Northeast Ohio dancer Ari Jakstas is a woman of many talents: performer, instructor, student, artist and mom. She is known in local dance circles for her creative Tribal style of belly dance and as a well sought after instructor of the art form. This interview is a way of introducing her to those who have not had the pleasure of seeing her dance.
1. Who/what influenced you to belly dance?
My first experience with belly dance was when I was around ten, I think. My mom was attending night classes at the Kent State Geauga Campus, and a good friend taught a belly dance class at the same time she had class. I fell in love with dance, and would learn the movement and choreographies. And the women were so wonderful, really accepting and positive about one another.
2. Do you have a dance background? What type? Your dance history?
Like most young girls, I took ballet when I was younger, and have studied contemporary dance. I am also a theater geek, having experienced acting, stage crew. set building and painting, stage managing, sound, lighting technician, as well as costuming. I’ve always felt the theater world and belly dance are so closely related.
3. What is your preferred style (s)? Why?
I began in traditional Amercian Cabaret/Egyptian, but my true love lies in Tribal Fusion, American Tribal Style, and true Vintage Belly Dance a la the Salimpours and Bal Anat. The history truly speaks to me, as well as the idea of both the “tribe” mentality (I simply adore the woman I dance with, and the unconditional support we give one another!) and the asthetic of the movement.
4. Do you have a preferred prop? Why?
This is my guilty pleasure moment! I simply adore double veil, and when the mood hits, I’m known to revert to my roots. But, zills are my passion now. Once you’ve heard Suhaila Salimpour speak of her mother and the true art of finger cymbals there’s no going back. I entirely credit both Suhaila and the time I’ve spent studying with Rachel Brice for my own zill inspired love!
(I do have a sword I am staring at longingly, too!!)
5. Do you perform in a troupe?
I am an original member of Durga Dance Company, which sprouted from my amazing tribal fusion beginnings and though we’ve changed a bit from our beginnings, I am excited to see where our journey takes us.
I also dance with me students under Reclaimed Dark Muse, and will be growing that aspect soon!
6. Do you instruct? Perform? Where?
I currently teach at Parkway Dance Center (13401 Smith Road) in Middleburgh Heights, as well as various private and group lessons in around the area. As for performing, our community is incredibly giving, and events such as Spirit in Motion are a wonderful event we always look forward to! I love supporting the causes so many of my shimmy sisters support. Most of the events are in the Akron/Canton area, or even Elyria, but I am working diligently to bring more of this dance, in all of its gorgeous variety, closer to my home!
7. Do you have a dance company?
Currently, Durga Dance Company. But, hoping to expand Reclaimed Dark Muse Bellydance.
8. What is your dance philosophy?
This is a tough one. I believe anyone can dance, but we all dance for different and valid reasons. Personally, I try to respect the history and variety of the dance, while seeking the knowledge in the styles and paths that speak to me. I don’t believe in the concept of competing in the sense of the community, but I personally study the mechanics, technique and history of Tribal. I love being a teacher and especially a student.
9. What is the highlight of your dance career, so far?
I have two…a few years ago, Durga Dance Company had the honor of performing at the Beachland Ballroom for Club Bellydance featuring the Bellydance Superstars. We performed a number I choreographed (my first tribal fusion number!!), and we were the only tribal fusion troupe chosen. I t was such an honor not onlu to dance with my Durga sisters, but to share the stage with our community’s amazing talent and the absolutely stunning Bellydance Superstars.
The other came recently…like most dancers, there are times when I just don’t feel that I’m good enough and become down on myself harshly. I completed Rachel Brice’s Eight Elements Cultivation this summer, and had been warned by many of my peers to expect to cry. Zills had never been my strong suit, and I was truly struggling with trusting myself. But, Rachel really teaches you to embrace the struggle, that is ok to be you, and not to compare yourself…and to trust yourself (because she supports you no matter what). It’s the work you put in. Thanks to not only her encouragement and love as well as my fellow participants (and a hours upon hours drilling and crying), I nailed it. In front of my mentor. That moment and all that led up to it reinforced why I dance and share my love of this dance.
10. Do you regularly compete? Where have you competed? Have you placed? Won? Where?
My path seems different than most aspiring belly dancers. I’ve never competed, and if I never do, I am at peace. My journey is to enhance and grow a strong belly dance community, and “belly dance with a purpose”!
11. What makes you unique in the belly dance world?
I’d love to think I’m unique, but I suppose it is that I really want to use this dance to help, whether through a benefit, supporting causes close to me, or teaching a young girl who has been bullied and helping her to become confident…I’m passionate about bellydance and what it can do!
12. Do you have a website where others may learn more about you?
13. Is there anything else that you would like people to know about you?
I belly danced all through both of my pregnancies (including Eight Elements Initiation), and my boys have both given me the strength and ability to truly be me, which allows me to be at my best for them. I’m forever grateful.
And I make adornment (when the boys give the time…and I have the energy!!), available at www.etsy.com/reclaimeddarkmuse
14. Do you have any advice for dancers or newbie dancers?
It isn’t easy, and if it was, we’d all be doing it!! Never be afraid to try, embrace the struggle, and steal like an artist (respect those who you admire and came before you). And once you know what you want out of it, don’t be afraid to change your mind!
I also excited to be the Shimmy Mob Strongsville Team leader this year, benefiting domestic abuse and women’s issues, with a benefit coming up to benefit the Medina County Battered Women’s Shelter in May. Also, I am in the process of planning a benefit for Lucky Paws, a local animal rescue group for our Second Annual Dance for Paws Hafla/Benefit.
Durga Dance Company and Reclaimed Dark Muse are performing on Jan.30 at Spirit in Motion. The ninth annual Spirit in Motion benefit is for the Akron Children’s Hospital. Join dancer-organizer Shanrae Sahira for a delightful family-friendly evening of belly dance featuring some of Northeast Ohio’s best soloists and troupes. Eclectic performances will include Tribal Fusion, Cabaret and Egyptian styles of dance. There will also be a 50/50 raffle and a silent auction. This event will be held on Saturday, January 30 at 7 PM at the Cultural Center for the Arts, 1001 Market Avenue NW, Canton, Ohio 44707. Admission is only $15 at the door Visit www.spiritinmotionbenefit.com and all proceeds benefit Akron Children’s Hospital, as part of their annual “Have a Heart, Do Your Part” radiothon.