Marguerite Kusuhara is a legendary dancer and woman-of-the-world. Woman-of the-world is literal, since Marguerite spent over ten years living and traveling in inner Mongolia. This experience was fitting since she is a psychic and visual anthropologist, researcher and cultural advocate. She is also much more. As a published writer and poet, she was a nominee for the prestigious Pushcart Prize. She is a talented painter and visual artist. An educator, she teaches children about entomology and herpetology. She is a psychic and metaphysical artist as well. In addition to dancing, Marguerite is a singer and percussionist. Today, the focus is on dance.
1. Who/what influenced you to belly dance?
I saw it when I was around 13 or so, and loved the strength it allowed a woman in what I now know to be a solo improvisation form. I was just blown away by it. She was Pakistani and performing in a Greek Restaurant in Sacramento called “Zorba’s.” Don’t remember the exact year, 1969 or 1970.
2. Do you have a dance background?
My dance background is in folk dance. I started to dance when I was around 13 or 14 with a couple of modern dance classes in junior high. From there, I started in the folk dance coffee houses, taking classes for the first time at Veselo Selo in Anaheim, Calif, and neighborhood belly dance classes with a woman named Vakesha. I also studied with Feiruz Aram and Fahtiem, same general time, the mid-70’s.
3. What is/was your preferred style (s)? Why?
For belly dance? Improvisation, old school 1970’s style. I like the flexibility of it and the possibilities for theatrical adaption. Otherwise, folkloric dances. I’ve studied many different styles and performed a few.
4. Do/did you have a preferred prop?
I started to use a sword/s and just kept going with them, developed something that was really unique in the belly dance world for a while. I’ve danced with 11 of them at one time and will keep you guessing how. But I started out balancing two, then 4, then found a way to work with 7 more.
5. Do/did you perform in a troupe?
Yes, several of them. June Jones “The Beledi Dancers”, The Niri Senti Magicians” and now, Robyn Friend’s “Firuze”. I have also been part of a mostly Arabic orchestra, Layali Zaman, as a percussionist.
6. Do you instruct? Perform? Where?
Anywhere and everywhere. Private or public venues. Depends on the venue and what bookings or requests come in. I do a lot of different types of entertainment, and belly dance is just one dimension. I’m based in South Bay Los Angeles area, California. I’m proficient and even great with finger cymbals, and have produced a teaching CD (co-produced by Jerry Summers) with notes. It also contains two original pieces of music that can be used by dancers anywhere, licensed and created for me. I also have a well produced and interesting “Spins and Turns” IAMED teaching DVD. My next seminar is in San Diego, sponsored by SAMEDA this coming summer of 2016. “Secrets of the Sword”, by request.
7. Do you have a dance company?
No. But I used to perform with a group I formed called Marguerite and Kumpania. 3 guys. And me.
8. What is your dance philosophy?
The first part? Work hard, study, do well and take things seriously. Get paid, support what you do. That’s part of it. The other part is to go deep. Into the feeling of things. Don’t shy away from emotion in your dance. Have as many facets as possible.
9. What is the highlight of your dance career, so far?
So many- don’t think I have one highlight. I was at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art on a paid gig that was a cultural event for Iranians. That knocks me out. Other highlights were dancing with John Bilezikjian, starting from the beginning of my belly dance career. Traveling with friends for performances, teaching and performing in China.
10. Do/did you regularly compete? Where have you competed? Have you placed? Won?
I don’t compete. But I like to watch competitions when possible.
11. What makes you unique in the belly dance world?
All the different directions I have gone in and what I have done with theater/props, live music, cultural application and spiritual inquiry. It’s an interesting body of work, taken as a whole, and very diverse. I am one of the few and first dancers that I know of who went in these directions as early as I did. There might be others and it would be great to hear from them.
12. How has the dance evolved since you started?
It’s become stratified, configured, regimented. So many styles but also there is a strict adherence to some styles and even proscribed attitudes to various schools and styles. Transgression is not so easily forgiven. All of that never existed when I first started. Some good, some bad.
13. Do you have any fun stories to share?
Dang- where to start? Hmm, My life in Asia? I’ll pick one of many. Let’s see, from a few years back … I was playing and dancing with a small group at a party, paid, but informal – about 4 Arab guys- Syrians and Palestinians. I’m dressed, with a cover up on and ready to dance, playing riq. I did a few songs with that group, too. The oud player leans over and says in a low voice to me “Could you go see if I remembered to lock my car?” So I pass the riq to the guy on the other side of me, and then go check on things for him. He was a great friend, while he was sane. I come back, sit down, and his cousin passes the riq back to me and I start playing again. Then, the tabla (dumbec) player, his other crazy cousin, shouts to me “Could you go and get me some coffee?” It’s the details and the humor that make the day, really. I got myself a cup of coffee, too. I’m not sure whether too many people will understand why this is funny to me, but maybe they will… It’s all sort of like Spinal Tap at some point.
14. Do you have a website where others may learn more about you?
No website now. I’m taking my old one down and rebuilding it when I can. People can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or join me on my facebook page, Marguerite Kusuhara.
15. Is there anything else that you would like people to know about you?
Dude, call me. Let’s do some work together. I’m a professional and a working entertainer.
16. Do you have any advice for dancers or newbie dancers?
Study. Keep your word. Keep your mind and ears open. Don’t stop moving. Look for what works for you. See how wide your horizons can stretch. Go deep, don’t just scratch the surface. Travel if possible. Don’t panic and always carry a towel.