Sapphire: Rochester’s New Beginner Belly Dance Troupe

Sapphire Ellwanger outdoor shot #1

Photo by Robert Hill

In early February my belly dance teacher, Michelle Charles, announced in class that she would be forming a new beginner student belly dance troupe. By joining the troupe, we would learn performance techniques, refine the choreography taught in classes, and learn about belly dance costumes and make up. We would also have several opportunities to perform at social and public events in and around the greater Rochester area.Red belly dance art


Given my new passion for belly dance, I signed up as soon as the opportunity arose. In addition to my regular belly dance classes, I also started attending weekly rehearsals with Michelle and my new troupe mates. Michelle has a talent for ‘spicing up’ the regular choreography in rehearsals by creating lines, depth and texture with the dancers. I have learned that staying in synch with the music, knowing the dance steps, and trying to match the movements of my fellow troupe members is pertinent to the group performance. In fact, since I’ve joined the group I have been noticing while watching YouTube videos of various troupe performances that even the simplest steps can look amazing when a group is in sync. Complicated steps can look messy when a group isn’t connected or in rhythm.

Sapphire - Outdoor shot #2

Photo by Robert Hill

Once our group was formed and regular rehearsals began, we were fitted for our new costumes. As a new dancer, this was very exciting for me! Our costumes were hand made by another long time belly dancer, Deborah Robinson. The color of our new costumes, of course, is sapphire, with white trim. The costumes are rich and eye-catching, and look enchanting when worn together as a group. Our new jewelry was hand made as well by one of my troupe mates, Kristy Morris.

Sapphire - Eye Linda

Photo by Brenda Washington

Along with costuming, my new troupe mates and I also learned about makeup. The first time I applied my make up for a performance, I thought for sure I would be mistaken for a hooker, but I was assured by Michelle that we would wear far more make up for performance than many of us would ever wear on a daily basis. I soon realized that I actually didn’t even apply enough makeup for the stage and applied more eyeliner. My creative troupe mate, Corinne suggested we also draw our Sapphire logo under our right eye, which I feel distinguishes our troupe’s ‘look’ even more!

To date, Sapphire has had three performances. I was unable to join my troupe for the first show in March, but I did perform with them in our other two shows recently in May.Sapphires Linda and Nikki

On May 3rd we performed at the charming Ellwanger Estate Bed and Breakfast, a mansion located in the heart of Rochester’s Mount Hope Cultural District. The beautiful mansion is over one hundred fifty years old and is a landmark site. The estate is owned currently by Rosemary Janofsky, who graciously hosted our recent Sunday afternoon event. The event that was held at the estate is called a Hafla, which is a casual social gathering with music, food, and belly dance performances. The event drew in dancers from the local Rochester area, as well as some amazing talent from our neighboring cities, Buffalo and Syracuse.

The afternoon was filled with an array of talented belly dancers that performed various styles of Middle Eastern dance, ranging from traditional Egyptian style to fusion styles and Turkish belly dance. Several troupes performed as well as many soloists.

Since I have recently been studying solo veil dance choreography with Michelle, I thought the homey environment of the Ellwanger Estate would be a perfect environment to debut my first individually choreographed solo. This event was also my first performance with my Sapphire troupe mates. Needless to say, I was so nervous before I performed that day that I could feel my palms viscid with sweat. In addition, I had also been recently diagnosed with a stress fracture in my left foot. I knew my body wasn’t in peak condition for a debut performance, but I was so excited about performing that I was determined to at least try.

Amy Ellwanger close-up

Photos of Amy’s solo by Brenda Washington


Fortunately, my solo performance was the second number. As soon as I started dancing, I found myself lost in the music and choreography. Amy backbend








I love the grace and flow of the veil. Although a prop like a veil may potentially cause angst because it is one more thing to keep track of and possibly flub, it can also provide security.

Amy Ellwanger Veil pose

Amy Ellwanger -necklace pose

   My veil gave me something to hide behind, wrap myself in, and invite as a partner in my performance.

I wasn’t dancing alone when I was out on the floor with my veil. It made me feel at home, as did the supportive audience of fellow dancers, friends, and family. I was also delighted that my Sapphire troupe mates were sitting close by.

Sapphire Ellwanger Drum Solo #2

Sapphire dance photos by Brenda Washington

Sapphire performed a few dances later. After performing solo with my veil, my nerves had calmed considerably for our performance as a troupe. The environment was fun and festive at the Ellwanger, and being out there dancing with the six other women in my troupe added even more merriment to the event.


Sapphire Ellwanger - Amy and Nikki

Sapphires -Greta Ellwanger


Sapphire Ellwanger drum solo








Once our performance was finished, I had the pleasure to sit back and watch the other talented dancers and roam the breathtaking gardens at the estate.

Two weeks later, Sapphire performed at another belly dance event. This one was in a very different environment, but equally enjoyable. The event was titled Raq City Belly Dance Night, and was held at the Buta Pub in the South Wedge neighborhood of Rochester. Bethany Forsythe, a long-time Rochester belly dancer and teacher, organized this event. The event consisted of an ‘open dance’ segment, which was open to belly dancers and troupes to sign up and perform as time allowed. The second segment of the show was for the evening’s ‘featured’ performers, consisting of one featured troupe and one featured solo dancer. Our beginner troupe, Sapphire, was honored to be invited as the evening’s featured troupe performance. Once again, we were greeted with a warm, open, and friendly audience, many of whom were fellow dancers and their friends. Any fear or intimidation I felt as a new dancer performing nearly melted away when I saw the smiling faces of my fellow dancers and felt the festive energy of our audience.

Sapphire Amy - Buta Pub








Our dances were followed by the evening’s featured performer; the amazing Ionah from Syracuse, who wowed the audience with a show-stopping finale to the evening!

Iona Buta Pub

Iona black and white

Photo by Brenda Washington










During these past four month, I have enjoyed every part of performing in Sapphire…the rehearsals, Michelle’s creative choreography, the costumes, and the performances. My favorite part of all, though, has been the opportunity to dance with the wonderful other women in the troupe: Corinne, Linda, Nikki, Sandy, Kristy, and Greta. I look forward to my next opportunity to shimmy the stage with these ladies this summer!Sapphire Ellwanger outdoor #3Amy and Corinne Sapphires












For the next three and a half weeks, I will be taking a brief hiatus from my Rochester troupe to return to Thailand for the first time in three years. Come back and visit soon, as I once again take this eastward journey. I depart in just a few days, this time with five new travel companions!

Elephant Kiss*A special thank you to Brenda Washington Vasickanin and Robert Hill for sharing photos from the Ellwanger Belly Dance Hafla.

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