Come as you are and shake what you’ve got.
That’s the mantra at Tribal Dance Long Island & Caravan Connection in Northport, where studio owner Cienna Rizza and her crew are moving more than just their hips — they’re shaking up the concept of belly dancing while fostering a body-positive community.
Tribal Dance Long Island is more than a dance troupe — it’s a choreographed movement, says Rizza, who has been a professional belly dancer for 25 years. Her studio is one of the few on Long Island that specializes in tribal fusion belly dance, which is performed in groups of five or more.
Tribal belly dance is earthier than traditional cabaret styles, Rizza says, utilizing more lower body strength and pulling inspiration from Africa and South and Central America. It is characterized by folkloric dance moves and costumes. Rizza’s troupes wear costumes whose components and fabrics are more natural — no spandex, Lycra or sequins. The costumes are all handmade with real silk, shells, stone, bone and crystal.
“Everyone has their own reason for being here,” Rizza says of her clientele, who range in age from 20-somethings to women in their 60s. “Belly dance speaks to women on a sensual level. It’s something very deep and very personal.”
THE RIGHT FIT
Rizza, 43, of Centereach, is of Middle Eastern and Mediterranean descent. A dancer since age 3, Rizza took her first cabaret-style lesson at 18 after she was cast as a belly dancer in a college production.
She fell in love with the dance style and hoped to turn it into a profession, but a medical mishap nearly ended her newfound career before it began. In her mid-20s, Rizza was prescribed steroids to treat Lyme disease. The medicine caused her to gain weight, and she says she was booted from the belly dance troupe she’d been a part of for several years.
Unable to find a home with a new troupe, Rizza made one in East Northport.
“I wanted a place where people felt loved and like they fit,” Rizza says. “This is a dance that celebrates women as they are — all sizes, all ages, all stages.”
Rizza’s performance group is composed of 19 women at different skill levels, including a student showcase troupe and two more advanced groups. Members will perform during halftime at the Long Island Roller Rebels roller derby home opener March 19 at Skate Safe America in Old Bethpage.
Roni Yaari of East Northport is a former colleague of Rizza’s and the owner of the nearby Inner Spirit Yoga Center, which also offers tribal dance lessons.
Yaari began dancing as a child in Israel and has been a professional belly dancer since she was 17. In addition to offering instruction in belly and Bollywood dance styles, Yaari’s studio also focuses on yoga and holistic living.
“Dance is great for cardio, muscle toning and speeding up your metabolism,” Yaari says. “It improves your memory, self-esteem, and helps with your overall health.”
Yaari says that oftentimes clients will cross over and take up yoga and belly dance. Her troupe performs on Thursday and Friday nights at Mystique Hookah Lounge in Westbury.
Ysa Catanese, 69, has been a belly dance student of Yaari’s for the past decade.
“When I first started, I thought, ‘Oh my God, do I really want to do this?’ ” says Catanese, who enrolled in the classes at the encouragement of her daughter Heather.
In a matter of weeks, however, Catanese, a Smithtown resident, was building more than just her muscle memory. She noticed a boost in her confidence, too.
“It’s a lot of fun to be with other women and to not have to put on any airs,” Catanese says. “I find it relaxing. Belly dancing just takes you away from everything.”