I started learning bellydance back in 1995 and I've been hooked ever since! My first experience with bellydancers was at the Minnesota Renaissance Festival where I was working a summer job at the time. I loved the costuming (mostly tribaret but some more traditional ethnic and even a few modern two piece bedlah styles) and the movements which were so powerful and graceful. When I inquired as to where the dancers learned it most recommended the Cassandra School of Belly Dance . Being that my name IS Cassandra I figured it was meant to be!
From there I studied under many wonderful instructors including many of the current members of Jawaahir (Cassandra's troupe). Some of the most influential teachers I've had from the school were: Sarah Jones-Larson (Toha), Kathy McCurdy (Naima), Patricia Auch (Zulaika), and Melanie Meyer. I also had the opportunity to study with Margo Abdo O'dell for a while while she taught at the Cassandra School. In addition to these teachers (and others whom I have not mentioned) I have taken workshops with instructors of which the most memorable were with Nadia Hamdi and Morocco (my first workshop experiences).
As a child I wanted to be an Egyptologist and that has continued to influence me in my Middle Eastern dance experiences. I am particularly fond of Egyptian style raqs sharqi and Egyptian 'folkloric' styles of dance. The archaeologist in me also just won't quit since about 1996 I've been heavily researching Middle Eastern dances and dance history as well as Middle Eastern cultures and Arabic language. I find dance ethnology and ethnography to be fascinating subjects.
I soon became a member of the Guild of Oriental Dance - Minnesota and began performing in about 1997 where I would do small private parties and guild show performances. I eventually performed at restaurants like Sultan Palace in Savage, MN. After taking lessons and dancing for several years I began teaching small group and private lessons.
In 2001 I got married and the time I had for dancing diminished and diminished again and again after having kids which meant I had less time for performing and lessons. I gave up public performance and formal lessons altogether after I converted to Islam but I am still an active dancer at home with my family, especially my daughter. Because I no longer performed or taught I looked for other ways to continue to give back to the bellydance community which I now try to do by way of this site and what I like to think of as continuing education for bellydancers. Although I have considered making myself available for classes and workshops specifically on middle eastern dance history.
I started this website early on as a way of cataloging what I was learning to help me better retain information and review it. It started with about 24 pages and has grown to around 400. Through this site I hope to bring together information that can help dancers improve themselves in all aspects of dance and cultural understanding. As a result I've focused a lot of my time on researching and developing both this site and an on-line course format for this site called Middle Eastern Dance University (MEDU) which will open insha'Allah in 2012.
I am currently in the process of pursuing Bachelors degrees in both Middle Eastern Studies as well as Near Eastern Studies as a part-time student. I'd love to pursue both to the Doctorate level but that will depend on my available time and resources. I hope that this formal education will help me provide truly useful and accurate research and educational materials for this site. Because I've put in over a decade of very specific research in this field I like to consider myself a Middle Eastern Dance Ethnologist. I don't know if I would consider my work on par with Morocco or Artemis but I'd like to think I'm at least on the same track, heck 15+ years of research is nothing to laugh at. I don't know it all but I look forward to a lifetime of learning and sharing whatever I can.
A dance in the ruins of Karnak. Late 19th century. Engraving