What started as an interest to attend a free belly dancing class later turned into a passion and then a business for Eshe, award-winning belly dancer and owner of a dance studio in Hamilton called Mahasti – The Bellydance Emporium. Born and raised in Hamilton, Eshe spent 12 years in Asia to live and work after graduating from McMaster University’s Sociology program. During her first year in Tokyo in 2003, she began teaching English and studying belly dance. When she moved to Korea, she started teaching and performing regularly, which led her to open her own studio in Seoul and work full time as an instructor.
After becoming the bellydancer for Korean band Orgeltanz, Eshe has performed at some of South Korea’s biggest music festivals. During that time, she was featured in Korean editions of Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar, and appeared on several TV programs. She has many more accomplishments under her belt: In 2010 she was cast in the Korean and Indonesian versions of Bellydance Evolution, she won Asia’s “People’s Choice” award as part of the show, and her students won the bronze medal for Oriental Ensemble at the Tokyo International Bellydance Competition in 2012. In 2016, Eshe won silver at the Star Bellydancer Canada competition and in 2017, she was nominated for the Hamilton YWCA’s Women of Distinction Award for Arts/Culture/Design.
Eshe returned to Hamilton in 2015 and opened Mahasti – The Bellydance Emporium the following year. She performs regularly throughout southern Ontario, at events like Artcrawl and her monthly belly dance show at the Casbah, called Harem. Raffle tickets from her show, as well as funds from her monthly pay-what-you can classes are donated to charity.
Q&A with Eshe, owner of Mahasti – The Bellydance Emporium
What drew you to bellydancing and later opening your own studio? Has dance always been a big part of your life?
While I was living in Japan in 2003, I saw an ad in a magazine for free bellydance classes in Tokyo. I went and was instantly hooked by this graceful, powerful and playful moving yoga. My maternal grandparents are Royal Scottish Country Dance teachers. My grandmother is 85 and is still teaching dance. I’d love to be in the same situation one day! Despite her and my grandfather being dance teachers, I never took any dance classes growing up. But after that first bellydance lesson, I wanted to take as many as I could.
After living in Japan for a few years, I moved to Seoul, South Korea in late 2007. When I moved there, I wanted to continue taking bellydance lessons but was having trouble finding teachers and studios. So in 2008, I started teaching my own weekly lessons. The classes were going well, so I started teaching more and more of them. That led to me opening my own studio in Seoul in 2010. I ran that studio until 2015 when I moved back to Hamilton. And I opened Mahasti – The Bellydance Emporium here in Hamilton in April 2016.
Your performances have brought you to Japan, Turkey, South Korea, Australia, Malaysia, Indonesia, Egypt and more. What has been your favourite place and why?
It’s hard to choose a favourite place. I love the reserved reverence Japan has for performers as well as the rich history they have with dance. I love the unique roots of Turkish bellydance as well as the rich culture. Korean audiences are out-of-this-world welcoming and supportive. Malaysia and Indonesia have unspeakably beautiful landscapes and people.
It’s much easier to choose a favourite gig. I am beyond lucky to be the mother of two smart and beautiful girls. My oldest daughter is four and my youngest is a year and a half. I love bellydancing while pregnant. It’s such a fleeting and precious time. Six days before giving birth to my first daughter, I did a live collaboration with a Korean rock band called Apollo 18 in Seoul. We had already worked together a number of times, perhaps most notably for their music video “Orbis,” so I knew it was going to be fun. Live music is like air for me. I need it. And the guys in Apollo 18 are so passionate and talented. For the collaboration, I was dancing alongside other teachers from my studio so it was extra meaningful for me. A pregnant woman being active is still a bit of a novelty to many people so I wasn’t sure how things would go over, but it was so important for me to celebrate that time and cultivate beautiful energy to carry me through my birthing time. The performance went amazing and I was shocked and moved when the audience stood up to give us a standing ovation, many of them in tears, at the conclusion of the song.
The Apollo 18 guys even have a Hamilton connection. They performed at This Ain’t Hollywood in downtown Hamilton during their 2012 Canadian tour. I sadly couldn’t see the show because I was still living in South Korea at the time. But the guys said they loved the city and the venue. They even went to my mom’s house on the West Mountain for dinner before the gig!
What has been your greatest achievement so far in your career?
It’s hard to choose to one thing. I think anyone who survives as an artist is pretty incredible and I’m incredibly lucky to be able to do that. Winning awards from Bellydance Evolution and Star Bellydancer Canada as a dancer or Tokyo International Bellydance Competition as a director was very satisfying. Having dancers I admire recognize and honour my artistry was an incredible feeling. Being able to donate over $3000 to Canadian and Hamilton charities over the past year through Mahasti – The Bellydance Emporium has been rewarding, too. I was really touched to be nominated this year for a YWCA Women of Distinction Award as well as receive a letter from the mayor of Hamilton. I also loved the big splashy magazine shoots that I did with the Korean versions of Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar. We went to a park in Seoul without a permit to shoot for Vogue. We were unofficially taking over parts of the park. A park ranger started walking towards us and the shoot director screamed at us all to duck, hoping we hadn’t been spotted. We were hiding behind trees and bushes, but it became evident he was definitely coming over to investigate. So we switched tactics, and the director screamed that we all needed to get up and started jumping and waving at him, inviting him to join us. He came over and asked what we were doing and of course where the blonde was from, and after a warm conversation wished us a nice day.
Seeing my students, including my four-year-old daughter, blossom through dance has been incredibly fulfilling as well. I hope that my legacy will be leaving not only the dance community but the larger community better for my being a part of it. I hope Hamilton will benefit from my effort, art and love.
Besides dance, what do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
In the warmer weather, I love attending events like Songs from the Bishop, Seven Sundays and Art Crawl. I enjoy going for walks at Bayfront Park with my family too. I don’t get a lot of days off, but when I do find myself with a bit of spare time, I love relaxing in the tub with amazing bath bombs and goodies from Burlap & Twine.
For someone new to bellydancing, what are some of the classes they can experiment with?
We offer multiple drop-in basics classes every week. These are the ones I recommend to complete beginners. We also hold pay-what-you-can classes weekly so that dance remains accessible to all. Dance is for everyone. I want to remove as many barriers as possible to art to make sure everyone benefits from all of its blessings. We also offer a range of styles including Turkish, Lebanese, Egyptian and fusion bellydance. If students are interested in learning full dances, we offer choreography sessions that last four to five weeks and after completing a session dancers are invited to perform. We also offer deeply discounted Mommy & Me classes for caregivers and their children. It’s a fun way to connect, learn, laugh and expand yourself with your child.
You recently celebrated the one year anniversary of your studio. What’s in store for the future?
I’m very excited to be hosting the first Hamilton International Bellydance Competition on September 9. The finals will be held at the Casbah in Hamilton and will be judged by Anjelica Scannura from Toronto and Henna from Portland. Anjelica can be seen twice daily on OneTV hosting Anjelica’s Dance Workout. Henna is a teacher at the world famous studio Datura, which is run by one of the most renowned bellydancers of our time, Rachel Brice. Henna will also be teaching workshops at Mahasti on September 10.
I also host a monthly dance show called Harem at the Casbah that showcases Canadian and international talent. I’m so excited to be part of growing the Hamilton bellydance scene and letting people know about our jewel of a city. At each month’s event, I raffle off tickets to Harem and classes at Mahasti to benefit Hamilton and Canadian charities and love that through Harem we’re able to teach people about bellydance, entertain and give back to the community at the same time.
I hope the studio will keep growing and I can keep spreading a message of love, acceptance, art, celebration, charity and community. I want people to know that Mahasti is a safe place to explore yourself and your art. I also want to continue to bring in other artists to share their knowledge at Mahasti. I think if you surround yourself with wonderful people, you’ll be lifted up by them.
Visit Mahasti – The Bellydance Emporium at 1 West Avenue South, Hamilton and like them on Facebook.