We had the good fortune of connecting with Sahira and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Sahira, how does your business help the community or world?
At first glance, you may not think of belly dance classes as the most earth-shaking, community helping kind of business. In fact, several years after moving from my previous career as an environmental engineer to a dance performer and instructor I began to wonder if it truly was a worthwhile endeavor, as it didn’t seem to have the same impact that my previous career did. I honestly had no idea just how impactful it truly was. Not until I began teaching more did I have women from all walks of life who had joined my classroom community begin to open up to me about how the dance had changed them for the better. Women who had come from abusive marriages found me after class to tell me that through class they were able to find strength and connection to their physical self again. I’ve watched women walk into the classroom with low self-esteem walk out after a few months of class with a posture and a gait that suggest a newfound confidence. In class dancers find a beautiful supportive community that is accepting of all people of all genders, races, sexual orientations and walks of life and they revel in the ability to be exactly who they are while dancing towards the vision of who they’d love to become. I am so blessed to do what I do and share this dance with so many people.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
I never set out to be a professional dancer. I studied for years to become an Engineer and graduated with my Chemistry and Environmental Engineering degree from Rice University. I loved my work and believed it was my forever path. But life had a different idea. I was unfairly fired from a job I loved back in 2000 and was so upset by the situation that I vowed to never work for someone else ever again. At that time I had been taking belly dance classes for just over a year and soon found myself subbing occasionally for other dancers in town at restaurants, night clubs and private parties. My only other outlet for dance was the Renaissance Festival, so I put all my belongings in storage and began dancing at festivals all over the country for the next two years. During that time I earned almost nothing and depended on the kindness of others to keep me afloat. But, believing that I can do anything, I continued building momentum with my dance, adding more weekly classes and gigs to my schedule until at one point I was performing five nights a week and teaching around 6 weekly classes. It was amazing! It’s now been 20 years since I began my business and it continues to grow. I launched an online studio in 2011 and now teach classes to students all over the world. I am an eternal student and continue to learn about the dance as well as the business behind the dance every chance I get. There are two big things that set me apart from others in the industry. While I am an artist, I am an engineer at heart as well and because of this I LOVE the business side of things. While many artists have difficulty building their business because they may only want to focus on the creative aspect of what they do, I truly enjoy learning about the more cerebral side of owning a business and making it succeed. Also, I am a bit ridiculous and try not to take things too seriously. My classes are known for being well-organized (the engineer in me at work) but also pretty silly and very laid-back. We spend some time in every class laughing and connecting, because I believe that the most important part of what I do is not teach people how to shimmy. It’s empowering others to feel graceful and confident and creating a community of people they can do that with.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
I live in a very ethnic area of Houston and LOVE the diversity of culture, food and sights in my neighborhood. I would definitely introduce my friend to the little locally-owned delights that make Houston fabulous. For sure brunch at Pondicheri – their pancakes and Madras coffee are delish. Then we would head off to the nature trails along the Bayou near downtown. Lunch would be somewhere in Chinatown – maybe Mala Schezwan or Hu’s Cooking. I love taking visitors to the Museum of Natural Science (the scientists in me loves to geek out there)! At night we’d hit the theater district – the Hobby Center for a music, or the Alley Theater. Dinner and drinks at Xochi perhaps and then some live music for sure!
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
A huge shoutout to the amazing men and women in my life who have always believed that I am capable of anything I set my mind to. Because of their ever-present support I came to believe the same! To my mom and dad, Ron Parker – my high school theater director, Kathy Thorson – my private music teacher, Debbie Scheel and Pat Wright – my belly dance mamas and to my amazing husband. I believe more in myself because they have all believed in me.
Photo credits: Yuri Pena Le View Loup The Dancer’s Eye