Kami Liddle has been a student of dance since she was 4 years old. Over the years she has studied ballet, tap, jazz, modern and hip hop. After a brief interlude as a musician, Kami reunited with dance when she was 18 years old and began to study cabaret style belly dance until she found her passion in improvisational belly dance via Fat Chance Belly Dance. Kami holds a B.A. in Art with a Minor in Dance from the University of Nevada, Reno. Kami has toured Bellydance Superstars (BDSS), Beats Antique, and currently directs the amazing Gold Star Dance Company. To learn more about Kami’s current travels and classes visit http://kamiliddle.com
When was the first time you saw dance?
No one’s ever asked me that before, I don’t know. I started taking dance classes when I was four years old, so I feel like possibly then. I remember watching Gene Kelly in ‘Singin’ in the Rain’, and Shirley Temple tap dancing when I was a kid. I don’t even know if I have memories before being four years old.
What about the first time you saw belly dance?
The first time I saw belly dance was also in the first class I ever took. I sort of grew up doing dance on and off. When I was a teenager I quit dancing altogether and just wanted to be a punk rocker and a musician and have nothing to do with dance. Then one day when I was going to community college, I saw a flyer for a belly dance class. I thought it sounded totally weird and unusual, and I signed up. My first teacher, Tahari, was this really eccentric older lady that wore tons of jewelry and bright, mismatching colors and patterns, and she was just super wild, and I loved it. She totally captured that sort of like exotic, otherworldly vibe, and that was my first experience with belly dance.
How did you get started professionally?
Well, I started teaching when I became a yoga teacher at 21 years old. I worked at a studio called Fitness Evolution in Reno, Nevada and I did my yoga teacher training through them. They would have quarterly parties where people would have dance performances or do whatever. I would show up and do belly dance performances, and the owner would always say “Kami, you need to teach this. Why are you not teaching this?” I didn’t feel like I was ready, and I probably wasn’t, but I had already had a little bit of foundation in teaching, so I started teaching belly dance classes there.
It wasn’t really my intention to belly dance professionally. I was just obsessed, and I went around to all of the festivals and all of the events I could. I was so broke and spent every dollar I could on belly dance, which I’m sure many people are familiar with. When I was showing up at these festivals performing, people started to take notice of me and ask me to come back the following year and teach. It just kind of happened organically, and then from there I started to get booked more and more, but all within the United States and like once or twice on the east coast. Most of it was on the west coast. At that time, tribal fusion was such an infant form.
From there I auditioned for Bellydance Superstars, and I did one show with them. I wasn’t taken on tour at that time, but I was going to college during that entire time. Once I graduated from college I quit my job that I had had for six years, which was actually was a great job that I gave up. I moved from Reno, Nevada, and I moved to San Diego and just decided to do belly dance full on. I made myself totally dedicate my life to trying to dance for a living. Then fortunately, within a couple of months, Bellydance Superstars called me again and asked me to then go on tour with them. I ended up touring with them for six years and got a lot of exposure from that and ended up traveling all over the world several times.
Dancing professionally was never intended or the plan. I was so excited to be there and to have anyone take notice of what I was doing. I just sort of let it happen, and I didn’t force it, but I was really fortunate. I was lucky to sort of be around in the infancy of the style because nowadays there’s so many amazing performers that I’m sort of like “How do you even get started in this industry with how many amazing teachers and performers there are these days?” Now the dance form is known worldwide, and there are so many more dancers that are participating in it. It used to be such a small group of people that being there at the right time and place was beneficial. Also there was very limited festivals and workshop possibilities, but now there are so many possibilities. In a way, I’m grateful that I was around in the early days, because I feel like I really benefited from that. I really think anyone that puts their full on passion and energy and effort into something, things are going to happen.
Why belly dance?
I stopped having a passion for dance, but belly dance renewed my love of dance. That’s why I decided to stick with it. I just loved it and it felt good in my body. It felt very organic for me. I ended up deciding to do my dance minor while I was in college and got back into hip-hop and modern dance and all of these other styles that I hadn’t trained in before, but it’s because of belly dance. Without belly dance, I don’t think I would be dancing today.
What do you love about belly dance?
It’s still a very underground scene, you know. That’s part of what I love about it. I was really involved as a teenager in the underground punk scene, and I love that. I love the community. I love the grassroots feel of it, and that’s what belly dance is and still is. Even though people might be familiar with belly dance, maybe they’re not familiar with specifically tribal fusion or other styles. That is part of what I love about it, that it’s us. It’s not some big corporation funding it or anything like that. We don’t really have sponsors or advertisers. It’s all of us doing the work and making it happen.
I think my biggest advice is that if dancing, or getting to a workshop weekend, or getting to a festival is what you want to do, make it a priority and do it. All of us live such busy lives these days, and we have so many ways to have excuses to get out of doing things even if it’s something that’s good and nourishing for us. Even on the way here, there was a woman telling me that she hasn’t had time to herself in years. She’s a mother and she has a couple of businesses that she runs on her own, and she came here this weekend because this is her time. She was so ecstatic, and I’ve seen her out, and I can see she’s having fun. It’s hard to make those sacrifices to save the money and the time, but if you make it happen, make that happen for yourselves.
Do you have any current inspiration?
My current inspiration is trying to simplify my life. I just recently moved from the city to out in the country, to a really small town. I’m trying to not be pulled in a million directions at one time, because I feel very unfocused. I’m trying to find a little bit more clarity. I’m definitely inspired by nature right now, just natural beauty.
Are you currently teaching?
Besides traveling and teaching workshops, I was teaching weekly classes, but I’ve stopped doing that, because it’s just too difficult with my traveling schedule. Also I just sort of realized that I think my time’s actually spent better elsewhere. Although I love working with people week to week. I’m part of a weekly series that happens at The Salimpour Studio that is 7:30pm on Wednesday night. That’s me and a couple other professional touring dancers, and we sort of share that rotating it. It’s great, because a lot of dancers from around the world come and pop into class because they know it’s happening.
Otherwise I’m doing Patreon, which has been really cool to me. While I’ve loved creating instructional DVDs there’s a lot of money and time involved in producing those, and people don’t really buy DVDs anymore. I don’t necessarily have a lot of money to put in behind a big production and I’m starting to realize that dancers don’t necessarily care that the lighting’s perfect. Having production values is important, but I’m just filming little things in my own studio. I actually just filmed something on my balcony with the view of the ocean and my regular clothes and was like “Screw it, I want to share this little hip lock combo.” It’s been really fun and I like that site, because it’s more of an interactive way to meet up with people rather than just watch me on a screen and then that’s it. You can ask me questions. I share other things too like inspiring blogs. We have Google Hangouts where people can ask me questions or we can have discussions, so it’s much more interactive. I really like that, because I love having that connection with people, but I do feel like online classes you have that disconnect. That’s why I love teaching. I love connecting with people and helping them grow, and it makes me grow as a dancer and a teacher as well.
Do you have a favorite workshop that you teach?
I always like teaching the layering workshop that I’ve been teaching for years, and it’s never the same workshop. I’ve changed the description, because people always want something that’s new, but it’s always different even if it’s the exact same description. The same with the class that you took earlier today, the Hit It Hard Drills Class, because I really enjoy breaking down technique and knowing specifically what’s happening and making everything super clear. We kind of get in our own way sometimes rather than just dancing really hard and pushing ourselves. I really love that class since it is challenging people and seeing people’s faces light up like “Oh my gosh. I’m doing this. This is much harder than I ever thought I could do, and I’m doing it.” I love that feeling.
Do you have a favorite performance?
One of the ones that’s sticking out to me in my mind right now is a video of me at Tribal Umrah in 2008 or around then. I think it was the very first Tribal Umrah and it was in Biarritz, France. I really love the ocean, and the stage was right next to the ocean. Which was cool, because it was windy, but the wind was sort of blowing around my dress, and it just was a really cool setting. It was a great event. It was the first year, and there was a lot of just amazing people and teachers. Also the fact that it was just in this open space that was open to the public, so there was people cruising around town, walking up like “What is this performance that’s happening?”, and random people got involved.
Is there anything you would like to say about Gold Star?
What I’ll say about Gold Star is that I was really apprehensive about starting a troupe for a long time, because I know of a lot of drama in the dance community or within companies. I just never wanted to have to deal with that, and I never wanted to be the bad guy. So I avoided having a company for a long time, but my friend, Rose Harden, who is in Gold Star, was always yelling at me “Kami, what the hell’s wrong with you? You have your own style. You have your own thing. Why don’t you have a company?”
I finally listened to her and started Gold Star, and I took a really long time to think about who I wanted to ask. I wanted to work with dancers who came to my classes regularly, were familiar with my style, were hard workers, took accountability for themselves and were easy to work with. The people that you want to be in a dressing room with in a high stress situation.
I think people should consider that when wanting to join a troupe or even a professionally touring company. It’s not necessarily only about how great of a dancer you are or your look or anything like that. You have to be able to work with other people and to take corrections and to be a team player. This is why I think Gold Star has worked really well. We’ve kind of become a little family, and do weekend getaways together. If we don’t do these trips at rehearsal we never get anything done because we just want to hang out and talk. It’s great but there’s always challenges. There’s always things that come up and it’s always about how you can handle yourself in those situations. I don’t want to work with anyone with a diva attitude.
You have to find the right dynamic with people, and some people just don’t mesh. That’s what I try to tell people when they ask me about “How do I join a troupe?” or I’ve had people ask me if they can audition for Gold Star. It’s not a group that’s open for audition, although I did bring in a newer member, Aimee Krasovich. She was asked because she came to a lot of my classes and has always been so good at receiving corrections. So I asked her to do like a guest piece with us, and she did great and meshed well with the group and so I invited her to join Gold Star. I get a lot of people asking me if they can audition, but they’ve never even taken my class before. I’m like “How do you know you want to dance with me when you don’t know my style, you don’t know me?” If you want to get involved, then get involved. You have to put yourself out there and be part of the community.