main page/topics
back to interviews
When a bellydancer performs with a tabla drummer this is quite normal. When a bellydancer performs with a live band this is also not unheared of. But when a bellydancer performs with a DJ this is quite a rarity, or is it? Calamity Sam from California has her own DJ, Amar, and declares that this is no rarity at all, at least at the US West Coast. Please read what else Sam has to tell.

Interview with Calamity Sam

by Marcel Bieger

How did you and bellydance find each other?

Bellydance was introduced to me through a friend that was studying with Akasha Star in Fullerton, CA. She had a DVD with a Rachel Brice performance on it - and Rachel did one of her amazing layback drops that she does - and I was floored. I NEEDED to know what it was that got her there, and how I could get to that point. (I'm STILL trying to get to that point) Since then, I've been hooked. I bought some Jillina DVDs, practiced like crazy, and finally built up the courage to actually GO to class.

Zahra Zuhair was my first (in person) instructor. I don't think I could have chosen a better person as a beginning teacher. Not only was she unfailingly patient, she is one of the best traditional Egyptian dancers that I have ever seen. She got me into the basics, and I continued at her dance studio, Dance Garden LA, for some time before I decided to move into the tribal style.
My version of Tribal Fusion is still very influenced by my favourite teachers- but I think I can safely say that Hip Hop, Modern, and Bollywood are my biggest dance influences. I also love to watch folk dances of different countries for inspiration. Classical Indian dances, the dances of the Roma, and even Folk dances of the U.S.- like square dancing- have been modifiers in my dance. Beyond Bellydance) Amar und mich in ihre Show eingeladen hat.

Please tell us something about your cooperation with Amar.

Dancing with a DJ is surprisingly not that different from performing with a live band or drummer. It’s an on-stage relationship, and you can connect with the DJ just as much as any drummer. This has been a regular thing in California for quite a while. I’m not sure who was the first to do it, but I know that DJ Amar has worked with several dancers that all developed a performing relationship with him- to the point where he could tell when the dancer wanted a new song. This, to me, is very similar to a drummer sensing that the dancer wants a Beledi, or a Chiftitelli, or a shimmy solo. When he and I started working together, we just had to perform together a few times to get the feel of how it would go. Now I can just give him a look when I need a new song, or an ending. My connection with DJ Amar really began in 2009 when we met at a show in Los Angeles, CA. We gradually got to know each other through numerous mutual friends, which led to working together, and then we started dating. It's been an incredibly enriching personal and
professional relationship for the both of us.

Amar's a natural when it comes to mixing world music, as well as more contemporary electronic music. He had worked with several professional bellydancers before we met - and continues to sustain his professional relationships with them. DJ Amar's collaborations extend from Jill Parker and Ultragypsy to Ariellah, The Lady Fred, Unmata, Mavi, and many more. To be counted among that list of amazing dancers as one of his collaborative artist is a true honor! I am slightly biased because of our personal ties - but I know him to be one of the best producers of dance and music events that I have ever met - as well as being an extremely talented DJ. Amar has definitely helped push me to reach further with my dance and pursue more lucrative platforms for my performance - but there are so many teachers that should be recognized, as well.
What did you do before you started dancing, and can you make a living out of dancing?

Well, I was trained in Animation- but the economy in the U.S. went bad just as I was exiting University. While I was looking for a job in visual art, I started performing more and more. I juggled a day job in an office for about 3 years with my dance, and just six months ago decided it was time to see if I can make this work as a job. So far I’ve done ok. But it hasn’t ONLY been dance- I’ve also been using my visual art as a source of income. I know several dancers that JUST teach and perform- as well as many dancers that have several jobs to make ends meet. This job is just like any other artistic job, in that you really have to promote yourself, and make sure your financial situation is taken care of. In the United States, being a professional “artist” of any sort is very hard- but I feel like my life has gotten better in so many ways since I started pursuing dance and art as a career path.

When Amar and I are in Los Angeles, we put on a show called “Eclectic Ensemble” in association with Studio Iquaat. We see it as a community-building show that has regular professional dancers (Aubre Hill, Heather Shoopman, Sherri Wheatley- just to name a few), as well as their students. It’s our goal to create a space that’s welcoming to the audience AND the dancers- making it a comfortable space for new/beginner performers, as well as creating an opportunity for the professionals to test new music, fusions, and performances. I am in the beginning stages of learning how to produce- and it’s no easy job! It has given me a greater compassion for those that put on large shows- for example- Tjarda and Renate did an AMAZING job producing Beyond Bellydance. They had that show running almost without a bump, so that shows me they were working their butts off to get it that way.

        I am very lucky to be living in an area that has so many dance and music shows. I can go from listening to my favourite DJ’s at a club one night, to listening to Classical Indian music played masters the next night. All of these things inspire my dance- inspiration is everywhere for every sort of art. Movement found on the dancefloor and in music feed directly into my form of fusion.

Calamity Sam and DJ Amar are guests at "BEYOND BELLYDANCE IV"
November 16th - 20th 2011 in Amsterdam/Utrecht (NL)
further informations:
Graphic design and Photos © Konstanze Winkler
Calamity Sam
DJ Amar
You’ve been to Europe for the first time.

Traveling through Europe has been a dream of mine since childhood. I lived in a very rural area of California- yes, we have farms in California- and didn’t travel as a child. But- I was an avid reader. I feel as though I’ve been travelling my whole life through my reading. Seeing Paris, Brittany, Amsterdam, and Utrecht in person was like bringing all of that reading to life. It was my first time out of the U.S., and I tried hard not to be the annoying American tourist. Not to say I didn’t gawk at the coastline of Brittany, stare in awe at Notre Dame, and get taken in by the charm of the canals of Amsterdam. I was definitely a tourist- I just hope I wasn’t an annoying one.

I was asked of one friend in Paris if I had any preconceptions of the Parisians and of Europeans in general. I am aware of the stereotypes some Americans have of Europe and its people- but I never thought any of them were true. Travelling through France and Holland reaffirmed my belief that people are basically the same wherever you go. You have good and bad- it’s fairly reassuring, really.

I came to perform in Utrecht after Tjarda asked both Amar and me to come out for the show. Tjarda knew Amar through her connections with Hot Pot and Unmata(with whom Amar has been working for years). Tjarda is also friends with Heather Shoopman (my dance partner). So having seen us perform she invited us to come a be a part of the show.
Last year was my FIRST year at Tribal Fest (I couldn’t afford the trip before then). It was a great experience. I was able to share the stage with Tjarda and Sherri Wheatley, then step back as I watched Unmata close the weekend with their amazing “Fashion” piece. Chuck and Kajira put on an amazing show- that’s a level of producing few ever get to. I would recommend Tribal Fest to anyone that can make the trip. I think that this very spread out network of Tribal and Tribal Fusion dancers (all over the world) need these festivals to try and remember that there is a GREAT community of people that are a part of what they do.

I’ll be there again this year, performing on Sunday as a guest in DJ Amar’s set, as well as dancing at the AfterParty on Saturday.

And I’ll be at “Beyond Bellydance 4” this November, with Amar, of course!

Over time, our friendship, and dance relationship grew- and we decided to become a duet. Heather remains an inspiration to me, as well as a long-distance dance partner. (I moved from Los Angeles to Oakland in November of 2010 to be closer to Amar). I now find myself in the interesting position of wanting to teach in a very saturated dance environment. There are so many AMAZING fusion and tribal belly dance instructors in the Bay Area that I don't think I can compete! I'm loving Oakland, and the Bay Area of California, though - I have the opportunity to study with so many of my dance inspirations, and I feel very lucky.
Sherri Wheatley was teaching at Dance Garden, LA as a tribal fusion instructor at that time, and I got my first taste of the serpentine fusion movement that I so loved. Heather Shoopman started teaching tribal fusion at Dance Garden shortly after and, in taking her classes, I found not only an instructor I truly liked - but also a future close friend and dance partner. After some time in class, she asked me to become a part of Se7en (pronounced 'seven') - her troupe at the time. I performed all over Los Angeles with Se7en, and also at the Unmata Bloodmoon Regale.