How We Met:
Cassandra Rose has won national belly dance competitions and just opened her own studio. She believes belly dancing can empower all who practice it. I love her dedication, her work, and her grace.
I was with my family, eating dinner at the restaurant Marrakesh. Cassandra Rose danced out into the middle of the floor. She is there sometimes on weekends to entertain and inspire guests. It was amazing. She controlled her body beautifully and purposefully. I was enthralled with the way she owned her movement. Cassandra Rose totally emits empowerment and self-acceptance vibes. I couldn’t find her after the show, but I left a card with my contact info on it. AND SHE EMAILED ME BACK! I was so so excited. These are the moments that make all the work worth it.
Cassandra Rose is joining the Carrot Bowl Dynamo community. These are people who daily do their thing and hardly realize they are an example, a powerhouse, and that sharing their story empowers other’s lives. I truly believe that when we listen to each other’s stories, when we let ourselves be affected by them, taking the lessons forward in our own lives, we become better people. We are kinder, more compassionate, and more dedicated to living in the present and being mindful. It’s all about how we act with each other. It’s all moving forward, no matter how that looks person to person. I believe that when you tell your story, you are empowered to keep living bigger, to keep living intentionally. Thank you, Cassandra Rose for taking the time to share.
What has belly dancing taught you about yourself?
Belly Dance has taught me more about myself than any other experienced in my life.
When I was young, I grew up in poverty and never felt good about myself. I started taking belly dance classes when I was 15 years old, and by age 16 I had more confidence than ever before. This hobby taught me to be accountable, to stick with it when things were difficult, and accomplish my goals. Belly dancing taught me to love my body, love myself and have passion for something. I fell in love with Middle Eastern Dance very quickly. I had only been dancing 4 years when I decided I wanted my hobby to be more; I decided to be a belly dance performer and instructor for my profession. I wanted to spread my joy of dance with others, by teaching students and performing for the community. I found that I was good at teaching and became a mentor to many students.
Did you always want to be a belly dancer? How did you get started?
I had never danced as a child, and only started belly dancing because I wanted an extracurricular activity, and high school sports were not exactly my thing. My step-mom saw some belly dancers at a festival and asked me to attend classes with her. I thought that was a perfect idea, so I agreed. Ever since dancing at a holiday hafla I’ve never stopped. I started dancing with my first instructor’s student troupes, performing at small community events, and belly dancing just for fun. I became more serious about it in college, and decided in 2009 that I would be a professional belly dancer.
Who has inspired you?
I had the pleasure of working with Ruby Beh, a well known belly dance coach, performer and instructor. I’ve never met someone so passionate about their art. She makes me want to work hard and practice.
I saw her dance and it was everything I loved about belly dance. I started taking classes with her and private lessons. She really polished me. She pushed me to compete professionally. She encouraged me to attend competitions, dance in restaurants, and expand my classes. By 2011, I was actually making money for dancing and teaching, not much, but it was a start.
Has your family been supportive of you doing this?
When I first started they were supportive. My mom had a really good impression of dance because she had seen it while directing an event at a women’s prison. The belly dancers came and taught them and performed for them and were involved. They spoke about women empowerment and community. Women can kinda be catty to each other, but it’s not like that in belly dance, we’re all really supportive of each other.
Later in college when I said I’m going to be a belly dancer for real they didn’t want me to do that. I was in my early 20’s and they said you’re crazy, it’s a waste of your time, you’re not going to make it.
I did struggle, but I finally said, I’m not going to finish my bachelor’s, I’m going to put my energy into belly dancing. A year later I had won Belly Dancer USA. I’ve won multiple national titles since then. My classes are full, I opened a dance studio, so my parents are definitely supportive now. I was going to make it. Everything I have I’ve worked really hard for.
You mentioned you had quite the journey to getting fit and healthy, can you share more to that story?
Growing up, I did not eat very well and I did not think about working out very much. I was a skinny kid, and I was active so I never had to think about my health or fitness level. I was about 21 years old when the cheetos caught up with me. I had gained weight, I became depressed, and I was in an unhealthy relationship. I went to the doctors to get some blood tests; we discovered that I had vit. B deficiency and low thyroid. Supplements and medication helped a bit, but really I needed a whole life makeover, not just pills.
In Nov 2011 I broke up with my boyfriend, moved to my mom’s house and decided that I was going to change my life for the better. I set some high goals for myself for 2012, and I had to get my butt in gear to accomplish them. I started out slowly, implementing healthy eating habits and starting a light workout routine on top of my regular belly dance classes.
My first goal for 2012 was to compete at La Danse Oriental Belly Dance Competition in Washington. I prepared my routine, I stayed strict with my new eating habits and continued to go to the gym. As the weekend of the competition approached, and I came down with the worst cold in my life. But I had worked so hard, so I still attended the competition, and guess what? I won. I was crowned Miss La Danse Oriental 2012, even with a sinus and respiratory infection, I had won my first Professional Title. My next goal for 2012 was Belly Dancer USA, a much larger and well known competition. To prepare for this next step I dedicated myself to fitness, I became more strict with my diet and I was hyper focused on my routine. The hard work once again paid off, I became Miss Belly Dancer USA that year, and I felt on top of the world. Since then, I have won The International Ambassador Competition in 2013 and Belly Dancer of the Year 2015. I take pride in my health, my body is my temple, my body is my means of success, I need to take care of it.
I grew up eating cheetos and now I eat kale. The trade off is worth it.
What is the easiest way to begin learning how to dance?
Start by attending classes. Dance has many positive side effects. Taking dance classes helps improve memory, coordination, general health and exercise, and of course, it’s tons of fun. Whether you choose to belly dance or tango, dancing is good for the soul. For those people who are not comfortable attending class, do not have the time or simply can not afford it, there are always videos or online classes to take dance at home.
(Picture credit Statesman Journal)
As an instructor, what is the most rewarding thing when teaching?
It wasn’t always easy and I’m not rich by any means. I have cheap health insurance. There’s something to be said that I’d love a state job with benefits, but not really. When I leave my dance studio, when I leave my students, I’m so filled with joy. When I get to perform for people and they just love it, that means so much more to me. I feel like dance has shown me that I am a great and inspiring leader, who motivates and pushes others to succeed.
Most women feel empowered by the dance and they learn to love their bodies. I had a student that said, “I didn’t know my body was beautiful until belly dance.” To hear my students say that…it’s really self-acceptance.
The rewarding thing in class is when you see it click. When you see a move in someone’s brain “get it,” especially if it’s one that they’ve been working on.
I was doing the most simple move in my beginners’ class last night. It’s one that for some reason 1 in 10 people can’t do it. I had 3 students in my class who hadn’t been doing it the right way, but last night, they did it all of a sudden. I was just so happy. That ah-ha moment. I don’t really want to compete anymore. I’m really invested in my students and helping them compete.
What is the biggest misconception about belly dancing?
People sometimes have the perception that it’s too sexual or that we’re strippers. It’s definitely not. We don’t do anything the same as strippers. There is a misconception that it’s erotic and it’s really not. It’s middle eastern dance that has evolved in the United States.
How has dancing brought you closer to living with intention/mindfulness?
I used to be a very future-liver. I would always plan 5 years ahead. Now I think day by day and week by week.
At the end of every class we are just breathing and I say “appreciate the moment, appreciate your breath, appreciate the work you’ve just done.”
Other times, it’s usually when I’m driving, that I look around and I appreciate life. Everyone wants to get through the day: speed through the week to get to the weekend, speed through the day to get to the evening, really all of a sudden you’re old and what happened!?
Has anything been an unexpected perk from your dancing career?
Friends. Often people start belly dancing because they want to make friends. I didn’t go into it to make friends. I went into it because it sounded cool. But I have made my very best friends in belly dancing. I have friends that are 16 and I have friends that are in their 60’s. There’s just such a diversity of women and I get along with them. It’s brought me such great friendships. I didn’t expect that. I didn’t expect this uplifting community.
What are 3 goals you have right now?
My huge, number 1 goal right now is opening my own dance studio in October [now complete as this interview is published!]. I have just started the venture of opening “Bellywood Dance Studio” in Salem. This is something I have wanted since I decided I wanted to be a professional, unfortunately I had no preparation time for this transition. The studio I was teaching in gave me extremely short notice and I had to scramble to find my own space. I have partnered up with my friend, who is a Bollywood Instructor, and together we are making this dream come true. My own studio was unexpected at this moment in life, but I am excited and hopeful for the future of my business.
My second goal ties into the first goal. I want to have belly dancing be my full time job. Right now I work 15 hours a week at a Spa. My goal is to be successful enough with my studio to be completely self employed.
My third goal is to invest in my students and dance troupes; to help them grow so the community sees them as amazing dancers, inturn more people want to hire me, take my classes or host me at an event, since I teach so many wonderful dancers.
How is being a judge rather than competitor in a competition?
I was really nervous the first time I judged. But I’m a good judge. I say this because I’ve been told by contestants. People go compete to have a goal, get critiqued, and to work hard for something. I fill those score sheets up with comments, good and bad because that’s what they are there for. I always have people after the competition come to me and ask for clarification and to say thank you.
What advice do you like to share?
Do what you love, and not necessarily for work, because we don’t all get that luxury. Find something that you are passionate about and is worth your time. So many people are into their TV’s and into their devices. If it’s yoga, mountain biking, or walking your dog…find something that you love to do…and belly dance doesn’t hurt to try. 😉
What do you want to be remembered for?
I would like to be remembered as an inspiring instructor, a powerful performer, and great business woman. I want to build my legacy through my students. I want my new studio, Bellywood, to be successful and I want people to remember their amazing experiences in my classes. I want people to remember my passion for dance when I perform. I want people to know my name, and for my students to be proud to say their teacher is Cassandra Rose.
Here is a recent video of a performance:
To see a video interview from a local paper with Cassandra Rose, click here.
Oregon Based Belly Dance Resources:
1)www.cassandrabellydance.com – My website, Classes in Salem and performance updates for all of the Northwest.
2) www.Moondancebellydance.com – Great resource, Estacada, Oregon, for belly dance clothing, accessories and props.
3) www.Daturaonline.com – Online Classes, based out of the Datura Studio in Portland. From beginning level lessons, to advanced levels. Great for anyone who wants to learn from home.
4) www.Mezdulene.com – Mezdulene is a dancer in Southern Oregon. She hosts the famous, Belly Dancer USA competition, her yearly belly dance retreat, and she publishes many books involving belly dance.
5) www.newsfromthehip.com – Monthly belly dance magazine from Portland Oregon.