We start our 2018 blog with an introduction by Jessica. It’s our who are we series. So lets meet Jessica!
My name is Jessica Perelson. I’m a mother of twins and have been married for 10 years. It was shortly after I got married that my belly dancing journey began, but my dance journey began many years before that.
When I was 2, my middle sister started ballet classes and as was the practice back then, my mother stayed to watch and had to drag her toddler along. I insisted on joining the class and would dance at the back of the class at every lesson. Thus began my ballet tuition.
My ballet journey continued right through my school years until matric when I stopped with every intention of continuing after my exams but I never returned.
When I got married, I was looking for something to do that would allow me to express myself. Something that gave me space to be me. My sister-in-law said that she had seen an article in the paper about a belly dance studio and had phoned and organized for us to try a class. I went to my first belly dance class and I fell in love.
My teacher was the late Janka Kliment. She was part of the reason I was so drawn to the art form. She was inspiring and had a beautiful soul. In 2009 I became one of her teaching assistants and thus began an even more amazing journey than I could have ever imagined, culminating in Melanie and I co-owning Zahra’s Oriental Dance Studio.
Over the years I’ve done workshops with many local and international teachers.
Two international teachers have really had a marked effect on me as a dancer and a person.
In 2010, at the International Oriental Dance Festival in Cape Town, I threw myself in the deep end and took a zills workshop with Maya Gaorry. She barely spoke any English at that time but she instilled in me a great love for zills. Later, in 2016, I took 2 more workshops with her, and her humble approach to teaching really personified the spirit of belly dance for me. Her dedication to correct technique has definitely changed the way I think about individual moves and has influenced my style of teaching.
It was also in 2010 that I met Paola Blanton. She has inspired me in with her dancing and teaching in both my dance and personal life. One of the areas she has really inspired me is in the field of choreography. Since taking workshops with her I have found much of the little bits of information she shares during and in between the elements of the workshops has become incredibly useful in creating and learning choreographies.
There are so many wonderful local dancers from whom I have learnt a lot. Some are very close to my heart. Thelma Rose is my belly sister from another mother. I feel a great connection with her and love how her personality shines in every performance. She taught me a great deal about performing and putting your own personality into your dancing. Levona Bredenkamp is another special dancer worth mentioning. She is not only a beautifully graceful dancer but also willing to help other dancers in their dance journeys.
Belly dancing is more than dancing to me. It is community, it is grace, it is friendship, it is sorority, it is safety and it is expression. I try to create an environment for my students and other belly dancers that is safe and freeing, where personal expression and growth is nurtured. It is part of my life, my personality and my soul.
Jessica has had an affinity for dancing since she was very young. At the tender age of two years, she would attend her sister’s ballet classes and dance with the older girls. When she was six, she was enrolled in the Norma Blakeway School of Ballet, and attended classes there for 11 years. During that time she passed the Royal Academy of Dance grade 7 and pre-elementary exams. Jessica then shifted her focus to her academic career, and took a sabbatical from dancing until 2008, when she began belly dancing under the tuition of Janka Kliment. In 2009 she joined the Evolution Oriental Dance Troupe and began performing regularly at festivals and functions. She also auditioned to become a teaching assistant and started her apprenticeship in 2010. In October 2010, Jessica danced at the International Oriental Dance Festival’s Gala event with the Evolution Troupe. At the end of 2013, Jessica joined forces with Melanie Wallis and bought Janka’s Oriental Dance Studio, changing it’s name to Zahra’s Oriental Dance Studio. Jessica now runs classes, workshops and performs for Zahra’s.