Belly Dancers... Their Stories, Their Experiences and Their Confessions

Beautiful Soul -Lily Tsai

Hip-Mixing it Up With Lily Tsai

Like many smart and talented people, Lily Tsai wasn’t born in Texas - but she got here as fast as she could. This Taiwanese-born musician and dancer spent her childhood in humid Houston before becoming a world traveler in search of the finest teachers in the art of Middle Eastern dance. Today, she is herself sought after as a gifted instructor and performer. is fortunate to count her among our members and to have the chance to share her unique perspective as a professional belly dance artist with our readers.

The Consummate Choreographer

As a dancer who has studied under Serena Ramzy and is certified at level 2 in the Suhaila Salimpour system, Lily has a wealth of experience to draw on when creating a new choreography. However, her inspiration doesn’t come solely from the world of belly dance. As a percussionist and classical musician, Tsai has a strong foundation in music theory that serves her well in matching movements to the rhythm and phrasing of each dance piece. She also draws from a number of other arts to reach even more exciting heights of creativity. Lily recommends this approach to other dancers as well:
“I try different things. Cross-train using different movement classes, study paintings, sing, learn to play an instrument, read books, watch an opera, ballet, or musical. By keeping an open mind and by exposing yourself to the arts, ideas flow in.”

Getting it Right

Inspiration and perspiration come together for Tsai in crafting a new routine. She places an emphasis on training both the body (in proper technique) and the mind (in thinking creatively). She likes to listen to a song until she knows it by heart and can sing it in her head. Then, before she starts dancing, she uses visualization to discover images that the song draws in her mind. After that, it’s time to break down the piece into phrases. As she goes through the song, Lily determines if there an underlying rhythm for each section since this impacts the transitions throughout the dance. She is definitely a proponent of documenting her choreography. Here’s her advice “Write things down; then write them down again - but in more detail.”

Her process involves asking lots of other questions too:

• What’s the mood of the song?
• What emotion am I portraying and how does that make the audience feel?
• How is the pace of the dance?
• Am I getting too technical?
• Have I captured the essence of the song?

Possibly her most important question upon completing an initial draft of a routine is the following “Is this dance still belly dance?”

Lily’s Thoughts on Video Teaching

As the founder of TribalKinesis in London and a long time member of Sabaya Bellydance Collective in Austin, Tsai has many years as an instructor under her coin belt. Formerly terrified of any form of public speaking, she has overcome this fear in teaching venues because, as she puts it, “I have realized that the more I know and the more passionate I am about a subject, the more inclined I am to speak about it in public!”

She describes teaching group classes as a big stepping stone but says that video is different. “I feel like I'm teaching one dancer at the time. When I am in front of the camera, I try not to think of it as thousands of people watching me. Instead, I imagine that we are having a private lesson. It's just me and you. I hope you feel the same way too!”

Welcome Aboard

Lily describes herself as someone who likes to try different things, discover, learn, and share. She points to this natural curiosity and love of variety as one of the reasons she became involved in belly dance in the first place. This makes her a perfect fit for the team where keeping things fresh is always at the top of our list. Her hope for this new partnership is summed up in these words “If we can open ourselves up to different opportunities to learn and dance, we make our lives all the richer.”