500 days of Samir

Male dancer Samir breaks the chains of Cirque du Soleil to blossom as ‘the guy’ with Bellydance Superstars

RICH LOPEZ  | Staff Writer lopez@dallasvoice.com

Samir
GRACE LAND | Samir adds a different flair to bellydancing as Bellydance Superstars’ first and only male dancer.

BELLYDANCE SUPERSTARS
Palladium Ballroom, 1135 S. Lamar St. Oct. 8 at 8 p.m. $20–$39.
BellydanceSuperstars.com

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Going by a single name is a ballsy move that usually works more in favor of women: Madonna and Cher. Pink. Charo.

Then throw in Bono. There’s always one guy willing to go against the grain.

Samir is no singer; he’s a dancer. But the solo moniker isn’t the only thing about him that defies convention. He also seeks to prove that a dance traditionally performed by women has room for at least one guy. Samir is part of the harem of Bellydance Superstars, which is in Dallas this week. Just don’t box him into the male label — or even gay. He sees himself in a more primal fashion.

“I don’t identify as a male dancer or female dancer,” he says. “I’m more like a creature and I never had people criticize that. That’s what’s unique about it because audiences are confused and I think they like that.”

Samir is the first male dancer onstage for the Bellydance Superstars show, but it’s also one of the first times in his professional life that he’s felt like his art is blossoming. He first burst onto the public scene as part of Cirque du Soleil in Las Vegas. That experience looked great on his resume, but Samir wasn’t thrilled come curtain time each night.

“To get to Cirque, I felt something was different,” he says. “It was totally new for me but I was also never a backup dancer. For three years, I basically went out every night to just do these beautiful poses.”

For Samir, Cirque was a grueling process that left little for the Tajikistan-born dancer to be inspired by. He could recognize the art and technique that went with the show, but he says it was not a place for people who create.

“I found myself killing my talent and my time,” he says. “It was just a regular job doing the same thing every night. It was good exposure, being in Vegas at the Bellagio, but Cirque is only for dancers who are retired. They can enjoy their life there until they go to heaven.”

Samir discovered early that this wasn’t where he was supposed to be. Regardless of his excitement, the marriage was doomed from the moment he signed the contract.

“They told me all the good things, but changed it once I started,” he says. “The rehearsal part was all love and sex but the honeymoon ended right after I signed with them.

He applauds Bellydance Superstars producer and creative director Miles Copeland for stepping away from the norm to see the dance as an art. The show gives him the creative outlet he has been searching for.

“[Copeland] doesn’t want to keep you locked away,” he says. “Here you can show your stuff and if he likes it enough, it will be in the show. He respects your talent and that make me want to give more. I feel great here.”

Unlike Cirque, this show offers Samir a family of like-minded individuals — not a mishmash of athletes and artists. For him, everybody here talks the same language and has become one family. Plus, the touring has allowed him to see more of the world. The different places, people and even different dressing rooms each night are a longshot from his former routine.

Samir’s desire for creation is in his blood. Both his parents were involved in the arts: his mother a famous folk dancer, his father a musician. Samir has been dancing since he was 2 and had already tasted fame when he traveled the country with his parents. He fits in naturally to the whirlwind of touring and bringing bellydancing to the masses — even if his audiences are aficionados more than curious onlookers.

“The show is all about bellydancing and Indian and Oriental tradition dance. Only people who are into it and understand it usually come to see the show. But I hope some new people will see how beautiful it is,” he says.

Samir is coy about a few things. He won’t reveal his age but says he’s young enough to finish the tour. However, once the tour wraps up (for now) in February 2011, he teases about his next career move.

“It’s going to be a big surprise,” he says with a likely smile. “Contact me in a year.”

Just like a bellydancer to coyly leave one veil hanging.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 8, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens

Body art

Gay dancer Rob Laqui finds therapy in the fantasy of MOMIX’s ‘Botanica’

RICH LOPEZ | Staff Writer lopez@dallasvoice.com

‘Botanica’ turns nature into art through dance with cast member Rob Laqui, below.
AU NATUREL | ‘Botanica’ turns nature into art through dance with cast member Rob Laqui, below.

MOMIX: BOTANICA
Winspear Opera House
2403 Flora St.
Sept. 10–11. 8 p.m. $19–$125.
TITAS.org

According to Rob Laqui, he’s pretty easy to spot. In MOMIX’s Botanica, amid the vast imagery created by the cast, you’ll know it when you see him onstage. And it’s not because he has an inflated sense of ego.

“I’m the only Filipino guy!” he laughs.

Laqui is soft-spoken but with a sense of humor that’s part dry, part snappy. He also has a flair for the poetic. As a gay man, he can see why the community might be fascinating by MOMIX, which brings its latest show to the Winspear Opera House this week, courtesy of TITAS.

“In my experience and in my opinion, there is this certain soft masculinity there,” he says. “I think everyone responds to the beauty of the images of this show but especially the LGBT community. We like pretty things! But also, gays have a certain sensitivity to that [beauty].”

Laqui is starting his seventh season with MOMIX — quite a run for a man who started out as a musical theater major in college. Moving to New York City from Minnesota, he planned a career on the stage acting and singing, but something clicked in him that made him decide traditional theater wasn’t exactly his thing. He began working on body movement that played into some of his characters and slowly surfaced into his interests.  Then he saw MOMIX perform.

“I remember thinking that it was just awesome and I wanted to work with that,” he says.

His dream came true.

Rob Laqui
Rob Laqui

He describes MOMIX as “Cirque du Soleil Lite,” but with a wink and a nod: In the same vein, but minus ethereal acrobatics and eerie clowns.

Ultimately, though, Laqui considers the troupe illusionists.

“I will describe it as modern dance, but with us, the audience will look at our movements and then it takes a second for them to wrap their mind around what they are seeing, “ he says. The eclecticism of the movements into images and shapes, is more than dancing; it’s a challenge.

In Botanica, the show lives up to its name. Choreographed by Moses Pendleton, the cast creates a world of nature by moving their bodies into different kinds of natural imagery be it flowers or creatures or both.  Pendleton paints these pictures with each dancer serving as his brushstroke — a role Laqui cherishes for its art and his sanity.

“Dance allows me to go to these places where I can be fierce or cruel even thought I’m super nice in person,” he says. “That’s the beauty of it.

Every dancer has the capacity to encompass every emotion. It’s our job to communicate that. That’s why I do it. It’s the cheapest form of therapy.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 10, 2010

—  Kevin Thomas