Shoulders shimmy-ing, coin-laden hips shaking and arms slowly – hypnotically – gesturing in time to middle eastern rhythms. The movements are truly engaging, powerfully energetic and, at the same time, sensual. As the dance unfolds, the tempo changes… quickening to a crescendo and just as suddenly, dropping to a slow, slow beat. Tension building with each step, each undulation.
The woman dancing is the talented Ramona Passarello.
A mother of two, Ramona has been belly dancing for 14 years. She has a long history in ballet, jazz and modern dance, and travelled throughout North America with different dance companies. Growing up in Terrace and then moving to Cranbrook, Ramona’s access to professional instruction was limited. Her parents encouraged her passion by sending her to professional level dance studios and schools each summer.
During her college years, she attended East Kootenay Community College enrolled in a Theatre Arts program. It proved to be a fun and educating experience, but more importantly showed Ramona that acting really wasn’t what she wanted to pursue. Her passion was clearly dance.
At the age of seventeen, Ramona developed arthritis in both of her feet. It was apparent that her feet would not be able to withstand the demands of her dancing. She found that bellydancing met her need to express her life passion through creative dance with the added bonus of being friendly on her body. She quickly adapted and set out to entertain at public venues including restaurants and special events.
It is tradition that a bellydancer chooses a “stage” name for herself. In her case, Ramona’s unique name, meaning “sweet pomegranate of the desert, was already an appropriate epithet.
When asked about her mentors, Ramona says her biggest influence was Badia Star.
“She was the epitomy of technique, strength and beauty.” remembers Ramona. “She had a grin from ear to ear and was amazingly talented and powerful. I just knew that I wanted to be that person, to be that essence.”
During shows and restaurant gigs, Ramona’s dancing is all improvised. Feeling that choreographed moves takes away the spontenaity of authentic bellydance, she draws on her repertoire and skill base as she integrates her moves and interacts with the crowd. It’s interacting with the crowd that continues to make performing fun and exciting for her.
“There’s been an interesting progression in the popularity of bellydancing”shares Ramona. “When I started, bellydancing was quite unique, now it’s everywhere.”
Ramona may very well have contributed to marking an epoch in local dance genre. Teaching her craft through classes and private lessons, she has undoubtedly inspired many to pursue bellydancing as both exercise and a form of creative expression.
And her classes certainly are exercise. For someone who is out of shape (yes, that would be me), the first half of the class entails an intense toning session as a warm up. Ramona feels it is an important and integral part of bellydancing to ensure the muscle groups are able to effectively challenge the movements. With each class, new moves are learned and and I found new ways in which I am quite uncoordinated. I must say that I have great respect for how easy bellydancers make the art form look.
Ramona is currently exploring a new genre in bellydancing called Indian Tribal Fusion. It combines traditional Egyptian bellydance, jazz, African, Spanish and various dance forms from other cultures. The music also combines traditional instruments fused with modern techno beats.
Not planning to slow down, Ramona sees herself continuing to dance and perform in restaurants, weddings, festivals and special events. As her dance movements ebb and flow in time to the deep melodic rhythms, and the lively sound of coins shaking and tinkling capture the attention of the crowd, her passion will continue to enliven, entice and inspire.
Visit her website at www.bellydancer.ca to learn more.
Interview and story written by Nicole Shaw.