Kaeshi Chai on Bellydance Superstars and Bellyqueen – 042
New York City Belly Dancer Kaeshi talks about touring the world as a dancer, screaming when dancing, and Beauty Reimagined. And her doumbek playing husband Brad Mack gives us tips on how to become a better performer.
KAESHI CHAI of New York City has performed in 39 countries with names like Natasha Atlas, INXS, Belly Dance Superstars, Raya Brass Band, on Conan O’Brien and many more screen and stage appearances. She is also a theatrical director, teacher trainer, and award winning designer. She has extensive training in contemporary dance, physical theatre (mimes, clowns, storytelling through dance, Lecoq) and Silk Road dances spanning the Middle East to China. She was actually the first US-based belly dance teacher that ever taught in mainland China.
I saw Kaeshi belly dance to live music a few years ago, and it was gorgeous, classy and memorable. You can see much more of what Kaeshi has to offer on Kaeshi.com.
Kaeshi co-founded the professional dance company and school, Bellyqueen, which looks like it sometimes takes place in Ubud in Bali, one of my favorite places. Kaeshi also co-founded PURE (Public Urban Ritual Experiment), a global community focused on healing and social change through dance and music. www.pureglobe.org
One of her all time joys is dancing to live music so, in 2007, she set up Djam NYC, a weekly event that has been running since 2007. This event was a chance for dancers and musicians to create and play together. Kaeshi has also performed with one of my favorite bands, Djinn. (Also spelled with a silent D). I’ve mentioned Carmine Guida and Melissa the Loud in previous episodes, and they were part of that wonderful group as well.
I believe Kaeshi has also performed with the adorable smiley drummer Casey Bond that I featured in episode 20, and Dalia Carella who was featured in episode 18.
If you enjoy this show with Kaeshi, please pop over to aliciafree.com, subscribe to this podcast, and check out previous podcast episodes that just might give you just what you are looking for.
Kaeshi, do you have a Danceable Ritual you would like to share?
Shower dancing. Choreograph in the shower. The water falls, your mind goes blank, and you get inspired.
What are some common improvements belly dancers can make?
Percussionist Brad Mack answers the question:
Be yourself on stage. Don’t worry about wearing someone else’s smile or playing a character who is a dancer. It is so much more compelling when someone is just themselves with all the glorious imperfections.
Take the ultimate risk of being seen.
Become a master of your expression.
How do you become a performer that others want to work with?
I would rather work with the person who shows up with joy in their heart than the person who is really technically sound but may be difficult to work with. – Carmine Guida
If you show up and you maintain positivity, the more opportunities you get. The more opportunities you get, the better you get. – Brad
In a way we are all kind of emulating something. Not being of this culture, unless I dedicate my life to it, I will probably never be a truth to the way I play. Because I did not grow up with it. So I have to give myself permission to be myself. – Brad
To live life without comparison is to live life with integrity. – Krishnamurti
Part of taking lessons with somebody is learning about possibility. They are expanding your perspective on what is possible through vocabulary, transition, music choice, patterns. – Kaeshi
Great vegan whole foods: Oatmilk and peanuts
Have a glass of oatmilk with a sandwich or put it in your coffee. It’s so creamy.
Add peanuts to anything. Marinate peanuts in soy sauce, cayenne, and a dash of sugar and stir fry them.
Feel good habits: Meditate, journal, exercise
Exercising at home every day. It sets me up for the day and I look forward to it. I feel my best right after I do it. It’s almost a form of meditation, and it makes me feel good. It’s addictive at this point. My workouts are like treats. – Brad
I meditate, shower, make the bed, journal, and reward myself with a cup of coffee. – Kaeshi
Danceable song: Bone Dance by Deya Dova
Deya Dova is sometimes breathing with a volcano.
“I love anything with an audible exhale, where you can hear the breath.
As dancers, that is a powerful tool we can often forget about. How we can use our voice.
Sometimes when I perform dance, I scream…
Try using your voice when you perform because we realize how powerful it can be…I love watching dancers sometimes just dance to the sound of their breath.” – Kaeshi
The PURE Reflections: In the Beauty Reimagined Tour, the premise of the show is learning to accept our reflection. Becoming our most whole self. The patterns that we fall into when we don’t feel good enough varies. It’s a shared experience with others.
The sensation of dancing in front of a large crowd. The power of a mass of people and how that can really fuel you. Some people say that when they climbed to the statue of Liberty they can feel the power of all the eyes looking up at her from the ground, ferries, and sky scrapers. When you are in front of a mass of people and you are the focus of their attention, all of this energy comes out of you. – Kaeshi
What was it like to be part of Belly Dance Superstars in 2003?
Touring with Belly Dance Super Stars was a test of endurance. It looked so glamorous on the outside. When you looked a little deeper…we’re sweating our asses off. We’re airing out our costumes. We had our bras suction cupped to the bus windows.
It was a dream come true. In many ways I felt like an imposter, but I felt privileged that I could witness this.
Along with the other co-founders of Belly Queen, I dreamed that there would be a professional company that could perform on stages that were shared by companies like contemporary ballet, flamenco, all of these other dance forms that are celebrated by the main stream. We wanted that for belly dance too…I am sad that there is no company that is still touring around regularly. There were opportunities for belly dancers from people like Bobby Farrah and Serena Wilson. It seems like a lot of these opportunities are no longer there. I feel like this dance form that we hold so dear does deserve a platform that enables it to be more seen.
The 2020 Super Bowl Half-Time Show was Good for Belly Dance
But recently in the super bowl J-Lo and Shakira were donning their hip scarves and shimmying up a storm.
Are there links between meditation and dance?
Meditation helps me thrive under pressure. Finding stillness in the eye of the storm.
Do you have any tips for dancing confidently to live music?
When I first moved to New York I saw so much live music and belly dance together. Some of the live music and belly dance venues in New York City were Cedars of Lebanon, Mezzo Mezzo, and Grisly Pear.
A lot of the live music has disappeared. These days a dancer will dance to her iPod. If there’s a musician, they will play by themselves. Maybe 2.
When I first came to New York, you had full bands. You had musicians playing all night. I think that what I witnessed was a scaled down version of the hey day in the 60s and 70s on 20th street, where they had music every night until 4 am. I learned so much from dancing to a band.
Djam NYC ran for 10 years. This is an age-positive, body-positive, color-positive, gender-positive event for dancers new to dancing as well as professionals. It’s important for the younger generation to have the opportunity to dance to live music. Not only for the dancers, but for the musicians too. The musicians are aging as well. The ones who have experience are older. I am witnessing a split where not as many younger musicians have the same opportunities. Maybe it’s a budget thing. Venues are fast disappearing. It’s easier to have the dancer alone without the band, and the band without a dancer.
Djam is now at the Secret Room in Midtown on 8th Ave between 44th and 45th Street. It’s every two weeks.
I did not always enjoy dancing to live music. When I was a younger dancer I wanted everything to be perfect. Not knowing what the musicians would play…terrified me.
When you want to look good and do a good job and you are not sure what is going to happen, it’s scary. Now I definitely prefer live music versus recorded music. And improv over choreography as a soloist.
Have a regular practice of dancing for fun. Practice listening to music so you can start to anticipate where a song is going to go.
I am not afraid now to get up and dance to a song I have never heard before.
How have you grown from your Burning Man experience?
I happened upon the Melton John Art Car, with world class pianos. I met a Turkish pianist. Since I went to Burning Man, I have been listening to more piano music and performing to it.
Damn Sexy Dance Move: Inward Figure 8
It’s a foundational movement, so it’s not unique.
When you twist one hip forward and you draw the hip bone in toward your sternum, to your heart, and then you shift your weight to the other foot, and twist the right hip front into your sternum. It’s like melted chocolate. It’s about slowing down and taking your time and savoring. That’s what makes it so sexy.
Like outward and inward leg circles in ballet. The rond de jambe. That’s sexy too. You are tracing the floor. Your foot is a paint brush with wet paint. Take that same principle and apply that to your hips.
Costume Tip: Put on your costume first even if you already know that it fits you.
Maybe the elastic stretched out or some beads fell off and you forgot to fix it. Things happen to costumes. Sometimes velvet will stretch.
Something exciting: The online Bellyqueen platform includes musicians.
Bellyqueen Journey Along the Silk Road toured the world for 5 years
I commissioned a professional animator Pete List… That’s my way of getting around having a bulky set.