Donna Mejia arrived on the Tribal Scene with epic thunder a few years ago, and has been a steady and revered teacher and performer on the circuit ever since. She brings an academic, worldly, and highly informed athletic approach to the dance that elevates our genre by giving it the deep and studied consideration it has long needed to be ‘real dance’ in the larger sense.
Zi’ah Ali, Producer of Atlanta’s award-winning TribalCon says, “She is different, and brainy, and coming at bellydance from a completely different direction than the majority of the teachers out there. The first time we ever had the opening lecture at TribalCon, people weren’t quite sure what to think of that. The room was 2/3 full the first time, and ten minutes into it, everyone in the room was totally in love. The next year, the room was wall to wall, packed in the aisles.”
This past week, Donna was gracious enough to answer some of my questions. Please enjoy!
Onça: Please, tell us a bit about your current role in the Bellydance world, and how you found yourself here.
Donna: I’m honored to serve as the first professor of Transnational and Tribal Fusion globally. I’m hoping I’ll have many industry peers sooner than later. Initially, tribal fusion and Middle Eastern dance served as a therapeutic practice for me after a severe injury. And like so many people, Rachel Brice inspired me to explore new ways of moving and expressing myself. I now participate in the community as a professor, choreographer, speaker and researcher. This community has become my creative home… it undoubtedly renewed my idealism in life and art. I never expected to find such vast fellowship for my interests, but through Internet networking I was delighted to discover I was not alone in my enthusiasm and questioning for this dance genre.
Onça: Can you describe your background, and how that lends unique perspective to your work?
Donna: I’m a multi-heritage artist who performed and taught professionally in Modern, Hip Hop/Jazz, Brazilian, Caribbean, and West African dance before arriving “home” in Tribal Fusion. I’ve extensively studied Folklorico, Flamenco, Tango Improvisational Dance, Odissi, Bhangra, Bollywood, Yoga, and many somatic science techniques. Eclectic versatility and overlapping identities seem to be part of my very DNA. Tribal Fusion embraces this pluralism and that undeniably suits my artistic fascinations. My hope is that my dance performances read with coherency–informed by my ongoing studies and cross-training. Although theoretical research is a large component of my work, in truth I aspire to give visual rendering to the parts of my consciousness that are strong in emotional tone and charged with a kind of non-verbal intelligence. I perpetually search for ways to present an unapologetically extraordinary moment to the audience and cross training has given me a substantial toolkit to play with.
Onça: You have a highly-placed function in the larger dance sphere. How does our often ‘DIY’ Bellydance culture differ from that world? Can tribal learn anything from other modalities, and can we offer any wisdom in turn?
Donna: I observe our cultural and commercial isolation to have been beneficial in the development of our community culture and movement repertory. I also observe that we’ve solidified our identity and practices to a point where engagement with anthropology, post-colonial studies, gender studies, ethnomusicology, and cultural theory would be timely. We’re ready to self-examine questions of global citizenship, cultural appropriation, and our larger contribution to the evolution of dance. We don’t need to mimic the hierarchy, codification and exclusiveness of Eurocentric dance, but we can learn from historical methodologies of inquiry.
Onca: What currently inspires your athleticism and artistry?
Donna: I am vastly curious about life, human nature, musical landscapes, outrageous imagination, our human response to digital technology, and the somatic sciences. I’m never bored… not even for a nanosecond.
Onça: Do you have any upcoming events or personal goals you are willing to share?
Donna: Well, I’m in early negotiations to teach as a resident scholar in the university of an Arab country I cannot disclose just yet. But I can certainly say such a magnificent opportunity has me reflecting on the transnational impact of our community’s artistic investigations. We are early pioneers of a new visual culture that has commanded the attention of the entire globe. It’s inspiring and humbling at the same time.
Onça: Is there anything you would like to add, by way of inspiration, admonition, or advice?
Donna: I wish to thank the many kindred spirits who have shared an interest in my work and research. Collectively, we’re making history. I would also like to give loud applause for the spirit of tolerance that encourages movers of all ages, body types, genders, temperaments, and capacities to be included in what we do. In my opinion, it’s the very thing that makes us a formidable cultural force.
Onça: Thank you for your time!
Donna Mejia is an internationally touring artist and Assistant Professor of dance at CU-Boulder specializing in transnational/Tribal Fusion and traditions of the Arab/African Diaspora. Donna served as Artist in Residence for 11 universities internationally. She directed award-winning ensembles and received the Fulbright Association’s 2011 Selma Jeanne Cohen honor for International Dance Scholarship.
Find out more at: http://donnamejiadance.com/