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Interview with Amy Sigil, Unmata

by Marcel Bieger and Konstanze Winkler

August in Dillenburg, Westerwald (in the heart of Germany), the sun hasn’t its best day, today.
We arrive at “Tanzoase” (“Oasis of dances”) the studio of Gabriella, famous director of
“Neas Tribal”. This weekend Amy Sigil from “Unmata” stopped by and gave workshops.
We asked in advance if we could do an interview with Amy. When a famous and important dancer like her is around … She said yes and we were captivated by her for hours. Amy is not only a very wise (like in educated but also like in street wise) person but also a very entertaining one. You could ask her what time it is and she would conjure some amusing story around it. Please read about our adventures with Amy:

Tell us something about your name.

My name is Amy Sigil, and Sigil is my fourth last name, actually. After the second divorce, I thought what name shall I take. I didn’t want to go back to my family name, and I didn’t want to stick to one of the names of the ex-es, but I wanted to have my own last name. So the studio put a whole bunch of lists on the wall, and eventually they picked “Sigil” and this has been my last name for maybe the last seven years or so.
What kind of studio is this?

A very small studio, it’s called “Hot Pot Studios”, and it has a nice floor in it, good mirrors and even a pole in the middle, a pillar, which stands in the way. We call it “Polina”. I like telling the girls that it is a troupe member which never remembers the line changes.
It will always be one and you will have to learn to work your way around it. The studio is small, but I love it. It’s got a kitchen and a shower in it. It’s in Sacramento and it’s a beautiful space, and a busy space. I’ve never been at such a busy space before. There’s lots of things, lots of people, lots on the walls. I own it, it’s my third dance studio. The first one was “World studios”, also in Sacramento, and it lasted for what, two years, and then I went under. After that I opened a small studio the next year, and this was “Hot Pot” and that ran for about three years, and then I had a kind of middle studio. The first one was too big, the second one was too small, and the third one is kinda right in the middle, verging on too small.
Mostly Polynesian, hip hop, contemporary and Middle Eastern. Polynesian because I took hula classes for about ten years. I can’t keep it out (laughs). I think true fusion is something that comes out of your body out of its own. When you study a style long enough, I couldn’t turn it off even if I wanted to. I couldn’t cut out the belly dance section in me. If you do something long enough, eventually, when you go to creating, it just is movement, it just is fusion, instead of this is my hula piece or this is my cabaret piece.
So you do cabaret as well?

I studied cabaret. Yes of course, it’s part of my lineage. Cabaret is not a waste of time nothing is a waste of time. Should you know all of it? Yes, of course you should know all of it. Should you take a hip hop class? Yes of course you should take a hip hop class. Should you go and take a jazz class? Of course you should take a jazz class. And so on. But do you have to know it to be an artist? No, you don’t, I know a lot of girls who don’t know about everything. It’s all relative. But is it going to help you in the long run? Yes, any dance class in any style will help you in the long run.
“Unmata” is kind of my top dogs. “Verbatim” is training for “Unmata”, and “Street Team” is training for “Verbatim”. “Street Team” is the very bottom, that’s were they start their training. They do a lot of free shows. “Verbatim” does no free shows anymore. They do a lot of bars. “Unmata” doesn’t want to do bars any more, so they don’t do no bars any more. But “Street Team” since they are new and so exited and on fire that they are fun to work with. And they’ll go out there and do things like farmers’ markets, fairs, stuff like that and get people into the studio.

When I started travelling more I started losing students at home, because I was never performing back home. So I started something in Sacramento that people would see. So I could give cards and do that kind of thing. And if “Street Team” have become very good, I’ll start a new one. But at the moment there are three groups.
We have heard about “Unmata” and “Verbatim”, of course, but could you tell us something about “Street Team”, please?

“Street Team” is the training ground. It’s actually a little more family friendly. They do weddings, festivals, fairy tale parties, our theme parks. Now if you want a very family friendly with no cuss words an that kind of thing (laughs) I send “Street Team”. They dance my choreographies as well as my impro format. They are very good at that and they do all my free gigs, too.
They are like the brand new ones.

Sounds like a smart system.

(All laugh) If there’s a need there’s a market for it.

All three groups do Polynesian, hip hop and so on?

Yes, they do. They might not have studied it separately, but they do it because I do it. We all do this, and there are no differences, only in time. “Unmata” dances with me since ten years, “Street Team” only two years.
There they start and work themselves up and that is why most of them are in “Street Team”.

You don’t keep somebody forever. Sometimes one of them leaves. Because it’s my vision, not their vision. Some of them stay, others break away, so I have to be prepared to keep my vision alive. This means I have to constantly train people to stay good enough. That’s why you just can’t jump into it. You have to do “Street Team” first and learn all that performances, and then you can go to something greater and learn how to travel. And after that I’m ready to dance with you. So I have to keep people going. So, unfortunately, when Shelly leaves, I don’t want her to leave but one day she has to leave, and then I have another girl who is exited to take her place.
Do students come back to you?

I ended all relationships for the last sixteen year good, except for two. They both happened about the same time and it was one of the biggest heartbreaks in my life. The most artistically heartbreaking, that is, for anyone involved. I used to pride myself on ending things well, but that story ended so bad that it will probably haunt me for the rest of my life. The teacher has got to let people walk in and out, as a student you have to learn from different people. I get it, I learned my lesson, I wish it wouldn’t have ended the way it did, though. I’m trying to keep as many of them as I can and be good with goodbyes.

What do you teach?

We teach two forms of styles of bellydance fusion, one of them being an improvisational form, and one of them being based on choreography. Both are fusion styles.
A minute ago you said “we” teach. Who is teaching with you?

I have three running troupes at “Hot Pot Studios”: “Unmata”, which travels the world, “Verbatim”, which travels mostly California, and “Street Team” which does all the gigs in Sacramento.
“Unmata” and “Verbatim” are my substitute teachers when I’m gone, so if I and Shelly are gone, one of “Unmata” runs classes, and if all “Unmata” are gone, one of “Verbatim” runs classes. And we run classes practically 365 days a year. Always in the evenings so that the studio is happening permanently. And I’m rarely at home, so I need a lot of substitutes.
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Graphic work/WebDesign: Konstanze Winkler
Photos ©: 1 and 2 Konstanze Winkler, 4, 5 and 8 Brad Dosland (, 3, 6 and 7 with kindly permisson of Amy Sigil
Amy Sigil
Marcel Bieger and Amy Sigil during the interview in Dillenburg
The "Hot Pot Studios" in Sacramento
Street Team
Amy Sigil and Shelly
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