A Few Thoughts on Belly Dance with Kaeshi Chai
Conosciamo un pochino meglio Kaeshi Chai, della compagnia Bellyqueen.
Let’s get to know Kaeshi Chai, co-founder of Bellyqueen, a little better.
There is one central value that Kaeshi and LaDibi share: The not-so-secret secret to being a great teacher, whether you are teaching Belly Dance, or more broadly Oriental Dance – and really, no matter what you are teaching – is to continue studying. The saying “you never stop learning” certainly applies to good teachers.
Why Study Belly Dance?
Some people choose to study Belly Dance to show off their figure, someone says. I’ve only met a few women who approach their studies with this motivation.
Most of the women I have met through teaching Belly Dance, also known as Oriental Dance, are more driven by the desire to get in touch with their femininity, regain possession of their body, express joy through dance, and have the pleasure of sharing the passion for this fantastic art with other people.
And then there are those like me who follow the vocation of teaching and begin studying Middle Eastern Dance to broaden their knowledge and then fall in love with this expressive and subtle tradition.
So I meet fantastic new friends, teachers and colleagues who are great sources of inspiration. This is the case with Kaeshi Chai, co-founder along with Amar Gamal of the Bellyqueen company, which you have probably already heard of.
Kaeshi and LaDibi
I met Kaeshi in Bali while attending the Bellyqueen Teacher Training course, the Middle Eastern Dance teacher training course, and the Creative Lab, Ocean Stories, which were all led by Kaeshi. So I decided to interview Kaeshi for you on LaDibi’s Sofa to find out more about this creative and influential teacher.
Kaeshi is dedicated to an environmental cause: Plastic Ocean, which seeks to spread awareness and foster solutions to the problem of plastic pollution and its impact on the ecosystem. It is a daunting problem. To even begin to make a dent in the mountains of plastic waste that float to sea each year will take an immense effort from all of us. But if we just sit on our hands, it will only get worse and worse.
The Creative Lab is based on the idea to raise awareness and promote the cause. We have created a show together that teaches people about some of the many marvelous and amazing sea creatures and the terrible impact of the pollution we create.
Who is Kaeshi?
Born in Brunei, not far from Bali, Kaeshi spent her youngest years in New Zealand and Australia, and then moved to New York. She already has more than twenty years of experience in Belly Dance. She is keenly interested in storytelling with a focus on conveying stories through her choreography. She has also studied Contemporary Dance and Drama in order to hone her ability to communicate through dance.
What are the most effective tools that Kaeshi has learned as a dancer and how did she develop them?
Kaeshi is grateful for the wonderful combination of teachers, students, and experience she has had in her quest to develop her knowledge of dance.
Thanks to these connections and experiences, she has acquired several tools that help her as a professional and also just as a person, in private life.
One of the most important things Kaeshi has learned is how to strike a balance between the perfectionism that is to some degree required to develop skill in this precise and subtle art and the wisdom of letting go of things and gracefully accepting what cannot be changed.
Out of all the places I have been, Bali is the most powerful teacher of the art of acceptance.
As a director, Kaeshi strives to create an environment in which people can express their own inner superpower in all its glory. She feels this is important not just for its artistic value, but for its broader impact in creating a life lived with passion.
Key figures in Kaeshi’s Career
Who or what has had the biggest impact on Kaeshi?
The first person that comes to Kaeshi’s mind is Serena Wilson, a pioneer in the field of teaching Belly Dance who is based in New York. She was the first person to suggest that Kaeshi pursue a career in dance. And guess what? She even hooked Kaeshi up with paying dance performance gigs. Take that – cheapskate promoters of today. Haha. What a victory for the lively arts and the artist this was!
Imagine – a dancer, paid to dance in public as if society were wise enough to put a value on Art. If Kaeshi can do it, maybe you can too. But art has its own internal value even when we don’t get paid.
Tamalyn Dallal has also been a great influence. The exquisite delicacy with which she conveys the subtle nuance of the art has been quite inspiring for me.
Back to Kaeshi’s experience, Amar Gamal, who co-founded Bellyqueen with Kaeshi, was the protégé of Tamalyn Dallal. So Dallal has invited the Bellyqueen company to participate in her festival for three years in a row.
Then we have the legendary Jillina with whom I also had the honor to study years ago. She is a great source of inspiration and she created some fantastic opportunities for Kaeshi, encouraging her to climb to new heights that she did not think she was ready to reach.
If you have been following the “LaDibi’s Sofa” series, you know this last question is one of my favorites. As a dance teacher, I am naturally fascinated by the impact of teachers and mentors on people who have a passion for dance. I often think about the biography of Steve Jobs.
You can be as good as you please, but if you don’t pursue the right experiences and goals, you are not going to get far. That’s my little thought – my take on how we can all reach for something greater.
In short, Kaeshi highlights the importance of human relationships and making real, deep personal connections.
Too many people today are focused on shallow things, not really connecting, just taking selfies to serve as a symbol on social media to boast of a connection that barely exists. Focus on connection. This will take you far.
A Funny Fact
Did you know that Kaeshi was “baptized by Bali”?
Let me elaborate for those who have not spent a lot of time in Bali – including, perhaps the somewhat disconnected “digital nomads” who spend a couple months somewhere and think they know a place and have become local, when really they are merely tourists with a strictly foreign perspective.
There are several ways in which Bali baptizes you. Do not be enchanted by the beautiful names; it is a rather rough baptism at times.
One is the “Bali Kiss” – a baptism by fire as it were. This is the classic inadvertent body modification popular among helmetless hipsters, burning inside the calf with a scorching hot scooter muffler.
Tip: check to make sure the plastic cover is there to protect you and if not, do not touch the muffler.
Then there is the infamous “Bali Belly”. You may feel like you are going to die as you “lose” or more accurately spout fluids from every orifice.
A moment before you’re a beautiful carefree flower in paradise, a second later you’re er.. “loafing frothily” and dropping water. Caught in a miasma of circular time between bed and toilet, I myself felt a bit like a melting clock in a Dali painting when I experienced this baptism.
The last and most fearsome baptism is the Rainy Season. Beware! It is not like the monsoons; it works differently. One second you see the Sun and you’re happy, cruising around on your scooter. The next second, you’re under ten giant shower heads that shoot water at you from all directions with incredible intensity.
The drop that gets you in one eye as you hurry towards a dry refuge stings like crazy and you can’t see where you’re going plus your half mad from the sudden shock of pain.
You notice you are getting an unsolicited bidet and then your scooter starts to slide. I felt like an out of control Carolina Kostner in Opera On Ice. And then of course the cow crosses the road suddenly and perhaps, as one did directly in my husband’s path, surprises you by giving birth to a calf. Dead ahead, the cow, to the left, the ditch, and from the right a huge wave of sewer water sprayed by a passing car. And now maybe you have Typhus or Cholera, one of the least desirable features of a Bali Baptism.
This third type of baptism struck Kaeshi with full force. As ill fate would have it, in her cruelly comical way, fate waited til our heroine was on stage to strike. Imagine a beautiful candlelit sequence of flowing and graceful choreography, rendered Maniac Dance from Flashdance movie, by one of the sudden torrential rains that is typical of the season.
Magically, and perhaps a bit symbolically, a single candle resisted the torrent. And so we all survive and keep the fire alive through our baptisms and lessons, always striving to learn and grow and laugh through the occasional pain as we appreciate the complex beauty of this dance called life.
Have a Good Dance and as Kaeshi says:
Live your life with pleasure!