Reprinted from Zagahreet, 2015.
SamiTé: a Firecracker of Passion for her Craft
‘She’s a Firecracker of energy, dedication and passion for her craft!’ – Lacey Sanchez, Orlando, FL
I’ve known SamiTé as a member of the Asheville, NC, bellydance community for about ten years, and have seen her grow as an artist, put down roots within herself, and undertake an amazing array of wellness and performance skills. Having seen her recent performance at the Down East Drum & Dance Festival in New Bern, NC, I was inspired to go a little deeper with her, asking her about the path she has been walking in the dance all these years. Let’s hear about her continual journey, in her own words.
Onça: You’ve often said that Bellydance saved your life, with dance at the core of your being, and it is definitely an inspiring tale. Would you share that story with the Zaghareet Reader?
SamiTé: When I came to bellydance in 2000, I was in a horrible place in my life. I had no clear intention for my future and had been competing in a Winterguard company that left me less than fulfilled creatively or emotionally. Studying ballet and modern, performing for judges, I was told I was too short and too muscular to be a professional dancer. I was young, maybe 20, then and I had an extremely low self esteem. I was heavily addicted to opiates and alcohol. A friend of mine had seen a flyer for a bellydance class and asked me to go with her. I LOVED IT!!!! My teacher kept telling me how beautiful and graceful I was, so I kept going. It gave me joy and improved self esteem. I quickly sought out private training with a Cabaret dancer named Conchi. She always encouraged me in the most positive ways. She never outright approached me about my lifestyle choices, but she always told me that if I practiced hard enough, I could be a star. She changed my life and my outlook of myself and my life. I really turned things around then. I got off drugs and went to school for massage therapy. Soon after that I moved to California and really ramped up my study. It was all about dance and movement and healing after that.
Onça: Studying broadly over the past fifteen years, you have built lasting relationships with a number of influential dancers. Alexandra King once described you as a ‘dancer who will change everything’. Can you tell us about your studies, and about the dancers who have had the biggest influences on you?
SamiTé: Conchi for sure was my first influential dancer. She is AMAZING!!!! Spanish decent, she is about my size and has very muscular body. I think that is one of the things that drew me to her was her athleticism. She dances so fast and so precisely and never misses a beat of those zills. Her heart and soul come through in dance. I still love her dearly.
When I moved to Santa Barabara, I began playing violin with the UCSB Middle East Ensemble. I remember rehearsing for a show with the orchestra and Alexandra King had just returned from her travels in Turkey. I watched her move across the stage and could not take my eyes off of her, to the point that I was no longer playing… simply entranced by her. At that moment, I decided I was a much better dancer than musician. I asked Alex if we could barter for classes and she said YES!!! I traded her massage and took private lessons in her home as well as auditing her courses at UCSB. It was an exciting time. Learning music and folk dances of Egypt, Persian Classical Dance, and the American Cabaret. My favorite part was the party after the show with food… so much food!!! Music and dancing all night long. I loved that time. I feel like that is where I really developed a foundation in music, culture, and technique. Alex is still one of my best friends and I consider her my bellydance Mama.
I got pregnant in Santa Barbara and had moved to Sacramento when I was about 7 months pregnant. I did not know anyone and figured that was not the best time to start taking classes. On the day I was in labor with my son, I was out and about killing some time and happened across the One Root Festival outside of Sacramento California. Amy Sigil and Shawna Rai happened to be performing, at that time as Haruspicy. I loved Amy instantaneously. She was unlike anything I had experienced up until that point. I was a little hippy then and did not shave my underarms and when I saw that Amy didn’t either, I felt instantly drawn to her. She made dance look like so much fun! I approached Amy about classes and she asked me when I was due. I remember telling her ” I am in labor right now, so I should be there in like two or three weeks”. I was there 3 weeks later and took all of her classes and Shawna’s ATS classes. I danced with them for the next year or so and was auditioning for UNMATA when life pulled me in another direction. My son’s father and I had made the decision to move to Asheville, NC. I am still unclear of the purpose of this decision, but I continue to believe that it was for the best. I have lived in Asheville for the past 10 years now and growing in so many artistic and movement based studies. I still continue to study with Amy and am a certified ITS Level 1 and 2 Instructor. I will also be hosting her for a weekend of workshops October 10-12 in Asheville, NC.
Currently I am most inspired by Amy Sigil and my ITS training and Zoe Jakes. I have been fortunate enough to have done my Level 3 ITS training with her also and developed a friendship. I was chosen to dance in the House of Tarot project in Asheville, NC as well as share the stage with Beats Antique. I am super excited to do a week-long intensive with Zoe this August. I am sure I will return a completely different dancer.
Onça: You came into Bellydance with other complementary skills such as string music and a background in the precision of Winter Guard. What other forms of training or adventure have you had, and how have those roots impacted your development as an artist and athlete?
SamiTé: As a younger person, I was introduced to Winterguard, which is very similar to ColorGuard with the Marching Band however Winterguard is a shorter performance of 5 minutes. You set and create the stage and perform with flags, rifles, and sabres. It combines ballet, modern, gymnastics, and theatre into a competitive dance form. I competed in high school and after high school with an independent guard. It was extremely militaristic, but I appreciated the challenge. It gave me a really good foundation for training and performing for judges and working as a team. While definitely inspired by the drilling for several hours a day, the guard was too militaristic for me and I did not appreciate the negative motivation. I really fell in love with bellydance because of the community support and the positivity. But I still run drills like a sergeant!
Onça: Having now been in Asheville since (how long… Is it ten years?), you’ve continued to diversify your performance skills. Now an aerialist and fire artist, you seem to have a life rich in creativity. What else can you do, and how have you managed so many interests, a career and a family?
SamiTé: In addition to bellydance, I have taken on some complimentary skills over the years. Fire performance namely to be very important to me. I had seen some fire spinners when I lived in California but it was not until I moved to Asheville that I was introduced to fire dancing as theatrical performance. I first saw Djinntana at LEAF festival which morphed into what is now the Asheville based Unifire Theatre. I was not instantly drawn to any particular tool. Staff because of my background spinning flags and rifles. But, the fire and performance art community took me to the burn community and it was not long before I met and befriended Riz of Fire by Riz. On a fateful day at Transformus some crazy number of years back he taught me how to crack whips and I was instantly obsessed. Within hours I was cracking them on fire topless around the festival. From there I joined Unifire Theatre and started working with hoops, costuming, fans, and masks. My dance and theatre background helped me to be versatile with several props.
Also within this community, I was introduced to aerial acrobatics. My athletic side ate it up! At a certain point I was training for 4 hours at a time 4 days per week. It was challenging and new. I joined a group called Asheville Aerial Arts and sought out training on aerial silks and trapeze. I also began training as the flyer for doubles trapeze as well as having the opportunity to do some flying trapeze. A couple other girls and I broke off and formed The Libravado Sisters Aerial Dance Ensemble. We performed at many many events for charities, weddings, festivals. That was amazing and fun and exhilarating time. I was performing every weekend between fire and aerial and teaching 7 bellydance class a week. While it was amazing, it was also extremely hard on my body. I gave it a good run for about 6 years, but I do not train or perform in that medium anymore. I love it though.
I have no idea how I kept this ship running smoothly for so long. I am going to say my ADD loved the juggling of all the things. But, I injured my shoulder and realized my age at a certain point. I have a son and a not so helpful baby daddy. I needed a job that was consistent and payed the bills. I sort of stopped, dropped, and went to school. I got into physical therapy, largely due to the searing pain in my shoulder and my background in massage, dance and yoga. I love it. I have worked in physical therapy since 2011 and it is the perfect compliment to my life. I work in an outpatient clinic 2 days per week teaching people how to walk or helping their chronic pain condition, I do massage out of my home 1 day per week, and I teach dance classes out of my home 2 days per week. This works perfect and still affords me time to practice, work on choreography and be a mom. Crazy, right… no one has ever seen me and Wonder Woman in the same room. That’s all I am saying.
Onça: Being known for your crisp, earthy, expressive style, with both signature speed and fluidity, how did you develop that style, and how do you keep on evolving?
SamiTé: My style is very real and inspired mostly by where I am in my life. A few years back I wanted to stop trying to pretend I wasn’t muscular and just embrace it. I busted out one armed push ups and my famous back roll stall into a shoulder stand. I figured I would highlight the things I do well. Last year, I wanted to share my experiences from learning to deer hunt and created the Huntress piece. For some reason, right now I really want to embrace my femininity and vulnerability. For me my creative process is ever changing – which keeps me and my audience on its toes.
“One of the things that struck me about Sami Te’ upon first seeing her perform back in 2007, is that she is a risk taker. Her costuming, her choice of music and her moves were unlike anything I had seen before and it rocked my world. I was a fledgling professional dancer at the time and upon seeing her dance, it fueled my own creative juices to a expand my dancing and push beyond my creative limits. I see Sami Te’ dancing as fearless and to me that is the beauty of her dance, it is freedom. ” – Kaitlyn, Down East Drum & Dance Festival
Onça: What do you most yearn for as a dancer at this stage of your development, and what advice can you give others wanting to be inspired to meet their own goals?
SamiTé: As a dancer, I am currently most hungry for teachers. I crave the ability to dance ITS at Hot Pot on the regular or take Classical Odissi with Colleena Shakti. I am hungry for a mentor. For someone to hold me accountable, to be my coach, to give me constructive feedback and help me to continue to develop as a dancer and instructor. I would love to just be a dancer in someone else’s dance company. If I could I would study with Amy Sigil, Zoe Jakes, Mira Betz, Anasma, Collena Shakti and Linda Faoro all the time. But for now, I am super content taking intensives and teaching classes at home. I believe in learning. Continuing to study and grow in any form of movement. Any type of movement class with affect your movement and we have something to learn from everyone and every situation we encounter. Continue to seek out training, seek out feedback. Shoot someone you respect $20 for feedback on your video. It is always possible to continue to learn and grow and to not hold yourself back with excuses.
Onça: When teaching both at home and on the workshop circuit, what do you love to teach most of all? Where have you been recently? And what events are coming up where the reader can experience your instruction and performance? And… what’s next for you, creatively speaking?
SamiTé: I love love love teaching!!! I love watching people become inspired and have “AH HA!!!!” Moments. I am really inspired by ITS right now and love Amy’s format. I run a level 1 and level 2 class out of my home and have been teaching ITS Exposures as well as my own Tribal Fusion Combos and Choreography Classes. . This summer has been really busy for me. I taught a weekend in Calgary, Canada followed immediately by teaching at Tribal Solstice in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. I just returned from from the Down East Drum and Bellydance Festival as a featured instructor. Next on the books is a weeklong intensive with Zoe Jakes. Plans in the works for different things but I will keep those hush hush until more plans have solidified. Amy Sigil will be in Asheville, NC October 10-12 and I will also be debuting my foam roller program at the end of class on Saturday to address neck and shoulder pain and Sunday will address hip and low back pain. I plan to teach more therapeutics classes and more small group immersions in my home studio in 2015. I feel like with all my education in movement and healing, it is my greatest contribution to my community.
As Mahsati Janan, also of Asheville, says, “SamiTe’s uniqueness is undeniable, and rooted in the strength of her artistic vision and the embracing of her individuality. She commits to her art 100% and puts her clarity of focus to work to develop fantastic performance pieces that go beyond the usual and showcase her strength, technique, and skill.”