We're both 26 today and it's been eleven years of friendship. We've shared stories of first loves and heartbreaks and even periods when we didn't speak at all. But through the amazing Internet we've been able to keep our friendship alive.
Today, Julia is an accomplished Belly Dancer. What started as a hobby has grown into a passion. Accompanied by photos by photographer Nick Chao, I'm pleased to interview one of my greatest friends, Julia Lolita Bernal.
First, thank you so much for letting me interview you for Color Love Life! We’ve been friends for a long time (11 years!) but we’ve been a bit out of touch for the last few years while I was away at school. During that time you really developed an interest in belly dancing. How did that come about?
Thank you for asking me to be apart of Color Love Life! I am really honored. Wow, has it really been 11 years? Time flies by, doesn’t it? I wish I could say “while you’re having fun” but the years we weren’t in touch, I wasn’t really having fun. LOL.
I learned basic belly dance moves in my high school dance class, right before Britney Spears and Shakira brought belly dancing to mainstream popularity. The girl who taught me told me I was doing it all wrong, I felt completely dejected and decided to sit out while the belly dance choreography was being taught. I fell in love with the different colored veils that were being used in the dance and decided I would practice belly dance moves on my own, in my bedroom. I did this off and on for about a year or two and met my dance instructor in an online health class during my first year of high school and the rest is history.
You mentioned Britney Spears and Shakira. When they "belly dance" is it really belly dancing in the context of what you do? Or is it more dancing and entertainment?
Well, the only belly dancing that Britney Spears did was for her music video "I'm A Slave 4 U" and I can't even remember now how much of it was actually belly dancing. But with a combination of Shakira and Britney Spears belly dancing did become more mainstream. As far as Shakira is concerned for a while it just seems like all she did was shake her booty and that's it. But I searched YouTube and she actually CAN belly dance, she's amazing!!! So, I wold say that Britney's dancing was more entertainment and Shakira can totally belly dance!
What drew you to belly dancing in the first place?
Well, my introduction to belly dancing would have been through watching and loving the Disney movie Aladdin. I thought Princess Jasmine and the belly dancers used in various scenes were extremely sensual and powerful in the way they moved; all while being very shapely. I always wanted to experience that feeling and when I was given an opportunity to learn, I took it!
How has it affected you? In physical, mental and emotional ways?
Prior to belly dancing, I really struggled over my body image. I wanted to have the body frame of Britney Spears, with J-Lo’s abs and backside, and have Jennifer Love Hewitt’s legs, because that is what was considered to be attractive or ideal in pop culture. I realized that my body is built to be curvaceous and there is nothing wrong with that, as long as I am living a healthy and active life. If I’m taking care of my body and healthy, why should I have to conform to someone else’s idea of what beautiful is and isn’t? As soon as that clicked in my head, I was instantly 100% happier. I came to realize this through that fact that in the belly dance world, having weight on your body is really valued. Having meat on your body make it so you can see certain moves like “flutters” or “belly rolls.” I also feel more flexible when I’ve been dancing regularly.
If you had a business card, would you list “Professional Belly Dancer” as your profession?
Yes, I would.
Do you do performances professionally or more casually? Do you make any money from it?
I used to perform casually for many years. It wasn’t until I decided to eat healthier and be more active, that I lost a lot of weight, almost 40 pounds, and started to gain a lot of confidence in MY body. I started to buy professional belly dance costumes and worked really hard in the dance studio with the troupe I am in. Naturally the professional paying gigs came pouring in for the past year.
Are there any misconceptions about belly dancing people should be corrected about?
I want people to know that belly dancing isn’t stripping. I hate that they are linked together. The other problem I have is how men, who do not know how the world of belly dancing works, treat belly dancers. I don’t think people know how to handle the beauty and power that belly dancers have when they move to the exotic and rich music. So I think it’s easier for them to instantly relate it to something like sex and then treat us like an object and not a human being. Sure we’re in revealing outfits but it doesn’t warrant you to disrespect us.
What are the outfits like? Are they easy to move in?
I have Egyptian and Turkish belly dance costumes; which consists of a skirt, harem pants, bra, and belt. The skirts are sheer and made out of chiffon. One of my skirts is made out of chiffon panels and the other is a two tiered chiffon skirt. They’re extremely beautiful when you’re spinning! The harem pants are an option. Some women show off their legs, I choose not to. If I don’t wear my harem pants, I feel like I might flash the audience a lovely color of my underpants! The bra and belt, by far is my favorite part! They’re decorated with fringe, beads, sequence, coins, appliqués, etc. Costumes are like clothes in the sense that they look differently depending on your body type. So if you get a costume that fits your body type well, you will move around easily and with confidence.
Which costume of yours is your favorite to wear and dance in?
Oh man, I haven't found a belly dance costume that is my favorite. They're all pretty but I'm still looking for my dream costume. I really want to buy a costume that has shades of orange, red, and brown. Those colors are gorgeous and makes stage makeup REALLY fun.
Where do you see yourself going with this? Will you be a professional belly dancer for the next stage of your life or do you have other plans?
About a year ago I wanted the troupe I am in to be so much in demand that we traveled to other cities, states, or counties. But things have changed; I will always belly dance, it truly is a workout and I like the way it tones my body. The next stage of my life would have to be a career in teaching elementary school, and since meeting my significant other the possibility of being married and having a family is now an option that I am going to take when the time is right for us to do so.
Your cousin, Mara, dances with you as well, right? What's it like to have family by your side with you while dancing?
It's so much fun dancing with my cousin Mara. We look so much a like that we get a lot of guests from private parties or members of an audience come up to us and ask us if we're twins, sisters, or cousins. Sometimes we say sisters, if we're feeling like bras we say twins, but usually we giggle and tell them we're cousins, in unison too. It's like surround sound.
How can someone get started with belly dancing?
I would recommend finding a belly dance instructor in your area. Just google belly dancing and your town's name. Sometimes it's available at a gym, that's also a possibility. If you're too shy or don't have an instructor near you, I'd buy an instructional DVD. I recommend The Magic of Belly Dance by Ansuya and The Heartbeat of Bellydance: Rhythms & Belly Dance Combinations for Drum Solos with Jenna and Raquy. They're great DVDs that may or may not be a challenge, so you'll get more out of it then a basic DVD where you learn a step right away and then you've got all you can out of the DVD. Thankfully the dance steps are broken down and you can pause it if you need to drill it a few times.
Many thanks to Julia for allowing me to interview her! For more on Julia, you can peek at her Facebook. Photography by Nick Chao (who is 17 years old!)