Interview with Ansuyaby Salome
Ansuya, a second generation Oriental dancer, has recently been catapulted to "super star" status. A member of the "Belly Dance Super Stars" ensemble, promoted by record producer Miles Copeland, she has gained national recognition from mainstream and dance communities alike. Her career, however, began long before Belly dance was a twinkle in Mr. Copeland's eye.
Ansuya began her affair with the stage at age four in her mother, Jenaeni's, annual concerts. Along with dance, Ansuya pursued modeling and acting. She appeared in local commercials, was crowned "Miss Teen Ojai 1989" and invited to model in Tokyo, Japan.
She later made Santa Monica her home where she worked as dance teacher, performer and actress. A sought after chorographer, she has worked for CBS and for her dance company, Ansuya and the Dancers of Yaleil. Her company was nominated for Best Troupe by the International Academy of Middle Eastern Dance and Ansuya was voted Best Cabaret Dancer of 2001.
She has had contracts at famous Los Angeles clubs such as Al Amir and Byblos and appearances at Hollywood hot spots. Along with countless performances at private parties and events she recently appeared in Japan, India, Egypt and Bali. Ansuya currently resides in Miami where she regularly performs and teaches.
Salome: You label your performance style as "Cabaret Belly dance". Can you tell us what that label means to you and why you use it?
Ansuya: In the 1960's and 70's, before we began to differentiate styles, American Bellydance was an eclectic mix of moves and music from across the Middle East. It was a fusion of what the dancers and musicians picked up from each other, created on their own or drew in from outside inspiration. The dancers were called "Cabaret Dancers" because they were performing in cabarets. I chose to call myself a "Cabaret Belly Dancer" because I approach my dance in the same free, progressive way that they did. This means that my style is ever changing and personally distinct. I encourage this approach in my students as well. If you take ten students and apply this philosophy, you will come out with ten distinctly different artists. Also, cabaret applies an intimate setting, ideal for expressing and appreciating the subtle movements and emotions of Bellydance.
Salome: You actively pursue an acting career as well as dance, how does acting differ for you from dance and which do you ultimately find more fulfilling?
Ansuya: Acting and Bellydance are not as different from each other as one might think. Because I was taught to have a strong emotional perspective in my dance, I was already used to being emotionally available and expressive when I went to try acting. I find both art forms so gratifying and I think that they both have a place in my life, but maybe at different times. I have had moments where I didn't think I could live without dance and moments where I didn't think I could live without acting. I am so excited to be able to pursue both.
Salome: As an Oriental dancer in the spotlight of mainstream press and performance exposure, what pressures have you felt from the dance community and how have you responded?
Ansuya: I am aware that the Bellydance community is replete with concerns over how Bellydance is portrayed in the mainstream. Many may be surprised that I have few immediate concerns. This comes from the basic Hollywood principle that there is no such thing as bad press. Of course, I represent myself and my perspective wherever I go, but commercialism is not repugnant to me because I focus on its long term effects. Once Bellydance is on the map, we will all be free to express whatever perspective we wish to. It's kind of like when a Hollywood star gets famous for Hollywood blockbuster films and then finds themselves in the fortunate position to be able to choose any juicy independent film they want to, after they've secured their survival and established a financial draw for producers. This is not to say that I don't throw the occasional "This is not authentic to my art!" tantrum. However, I try to focus on the long term. This isn't only about me. This is about establishing Belly Dance as a viable industry. Things that look like wrong turns along the way, in terms of commercialism very often have the long term desired effect of fame which leads to opportunity.
Salome: What are your thoughts on creating a universal dance vocabulary, and certification system? And what body of people do you think should guide that process?
Ansuya: To achieve standardization, compromise would be inevitable and would negate many valid outside influences. I think a specific vocabulary and certification system developed by individual instructors may be somewhat fun and creative. If I did this, I would encourage the students to be progressive by altering and developing my material when inspired to do so, by studying with many teachers and by adding personal creations to create an ultimate personal style. This way I would ensure that the vocabulary and certification would aid in study and encourage achievement, but would not limit the artist or art.
Salome: With the well deserved success you have already achieved, what's next? What directions do you see yourself going in the future?
Ansuya: I think it is the greatest privilege in the world to participate in the self discovery that art has to offer. To reach my full creative potential and to help others reach theirs is my goal, wherever that takes me. Right now my focus is on the Bellydance Superstars project, one that I think is a huge step toward progressing our industry.