Malia Delapenia created the Hawaii Belly Dance Convention a decade ago, and this year she kicks the weeklong program off with the annual Shimmy Showcase at the Doris Duke Theatre on Oct. 10. This year marks its third torso-gyrating show at the Honolulu Museum of Art, and, in a change from past years, will feature not one but two dynamic performances—“Essence,” focusing on the traditional elements of the Middle Eastern dance form, and, later into the night, “The Unveiling,” incorporating modern dance fusions and edgier presentations of the body, for adult audiences only.
Amidst the flurry of preparations, Malia sat down to discuss the event’s history and what this year’s guests can expect to see, hear, and feel.
What is the Shimmy Showcase?
The Shimmy Showcase is the opening night of the five-day Hawaii Belly Dance Convention—it showcases all of the visiting performers and local performers, everyone involved in the convention. So it’s the big showcase gala.
How did the Shimmy Showcase get involved with the Doris Duke Theatre?
Oh, it’s hard to find theatre space in Hawai‘i! A nice intimate stage that isn’t $10,000 is almost impossible [to find] here. Previously we were holding it at the YMCA, before that the restaurant out on Schofield, and after that, Hale Koa—a nice stage in one of their ballrooms. We were doing that for a while; we were doing a five-course dinner on that stage. And then I was just on the hunt for an amazing, intimate space with a moderate size stage, and for some reason I called the Honolulu Museum of Art, and I asked, “Hey, do you guys have a stage?” I had never been in the Doris Duke Theatre before that.
Would you say that putting on a belly dance convention has been more the result of your passion or something democratically demanded here by a specific community? Or both?
A little bit of both, but I would say what drives it is my passion, my love. I eat, sleep, breathe it, and I live to share it. So, a lot of the women that attend, that perform, and take the seminars and enjoy the convention are students who fall in love with the ancient art as well, and a lot of them want to come to Hawai‘i and they want to do their passion. Girls come from Japan, Canada, New York, all over the world, whose passion is dance—the same as me. What better place to do it than paradise?
You mentioned that what you do is an ancient art. What does its history entail, and how is it different today?
It’s a Middle Eastern art, with Arabic vocals in the music normally, and Arabic musical instruments, like the table, the doumbek, tambourine, the oud. And we will have live musicians at the conventions as well. I believe it was the first created dance form—created by women, for women.
This year’s show is a little different. Are “The Essence” and “The Unveiling” aimed at different crowds?
Every year we try to do it as a traditional Middle Eastern show with Arabic vocalists, Arabic musicians—the very roots of belly dance. This year we have a lot of friends in different arts, and we’ve been attending a lot of shows and been inspired by much of the local talent. [That inspiration led us to make] two totally different shows. [Mainstream audiences] want upbeat, exciting, fun, traditional, clapping, cheering, the whole deal, and I want to dance to something extremely slow and seductive. But when you’re in an intimate environment it comes off as too much, overwhelming. On a stage you can enjoy the fusion of belly dance, so that’s why I have the second show, “The Unveiling” for everyone to push the envelope, and be a little bit edgier. We chose the title because when you are belly dancing and you unveil, you kind of expose your soul on stage.
Do you think Hawai‘i as a space with its own history of traditional dance has given belly dancing a certain local twist? Or is it still more of an import?
It’s more of an import. Everyone has his or her own style. Some girls do have a lot of hula background and they take belly dancing and fuse them together, but I wouldn’t say it’s largely affecting the dance.
So it can still be fresh, new, and educational for people who may have grown up seeing more Pacific Island dances here.
Right. It can be totally different than anything they’ve ever seen before.
Who are the visiting performers we should be on the lookout for?
Well, another reason I created this event is to bring talents to Hawai‘i to educate the local dancers, because I’m extremely selfish and I want to learn as much as I can. The best way to do that is bring ‘em in! Most of them have never been to Hawai‘i before, so it’s an amazing opportunity to show them my paradise and train with them.
This year we have Ashley Lopez. She’s a tribal-fusion belly dancer. [Tribal fusion dancers] dance to anything the want, they add a lot of popping and locking, but there still are belly dance moves. We also have Amira. She is very famous in Europe, and she currently lives in Las Vegas. She’s a traditional, Oriental-style belly dancer. I sponsored her very first time to Hawai‘i ten years ago. And we have Frank Faranaro—the convention’s first and only male belly dancer, so far. He lives in New Mexico and is a fusion-tribal belly dancer, but he’s amazing at folkloric Egyptian belly dance as well. And last but not least is gorgeous Shaharzad from Virginia. She’s 22 years old and my jaw drops when I see her, and I’m not impressed by many. All of them are teaching seminars at the Neal Blaisdell Center the Sunday after the Shimmy Showcase. We have extended the whole event, so it’s now five days filled with dance, and love and passionate people; and we just have a really good time. I just want it to be fun and educational at the same time.