For Keisha McLean and her dancers, belly dance is so much more than movement, it’s a community.
“It’s neat because there’s a lot of movements in dance and other activities that stress your body, and belly dancing kind of naturally works with your body,” said McLean. “So it’s a dance for everybody, it’s not made to be challenging for your body. It’s made to work with what you got.”
McLean recently celebrated her five year anniversary of opening her studio, Boundless Belly Dance and, unknowingly, starting her journey of cultivating relationships within the community through her dance. As a 22-year-old entrepreneur, McLean admits that she didn’t recognize the importance of these relationships as she was getting started, but now she has a deep appreciation for those who have enabled her to succeed.
“I was pretty ambitious. I was only 17 when I started and I was like ‘Yeah, this is going to be forever.’ So I was definitely thinking we’d make it to five years. Actually, my first business plan was to the five-year point,” said McLean.
“At the end of the day, the community has supported us so much. Our dancers and the community who hires us have created such a great network and this awesome cushion. So we’ve been able to expand and take this tiny, little seed and let it grow and blossom into something super great.”
McLean has been belly dancing much longer than five years though, as she is also celebrating her 15th anniversary of learning the art form thanks to a family friend who taught classes out of her dad’s yoga studio. She admits that she had tried other forms of dance and didn’t excel in them because she didn’t enjoy them.
“I was seven-years-old and back then, (my dad’s) good friend Justina was running classes once a week, very casually, since it was primarily a yoga studio then,” said McLean. “I had tried ballet and other things and I frankly wasn’t very good at them and I didn’t enjoy them. So she said ‘Why don’t you just come try belly dancing?’
“It was from literally that first class, I knew this is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.”
So many aspects of belly dance attracted McLean to the art form, including the rhythmic music, the body movements, the costumes. She continues to perform alongside her community performers at events, as well as offer classes and instruction through her father’s studio.
“There’s something so beautiful about stepping on stage — the music starts and you just start dancing and it feels so good,” said McLean. “It’s kind of hard to explain, especially when you know you’re invoking something in your audience. Because we have really fun and energetic pieces and then really slow and soulful ones, so it’s about taking the audience through that journey with us.”
Tiana Savoie, a professional performer with Boundless Belly Dance, is McLean’s most experienced student and dance partner. She said the physical feeling of performing belly dance is why she fell in love with the art form.
“It just clicked. Something about it felt right, felt comfortable. My body just knew what it wanted to do, even if it was fighting me a bit, it knew that it wanted to do it,” said Savoie. “It feels like a release for me when I dance, especially when we have a really good performance.”
Claire Millar, a community performer and trans advisor with Boundless, randomly decided to attend an open class with the studio and soon found the family and community atmosphere that McLean created. As a transgender woman, Millar was looking for an outlet to embrace her femininity.
“I was very captured by the dance. It’s graceful and life-affirming and, ultimately, quite feminine. Which was something I was lacking in my own life,” said Millar. “So I wanted to find a way to express that and belly dance is one of the best ways I can think of.
“It was non-judgmental and I felt accepted immediately. What Boundless provided me, more than anything, was sisterhood. The feeling of having women around me that are there for me, and I was there for them.”
Savoie added, “I love watching our troupe expand. It’s really fun seeing all of the new students go through the same things we did and doing the same silly mistakes and laughing and joining our family because we are a family. Not only in class but outside of class we’re connected.”
For more information about Boundless Belly Dance, visit www.boundlessbellydance.com.
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