Our second installment of Dancer Origin Stories features a many-faceted woman who I greatly admire. Many of us have followed her travels around the globe, explored her fabulous Belly Dance U website, or participated in a Hafla for Humanity…
Lauren Haas, currently based in St. Louis, MO (USA), gave up belly dance for a few years to pursue a dream she had long held: to travel the world! After spending nearly three years staying no more than a month in places from Peru to Istanbul to Malaysia, Lauren has returned to St. Louis, where lucky locals can now take belly dance classes with her once again!
Now, read on to learn about Lauren’s Origin Story…..
Q: What is your first memory of dance?
A. I remember taking a ballet class at age 6 and being very disappointed because there was no twirling in our first class. We just moved our feet and arms around.
Q. Was social dance or music a part of your life growing up?
A. My family didn’t dance or play music, but my mother was a huge fan of dance, including world dances like Indian and belly dance, so we saw a lot of performances, both live and on television.
I used to lock myself in my room as a preteen and dance to pop music, and as soon as I was old enough (around 13) I started going to baby discos.
Q. How did you first encounter belly dance?
A. My mother gave me her tickets to a local hafla. I didn’t actually like it at first; I don’t think I realized I was seeing mostly student performers, and I didn’t quite “get it.” Later, when I saw a professional show, I was hooked for life, and now I enjoy watching students and pros alike.
Q. What phase of life were you in when you took your very first dance class?
A. My very first classes were tap/ballet at age 6, but I didn’t stay long. I was terrible at sports and disconnected from my body due to PTSD, so I never tried dance classes as a teen or young adult. I was 35 when I found my way to my first belly dance class.
Q. What circumstances drew you into dance as an adult?
A. I needed something in my life that was just my own, away from work and raising my children. I also needed to be active. Dance was supposed to be a hobby for me, and a way of getting active.
Q. What let you to become serious about the belly dance?
A. I was infatuated with belly dance from the first time I saw my teacher, Warda of St. Louis, perform. But I really fell in love when I went to a workshop and realized that women who’ve been belly dancing for 20 or 30 years were still studying, still learning, still growing. The depth of this dance surprised me.
Q. How do other dance forms you have studied inform your primary style?
A. Belly dance is informed by folk dances from around the region. I’ve studied dances from Egypt, the Gulf region, Turkey and North Africa.
I’ve also taken some ballet workout classes to improve my carriage, lines, and strength. Tangentially, I’ve taken Polynesian and Bollywood classes and loved them both.
Q. Tell me about one of your most influential teachers.
A. I’ve just finished doing a weekend of workshops with Raqia Hassan and Aziza (both from Cairo, Egypt). Raqia is a powerhouse, who has reinvented the dance over the last two decades. I just love her style and her approach.
Q. Share the memory of learning a movement that came easily to you…
A. All sorts of torso articulations felt very natural to me from the beginning, while others were struggling with them. That gave me early confidence.
Q. And a movement that you had to work hard to master?
A. Barrel turns! I don’t know why they were so hard for me. Even private instruction didn’t help. Now I can finally do them, and I love them.
Q. Tell me about one “ah hah” moment that you recall, whether technical, emotional, or conceptual.
A. I remember watching a dancer (Vashti of Texas) perform. As the drama of the music built to a crescendo, she made her movements smaller and smaller, until just her hips and abdomen were responding to the music.
I was drawn in until my whole world consisted of a spot just below her navel, and it seemed like the music was emanating from her body. Exquisite.
Q. What dance skills translate to your everyday life?
A. My awareness of my body, and connection to it, have increased tremendously. I am much more present with myself. I’m not as accident prone, I don’t spill things as much. I’m more aware of tension in my body and can let things go more easily.
Q. What everyday skills translate to your dance life?
A. To be a professional belly dancer is to be self-employed. All my skills from running other businesses, from bookkeeping to marketing, have been useful to me as a dancer.
Q. What else would you like to add?
A. The most surprising and wonderful thing about belly dance is the dancers themselves. There are some egos in the business, of course, but on the whole they are the most intelligent, creative, interesting women I’ve ever met. This is true of long-term students as well as pros.
I’m honored, as a teacher, to bring these women together in my studio and build a community for them, and I think that community is even more valuable than any dance skills I might be able to teach them.
I’ve been dancing for over 15 years in the St. Louis area. It’s been a marvelous journey. I’ve danced in hookah bars, taught in universities, worked on a cruise ship out of Dubai, and taught at the Las Vegas intensive. I’m no longer doing restaurant or party work, but I still teach and write about belly dance. I’ve never stopped loving it.
About Hafla for Humanity
Hafla for Humanity is a global fundraiser that brings bellydancers around the world together to raise money for women in the Middle East who are in desperate need. This year’s H4H benefits Yazidi women and girls who are escaping ISIS after being captured and held as sex slaves.
We need more events! If you can organize something on or before September 24, no matter how small, please join us at haflaforhumanity.com.
Grow Your Belly Dance Business!
In addition to her own teaching and writing, Lauren has is publishing a line of books! (bellydanceu.net/bellydance-books). She is currently working with Amity Alize, who is a CPA as well as a very successful studio owner and event producer, on a series of business titles especially for dance teachers.