by Amy Chen
Sonya is a full-time Oriental dance instructor, performer, choreographer & owner of Arabesque dance studio. Dancing for nearly a decade, she spent over eight years mentoring, learning all the subtle movements and nuances shown to her. This firm grounding as principle dancer (Ward el Sahara) in Egyptian-style & folkloric belly dance would be the foundation she built on forever. 2004 Golden Navel Champion, Sonya strives to elevate the public’s perception of this art form, promoting the dance with beauty, dignity & grace.
Never one to let the dance stop with her, Sonya acts as an educator. Since 2000 she’s enjoyed passing the gift to her students in her 9 weekly classes (beginner through advanced level) as well as specialty workshops & Costuming Clinics in her studio & abroad. Sonya choreographs for local troupes as well as for her own dance company ‘Ro-He’ (Arabic for soul), she annually judges the M.E.D.I.N.A. (Middle Eastern Dance in North America) Bellydance competition three years running. As a featured dancer, she captivates her audience with her skills of improv, although prefers the disciplines of choreography for the theater stage. Sonya is proud to provide performance opportunities to her students & other quality dancers by hosting monthly dance events or “haflas”, sponsoring annual seminar conventions such as ‘Where the Mid-East Meets The Mid-West’ at the Chopin Theatre this past June and loves traveling the US furthering her education while also performing & teaching her fluid style of Belly Dance, aka Raks Sharki.
Q. When and why did you start bellydancing?
A: I started in Spring of 1996, walked into a class with five friends. I don’t know why I was interested, my friends were planning on going and it sounded like such a fun time, although I had never taken a dance class before that, nor had I ever seen a belly dancer or heard Arabic music. It seemed exotic at a time that I was looking for just that.
We were in the very back of a rather full room, but I could see one student near the front who had the most lovely movement in her hips when executing the percussive movements and I was hooked. I’ve never went a week without at least one class–after about a year it was mentioned that I could come to class more than once a week and I was like, “Oh yeah, I bet I’d get better quicker!” like a light went on.
Q. What makes bellydancing so special?
A. The soft, feminine moves paired with the strong stacatto actions, the fantastic orchestrated music, the instruments speaking through my dance. You cannot help but feel good when your body is moving in sync with the melody, and I really enjoyed learning the traditions, culture and history of this beautiful Mid-East art-form. The characteristics and names of the different rhythms and instruments, and especially the folkloric dances that our ‘cabaret style’ or American belly dance was modeled after–I spent 6 years in a dance troupe performing these indigenous styles of Middle-Eastern folk dance on the stage and in universities.
Q. What do you like most about bellydancing?
A. I love that it embraces women and men of any race, age, shape, religion—you name it. It’s so universal, the warm feeling of accomplishment when you finally get that new move that just 4 or 5 weeks ago was brand-new to you. And even now, after so many years I’m constantly learning new moves or new ways to do the steps I’ve come to love over the years. I love the cameraderie that some of us connect to these days, whether you are a student of 1 year or 11 years, whether you dance in nightclubs or on theater stages or BOTH, whether you are an instructor or an event sponsor, there’s a new sense of
community and well being between us as our paths cross, even when visiting briefly from out of state!
Q. What is the hardest thing about bellydancing?
A. Muscle isolation and control. Not moving the part of you that you want to move, but rather holding the parts of you still that shouldn’t be moving. It need not look frantic or nervous; you can always tell when someone is newer to the art if there’s never any part motionless. Also, of course, part of our allure is to make it seem effortless–no audience wants to see you struggle but rather articulate what you will and keep quiet the parts that
would otherwise distract.
Q.Tell me about opening Arabesque.
A. I opened my studio November 1st of last year, now celebrating 1 full year. The whole wonderful thing fell into my lap, quite literally, just 4 blocks from my home a ‘For Rent’ sign went up in the window of a double-storefront that I knew used to be a dance school. This is just after I went to every dance studio within my chosen parameters looking to rent just 2 hours a week somewhere, ANYwhere, to no avail. I was delighted at the idea that any and every idea I could dream up for the studio would be mine to make, something I wasn’t ever used to while working for others. I had no money saved for the new business venture, but within the 3 weeks I deliberated over it money donations came rolling in, a little from here, a little from there–I even got a $100 tip while dancing my regular weekly gig from a student/fan whom I’ll never forget! I had to put my faith in the universe–If I succeed I’ll succeed, if I failed I’ll fail. But I WILL try.
Q. Do you have any advice for women who are thinking about starting bellydancing?
A. Just do it! Find a class, try it out, give it a little time and make some new friends while you’re at it! What is there to lose? There’s no pre-requirements in most beginning belly dance classes, so grab a friend and make the move, it has the power to change your life! Or at very least, the way you look at your life.
Q. What’s your favorite book?
A. ‘Skinny Legs & All’ by Tom Robbins is one of my favorites, not just because there’s a belly dancer in it either, but I also really identified with Anne Soffee’s book ‘Snake Hips’ as it parallels not only the beginnings of my belly dance career but also reflects my 8 years working in a tattoo studio, my former life. I wish I had more time to read…
Q. What’s your favorite time of day?
A. The evening, after classes when I can relax with my hunny and ponder the
events of the day with something sweet and a big glass of milk. This is a
ritual in our home!
Q. What is a talent you have to that few people know about?
A. Hmmm… I sure do talk a lot so I’m not sure how many know these things of
me, but I’m a sewing junkie, I love waxing eyebrow arches (as I do my own
as well) and I’m still a licensed Cosmetologist in Illinois.
Q. Is there anything else that you would like to share with our readers?
A. Just my favorite quote:
“The Earth longs to feel you bare feet & the wind longs to play with your
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