism, discovering who you are as a dancer, and overcoming health adversities are situations among artists who wear their heart on their sleeves to express one of the most beautiful art forms?

Wonder no more.

Throughout the week I spoke with four Oriental Dance Artists, each with an inspiring story. Read on, as we take a detailed look at their unique journey and hurdles they to overcame to rise from it shining.

Grecia Salazar (Ashira) - Orlando, FL

Ashira Belly Dance

Grecia Salazar, a Venezuelan born in Caracas, started in the world of dance when 10 years old. Her first encounter with Arab dance was when she watched the video “Ojos Asi” by Shakira and fell in love with the movement of her hips. She started imitating Shakira in front of the mirror and little by little began in the Arabic dance world dancing her songs at all her family gatherings. Her parents saw how skilled she was in this art and followed her determination to learn more about this beautiful dance. She began classes and specific workshops in the Oriental Dance, and later in 2007 joined the best Arab Dance Academy in Venezuela known as Al Nujun in which she spent more than five years professionally learning this art and representing the academy in different events.

For Grecia, the Arabic dance and for those who love any other dance, represents more than just art. It represents the feelings and passion of each dancer, expressed through movements and body expressions to provide entertainment, joy and happiness for all its spectators.

As an artist, there are always ups and downs within the world of performing. For Grecia, one of these struggles is that she finds many girls who, instead of being supportive, always seek to try to and be better than others. This demonstrates selfishness and self-centeredness. The way she has faced and overcome this challenge is by believing in herself, valuing, and loving what she does every day. It's important to like your dance, be yourself, have your style (of course always with technique) but still be YOU! This is the best way to overcome these challenges in the artistic world. Grecia has a saying that states: Each one of us shines with her own light. Nobody dulls or extinguishes the light of anyone, just as the stars shine for who we are, what we love and what we are passionate about.

Ilana Kogan - New York, NY

Ilana Kogan is 16 years old and has been dancing for 6 years. She started dancing with idance studio in 2014. Recently, she was able to start teaching with idance studio’s beginner groups. Bellydance has always been a huge part of her life and has helped her with many hardships, mentally and physically. She always loved performing and getting dressed up to get on stage to perform. Ilana loves connecting with her audience and giving an amazing passion from each of her performances. She learned from master teachers including Randa Kamel, Mohamed Shahin, Marta Korzun, Oxana Bazaeva and more.

Unfortunately as a bellydancer, not everything is all fun and games. There will be a few bumpy roads along the way. As a teen bellydancer, she gets called out a lot on it. People tend to say that this dance is for older girls and for women. She has been called many rude names about bellydancing and it became very serious. Ilana was made fun of a lot in school about it and was body shamed a lot. To this day, she is still told that she should’ve done any other style of dance but bellydance. As a performer, she was told many times how her moves can be “too sexual” or not “lady-like,” or how she should “change her style”. She learned that in bellydance, everyone has their own style. Belly dancing is not a strip style dance and it is an art form. Instead, people like to criticize it and say how sexual it is that women shouldn’t be doing this. Ilana feels like this dance is better for girls because it shows their own worth and it shows them that they should love their body no matter what.

Virginia Assad (Asada) - Orlando, FL

Virginia Assad is a Middle Eastern dancer, entertainer, instructor, and owner of Asada Belly Dance. Her Middle Eastern dance journey started when she wanted to learn more about her Syrian heritage. Growing up as a Haitian Caribbean American, Virginia was very curious about her Grandmother's roots. Her grandmother, Therese Assad, was never interested in knowing about where her father came from, Syria, as he was never part of her life. Through Virginia’s research she stumbled upon the Middle Eastern Dance Community in Orlando that she has fallen in love with. Since then Virginia realized that this dance had a huge healing effect that has kept her out of the hospital many of time. Virginia’s focus then shifted from heritage to health. Her desire to learn more about her health didn’t stop at dance. Virginia became a certified yoga instructor as a way to further help both herself and her students with their personal dance and healing journey. In every dance class that Virginia teaches she uses the essence of yoga to help students connect mind, body, and spirit. Virginia’s main purpose now, is help any student who’s path encounters hers, find their way along the wonderful journey that God has laid out for them.

Virginia herself has been on a roller coaster journey where she had some internal battles to fight. One of these battles that she encountered was being diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease, an autoimmune disease that causes inflammation of the intestines. The diagnoses itself did not keep Virginia from dance but the 2 major surgeries she had in 2009, left a scar through her belly button. Virginia struggled for years with what others would think of her body due to the scar. Showing midriff is a part of the costuming for belly dancers. How could she be booked for gigs when clients are looking for the typical cabaret costume? She tried hiding the scar with long tank tops, body jewelry, stick on tattoos, you name it. By hiding the scar this only caused major fails that were more noticeable than the scar itself. Tank tops made the costumes look cheap and unprofessional, body jewelry and stick on tattoos don’t hold very well when you’re sweating. Of course the audience’s attention was on the attempt to hide what wasn’t even obvious to begin with.

When Virginia finally realized that the scar she was trying to hide was something to be proud of, she stopped using that scar as an excuse to hide her true self. Hiding kept her from growing as a dancer. She now recognizes that her scar is a part of who she is. She learned that as long as she was performing her best, the attention would be on her dance and how she made the audience feel, not the scar. No one ever noticed the scar anyway. Body image is a struggle for many dancers. Virginia continues to share her story to help anyone struggling with body image. She hopes that her story inspires everyone to not hide behind their scars. If you are interested in hearing more about Virginia’s journey with her Crohn’s disease, Dancing With the Scars, and how dance has helped heal her please visit her blog at http://asadabellydance.com/blog/. 

Lorena Solache - Miami, FL

Lorena Solache is a 22 year old ICU nurse, belly dance enthusiast, student, and professional dancer.

She started her dance journey at 7 years old, partaking in different dance styles such as jazz, hip hop, and modern. Lorena always enjoyed dancing and the theatrical scene. She enjoyed this season of dance very much, but her entire world changed when she found one of her greatest passions in life; belly dance.

She took her first belly dance class at 14 years old as a bonding experience with her mom at Belly Motions in Miami. Little did she know that she would begin to fall in love with the style, history, and depth that this dance form has to offer. As her belly dance studies progressed, she decided to audition for the RAKettes, Belly Motion’s competitive dance team under the direction of Yesenia Lauzurique. This truly showed her how much discipline is required to be a well rounded dancer. It taught her the meaning of teamwork and the sisterhood that we can experience in dance.

As her passion for belly dance continued growing, Lorena wanted to start exploring different styles and had the pleasure of taking many different workshops with local and international instructors.

Her passion for dance was radiating! And as a result Portia Lange, CEO of Belly Motions offered Lorena her first belly dance job as a professional performer! This opened up a whole new world for her... She was used to dancing in groups and she now had to be a dance entertainer!?! This truly made her question: Who is she as a dance artist?

This sparked her  personal exploration as a dancer.

Being a professional performer revealed many challenges that Lorena faces as a dancer. Such as improvisational skills, how to develop musicality, personality and creativity overall. Developing her style and having the discipline to work on this has been her greatest challenge. As a way of diving deeper into who she is as a dancer and exploring this question further, Lorena decided to take classes at Creative Hips directed by Kelly Rodriguez and Valerick Molinary in order further her studies. Creative hips has been such a special creative space for her as a dancer. She believes that she will always be a student, learning from everyone. This challenge of finding out who she is as a dancer will never end; it is what keeps her growing.

Fast forward to today, Lorena is now part of the RAKettes and Creative Hips Dance Company. She had the pleasure of modeling for BBK Boutique and Lava Inc. Studios. She is a part of the professional performers for Belly Motions and Your Exquisite Entertainment.

Currently, she is working along side Portia Lange to begin teaching classes at Belly Motions once  quarantine is over, so stay tuned!

Lorena is beyond humbled to dance alongside other beautiful souls. She feels blessed that God has given her the ability to dance to magical melodies, experience the creativity, beauty, and growth that comes along side being a dancer. 

Grecia, Ilana, Virginia, and Lorena all inspire me. Their stories, as different as they are, remind me that we all have our distinctive experiences and that is beautiful. We are united by overcoming our challenges, and bonded by the sisterhood we call Belly Dance. 

Thanks Grecia, Ilana, Virginia, and Lorena for sharing your beautiful stories with BellyPOP.


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