main page/topics
back to interviews
Every year new tribal fusion stars are born in the US of A, some of them are forgotten after two years, already, but others establish themselves, at home and international. We have become focused on Ashley Lopez, who is known over here only by some of the in-crowd. But she will tour some European countries in November. Ashley cooperates with Rachel Brice and Zoe Jakes, performs with them, and has a very interesting career, all together. We are curious to see her on stage and maybe she will come to Europe again next year, and let’s see it might also be Germany, then … but check out your self, what she has to say.
Photos © 1, 2, 3 and 5 Brad Dosland, 4 Evan Miller, 6 Jorge Dengo, 7 JINGGO

Interview with Ashley Lopez

by Marcel Bieger
Please tell us about your career, how did it start, how did tribal fusion find you and why did you stick to it?

I really feel as if this whole dancing thing is a bit of an accident, albeit a happy one. I have been studying music since I was 4 years old. I have a music degree in classical singing and didn’t start studying dance until college, so it’s an incredible surprise to me that I’m doing this now.
I couldn’t be happier, but it’s still quite strange to me.

I took a belly dance class on a lark my senior year of college.  A roommate of mine had studied with Ishara Gamal and she just loved it, so I thought I’d give it a try. I taught fitness and yoga at the same facilities as this teacher, so it was easy for me to sneak in. Since dance was never a part of my training, I just assumed I could never be good at it, though I loved watching dancers. So I was really very surprised when I discovered that belly dance felt quite natural in my body. I assure you, this was not the case with other styles of dance I’d dabbled in, like Jazz and Swing. My teacher even asked me to join her performance troupe! I was able to attend a few rehearsals before I moved back to the Bay Area.

When I came back to the Bay Area again, I was asked to audition for a professional Polynesian troupe where I learned a great deal about gigging, booking, advertising, and running a full show with LOTS of costume changes. I also worked with a Bollywood dance company where I was able to witness the process of putting on a show that’s more like a spectacle. Shortly thereafter, my Polynesian instructor asked me to put together a belly dance troupe.
Is there any chance that you will stop in Germany also ... somewhen?
What are your future plans, anyway?

Hmmmm … well I am happy to say that this is a solid possibility, in the near future! Nothing has been made official yet, but I have been in touch with some event organizers in Germany. I visited last year while on vacation, and love the countryside in Bavaria, and the German language — although you will have to forgive my grammatical errors and limited vocabulary!

As far as the future goes, I am really just going where the wind takes me.  I am developing some very exciting classes for Datura Online, I’m thrilled to be offering more workshops in the US and internationally, and I have some wonderful performance opportunities as a soloist and group performer, collaborating with other dancers and musicians. I am always doing more training as a fitness, yoga, and Pilates teacher — my current goal is to become more proficient in offering fitness training to dancers and to people with injuries or other limitations.

Graphics/Web Design: Konstanze Winkler
Ashley (right) here together with Zoe Jakes (left)
When I moved back to take a job with Opera San José, I looked up local dancers and quickly discovered Rachel Brice, Zoe Jakes, Mira Betz, the Bellydance Superstars, and the Indigo. What captivated me most was their technique. As a classical singer, good technique is an obsession of mine, and when I saw the control and power of their movements I was absolutely enchanted. Also, I adored their aesthetics, their costumes were to me both elegant and ethnic-exotic.
I began teaching because my group fitness manager asked me to.  I felt totally unprepared so I started taking workshops (my first was with Rachel, my second with Zoe) and watching DVD’s (mainly from Fat Chance.) I moved back to Illinois for a time, where I was handed a group of students from the Tribal teacher who was leaving, and I was asked to perform so I started a troupe as well.
I led Orchid Belly Dance for just under three years before moving to Portland.  We did a ton of shows, everything from restaurants to festivals and many, many private parties. Again, on a lark, my partner and I decided it was time to leave California and on a workshop/performance tour through the Pacific Northwest we discovered Portland, and we just knew we had to live there.

Datura opened shortly after I arrived in Portland and I began teaching weekly classes.  A year after they opened, Datura Online was born. I still teach all kinds of fitness classes: yoga, Pilates, sculpt and bootcamp.  I’ve also recently became obsessed with therapy and have been working with clients with injuries and illnesses.

As well, I’ve had some more musical opportunities come up.  I am writing this as I sit in the back of a van, on tour with the Vagabond Opera where I am singing more than I am
dancing in the show. 

Why do I stick to it?  Every day is a gift.  As a yogi, I have learned to live presently. I have no idea, frankly, where this is going though I work to be better at my craft, always. Dancing, singing, and exercising are what I do with most of my days. I have learned so much from my teachers but most importantly I have learned that you must keep learning. My voice teacher told me early on that the more you know, the more you realize you don’t know. So, I’m learning. And as long as I continue to be challenged I am happy.  My teachers have continued to challenge me, and those who are kind enough to offer me gigs, teaching workshops or performing, continue to challenge me. This is what keeps me content.
Please enlighten us about Datura and your role in it?

Datura is Rachel Brice’s local belly dance studio in Portland, Oregon, and it serves as the headquarters for Little Scarab Productions, The Eight Elements and Datura Online.  I am one of the teachers offering weekly “live” classes, and I am one of the teachers offering online classes through the Datura Online website. The name is also represented in Rachel’s recent group project, which I have been honored to be a part of - the Datura Belly Dance project — at a few local events in Portland and at Tribal Fest 2012 & 2013.

Tell us about your cooperation with Rachel Brice.

As previously mentioned, Rachel was really my first “Tribal Fusion” teacher, and I have been studying with her since 2005.
Rachel is one of my pillars of inspiration and technique.
As I’ve detailed, I am honored to be part of her dance studio and online class website, and have been delighted to work with the Datura Belly Dance project the last few years. It has been so valuable and such an incredible learning experience to be a part of her classes, workshops, intensives, and performance group. Her knowledge of the dance, work ethic, incredible eye for aesthetic, and talent for choreography is thrilling to be around. It’s exciting, too because you never know what they (Little Scarab) are gonna come up with next!
Tell us about your cooperation with Zoe Jakes.

My second “Tribal Fusion” teacher, I’ve been studying with Zoe since 2006, in workshops and intensives — another pillar of inspiration and technical training. She first asked me to do a few last-minute things in a Beats Antique show when they came through Portland a few years ago and then I was invited to
perform with them in Oakland, and with her Bhoomi Project at Tribal Fest 2012. I’ve since been on tour in some of their shows as a special guest singer, dancer and general stage show weirdo. Zoe is an amazingly hard-working and unique creative genius and I am so thankful to be able to learn from her and perform with her.
We are most thrilled that you are coming to Europe, what is the scheme behind your performances in Bucharest, Kiev and Rome? Why do you start in Romania?

I am thrilled to be coming to Europe — this will be my first time teaching there. The tour and the dates were simply a matter of booking, based on the requests of a few festivals and hosts.

I’ll be teaching and performing at:
Tribal Fest Bucharest November 1-3
then in Rome for Sciahina November 9-11
off to
Lyon, France the weekend of November 16th
and then ending the tour at
Tribal Weekend in Kiev, Ukraine Nov. 21-24

I’m excited to offer some special “fusion” performances and some of my very
favorite workshops!