Inspire Belly Dance: Tasha, Destiny In Her Belly Dance Journey
Halfway through college, nursing student Debra Lewis dropped out of school, joined the Army, shipped off to Germany, and discovered belly dance. Three months later, Tasha performed on the same stage that inspired her to dance, and began a 33-year career that proves her destiny lies with belly dance.
Debra Lewis, stage name Tasha, was a nursing student who suddenly doubted whether she could handle a life in medicine. Though she was halfway through college, she decided to quit and join the Army. Soon after, she was stationed in Frankfurt, Germany, where her life was about to change in a big way.
"Germany was wonderful, the army not so much, but at a little Air Force club called the Jaegerstube outside of Rhein/Main Airbase, I saw my first belly dancer," Tasha said. "I decided in that moment what I'd be doing the rest of my life."
Week after week, Tasha returned to Jaegerstube to watch the belly dancing. One night, a belly dancer named Marta took the stage; Tasha had discovered her first teacher. With only three months left on her deployment, with Marta's instruction, Tasha began preparing for her first performance as a belly dancer on the same stage that inspired her to dance.
"Preparing for my first solo was intense. I choreographed every beat of the music, forgetting, of course, that I'd have to enter and get to the stage. By the time I got to the stage, I had no idea where I was in my choreography, and had to improvise. I've been an improv performer ever since," said Tasha.
Performing has been a bit of an up and down battle for Tasha. On the one hand, her first paid show came with glowing praise from her client who said Tasha was the best belly dancer she had ever seen. On the other hand, struggling with her weight meant Tasha often felt uncomfortable being in the spotlight.
"I know this is a lifelong issue for many women, but it really hurts to hear disparaging comments from audience members because of ten extra pounds," said Tasha.
Eventually, lower back pain made it difficult for Tasha to perform, reaching the point where she didn't think she would be able to keep belly dancing. By finding a variety of treatments including crainio-sacral bodywork and shiatzu massage, Tasha recovered. Another unexpected therapy method came from her true calling, as a teacher in Phillipsburg, New Jersey.
"As an improv performer, I was unbalancing myself by presenting steps on my stronger side," Tasha said. "Teaching has helped me balance my back, since I am purposefully working both sides."
This entire journey made Tasha an even stronger teacher, something exactly like what Caiti Robel was looking for. As a woman with diabetes, Caiti had a hard time finding belly dance teachers who could pair dance and health lessons without fear. Enter Tasha, who was able to provide a comfortable class environment just by being herself.
"She actively seeks out business from women that want to start belly dancing, but don't believe that they can because the media only shows the young slender women," Caiti said.
In fact, Tasha has been an inspiration to Caiti for much longer than either of them realized. As a young girl, Caiti's father photographed a belly dancer whose beauty and confidence sparked Caiti's lifelong interest in belly dance. Her father recently revisited those photos at another family gathering, making a now grown-up Caiti see the similarity between her childhood inspiration to her adult mentor. It was more than just a similarity.
"I made the comment that the dancer looked like a younger version of my teacher, and the rest of the family thought I was nuts," Caiti said. "I e-mailed those pictures to Tasha and she confirmed that she was in fact the belly dancer that had performed at the family party so many years ago. Not only is Tasha an inspiration to many of the belly dancers in this area as a teacher, she was the personal inspiration for me to start belly dancing."
Caiti isn't the only person who is inspired by Tasha. Tasha's husband is one of her biggest supporters, and last year he even purchased a studio for his wife to teach lessons. That's a gift for the entire community of dancers, as Tasha can continue to spread the word of belly dance with her welcoming teaching style.
Tasha continues to dance because nothing gives her greater joy. This passion makes it easy for her to deflect negative reactions to her belly dancing, choosing to fight fire with sugar, something she admits she couldn’t have done at a younger age.
"I have dedicated my career, both performing and teaching, to present belly dancing in a tasteful, professional way," Tasha said. "It is my belief that ANY woman can learn belly dance, that ALL are welcome, and that we women are a sisterhood supporting each other.
"My studio is a judgement-free zone, and no one is allowed to say that they can't do something. They are allowed to say that they can't do something YET."