Meet the Strong and Confident Donna Eileen

Meet the Strong and Confident Donna Eileen

Donna Manalo Smiling with Dancing

Donna is a notable dance performer and instructor with a focus on Middle Eastern folk and bellydance, West African and Hip Hop. She strives to create an innovative expression of music through the world of dance which she frequently showcases within her performances throughout the United States. Donna is the Assistant Dance Director for Groove Merchant Drum & Dance Ensemble and can be found, as needed, at the Drum & Dance Learning Center on Quakerbridge Road in Lawrenceville, NJ. She is available for private lessons, choreography, performances, and drinks – message her on Facebook or email her at

Photo by Pixie Vision

First time you saw dance?

That’s difficult to say as I don’t remember a time in my life without dance. Dance, both traditional and modern/social dance, is held in high regard in the Filipino culture. As a child, I remember seeing the Filipino folkloric dances right along side the hustle and the beginnings of breaking and hip hop. I believe in expressing joy in your body in any which way you can, hence my love for dance.

First time you saw bellydance?

Probably the first time was one of the Bond movies… and then there were the animated dancers from Disney’s Aladdin and those modern pop culture type representations in From Dusk Til Dawn, or even in music videos; Prince, Truth Hurts, etc. In my head, bellydance was all sort of mashed together into this romantic image of a confident woman in complete control of her body, moving without apologies.

I was in my early 20s the first time I saw a bellydancer in person. Red hair, long and thick, and a red sparkly costume with beaded fringe at a friend’s birthday party at a Moroccan restaurant. Pretty sure it was a Topkapi costume now that I know better! Watching her shimmy her way between the tables and managing the rowdier members of our group, dealing with wait staff and attitudes, I remember thinking there was more to the dancer’s story than just to throw on the costume and shake. That night I gave a little more texture to belly dancer painting in my head.

How did you get started?

One of my best friends from college was taking bellydance classes with Sarah Locke in NYC. She planted the seed in my head and kept saying, “OMG You have to do this! Go find a class. You’ll love it!” A couple of years later, I was looking for a way to spend more time with my girlfriends, and we decided to enroll in a beginner bellydance session with Kim Leary. Eleven years and two studio locations later, two out of the three of us are still dancing with Kim.

Why Bellydance?

Dance and music have always played a big part in my life, but bellydance gave me a new level of control over my body that I didn’t realize was possible at my age. What I’ve learned through the Salimpour School in terms of technique and movement vocabulary has helped me to explore what my body is capable of and continue to show me what my body has the potential to do. I came to this dance with the usual baggage that a twenty-something woman in modern America has, and the dance has shown me that I am so much more than that and that YOU can be so much more than that.

Why do you dance?

Because sometimes words aren’t enough. Sometimes when emotions do the things emotions do, I get this xenomorph-like thing in the middle of my chest and only movement and/or music can stop it from ripping me open. It gives me a sense of control when I have none. This became especially evident dealing with breast cancer treatment and recovery.


I like to say that I live my life in absolutes – I am hot, not “hotter than she”. Superlatives are irrelevant. There’s a sense of freedom you gain when you realize that nothing is a competition. You have value: your words and ideas and feelings are important, so stop being selfish and share! When you can get out of your own head, the sky’s the limit. If you stay humble and open, you might just learn something. Life is too short. Buy the costume. 😉

Swords & Skirts Fundraiser (Oct 2016) Dance PhotoAnything inspiring you lately?

The new mommies in my life

What’s up next?

Working on a few things with Groove Merchant… Continuing to work through the Suhaila L3 and Jamila L3 certification information. I’ll be performing at Tashira Wadiya’s Annual Sno-Ball in Brick, NJ on Sunday 2/5/17, and then on Saturday 3/25/17 at Art of the Belly in Ocean City, MD – solo with Raquy Danzinger in the afternoon and later that evening with Groove Merchant Drum and Dance Ensemble.


Solo Improv with Finger Cymbals, dancing with Pangia at Spring Caravan 2015

Choreography for Alex Clare’s “Hands Are Clever” at Spring Caravan 2014

“Donna & Donna’s Silk & Silver Girlie Show” – burlesque inspired choreography collaboration with Donna Sullivan

Performing Chelsea Martin’s fusion choreography at DDLC, 2013

Links and Other Resources

Donna’s YouTube Channel
Higher Music Video for Groove Merchant Drum & Dance Ensemble!
Groove Merchant Drum & Dance Ensemble CD
Groove Merchant Drum & Dance Ensemble YouTube
Groove Merchant Drum & Dance Ensemble Website

Photo Credit in Order

1. Photo by Pixie Vision
2. Photo by Pixie Vision
3. Photo by Enniorizzi Photography