Isis: A Belly Dance Business Powerhouse

By Brandy Bollin

Published in Papyrus; January/February 2007



How did you find belly dance?  When did you start dancing?  How long have you been dancing?  How long have you been an instructor?


In the beginning … I was the mother of two children, was an officer of a Savings and Loan, but had put on a little weight for the first time after my second child.  I dropped the weight and started looking for an exercise class.  A new TCJC Campus had just opened near our home … Northwest Campus.  The only class they had available at 7:00 pm (which was the earliest I could get to any class) was figure-control belly dancing.  I wasn’t really interested so I decided to check back at the college at the next six week session.  (I had never seen a belly dancer, but knew I didn’t want to be one).  Sure enough, when I checked back, that was still the only exercise class they had at 7:00 and I thought, “What can it hurt?”  That was June of 1977, almost 30 amazing years ago!


I loved dancing so much that after four months I became part of Carol Shannon’s performing group and performed at Texas Renaissance Festival with her and one other dancer.  That fall I also taught for her at all three campuses when she had an operation.


My early performing experiences as a singer and dancer at Casa Manana in Texas and Community Theater in California, plus doing commercials, etc. made performing a breeze, but I felt that I needed MUCH more training to be a true belly dancer.  So I attended EVERY seminar available in the area.


Bert Balladine was my first seminar instructor and was a huge influence on my dancing.


Over the years, how many students would you say passed through your doors?


Too many to count, but well into the thousands.


What is the most important information you feel you pass on to students who dance in your studio?


In addition to dance and entertainment skills … the encouragement to share positive energy with each other, to support other dancers, and build self-esteem in all areas of their lives.  It’s exciting to know that I’ve been very successful at building self-esteem and encouraging talent, as the Dallas/Fort Worth area has multitudes of teachers who were trained at our studio.


When did you decide, and what made you decide, to make belly dance your full time business?


After dancing for five years and working and raising children, I decided to do work that I loved – I opened a Studio in Euless and shortly thereafter was offered the featured dancer position at Kosta’s Greek Restaurant in Dallas, where I danced Thursday through Saturday for eleven years!  In 1981 my daughter and I, with some members of the Fort Worth Belly Dance Association, danced at Scarborough Faire's opening year and Isis and the Star Dancers have been there ever since.  The Wings of Isis and members of The Isis Performing Companies are currently still performing on one of the main stages.  In 1991, Belly Dance Treasures opened a Boutique at Scarborough Faire to sell finger cymbals and grew and grew, with lots of remodeling and lots of support from our dancers, who work in the Booth and perform on the Star Stage.


How do you feel the industry has changed over the years?


From a dancing point of view, this art form now includes many more movements from numerous other dancer forms, has a higher technique level and a larger diversity of styles – there are so MANY teachers across the United States and so many “hot spots” of dancing around the world. 


From a business point of view - there is now available a huge variety of costumes with an enormous number of vendors who offer both custom and imported costumes and accessories.  With Ebay and websites, dancers can find anything they need without supporting one vendor, which makes it a terrific opportunity for enterprising vendors, while making it difficult for any one vendor to do extremely well.  And when the current dress fads embrace the skirts, tops and glitter in the department stores that dancers wear on stage with the new fusion styles, there is terrific opportunity for the dancer but a loss for the vendor.


There are so many workshops being offered in every area, that again it becomes a challenge for any one seminar sponsor to continue to bring to town, at great expense, one or more of the big stars.  It would be a wonderful thing if everyone in an area could coordinate events far enough apart for both dancers AND sponsors to afford these terrific instructors – the opportunities can be wonderful for thirsty dancers.


The availability of DVD’s has super-charged the dancer to study at home, and has given dancers an unbelievable library of knowledge.


Where do you see the industry in the future?


The dance form has become more Americanized.  In addition, the Egyptians are now bringing Americans to teach workshops in Egypt – the world gets smaller every year.  Turkish style was the thing in the beginning, then Egyptian was the only thing to do, American Tribal Style was the new dance on the west coast that started to spread, and now fusion and gothic are the new babes on the block.  The dance form, the teachers, the vendors, all change and grow, sometimes with growing pains.


You are so busy, how do you find time to run regular classes, all your in studio haflas and events, as well as Yaa halla Y’all and The Chronicles???


I teach 20 classes personally a week, supervise Belly Dance Treasures, direct four performing companies, etc., and more. I try not to think about the impossible tasks I’m committed to, just do it.


With all that you do also, you know how difficult it is to manage time for everything you want to do.  Sometimes you have to make choices.  In my case, in order to accomplish all that each “hat” requires, I’ve had to frequently give up attending and supporting other events due to responsibilities at the Studio, and of course, I’ve proven conclusively that for me, sleep is not required – unless I want to look awake or connect my mouth with my brain, and sometimes not even then.


How did Yaa halla Y’all get started? What is your vision for Yaa halla Y’all as it grows?


The reason for doing it at all to start with was to bring multiple stars to one area and give an opportunity to our students and all other dancers in our area to study with these instructors; since after years of bringing in instructors in-house, we found that we were just too limited in space to be able to include more than our students in most workshops.  Our vision is to simply continue to try to bring a variety of instructor/performers to the area who will bring the skills that dancers and drummers are excited about.


How did you begin to start the Isis Foundation and how was the idea for The Chronicles born?


We created the Wings of Isis first – and while auditions were happening for the Wings, we were encouraged by Booking Agents, Ballet pros and teachers to develop a 501 (c)(3).


The Isis Foundation was formed with the Wings of Isis as our first project to promote the art of Middle Eastern dance.


Our second project was the magazine.  After two years of negotiating to purchase Habibi Magazine, we decided to create a fresh new publication instead, therefore The Chronicles … A Belly Dancer’s Oasis.  We wanted to create a state-of-the-art publication that would promote the writers as well as their articles, give advertisers a quality showcase, and promote this wonderful art form we all love.  We now enjoy the highest market share in the industry.  With very little publishing experience, we are so proud of our wonderful staff for creating this high quality product from the ground up.


What types of projects has the Isis Foundation been involved in?


We have a Board of Directors with seven members.  We have created two Wings of Isis CDs, three DVDs, held ethnic dance workshops, sponsored the Wings of Isis in competitions – they were the 2005 winners of The Troupe Choreography Project.  Of course, we also do the usual artfests, festivals, nursing homes, etc.  And, we attend events around the country to promote The Chronicles Magazine, whose mission is also to promote Middle Eastern (Belly) Dancing.  We have produced events open to the public, and in fact, on March 10, 2007, we are bringing in Virginia from Florida with her Amal Hayati show, to the Eisemann Center in Dallas for a special one-night production.  The Isis Foundation will be sponsoring her in a workshop that weekend.


The Isis Foundation has also presented prestigious annual awards to some of the top influences in our business:  Harry Saroyan in 2004, Mahmoud Reda with Tambra in 2005 and Morocco in 2006, for their important contributions to our industry.


What do you think the most important elements to juggling all these different areas of business is?  Is there a secret to your success?


Time management and persistence absolutely.  Del’s ongoing “ideas”.  Staff – a support team of quality people.  Loyalty.  As you know, for all of us, the true secret is lots of hard work.


Dallas is a really busy area for dance classes and events.  How do you feel about the competition involved in the sponsoring side of this business?  How do you successfully work with others in this industry to create a positive experience for all?


We welcome good quality professional competition.  There is room for everyone.  The most important ingredient for all is concern for each sponsor so that all are successful.  Cooperation and mutual respect is necessary to create a positive experience.


Do you find it difficult to work in a predominantly female industry?  Any special challenges?  How do you handle them?


As an officer and manager of a Savings and Loan, an entertainer and a dance instructor, I’ve always worked with women.  To me, it’s important to show respect for all - male or female, to praise openly and criticize privately (make critiques or suggestions rather than criticize), encourage positive support of each other – be kind to each other – we all have off days and none of us are perfect.  Learn to laugh at yourself and try not to take EVERYTHING so seriously.  You can’t build self-esteem in others if it’s always all about you.


I believe it was Zaghareet who awarded you the Lifetime Achievement Award, what did that mean to you?


Yes, it was Zaghareet Magazine.  I was surprised, honored, and truly unworthy.  But I did not send it back!


Do you have a motto that you live by?


As far as I know you’re only here once, and life is too short to be unhappy – smile and surround yourself with positive, upbeat people whenever possible!


Any advice for up and coming dancers who are interested in making belly dance their careers?


I would never presume to advise others, only share all I know … but here goes:  Just do it!  Learn everything you can about dance and entertainment, find what works for you, and if you really, really, really want to be a professional, ask questions, find a mentor – what works for them?  Subscribe to magazines and read them, study history so you’re knowledgeable, talk to the music vendors and buy music, purchase how-to DVDs, read books, never stop studying – you’ll never learn it all.  And then behave in a professional manner, dress as a professional, give credit where credit is due. 


Again, thank you so much for agreeing to do this!  As a dancer, I admire how you keep it all together and keep striving for greatness in this art form and in your business. You are an inspiration!


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