Known for both her oriental and beledi styles, Malia is a dancer of many talents. She has gained recognition as an instructor, performer, and event producer and has been featured in several local, national, and international publications. As a producer, Malia's events have included the shows Saharan Soul and Hathor Unveiled. She is also a director of the troupe Bella Rosa. For more info about her performances, classes, shows, and troupes, visit her website.
Taking advantage of Seattle Restaurant Week, Malia and I meet for our interview at the Stumbling Goat on Phinney Ridge. Settling in over buttery fish and crisp wine, our conversation takes off instantly. Our interview even concludes with what turns out to be a very accurate tarot reading done by Malia herself!
Alessandra: What belly dancers have been the most inspirational to you?
Malia: My favorite dancer is probably Mona Said. I can always remember her saying that dancers are not supposed to do anything that is not lady-like! I've also been greatly influenced by Mish Mish and Tamalyn Dallal, as well as Nadira who really took me under her wing as a mentor when I was making the transition from student to professional.
Alessandra: Your upcoming adventure is a trip to Egypt to study beledi. Given somewhat recent events in that country and throughout the Middle East, are you feeling any apprehension?
Malia: Yes! But I've been dancing for nine years now and have always loved folkloric, so I figure it's just time to go. It's time for me to spend time learning the culture, heart, and soul of this style that speaks to me.
Alessandra: In addition to being a dancer and producer, you're also the mother of two small children. How do manage to find the time for your dance? Any tips for the rest of us?
Malia: I'm still trying to figure that out. Time really goes in waves. There are periods where my dance is on the back burner, and then there are times where I'm just really into practicing, finding music, and costuming. My children will be little for such a short period of time, so that's who I need to focus on for now. I've told myself that belly dance will always be there, even if for now it's in the background. Originally, when my first child was born, I was worried about taking time off from dance, that I would lose where I was at and all I had worked for. But being a mother has been really essential in making me the dancer that I am. I'm also fortunate that I have an amazing husband who will take the kids when I need space to dance.
Alessandra: How has being a mother affected who you are as a dancer?
Malia: Before I was a mom, I was much more rigid in my ideas of what dance should be and had very stuck opinions. Seeing how completely different my two children are has helped me realize that we are all different people. Who you are and how you dance are very individualized and very personal. It has opened up a broader world for me. I can now watch a belly dance show and just love it for what it is. I can wonder at what they are going to do next and not care if it's "right" or "wrong". Overall, my perception of belly dance has shifted to being focused on the healing aspects of belly dance and realizing how much women need this dance in their lives.
Alessandra: Thinking back to your first solo performance, can you recall what it was and how you were feeling?
Malia: My first solo performance was at Delilah's studio as part of an aromatherapy class series. Being fond of pie, the aroma I selected was key lime pie, which I baked and brought with me. I danced to Shakira in a pink and green costume. And I was terrified! In fact, I was really nervous performing for about the first four years. Growing up, I was a very mousy, shy little girl. I actually think that belly dance attracts a lot of women who are introverts and they use belly dance as a means to express themselves.
Alessandra: This fellow introvert can most certainly attest to that!
Alessandra: So it's fairly common knowledge that belly dancers in Seattle get paid less than their counterparts in other metropolitan areas. Why do you think that is?
Malia: It's hard to say. But it's sad that dancers are making less now than they did in the 1970s (comparatively speaking). I think it's partially due to undercutting and partially due to dancers not knowing what they are worth. I think it's very worthwhile for dancers to ask for raises and to recognize that what they offer is something of value.
Alessandra: What advice would you give to beginning dancers?
Malia: Buy a really fancy hip scarf, as that will make you want to use it, and use it often. Study with as many instructors as possible. Go to belly dance shows, watch the professional dancers, and in particular, watch the interaction between the dancer and the musicians.
Alessandra: And what advice would you give to the "rising stars", dancers looking to take the leap into being a professional?
Malia: Find a mentor that's on your side and wants you to succeed. Someone who will not only teach you the dancing side, but the professional, business side as well. It's so important to learn how to behave in a professional manner. Perform as often as you can, even if that means for free at haflas and other community shows. Go to shows you aren't dancing in and stay for the whole thing. Meet people in the community and network. Learn to deal with new situations. Practice. Be original. Be yourself. Specialize in something, which is a great business technique. Offer something that people want or that is uniquely you. Dancers always want to "wow" their audience, but you don't have to be in constant motion to do this; less is more. Don't rush into turning professional. Taking the stage is sacred, wait for it and know that you earned it. When you do take the stage to perform, have the confidence that you are good enough. I think new professionals can be intimidated by the seasoned performers, but know that your fellow dancers have love in their hearts for you. And remember that when you are on stage, your number one job is to make every audience member comfortable. No one should feel scared for you. "Introduce" yourself as the dancer and be confident. When you are comfortable, the audience will be comfortable and will be able to enjoy the performance. Then you can just be you and share what is in your heart.