TWU dance student, director of choreography for the Mustache Envy Queerlesque collective and dance instructor, Draconis, first witnessed belly dancing at the age of two through their parents’ annual patronage to the Scarborough Renaissance Faire. It was there that Draconis said they were introduced to the belly dancers in residence, Isis and the Star Dancers.
“I always loved watching them and wished I could join them,” Draconis said. “I even wore makeshift belly dance costumes to the faire many times to try and fit in with them.”
Draconis said they were later able to attend Isis Star Dancer studio in order to fulfill their PE credit after making the switch from their traditional public high school to an online distance learning program at 16. From there, Draconis got the opportunity to shadow for Isis.
“I started teaching as a substitute instructor for the belly dance technique classes at Isis in 2012,” Draconis said. “I had been studying for four years at this point. Shortly after, I would start teaching in-studio workshops and I eventually got to teach my own weekly fusion belly dance class.”
Draconis — along with being a student — has worked at various DFW-based studios. They said the modern-based style of the work they do as a dance student at TWU has been very humbling as an instructor, as it has pushed them out of their comfort zone.
“I’ve been belly dancing going on 12 years now, so it’s been a long time since I’ve been a beginner,” Draconis said. “Being put back in that position of feeling awkward and uncoordinated [in modern dance] makes it much easier to slow down and recognize when my own students need more time to embody new content.”
Draconis describes themselves as a transnational fusion belly dancer, a term used in order to step away from the original term “tribal fusion” begetting from Carolena Nericcio’s trademark name “American Tribal Style” (ATS). They have since removed labels of “Tribal Fusion” from promotions.
“The community has been pushing back on using the term ‘tribal’ for obvious reasons,” Draconis said. “I was never comfortable using it myself, but for marketing purposes, most of us did it anyway… to quote the originator Professor Donna Mejia, ‘Reconfiguring our language and terminologies is a liberating step away from a colonialist history that impoverishes us all.’”
Although they do not yet have a home base at a studio, recently Draconis taught a belly dancing workshop over at Twisted Bodies in Denton. Twisted Bodies cofounder Carissa Laitinen-Kniss said Draconis was suggested to them by a professor from TWU’s dance department.
“When we get referrals of that nature, we take them very seriously,” Laitinen-Kniss said. “We pride ourselves on providing an outlet for artists and instructors to teach and share their craft.”
One of Draconis’ past students, Allison Costantino, said she had been an enthusiast of belly dance over the years. It wasn’t until seeing flyers for Draconis’ workshop at the former Dallas School of Burlesque, that she first got introduced to Draconis.
“I danced when I was younger up until college, but it had been many years on top of the fact [I] was learning a new style and having to train my body to move differently than what I was used to with classical training,” Constantino said. “But [Draconis] was new to teaching, so being able to be a little vulnerable on both sides I think helped put me at ease.”
Constantino said the most rewarding part of belly dancing was having the drive to get up early on Saturday mornings and grow through learning new choreography.
“Any of us might be in pain or stressed, but we went to class to lift each other up,” Constantino said. “No judgement — all support. I learned you’re never too old, to new, too shy [or] too imperfect to open yourself up to experiences that are rewarding in ways you might not have even realized or intended.”
Draconis said one of belly dancing’s allures was the counter-culture aspect it occupies within the United States’ western style of dance due to the body standards within its format.
“The studio culture for Western dance is often perceived as a cut-throat place that demands perfection,” Draconis said. “There’s often not space made for those who are not heteronormative, white, thin and athletic. It’s not hard to see why so many people are polarized by this kind of dance scene.”
Draconis said as a queer, masculine-presenting, heavily pierced and tattooed person, they have always wanted to make space for people in this dance form so that they know they are welcomed unconditionally in order to foster a dance culture that champions all body types, genders, accessibilities and races.
“For many studios, masculine and male people are not allowed to take belly dance, so I wanted to make it explicit that gender is not a determining factor in who is allowed in this space,” Draconis said. “And I cannot tell you how many people have said they would love to bellydance, after they lose weight. They feel like they owe an apology by getting smaller before they join a class. Bellydance is not size-dependent.”
Featured Image: Transnational belly dancer and queer performance artist, Draconis, performs with their students for the finale of their class at Twisted Bodies studio in Denton, Texas on Jan. 25, 2020. Image by Bertha Angela Smith