While at Rakkasah Spring Caravan, we had the chance to sit down with Danielle Hutton. Danielle Hutton is a world-class belly dancer that shares authenticity and emotion through her belly dance. She has been dancing for over 14 years in the New York City dance community with Bellyqueen, Solstice, and Zilla Dance Ensemble. She combines her background in belly dance with a variety of other dance forms to create dramatic and inspiring artistic performances. Danielle teaches at a variety of places, to see her latest offers view http://danielledance.com.
When is the first time you saw dance and not specifically Belly Dance, just any dance?
Dance, that was a long time ago. My first encounter with dance was in third grade. My elementary school had this little dance show and I was like, “Oh, this looks cool, I want to be in it.” It was to Janet Jackson’s song If, which you know in third grade at that time and was not really a proper song. So I would say that was probably my first time just being involved and all about dance.
I was never really a classically trained dancer or anything like that. Interestingly enough my mom told me a couple of years ago that she asked me if I wanted to take dance classes and I said, “No.” Of all the things that my mom could have listened to me about, why was it me saying no to dancing? I guess it’s kind of a good thing because who knows how my path in dance would have changed if I had been a classically trained dancer.
When is the first time you saw Belly Dance?
The first time I saw Belly Dance I was seventeen years old in November 2001. It was a Sunday at Café Figaro, which doesn’t exist anymore, on the corner of Bleecker and MacDougal Street. That night it was a Scott Wilson’s band, Raquy Danziger, and there were three dancers. The dancers were Stella, Sarah Skinner and Sahara. When they preformed I was just like, “Oh my gosh, I want to do that, I want to be like them.” I remember Sarah Skinner brought me up to dance with her and I was super fan girl thinking how I wanted to dance like them.
How did you get started? Who did you take classes with?
I got into belly dance because Shakira was super insanely popular and I wanted to learn how to belly roll. After that I started doing some research and found New York Sports Club. My first teacher was Reyna. She used to study with Bobby Farrah. I remember my first class, and the one major adjustment that she gave me. I didn’t even realize I was doing that because I always carried a messenger bag as a bag pack so that my right shoulder was always slightly higher than my left.
I was with her until 2005, so like 2001-2005, and then I went to college. Every time I came down during the summer, I’d study and be in class all the time.
Then in 2005, I really got into Tribal Fusion and Rachel Brice. During then I starting studying with Sera Solstice, and was with her until about 2012-2013. I’m kind of always with her, and she has always been one of the key teachers who’s really inspired me and pushed to me find my voice as a dancer. I have been dancing with Solstice for so many years. When it was just the four of us and we would travel out to Vegas to do Tribal Massive. I would say they are the two key teachers in my life.
Of course as I go, I still have a lot of other influences and a lot of different teachers. Natalie Nazario is a big one for me. And then of course there is Mira Betz who is really inspiring. For one thing, I love that I had the opportunity to dance with her twice at Tribal Massive and again at Art of the Belly. She’s just a beacon of knowledge in terms of theatricality, history, costuming, and just all these little things. I’m just really excited to continue studying with her and then I’ve done workshop with Zoe Jakes, Olivia Kissel, Kami Liddle, Rose Harden, and many more.
Right now are you teaching or studying with anymore?
So right now I’m mostly on my own due to time constraints. I’m looking to get back into private with Natalie. I try to do workshops whenever I can as well. I am a little lazy about it, but I have a self-practice schedule. I will book a studio for 2 hours once a week and just play around or work with, The Little Book of Belly Dance Prompts. I’ll just flip through the page and look at a prompt and then try to work with it and see what develops.
You have been active in the New York City community for a while, but have you been parts of any other dance communities?
I’m from New York, but I had a year where I lived in California, which is the Mecca of Tribal Fusion. The irony was that I took a break from belly dancing for the year I lived in California. This was mostly because I couldn’t quite figure out my place in the Belly Dance world. It was a weird experience to go from a city where people within the Belly Dance community know you and you had friends to not knowing anyone. Then I go out there and expected to see a familiar face, but I didn’t really get that. So it was just really hard to manage that, and the logistics of commuting to class. It is pretty expensive to travel into San Francisco to take class. You have to go by a strict time or else you’ve missed it. I still kept my relationship with dance, but it was just a different form of dance that I think I needed at that moment.
Are there any other styles of dance that you like dancing regularly or trained in?
Now I am doing Argentine tango, which is a lot of fun and I’ve been doing that since the end of August last year. I love it so much. I find that a lot of the dances that I do have a relationship to where I’m at and what I need during that time in my life. There is still this level of communication and learning, like being present and being aware with your partner and with the music. I love when he is suggesting a move and basically I can have that choice of if I want to do that move or not. The important thing is that it is a relationship, and I get to follow. I have the three-inch heels that I wear and get the chance to be girly and dress up when I dance.
One thing that I don’t really practice as much as I used too, which was very healing for me, was Ecstatic Dance. Basically Ecstatic Dance is you are in a ballroom space for three hours and there is no talking on the dance floor at all. The DJ’s playing music and you just roll with it. You just dance, and whatever comes up for you, you just let it happen. You just let go and dance which is amazing.
It really helped me through a lot of stuff because living in San Francisco/Oakland was actually one of the hardest times of my life. Ecstatic Dance was the one thing that really kept me connected to my body, and kept me connected to the earth. I couldn’t afford to take dance classes, and I didn’t have a job. I’d go and I’d volunteer and I got to do Ecstatic Dance for free. I spent an hour sweeping the floor, creating the altar, and then I’d just dance. It was so healing and therapeutic and just really grounding for me. I think it also gave me permission to explore movements in the way that I wanted too, and dance the way that I felt like.
Why is dance so important to you and like a part of your life?
I don’t think I could ever get rid of it even if I wanted to. The moment I get rid of it, I might as well not be living. I think dance has been the one way that I can express myself that is most natural. I mean I talk a lot, but I’m not necessarily comfortable with speaking. Whatever I don’t have the ability to say in words, I can say in movement. I just love how healing it has been for me. Especially when I started belly dancing at seventeen, I was an overweight girl and very shy. You had like the popular kids in school and I’d sit by myself and then I’d just go to dance class and I’d feel like I’m right at home.
I wound up making a lot of friends through dance. One of my closest friends I met in California through dance. I remember, he was across the room, and we started dancing and our eyes made contact. We just had this big smile and then we just gravitated towards each other. We just had this really beautiful dance. It wound up like being another two or three ecstatic dances before I actually knew his name, but I felt like in that moment he shared so much about himself and I shared so much about myself. It was just really beautiful to have that experience. I’m still very shy. As I’ve gotten older I’ve gotten more uncomfortable around people for various reasons, but I’m finding that when I have dance, I can relate. I can relate to the other person, the other person can relate to me, and I feel very much at ease.
What is it about Belly Dance that you like?
I think what I love about it was that I could be the body type that I am, be good, and be able to do that art form. I’m able to be husky, and at the same time be very feminine. I love the isolations that we do and the costuming. Even though I’m mostly a fusion dancer, I love the sparkles too. I love what I can potentially embody when I’m belly dancing, and that It can be anything really. I just love that it does allow me to tap into things that I often shy from in my everyday life.
Of course, there are moments where I think I need to take a step back from belly dance. However I think it’s just a natural part of the journey. What always keeps me coming back is that I feel like there’s so much opportunity out there. It gives me a chance to express who I am and what I want from the world, and most importantly who I want to be as a person.
Photo Credit in order from top to bottom:
1.) Picture by Pixie Vision Photography
Article written by Katie Montella