BellyEsque Musings from the Voluptuous Tessa True Heart – ALLAF 034

Want to feel beautiful and juicy in your body? Listen to this. Let’s reveal what belly dancers can learn from burlesque culture and find ways to take exquisite of ourselves.

Alicia Free :

I am so pleased to feature Tessa True Heart, aka Tessa Myers, a friend of mine for years and years that I’ve had the honor of performing with in many occasions. We are recording in the town next to Ithaca where Tessa and Jo Boring, who I will also feature in another podcast, own a wonderful studio together, high up in an old factory building and there are corsets and undies all over the place because it is a corset company. How cool is that?

So Tessa is from Ithaca, New York, and she graduated with a BA in Arts Education and a minor in dance from William Smith College, which is also an upstate New York. With nothing to lose after graduating, Tessa uplifted and moved across the country to land in San Francisco, California. An immense love for this art form and her adventurous and determined spirit quickly took her through the ranks. First performing with Damage Control Dance directed by Sarah Buyer and then teaming up with Jill Parker, the mama of Tribal Fusion Belly Dance, working as the co-director tour company, The Foxgloves Sweethearts and traveling the world as an assistant teacher. Tessa is now the co-owner of Belly Set Go Studio in Cortland, New York. Tessa strives for technical proficiency, artistic integrity and emotional strength. She is an inspirational, dynamic, gentle teacher.

 

DANCEABLE RITUAL

Alicia Free :

Tessa, do you have a danceable ritual that you would like to share?

Tessa:

I do have a danceable ritual. It’s more something that I use before I perform and I guess it’s more something in my head. When I was in Middle East Music and Dance Camp in the Redwood forest, Sahra Saeeda (aka Sahra Kent) was there teaching and she gave this little story about how she was dancing with Farida Fahmy who is part of the Reda Troupe. She had first moved to Egypt and she was a young dancer there, and Farida watched her perform. And later that night, she told her that the next time you perform you need to be more like a cat. So Sahra got on the stage the next day and was acting like an American interpretation of what dancing like a cat might be so cute and kitten like and sweet. And when she got off the stage for Farida told her “That’s not what I meant at all”. And I apologize if I’m butchering this lovely story that she told her. Farida said,

No, you must dance like a cat. Like a lioness who just got done eating her kill and is bathing on a rock and just fully satiated.

And so now whenever I perform, before I go on stage, it’s just my mantra that I tell myself.

It really helps me just be in my body. I think we can dance a lot from our heads, and you can have those moments where just satiated and full and needing of nothing in your body.

Alicia Free :

A lioness that has just eaten her kill and is sunbathing on a rock?

Tessa:

Yes.

Alicia Free :

Wow. I love it.

I have loved watching you fuse burlesque and belly dance over the years. It just keeps getting better and better. It’s a whole realm that I don’t have any experience in burlesque and the way that you put it together is so beautiful. The first performances you were the featured belly dancer doing this beautiful belly dance thing that you do and then you kept bringing in the two dance forms, then bringing them closer together. What made you start performing with a burlesque troop in the first place?

Tessa:

So when I first moved back home to Ithaca after I was in San Francisco, I was looking for performance opportunities and a local burlesque troop, Whiskey Tango Sideshow had just started, I think they were a year out in their development, and they were looking for acts. Someone told me they were looking for acts, so I decided to audition and they took me on and then they used me as a guest so often I just became one of the girls of the troop, so that’s how I started.

I had no intention of ever really dipping my toes into burlesque but Whiskey Tango was just a really amazing group. There’s between six and eight women who normally dance and I just was always ah struck by their creativity and their ability to make these essential interesting dances and the more I watched them, the more I just wanted … I don’t know. It was exciting and invigorating. I felt really connected to some of the movement that they did and just being a little more sensual in their bodies. And I actually my favorite, I call it bellysk. I know other people do bellysk out there. It’s kind of a generic overall term, but it’s kind of my favorite thing to perform right now and teach, because it’s fun. People can let go a little bit more than in belly dance because it’s less structured.

Alicia Free :

So cool. You were looking for a performance opportunity, the burlesque troop was an opportunity and then you started to get into it.

Tessa:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). And I have to say the fantastic thing about burlesque is they always pay their performers.

Alicia Free :

Right. Because people will pay money to see all kinds of exciting things like that too, right?

Tessa:

Yes.

Alicia Free :

And that’s the beauty too of the audience in that particular night we’re talking about, it was all ages.

Tessa:

Oh, it was everyone.

Alicia Free :

There were all these teenagers, there were all these people that look like the season pass holders at the theater. They’re in their sixties and their seventies. There’s something about burlesque that I feel is being elevated more and I think there are less dance opportunities in general, performance opportunities.

Tessa:

Yes, unfortunately.

Alicia Free :

Yeah. And less venues for even live music right now. A lot more people are just experiencing things through a screen. I’m so glad that you’re part of burlesque and that they are paying you.

Tessa:

The other thing I really love about the burlesque world is the showgirl aesthetics. Belly dance has jaw-dropping costumes, and burlesque takes it to the next level.

And who can resist that? I also, too, find that belly dance is a body positive world, but the most famous dancers that get shown over and over, really have the same body type, which is slender and white presenting with long dark hair.

And in the burlesque world, you just see everyone of all shapes and sizes and colors and gender identifying being presented and it’s incredible on a really different level, I think, than belly dance.

Alicia Free :

There’s a much bigger spectrum.

Tessa:

Much bigger.

Alicia Free :

That’s presented and welcomed, I should say.

Tessa:

And welcomed.

Alicia Free :

Yeah.

Tessa:

And then really also headlined.

Alicia Free :

In a 2014 episode of the podcast, Yip, which is another belly dance podcast, the mama of tribal fusion, Jill Parker, mentions Tessa.

You two have a beautiful friendship and I’d really like to thank you for introducing me to Jill and for organizing events with her, so that I’ve been able to meet her and see her as a teacher and get to know her and her style because she’s such a beautiful dancer with so much to share.

Would you like to share some of the things that you’ve learned from studying with Jill Parker and performing with Jill?

Tessa:

Yeah, I love Jill. She’s just an incredible person and an incredible teacher and a really great friend of mine. And I don’t feel like I would even still be dancing right now if she hadn’t been my mentor through everything. I’ve learned everything from Jill. If you haven’t studied with her and you’re interested in belly dance, you should. She’s just a wealth of knowledge.

But some of the most stand out things that I’ve learned from Jill is that

It’s okay to just be totally yourself.

Jill really emphasizes in her classes that everybody can have their own dance style and everyone should just be who they are as a dancer and really embody that and that no one needs to be a cookie cutter of her. And even when I watch videos of our company now, you can see that everyone still has their own kind of feel and take on everything, even though it is a cohesive look, to not get caught up in the trends.

Jill has this old school, beautiful, juicy, grounded belly dance and of course she incorporates new things as she learns them, but her style is really grounded in itself and she is unwavering in the fact that it’s beautiful and that people appreciate it just for how it is in its simplicity, which I love about her.

She doesn’t get into that more-is-more belly dance.

She’s definitely a less is more belly dancer and just letting the movements speak for themselves.

She’s a really, really thoughtful teacher and it’s always incredible for me to watch her explain something to a room full of all levels of dancers. It’s like uncanny, her ability to be able to teach four dance levels at one time and her ability to get people going and then help like singular people out along on the way. It’s definitely something I’m working on, but it’s really beautiful to watch.

The Mama of Tribal Fusion Jill Parker on the Alchemy of Belly Dance – ALLAF 030

Alicia Free :

I think I experienced one of your classes before I experienced Jill’s. I remember thinking, wow, Tessa is so clear with the way you explain things clearly.

Tessa:

Oh, thank you.

Alicia Free :

And yes, when you see Jill do that with a room of 60 people-

Tessa:

It’s unreal.

Alicia Free :

And that she can actually explain it to everyone. She can listen to the question and to answer the question directly, which a lot of teachers have trouble with. She’s handed that down to you.

And I think also she has no fear taking people aside and helping them, but making them feel good. It’s not like you’re doing that wrong. She can really pinpoint specific things that will help an individual.

Alicia Free :

I feel like she usually frames it as, this is how I’m doing the move. You could do it like I’m doing the move or you could do it another way. It’s not like right or wrong. If you want to do it like I’m doing it, this is how I’m doing it.

Tessa:

And I think she understands the mechanisms of the body and she can really see when someone is getting stuck in a certain place in their body.

Alicia Free :

That’s like a super power.

Tessa:

She has a lot of super powers.

Alicia Free :

Yes. Beautiful. Anything else you want to add about Jill?

Tessa:

You should dance with her.

Alicia Free :

Right. You see her coming into your town, sign up for the workshop or the class.

Tessa:

Yes.

Alicia Free :

Or go to her.

Tessa:

Go to her.

Alicia Free :

She teaches mostly in California now. Right?

Tessa:

In San Francisco she’s based. Yeah. I think she has like three or four classes a week.

Alicia Free :

Oh, nice. And Tessa’s invited her over back on the East coast.

Tessa:

Yeah. Any chance we get.

Alicia Free :

Right. Thankfully she has some family around here, so we keep getting her back.

Tessa:

Not enough.

Alicia Free :

Not enough.

Tessa:

Jill, come back more.

DANCEABLE SONG

Tessa:

My danceable song is called Stalking by Duane Eddy. Hopefully I’ll tell you say your name. It’s like a twangy, sexy with an apostrophe.

Alicia Free :

Oh. He’s handsome. All right, so this is supposed to look 1950s?

Tessa:

I mean, I think it’s old.

Alicia Free :

Have guitar, will travel.

Tessa:

Yeah.

Alicia Free :

Have twangy guitar.

Tessa:

Twangy guitar. Will travel. He looks a little Elvisy.

Alicia Free :

He does look a little Elvisy. Oh, very good, Duane Eddy. Tell us why you like this song.

Tessa:

I’ve always liked things that sounded a little Westerny. Jo, my dance partner, always teases me because she thinks everything I pick ends up sounding like it could be a part of a saloon get up. All the songs that I like are kind of low, moody and juicy. You can just get down, be in your body, everything’s slow.

Alicia Free :

And then you combine it with a drum solo at the end. Right?

Tessa:

That’s right. Pick it up at the end but I like slow, moody. Anything that you could just be like deep and juicy in, I’m there.

Alicia Free :

You are doing one of the Beirut songs. It was so beautiful and some melancholy for awhile.

Tessa:

Yes.

Alicia Free :

So you like stuff that’s moody?

Tessa:

Moody.

Alicia Free :

Slow.

Tessa:

Sexy. Schemxy. Of course, it’s got to be schemxy.

Alicia Free :

Oh, new form of sexy.

Tessa:

You’ve never heard schemxy?

Alicia Free :

I haven’t.

Tessa:

Schemxy, S-C-H-E-M-X-Y.

Alicia Free :

Is that from that social media platform that you’ve been experimenting in? Is it Tinder? No. No, I can’t remember what its called.

Tessa:

TikTok.

And Beirut. Oh yes. I love all their stuff.

Alicia Free :

Yeah. Their stuff is beautiful.

Tessa:

You know, some of their new stuff is a little indie rock for me. I do this one on a bayonet.

Alicia Free :

Oh, that’s right. That’s right. Oh God. There’s something dancing to a trumpet. Sorry.

Tessa:

Oh, I love trumpets.

Alicia Free :

Mariachi Balkan.

Tessa:

Yes. Especially because this one is Balkan, trumpet, moody, slow.

Alicia Free :

That’s the equation. That’s the magic Tessa True Heart equation. It’s good to know what your equation is, right? Because then you got your go to, you can always go out of that.

Tessa:

Right.

Alicia Free :

I think you’re the first person that ever said Lamma Bada to me. I think you wanted to dance to the song Lama Bata and I didn’t even know what that was at that point.

Tessa:

Shut up, yes you did.

Alicia Free :

Seriously, I don’t think I did.

Tessa:

I have like every rendition of Lamma.

Alicia Free :

I was in a Middle Eastern band at that point but that’s one of those songs that Middle Eastern bands are like no, not again. Some of them are professionals that play all this stuff because it’s that old Muwasha. It is the muwasha, right? But I loved it and you were like I want to dance the Lamma Bada. Because it sounds like the Lambada.

Tessa:

Maybe.

Tessa:

It’s in the samai rhythm. So that’s a ten eight.

Alicia Free :

Yep.

Tessa:

And I remember one time Nikolai was like, “Oh you dance to samai, you understand ten eight rhythms.” And I was like, “No.”

Because I understand the melody of Lamma Bada. I couldn’t count that to save my life.” But the melody really feels good in my body.

And I remember it was the Belly Dance Superstar Show in Syracuse and they were playing live music and he put a 10 on at the end. I was like, “What’s going on?” It’s the melody that gets me.

Alicia Free :

The melody of the song is very rhythmic. The strings play the rhythm in the beginning of it, which is really helpful. Not in every version but the version we play.

So do you want to talk a little bit about Natasha Atlas?

Tessa:

Sure. When I was trying to brainstorm about what my danceable song was, Natasha Atlas came to my mind. I do dance to some of her songs but she’s a little more upbeat than I’m used to. But I just think for people who are first getting into belly dance, if they ask me who is a good person to check out, I always tell them Natasha Atlas. All of our songs are beautiful and fun and I just think she does an amazing job incorporating Arabic songs into this really easy world funky songs.

Alicia Free :

Yeah, she’s got a lot more Western action in her music that makes it easier for us to enter into her music.

Tessa:

Yes. They’re good for classes. They’re always like a steady, nice beat and like fun and beautiful.

Alicia Free :

That’s a good point about Natasha.

Speaker 3:

Tessa and I go to clubs a lot. We go dancing all night long and hear all the popular music. Tessa and I both have three-year-olds. Right.

Tessa:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Alicia Free :

Out every night.

What sexy dance move would you like to share?

DAMN SEXY DANCE MOVE: The Juicy Spin and Sit

Tessa:

So I don’t have a very good name for this dance move because I think every rendition I come up with sounds slightly like a sex move.

Alicia Free :

A little inappropriate.

Tessa:

So I either call it The Turn and Sit or The Spin and Sit. Yeah, mostly call it The Spin and Sit. But if you have a better name, tell me. So the move is when you do a cross turn. So if you’re standing, cross your right foot as far over your left foot as you can and then kind of heel, toe to spin yourself around. So you’ll cross and then unwind and you can do that just by itself or if you want to do The Spin and Sit at the end, you’re just going to dive your hips. If you’re crossing your right foot over, you’re just going to dive your hips. As you do the back of the turn, you’ll dive your hips down and push them up to the right. So you’ll cross and then start turning and on the back sit. And if you get going really fast, you can even add like a little hair head toss.

Alicia Free :

So it could even be a hip circle that you sit into when the button is in the back.

Tessa:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

I think that’s why it’s got that fast spin in at the end. You’re just going to sink and be all nice and heavy and juicy.

Alicia Free :

Nice.

What is one vegan whole food ingredient that you love?

LIGHTEN MY BODY FOOD: Dark Chocolate and Olives

Tessa:

I don’t eat a lot of vegan food, but when I do it’s dark chocolate.

Alicia Free :

Yeah, there’s not that many ingredients in dark chocolate. Most of it has like four. The stuff you get at-

Tessa:

Yeah.

Alicia Free :

Co-op stuff.

Tessa:

It’s like cacao powder and honestly, I don’t know.

Alicia Free :

It’s like cacao. There’s some sugar in there, like an emulsifier, I feel like is one thing. Do you do anything with cacao? Is it cocoa or cacao? I don’t know. Are those different?

Tessa:

I think it’s the same thing.

Alicia Free :

Do you ever do anything with the powder?

Tessa:

I put it in my coffee sometimes in the morning if I’m feeling fancy. A little mocha action.

Alicia Free :

Oh my goodness. And then you grow olives here too?

Tessa:

I do. Well, you said I had to pick two.

Alicia Free :

Yeah. Yeah.

Tessa:

And olives. I think they’re a good snack.

Alicia Free :

I love olives.

Tessa:

Do you?

Alicia Free :

I never seen them raw anywhere. Can you eat a raw olive?

Tessa:

Like a not brine?

Alicia Free :

Yeah.

Tessa:

I don’t think they taste good.

Alicia Free :

Maybe they just gross.

Tessa:

Yeah, like you don’t go to the olive tree and just pick it off and eat it.

Alicia Free :

Just take it off fresh.

Tessa:

Uh-uh (negative).

Alicia Free :

I didn’t like olives until I went to Morocco when I was 25.

Tessa:

Oh. Then you realize what you’re missing.

Alicia Free :

I had no idea.

Tessa:

Because if your mom was like my mom, she just bought those black olives in the can.

Alicia Free :

Oh, those.

Tessa:

I know, those are so bad.

Alicia Free :

Those are horrible. Every Thanksgiving we’d get a whole jar of these green olives with this red shit stuffed in them. And it’s like what did you do? What did you do to these things?

I went to Morocco and his family took me out to the market and I was staying in their house because they thought, “You’re alone. What are you doing?” And they gave me this giant container of olives and I went on my way and I just kept eating them and I was like, “Oh my God, these are amazing.”

Tessa:

I’m sure.

Alicia Free :

I’d never even tried them but I thought they all had to have the-

Tessa:

Pimiento.

Alicia Free :

Yeah.

Tessa:

Or the-

Alicia Free :

The black ones. Outrageous. Well we live in a great food world now, at least in this area, we can get all kinds of delicious things all over the world.

What is one costume tip you want to share?

MAKE YOU SHINE COSTUME TIP: Wear fake eyelashes & lipstick

Tessa:

Eyelashes.

Alicia Free :

How do you put them on? You’ve got tricks?

Tessa:

I have small eyes so I have to cut my eyelashes. Sometimes I cut them like three quarters to halfway down, if you have a whole one in front of you. And then I start from the outside edge. So you’re cutting off the inside edge. I have kind of almond shaped eyes. They’re hooded, they’re not very big. If I try to put a whole eyelash on there, it’s just going to lift up on the inside corner and I found that you can’t really tell. So I think mostly it’s about filling out your eyelashes and then having that like depth on the outside so they like make some big and mushy, swooshy. But I think if I only had one minute to get ready, I’d put on my eyelashes.

Alicia Free :

I’ve seen some of the Whiskey Tango shows where they switched their eyelashes between costumes, like that’s part of their costume switch action. Have you ever done?

Tessa:

No.

Alicia Free :

Oh my goodness.

Tessa:

No. But one time I did cut off part of my eyelash and add it to that bottom lid. I think that’s a drag queen. It looked good. Some people double their eyelashes.

Alicia Free :

I don’t think I cut mine enough because mine lift up a lot, on the inside especially.

Tessa:

Then cut them a little bit more.

Alicia Free :

I think I got to cut them a little bit more. There’s a whole eyes episode too. That’s one of the most listened to episodes that I’ve put out there. I don’t know which episode number it is, but we talk about eyelashes a little bit in there.

Sexy Eye, Evil Eye – ALLAF 014

Tessa:

You should.

Alicia Free :

Yeah. It’s like you actually put makeup on. If you don’t have time to put makeup on, you slap those bad boys on people like, “Whoa, look. How’d you do that with your eyes?”

Tessa:

And then probably lipstick. Right? Because otherwise it lips can kind of look washed out if you don’t have-

Alicia Free :

I never wear lipstick. Now I’m starting to think-

Tessa:

You don’t?

Alicia Free :

No, I don’t.

Tessa:

If you do, don’t do nude because-

Alicia Free :

Then you really don’t have any lips. Now Jo Boring, she has some exciting lipstick colors I’ve seen.

Tessa: I’m a make your own kind of girl too.

Alicia Free :

Oh yeah.

Tessa:

Mostly because every time I’ve bought a costume, it fits like shit. But it does like even places that I’ve turned in my measurements too, mostly it’s the bras. I have this $350 costume that I have to figure out how do you take it apart and put it back together, so you might as well just start from square one.

Alicia Free :

Yep. And one thing that I love about you performing too, Tessa, I feel like I’ve seen you up on stage with a costume that wasn’t quite finished and you just wore it anyway.

Tessa:

Oh hell yeah.

Tuck that shit in.

Alicia Free :

Yeah. You like tuck that fabric right in the back and keep going.

Tessa:

Yes.

Alicia Free :

Tuck that shit. My costume tip is tuck that shit in. All right, here we go.

Alicia Free :

I love following your Belly Set Go channel on YouTube that you guys have been cultivating. And also following you as Tessa True Heart on Instagram. You post such thoughtful pieces on Instagram.

Tessa:

Oh, thank you.

Alicia Free :

You do. It’s such a wonderful insight into your life and your integrity as a performer. One post you did on Instagram this past summer really stuck with me.

Alicia Free :

You wrote, “I almost never bare my belly outside performing and teaching, but today was a f*** those kinds of thoughts day.”

That one just stuck with me so much because there was so much honesty in it, you know? And on social media, a lot of times we were like, “Dude, I look at me, I’m doing something cool.” But “What mindset are you challenging?” was the question you asked in that post, and I really loved it. Can you tell me more about that?

Tessa:

I’ve never been a thin lady. I’ve always had a voluptuous body and then I had my daughter and that changed my body a lot and it’s been difficult. I’m always thankful to dancing. It’s taken me into self-love and loving myself and appreciating my body.

I definitely always feel fearless when I go on stage and I know I have something to give and I can always set aside what my body looks like and just go out there and dance and enjoy it.

It’s hard for me to do that in my daily life. So I feel like I am always a little bit straddling that diet culture and body love inhabiting yourself culture.

And I think, unfortunately not always, but on that day it just hit me that like I can fucking wear whatever I wanted. I think I had a little skirt on and our belly set go crop top and I felt like a million dollars. And that’s not something that I had always picked to go out and public in.

And I know that there’s probably a lot of women and men out there that don’t feel comfortable picking the things that they want to wear because of how they look.

So I felt like I needed to share it in that moment for myself and for other people.

Alicia Free :

It’s interesting because you know what you want to wear, but then you might take it another step and go, Oh, but what somebody else going to say about this? Right?

Tessa:

Right. How really cares? If you look in the mirror and you feel good or if you’re walking around and you can’t see yourself but it feels good on your body, like right. Who cares?

Alicia Free :

One thing I love about being in India, because a lot of people were a choli, right? And they were their sari over and they wear their skirt below and they have their midriff showing. It doesn’t matter what that midriff looks like.

Tessa:

Hell no, yeah.

Alicia Free :

It looks gorgeous wrapped in this fabric, you know what I mean?

Tessa:

Beautiful, yes.

Alicia Free :

And I don’t know if they have the same kinds of thoughts that we do about this when wearing that particular size clothing. I don’t know if it’s part of it, but in our tailored clothing world, there’s so much bullshit that comes with having a size one and a size two and a size three.

Tessa:

And I think too, I got a lot of stretch marks when I was pregnant. It’s just like my skin, I think. I got stretch marks when I was growing too.

I don’t cover my belly when I’m performing and I don’t wear a cover up over either. And I’ve had a lot of women come up and tell me thanks for doing that. They didn’t know that they could now that they had stretch marks. We just get such crazy shit in our head.

Alicia Free :

Holding us back from what we want to do. Do you have a feel good, look good habit that you want to share?

Tessa:

Sure. So recently I’m in this group on Facebook that Cera Byer hosts. She’s doing coaching now instead of dancing. And she posted a video the other day that said,

she wanted to be a woman that took exquisite care of herself and then she kind of listed off the things that made her feel like she’s taking exquisite care of herself.

And some of the things are really simple. She buys fresh flowers because that makes her feel good or she lights candles or she gets her nails done. So it did make me start to think, “Well, hell yeah. I want to be a person that takes exquisite care of myself and am I doing that and what does that mean to me?” And I think everybody’s is going to be different.

So make your list, even if it’s just like three things to begin with. What makes you feel like you’re taking exquisite care for yourself?

Alicia Free :

Beautiful. One of my friends was locked up for like 10 years and I remember going to meet with her in prison and she said, “When I get out of here, I’m going to wear a bra with underwire and I’m going to work out in a gym.” And I was like, “Hell yeah.”

Tessa:

Yeah.

Alicia Free :

That meant something. That was exquisite care, I think, to her and it just made me think about what’s important to me? What’s the difference that makes a difference in my life. That little thing that I do that makes me feel so much better.

Tessa:

So good.

Alicia Free :

Like take a shower.

Tessa:

Yeah, for real. Some of the things on my list are things that make me feel a little bit petty. I think this is such an ingrained stupid thing, but I feel a lot better when my legs are shaved, which is something that I never made time for being a mom. So I’ve started doing that and I’m like every morning when I wake up and I got my smooth legs and I feel all wooo!

Alicia Free :

So the habit is to figure out what habits make you feel good and do those.

Tessa:

Just do them. You’ve got time for it.

Alicia Free :

That’s beautiful.

Tessa:

So my other one would be,

Don’t be afraid to look at yourself in the mirror.

And this came from when I lived in San Francisco, I worked at the Lusty Lady, which is a peep show.

Alicia Free :

Ooh.

Tessa:

Whoa. There’s a Netflix documentary on it. They were the only unionized co-op peep show out but they’re, unfortunately, closed. Being a co-op I don’t think worked very well for them. But in a peep show, you’re in a room and around you are mirrors everywhere. There’s mirrors on the ceiling, there’s mirrors everywhere you look and you’re naked, you have to be naked. It’s part of the job.

And being in a place where I had to look at myself naked, made me realize how beautiful my body was and how interesting it was and different shapes and different positions and it was really like invigorating and enlivening. And I think people don’t look at themselves … like maybe your face but to take time to look at your whole body in the mirror, can be just a really beautiful experience

Alicia Free :

And you probably had good light in that peep show.

Tessa:

Hell yeah we did.

Alicia Free :

That’s cool too. I didn’t know you did that!

Tessa:

I know, it’s a faux pas on the belly dance.

Alicia Free :

I was reading Alia Thabit’s book, Midnight at the Crossroads: Has Belly Dance Sold Its Soul, it’s a great book. And she says don’t ever demean strippers.

Tessa:

No.

Alicia Free :

It’s like part of our world in a sense.

Tessa:

Yeah.

Alicia Free :

I don’t want to change what she was saying, but I just loved how straight up she said that because so many belly dancers have been like-

Tessa:

I’m not a stripper.

Alicia Free :

I’m not a stripper, belly dance is different than exotic dancers. And I’m like, “Yeah, it’s different but do you really need to separate yourself?”

Tessa:

No.

Alicia Free :

I don’t know.

Tessa:

Right. I met some really amazing, beautiful women while I worked at the peep show. I think they called working out the peep show sex work. And I never really associated myself with that word. Well, some of the women were like sex workers and it’s just crazy to me to think that they should be a separate. Like if they’re women who are experienced their body and sharing it and using it.

Alicia Free :

They’re business ladies.

Tessa:

Yeah.

Alicia Free :

They are business women. You know what I mean? We all work some way.

Tessa:

We do.

Alicia Free :

Sex work is real work. That’s where we used to stay in Bangkok too, sex work is really work. The whole dividing line is-

Tessa:

Lameo.

Alicia Free :

It’s absurd because it implies that one is better than the other, you know? And when it’s that way, it’s like, all right, then I think you lost. How do you make it so your dance troop looks so amazing. Every time I see you perform and even more amazing every time.

Tessa:

Wow. Celestial Bodies has been together for three or four years. And then like some of the girls, Regina, she was one of my students when I first started teaching. So that feels like forever ago, which is amazing to still have her. So I think part of it is that we’ve been together. I choreograph a lot of the pieces, though Joe does as well. And we’ve had Dr. Ellyn George choreographing some pieces lately as well. And so I think them understanding my movement vocabulary helps. We rehearsal every week, no matter if there’s a show going on or not. And then it’s also a requirement for our girls to come to class ahead of time. So I think to have class and then rehearsal and then be consistent. And then everyone’s just excited. We have hardworking dancers who are excited. They all bring amazing ideas to the table and they’re all just ready to work.

Alicia Free :

You guys are always doing fresh things too. I mean you had ones that you have just nailed and it’s beautiful to watch you do every time. And I feel like you just bring in new elements a lot too.

Tessa:

We try.

Alicia Free :

Yeah.

Tessa:

A lot of times I come in and I’ll be like, ladies I have this skeleton, help me fill in. And people are all willing to … Like Ellen George does Irish dancing, so she’s really good at moving and shifting how dancers move in the space to get us into different formations.

Alicia Free :

Nice. So everyone brings different things to the table kind of thing?

Tessa:

Yeah.

Alicia Free :

You got a hooper (Dani Owens) that dances with you.

Tessa:

I know.

Alicia Free :

Regina (DeMauro) is a fire dancer.

Tessa:

She does.

Alicia Free :

You’ve got all these different super powers that your troupe has.

Tessa:

Super super powers.

Alicia Free :

You have a three year old that you bring to workshops and shows and she’s amazing.

TIPS FOR PARENTS WHO DANCE

Alicia:

Do you have any tips for people that might have a hard time dancing and being parents with young kids?

Tessa:

That shit is hard. I wish I had like five steps for you to make it easy, but the reality is being a parent who works and dances is really hard.

Tessa:

I think some of the things that have made it easy for me is I have a amazing husband and my mother in law and she’s always willing to help me out. I do take Effa to things when it makes sense or it’s a low key event. So, it’s always harder than I imagined it to be. I think my number one piece of advice for someone who is becoming a parent and was a dancer was that, you have to make sure the people around you know that it’s a non-negotiable. So I remember having that conversation with my husband when we first found out that I was pregnant, that I couldn’t stop dancing. And I dance less, I have to make choices about what’s the most important thing for me to do. And I definitely … what does it, FOMO? Fear missing-

Alicia Free :

Fear missing out.

Tessa:

I mean, whatever. JOMO, I don’t know. But I feel that often that there are things that I really want to go to, I just don’t have the time available. So I’m choosy. Is this important enough for me to have my one babysitting time be this Saturday as opposed to three Saturdays from now? So I’m more choosy. I don’t say yes as often, but I’ve made my family know that I can’t stop dancing.

Alicia Free :

Right. All right. Last question.

TELL US ABOUT SOMETHING EXCITING COMING UP

Tessa:

Jo and I have a little secret that we’re working on. We are going to be launching our own online streaming dance website. So it was really important to us that it be for everybody and about just being fabulous and we wanted all the dance forms that we felt made people feel like a million dollars. So we’ll have Jill Parker teaching belly dance. We’re going to have burlesque on there. We’re going to have some BellyEsque.

Jo Boring:

Yes, BellyEsque. Tessa there doing Bellyesque and so excited about that.

Tessa:

Oh, and then we might have some voguing, voguing and waacking instructor. So that will hopefully be out like in the spring.

Jo Boring:

Yes. Tessa is the optimistic one of the two of us. I am the cynical mean mommy sometimes, but I definitely need Tessa. I was just thinking this the other day that Tessa makes me dream bigger dreams, so thank you. And have patience with me when I’m like, mm, I don’t think so. I don’t think that’s going to happen that fast.

Tessa:

It is going to happen.

Jo Boring:

Yeah. This will be good because it’s on recording now. If it happens, like you give a date and if it happens by then you win.

Alicia Free :

Ooh.

Tessa:

Ooh, March 21st.

Alicia Free :

What?

Jo Boring:

She’s thrown down the gauntlet and I’m over here sitting like, what are all the things we have to do before March, 2020 but I love your spirit.

Alicia Free :

Yeah, so if you’re ready to dance at home with some amazing instructors and learn how to shake your booty in every way imaginable.

Jo Boring:

All the ways.

Alicia Free :

All the ways.

Jo Boring:

Team Belly Set Go.

https://www.teambellysetgo.com/

Alicia Free :

Tessa, thank you so much for being on the show.

Tessa:

Thank you for having me. This was awesome.

Alicia Free :

I love having every excuse to hang out with you, and this is an excellent excuse to hang out with Tessa.

Tessa:

The most bestest.

Alicia Free :

Right. And share her with the world via podcasting magic. So thank you so much and we look forward to seeing the online program that you’re creating out.

Tessa:

Yeah. It’ll be like a monthly subscription streaming video website.

Alicia Free :

So it would keep you going month after month, baby?

Tessa:

Yes.

Alicia Free :

All right. Thank you very much.