Brenna Crowley is an eclectic belly dance artist, choreographer and instructor in NYC, performing and teaching locally and across the country in many theatrical dance productions, belly dance festivals and other events each year since 2007. She has performed as a featured soloist as well as a member of Sera Solstice’s Solstice Ensemble, Solstice Project, and Solar Tribe, Altagracia’s Caribbean Rose Dance Company, Ayshe’s Cult of Isis Ensemble and many others. She is the director of her troupe Zilla Dance Ensemble, which was formed in 2009. Since its inception, they have performed in numerous theatrical shows, belly dance festivals and other dance events each year. The dancers that make up this ensemble come from all walks of life and various belly dance disciplines; together they celebrate the exuberance of movement and music. To view more info visit www.brennadance.com
When is the first time you saw dance?
I can’t remember the first time, but I would have to say that my earliest exposure to dance was from watching film musicals and programs on public television, particularly the MGM movie musicals. My mother was always renting the VHS tapes from the library because we didn’t have cable. We also watched a lot of dancing programs on Channel 13, especially the ballroom competitions; I was hooked on the feathers and sparkles. I also can’t remember the first time I saw Michael Jackson, but he was and continues to be a big inspiration for my movement, I still have three VHS tapes (The Making of Thriller, Moonwalker, Michael Jackson: The Legend Continues) that as a child I rewound over and over again to learn some of the iconic choreographies from the snippets shown in compilations.
First time you saw belly dance?
I had started taking classes before I had seen anyone perform. My first time seeing anything, was what my very first teacher showed us in class. While taking the classes I had bought one of the Bellydance Superstars DVDs where Ansuya and Rachel Brice rocked my world. Around the first few months of taking classes, I also went to the Lafayette Grill in Tribeca, a performance hub for many belly dancers and tango dancers in NYC which sadly is closed permanently. That was the first time I ever saw the fully costumed and performed dance in person, and the dancers were Rayhana and Layla Isis. That night cemented that I was going to be part of this for the rest of my life.
How did you get started?
I had graduated from college in 2003 and started a corporate desk job with an insurance company (where I am still employed), and I was miserable because I wasn’t used to being at a desk all day. The routine of just going to work and going home wasn’t enough. In 2004, my friend was employed at Gold’s Gym in Downtown Brooklyn and I started a membership there, just to get some exercise after work and to hang out with him. More than a few times, he kept telling me that a belly dance class was going to start on Fridays and that I should take it. I felt that at my age at that time, I was way too old to start taking a dance class; that I should’ve started when I was very young. And at the time, I was more socially insecure; I would even have a hard time going up to a store register to buy anything, let alone walk into a dance class all by myself. But one Friday night, I was in the weight machine room adjacent to the classroom and I heard the music and saw the silk veils floating in the air from the class. I went “oooooooo, pretty” in my head, and fought with myself internally to even go in and ask if I could take the class. I sweated it out and when the class was done, I very nervously went in and asked if I could take the class because I never took a dance class before and I received a very enthusiastic yes from my very first teacher Diamond Salome.
After six months, I decided I wanted to take more than once a week and googled for belly dance classes in NYC. Many people were teaching, but I kept seeing the name Serena Wilson in everyone’s bio; they began their studies with her, had coaching from her at some point or were currently studying there. It was the logical decision to go there. Still nervous to do this by myself, I walked into Serena Studios on a Friday night and was squished into a packed classroom for a beginner class with instructor Kelley McKinnon, and I never left. I continued my studies there for many years with the esteemed instructors (Kelley, Serena Wilson, Zenaide, Dorit, Sahira, Najma, Rayhana, Altagracia, Layla Mary) and started teaching there myself in 2008. After about a year or so at Serena Studios, I started ATS classes with Sarah Johansson Locke and I had a blast for about six months, which ended because I had a neck injury and PT was taking up my time. In 2007, my friend Giselle, who I had met in Serena Studios, suggested I take class with Sera Solstice. At Spring Caravan in 2007, Sera performed and I was blown away. I immediately knew that I wanted to dance like that and take classes from her forever. And then I did.
Why did you pick / love bellydance?
I feel like it’s something wonderful that happened to me that I just keep hanging around in. I fell in love with the music and I was over the moon that I was actually learning to dance and move my body in ways that were more than just stepping side to side. I had always wanted to dance but always felt that it was too late for me to start. The movements in the dance felt great in my body and to dance it…is fun, plain and simple. My confidence in myself grew and it trickled into everything else. It provided the gateway to have the courage to take other dance forms and to have a discipline. And it’s brought some ridiculously amazing people to color up my life.
Why do you dance?
Because I can’t stop! It’s a release as well as a never-ending well for my nonstop creative brain. I have felt connection within myself and with others that I never would have if I wasn’t dancing. I dance because it’s for me and at the same time it’s not just about me.
Anything inspiring you lately?
I’m inspired so much by my instructors, peers and students…there are too many to name. Dance pieces and dancers of any style that are honest and moving, and those that take risks. I spend a lot of time on YouTube, mostly watching hip-hop and other street styles. Lately I’ve been following the works of Galen Hooks, Keone and Mari Madrid, Yanis Marshall, Michelle Jersey Maniscalco and A LOT of drag queens, particularly Sasha Velour. Vogue dance is lighting me up right now, I’m obsessed with Danielle Polanco and Leiomy Maldonado. And I live in an amazing place, New York City is an unending well of inspiration.
What is up next for you?
Rehearsals for new works have begun, a solo and troupe choreography, for upcoming events like Art of the Belly Festival. Also rehearsing and working on some collaborative projects with some great people. I’m working on putting together some new workshops that I will teach in NYC (and anywhere) in addition to my regular classes. Also, I will soon be back in the saddle with my co-producer, Giselle BellydanceNYC, bringing the fifth theatrical bellydance production of “Witching Hour Boo-tique” to life this fall. We’ve both had a lot of family and friend life events happening so we had to postpone it from its usual place in November. Aside from that, I’ve been regularly taking vogue and flamenco classes and will hopefully get back into lyra in addition to the five million other dance classes I want to take.