We had the good fortune of connecting with Xenia Leonteva and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Xenia, is there something you can share with us that those outside of the industry might not be aware of?
Oriental dance world is filled with ambiguities and controversies. To begin with, this dance form is not viewed as an art form by a general public. It doesn’t have a status of an unequivocal artistic dance form such as say ballet. Nor is it viewed as a serious dance discipline, as for instance Tango, Viennese waltz, Foxtrot, etc. Oriental dance remains an unrecognized, undefined, sometimes even undignified and unacceptable dance form. Certainly, people who engage in Oriental dance do not see the dance this way. For us it is a beautiful art form and a serious business like any dance form. Another source of ambiguity looms within the Oriental dance circle itself. There is always a question of dance authenticity, if what you do is authentic Oriental dance or a distorted version of it. Firstly, there is a cultural aspect and a tug of war between dancers from the Western world and those who were born and raised into Middle Eastern cultures. Occasionally, an argument will resurface that a Westerner may lack in cultural sensibility and, therefore, is not an authentic Oriental dancer. And secondly, there is a strong undercurrent of innovation and reinvention of the Oriental dance that has gone wild. Within the Oriental dance scene a large group of dancers is adding elements that are absolutely foreign and so far out that the dance is practically losing its roots and is gradually turning into a distorted alien dance form. As an Oriental dancer striving for authenticity and professionalism one has to deal with these and many other controversies and one has to come to terms with who he or she is and what they represent.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
My relationship with dance has developed long time ago and has sustained itself for more than 2 decades taking me through ups and downs as I was learning ins and outs of various dance forms. My passion for Oriental dance developed later in my life in the age of Shakira’s epic rise. I was still a young girl when I first saw a clip of Whenever, Whenever playing on my TV set in a remote land of Kyrgyzstan. Shakira was singing in a foreign to me language and moving in a way that I couldn’t imagine a body move. Little did I know that some years later I would find myself in an Orientalischer Tanz class in Germany (out of all places) where I went to study for my master’s degree. When I eventually moved to the United States, I discovered a gold mine of Oriental dance passion in Miami. I was in heaven. I firmly believe that each dancer is unique. There is no second person that will hear and interpret the music the way you do, or who will move the same way. The nature has taken care of our uniqueness. It begins with our DNA and is then shaped by socio-cultural aspects, the environment we are born into and grow up with, people around us, our cultural roots, and all that shapes us into individuals. Our uniqueness naturally sets us apart from others. The challenge is to recognize that uniqueness in yourself and claim it. This has certainly been the biggest personal challenge for me, apart from having to come to terms with all the ambiguities of Oriental dance that I had mentioned earlier. Nevertheless, I am proud to say that after launching my own dance classes in 2015 in the Florida Keys, I was able to create a community of dancers on our small island and planted the seed of passion for Oriental dance. I was fortunate to work with some of the most respectable teachers in the field. The experience I gained through organizing a number of well-received dance events was priceless. For my dance colleagues and students, I will only add this: when everything else fails, believe in your genuine love of this art form and put your heart into the present moment. There is no destination to reach, nothing to prove, and no one to seek approval from. It’s between you, the pure love of what you do, and the joy it brings you. Stay true to yourself and this art form.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
A must to do trip is to Key West. There we would visit the Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory. The Ernest Hemingway Home & Museum, stroll through Duval street, go to the Mallory Square for the sunset (best on a weekend with all the street artists there), have dinner at El Meson de Pepe restaurant located right on the square, dance some salsa to a live Cuban band, grab a desert at Better Than Sex, then get a drink and listen to some music at Sloppy Joe’s Bar. We’d stay overnight at La Mer Hotel & Dewey House or some quaint little place in Key West and the next day we’d walk on the beach, see the Southernmost Point, have lunch at Oasis Mediterranean Cuisine, where they offer dishes from my home country – Kyrgyzstan, aside from delicious Mediterranean food. Heading to the Upper Keys, we would stop by Cheeca Lodge and Spa to have a bite to eat at their restaurant and enjoy their beach, maybe grab a local beer at the Islamorada Beer Company. Then we’d visit Theater of the Sea, grab a bite to eat at Wahoo’s or “What the Fish?” cafe in Tavernier that offers suburb food. On another day we’d rent a boat at the Caribbean Club in Key Largo and go boating and snorkeling or we could rent a jet ski and take a ride through mangroves. The choices of restaurants abound in Key Largo. Among my favorite: Bayside Grille with live music, Snooks Bayside, Senior Frijoles, Sundowners, The Buzzard’s Roost, and Num Thai. If we wanted to have a more formal, a little fancy dining experience, we would go to Old Tavernier Restaurant. It would also be fun to take a ride on Cruisin’ Tikis in Key Largo and see the sunset on the water. A stroll through the Dagny Johnson State park is a must and more water and sun to work on that beautiful tan!
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
I would like to dedicate this to all the beautiful Oriental dancers, to my lovely teachers in whose steps I follow, those who have inspired me and encouraged me along the way, to beloved fans and students without whom my dance journey would be lifeless and dull, and last but not least, to my dear family who have stood by me and uplifted me all the way.
Laurel Folse, Siufer Artistry, Olga Kolleeny