Interview with Danielle Ferguson McTaggart - Belly Dance Teacher, Performer and Founder of Shimmy Kingston

Please share with readers your journey to first learn belly dance and then continue on to becoming a teacher/performer with your own troupe.

I was looking for something to get me out of the house after my first child was born and bellydance classes were being offered at the local community centre. I had never taken a dance class in my life, and I'm still not sure what possessed me to give it a try as it was so far outside my tomboy comfort zone. However, after the first 4 week session I was hooked! 

I continued to take classes for the next 4 months, moved provinces, and then took a break to have my second child. When I got back into classes I was shocked by how much I missed it. I decided to put more time into learning -  as much as I could with 2 little ones - and got my hands on as many VHS tapes as I could find. My work and enthusiasm led to being asked to take over for my local teacher while she was on medical leave. I discovered that I really enjoyed teaching. I continued choreographing and dancing with others, and invited some of my classmates from earlier classes to become members of the first of 4 troupes I would direct or co-direct over the years. I have had the honour of teaching 100's of women this beautiful art form over 17 years.

In addition to dance, I'm interested in fitness, and have started to incorporate regular conditioning into my dance classes to keep dancers strong and, hopefully, injury free. As an added fitness bonus, I re-certified in Bellyfit® last year and began offering weekly classes. My "day" job as a fitness instructor for seniors has shown that keeping your body active is key to a long life full of movement and dance!

 What are the different styles of belly dancing. Which do you perform and teach? Why did this style (these styles) appeal to you personally?

There are many different styles of belly dance, and the art form keeps evolving. I began in Modern Egyptian, and moved into American Cabaret, which I teach. Around 2003, I discovered a group improvisation style, formally known as American Tribal Style or Tribal Style, and loved how dancers used a common movement vocabulary to create spontaneous dances together (no choreography). I began to study this style more intently and then also discovered Fusion belly dance, formally Tribal Fusion. 

American Tribal and Tribal Fusion became my two main obsessions. When I dance them, I feel like my creativity can flow freely. However, I still take workshops in many different styles and I'm always looking for new forms of dance expression.

With the pandemic, you've had to take your teaching online - first with FB Live and now Zoom. What changes have you had to make to the way you teach when using the zoom format?

So many changes! Teaching and learning online can be challenging, and the pandemic didn't allow this to be a choice people could make if they wanted to continue learning and dancing. I think teaching online has two parts - understanding how to teach/learn in an online setting and how to use the technology. 

Setting up the technology was the first hurdle. Facebook Live was the fastest way I could get online. Within a week of locking down, I had 4 classes up and running with my phone as the camera and a speaker for music. I did my classes during the day so lighting wasn't a problem. It wasn't perfect, but it was Ok. However, teaching in this format can be lonely, because I couldn't see or interact with my students. 

As Zoom quickly became the platform of choice for online interactions, many dancers were jumping on board to reach their students. I attended a lot of webinars and read a lot of articles on how to do this, and even Beta tested a fellow dancer's online course on how to teach online to learn as much as I could. I tried many different set ups and found one that works for me and my students. I enjoy the zoom platform much better because those who want to, can turn on their cameras and I get to see all the hips! 

Adjusting how I taught was the next part. Taking more time with movements and verbally breaking them down makes it easier, especially if you are trying to learn on a little screen. I've cut back on the amount I would introduce in a single class and we've done more drilling and review. Throughout 2020 I also shared available resources and information with my students about how to take dance classes online, setting yourself up for success, and how important self-care has been. Learning through this medium is not for everyone, and that's also important to understand.

You have 3 new classes starting the week of March 29, 2021. What are they and how can anyone interested register? 

Yes, the spring 2021 session begins next week! I'm really excited to be offering 3 classes, including two beginner options, covering 3 different Bellydance styles. 
  • On Mondays I will be offering Bellydance for Fun - a beginner level class in the American Cabaret style. This is along the line of what North Americans think of when they think of Bellydance. 
  • Tuesdays will start off with Silk Road Style Group Improv. This is the style that caught my heart all those years ago. It is also great for beginners. This class will introduce students to the fundamental movements and concepts, but some of the "group" dynamics will have to wait until we can dance together in-person (I'm thinking outside in summer!). 
  • The second class on Tuesdays will be Fusion Bellydance - This class is geared towards dancers with some time in Bellydance already and explores the funky side by breaking apart traditional movements and adding some locking isolations. 
More information can be found on the Shimmy Kingston Facebook Page at and in the Facebook Event pages for each class (hyperlink under the class names above).

 While I know with the pandemic performances aren't happening, can you please share a bit about your performance work and running a dance troupe? Where does the inspiration for your choreography come from? 

While the pandemic did put a stop to in-person performances, the world Bellydance community has organized and hosted 100's of online performances, festivals and workshops. You can't keep a dancer from dancing! We knew that 2020 was going to be a break from dancing together even before the pandemic hit with both of my troupe mates adding new members to their families over the past year. I have used the time to take workshops with dancers from all over the world and to think about where I'd like to take my dancing in the future. I have participated in one online show, but performing has not been my focus.

Directing troupes has been very rewarding, I truly love dancing with others, but it's also a lot of work. You need to be able to decide on everything from music choices, to costuming, to organizing practice schedules and performance opportunities. There is a lot of time, money and effort that goes into making our performances something we can be proud of. The majority of the time, we are not paid. Each member is doing this because we love it.

I have found inspiration for choreographies everywhere - a song, a movement or prop, a specific costume idea, or a theme. Sometimes the choreographies will flow in a matter of hours, some I have been working on for years, still waiting for all the pieces to fall into place. But no matter where the inspiration comes from, it does mean that I will be listening to a song over and over again - guaranteeing to annoy my family!

Who designs and creates the costuming?

I love COSTUMES! I've always had a love for sewing and costuming, so this is a big part of my dance life (and where I have spent most of my money). When it comes to costuming, each style of Bellydance has a certain feel or look. Most people will be familiar with the beaded bra and belt sets of traditional Egyptian dance. 

When deciding on a dance costume, I first start with the style components and where we will be performing. Sometimes we use pieces we already have, and sometimes we are making or buying new pieces. Silk Road Style Group Improv includes a 25 yd. skirt (usually two), choli top, coin bra, harem pants (depending on the temperature), hip scarves and tassel belts, layers of jewelry and a hair garden. For a Fusion dance, we might dress to fit a theme (like Orion Dancing Girls for a local comic-con) or pull a mix of components from our collection. The costumes pull many people to the dance, and it can be an added creative outlet. Over the years, I have put 100's hours into designing and sewing my own costumes, and I don't think I'll be stopping any time soon, even though the last thing I need is more costumes!

 Can you share a fun story from your years of performing?

Almost every performance has something dramatic happen LOL, from swords falling off heads while dancing, to the very gross "backstage" area of cabaret show at a local bar, to dancing with fire to live music in front of 1000 people with only 3 months of practice! I have hung out and chatted with world famous dancers while waiting to perform at workshop events, and shimmied my way around a track all night for Relay for Life. You never know what the next performance opportunity will offer!

You also have another business that I love - creating handmade crocheted items that are truly unique. Can you share a little bit about how this began and what kinds of things you create? Where can readers find them for sale? Do you take custom orders?

Growing up, my mother exposed me to all sorts of different crafts and textile artforms. I dabbled in crocheting on and off until an incident left me with PTSD and crocheting became a therapeutic outlet. Not content to just make traditional hats or blankets, I started making things like ninja finger puppets, weird catnip toys, and too many octopuses (but you know how addictive octopus making can be LOL).

Usually, I have only made things for a few local craft shows during the year because it's a part time hobby, but I did put current stock on my Stitching Miss Daisy FB page in late 2020 and I'm working with a local online consignment sight to have some of my items listed by the end of March. It's still mostly something I do on the side for fun and I currently only take on a few custom orders a year due to other commitments.

What's coming up for Shimmy Kingston in the next year?

Things are in the works for Shimmy Kingston and I hope to unveil some new projects this summer, including some collaborations with dancers in the United States, but you will have to wait for all the juicy details! As far as in-person classes go, I'm at the mercy of locations opening up here in Ontario. Fingers crossed that will happen this fall, but I hope to do some outdoor dancing this summer. Either way, my goal will always be to encourage women to express themselves creatively, love the body they are in at all stages of life, and believe that they can Bellydance, no matter what life throws at them.

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