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Dance From the Heart Presents a Belly Dance Gala

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Local dance company celebrates 10-year anniversary
by Bradley Donalson

It was a night of sparkles, shimmies, and twirls—and that was just performer Lebanese Simon. On January 31, local dance company Dance From the Heart celebrated its 10th anniversary with a workshop and spectacular gala performance. Emceed by San Antonio belly dance instructor Laura Hurter, also known as The Crimson Vagabond, the show presented two full hours of beautiful, powerful, sometimes flirty, and always entertaining dance to a packed audience.

Dance From the Heart's 10th anniversary gala presented two full hours of beautiful and entertaining dance. Photo: Rebecca Waldron Photography
Dance From the Heart’s 10th anniversary gala presented two full hours of beautiful and entertaining dance.
Photo: Rebecca Waldron Photography

The line-up for the show included the Dance From the Heart (DFTH) company, as well as other Houston locals Lebanese Simon, Kimberly Larkspur, Gabriella, Silvia Salamanca, Jenny Trimmer, Jade Gibson, Anne Caruthers, and Sahira. Harkening back to DFTH’s origin as a relief effort of dancers across multiple cities, the show also included artists from outside of Houston. From the Dallas/Fort Worth area we had Draconis, a self-identified gender-fluid androgyne who is a rising star in the dance community. From Austin we were regaled by April Rose of Rose Movement Studio, recipient of a Master of Arts in Dance Studies from UCLA, as well as an international dance instructor and former member of Unmata. And finally we have the headliner, Sacramento, California’s Amy Sigil, a world-renowned dance artist and instructor, director of Hot Pot Studio, and creator of the Improvised Tribal Style (ITS) of belly dance. She is also open about her sexuality, proudly stating that she represents the “L” in “LGBT.” Amy and Kari Vanderzwaag performed together as Unmata. This event marks the first time that Amy Sigil has performed in Houston.

Notable performances from the gala included a high-energy opener from Lebanese Simon complete with cane and veil; Silvia Salamanca’s sword dance, which involved balancing two swords on her head as she rolled across the floor; Anne Caruthers’s moving piece that showed a woman overcoming the strife of aging; Sahira’s fun and fiery dance, which featured the use of Middle Eastern finger cymbals called zils; and a trio by DFTH company members Jenny, Jade, and Kimberly, which used fugue-style elements to display strength and grace as the dancers moved one after another.

Highlights from the show were April Rose & the Rose Movement Group performing an ITS segment with Unmata. ITS is a mix of multiple styles of dance that was created by Sigil and that uses a vocabulary of dance moves that are signaled by the lead dancer to the rest of the group. It produces an improvisational dance that is still in unison throughout the group. April Rose is the first certified teacher of ITS outside of the Sacramento-based Hot Pot Studios and the only instructor of it in the state of Texas. The improv portion of the show was a masterful display of the technique, but April showed her prowess as a choreographer with her intense and beautiful routine that followed.

Draconis’ performance was a study in powerful, yet graceful movement. Combining elements from a number of different styles of dances, he presented a show that was infused with a raw energy that moved the audience. Draconis’ understanding of masculine and feminine performances melded seamlessly into a performance that was something else altogether, yet altogether stunning.

The Dance From the Heart company performed a theatrical piece entitled “Human” that explored the ideas of misogyny and female empowerment. The dancers were labeled by people walking through the group with insults that ranged from sexuality to body type to sex drive to attitude. The dancers eventually began to remove their labels only to place them on each other as their choreographed movements began to fall into disarray. It was only after they came together and rejected the labels placed on them that they revealed the true label hidden in their costumes: human. The powerful message and beautiful choreography of the piece left more than a few members of the audience misty-eyed as they rose in ovation.

The night ended with Unmata performing a powerful piece about struggle and hardship and building yourself back up. Amy Sigil got her start in dancing while she was recovering from a methamphetamine addiction. Her perspective as someone who has known the pain of being on the road to recovery shined through in the emotion of the piece. Unmata astounded the audience with their power and strength, showing how teamwork and persistence can lead to beautiful things later in life.

As a whole, DFTH celebrated their 10th anniversary in pristine style. With high energy and excitement mixed with grace and emotion, the gala showed how far the company has come and how much farther they could go. We can only hope for many more happy returns.

Dance From the Heart is a nonprofit dance company based in the Heights. DFTH prides itself on its mission of philanthropy and education. They have classes in yoga, ballet, belly dancing, and Middle Eastern music available throughout the week. More information can be found at www.dfth.org.

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Bradley Donalson

Bradley Donalson is a frequent contributor to OutSmart magazine.

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