“Funny story that my dad just told,” Anyanka says. “When I was little my parents would take me to the Arizona State Fair and they would have belly dancers there. The first thing we would go to see were the belly dancers, and he recently told me that. I just don't remember that, and I don't know why he could remember that, and he just told me that seven months ago."
Anyanka’s renewed interest in belly dancing was ignited in the early '90s. She began taking classes at Glendale Community College before life got in the way, causing her to pause her studying. In 2005, she got a catalog for Deer Valley Community Center that had information about a belly dance class that took students starting at 8 years old, the age then of her daughter, Samantha Hohimer. She, known by belly dancers as Emishka, has developed a passion for belly dance just like her mother.
In April 2006, Anyanka and Emishka were added to the Dancers of DeNile troupe, and Anyanka took over as the instructor and director in October 2010. Emishka began helping her mom teach younger students in 2015. Now, they teach three levels of classes in six-week segments: basic moves, beginner choreography, and intermediate choreography. Belly dance history is an important part of the teachings, according to both Anyanka and Emishka.
“The way we show tribute to the history of where belly dance came from is learning about the origins of the dance, learning about the countries it came from, learning about all the musicians and composers who created the songs, and the dancers that came before us,” Anyanka says.
The dance originally has roots in Egypt and Turkey and was first performed for women only, according to Emishka. “Men weren’t allowed to see whatsoever,” Emishka says. “It was only for women to see and perform.”
The Dancers and Jewels of DeNile allow people of all genders to join, advertising their classes as a safe space open to anyone ages 13 to 99. Anyanka notes that it’s an especially helpful dance for those who are pregnant or trying to become pregnant, but it's also had positive effects on Anyanka socially, who views herself as more outgoing thanks to belly dance.
“It was also a method of helping women through the childbirth process because a lot of the moves that are very natural to the woman’s body help with that process,” Anyanka says.
The Dancers of DeNile combine American cabaret, fusion,
The other two classes also focus on technique, but students concurrently learn a choreographed dance. The beginner level is open to anyone.
“For a six-or-seven week session, we will have a progressive learning time where they learn a little bit of choreography. By the end of the session they will have learned a full dance with all of the correct moves,” Anyanka says.
The Dancers of DeNile troupe is made up of her long-term beginner and intermediate students. They perform around the state of Arizona, most notably at Daddy-O’s, 4163 West Thunderbird Road, where they host the Desert Caravan Open Dance & Drum Circle on the second Saturday of every month from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. The event is open to all ages and invites belly dancers and drummers to perform at the themed shows. This year's themes range from March's Medieval Madness to October's Witches Brew.
Belly dancers make a tight-knit community, and Anyanka and Emishka often study with other local teachers to brush up on technique, and learn different styles. Recently, they took five weeks of classes with Samantha Karim. Collaboration is an intrinsic part of belly dance, according to Emishka and Anyanka. They consider their troupe to be a part of a larger belly dance community, one that extends beyond the mountainous walls of the Valley.
“This dance is truly a dance style for anybody and everybody,” Anyanka says. “It doesn’t matter the age, it doesn’t matter the shape of the body, gender doesn’t matter. It’s just an all-encompassing dance style that’s pretty easy on your body and isn’t strenuous and modern or jazz or tap.”
To register for classes with Anyanka, visit The Dancers of DeNile website. The next session begins on Thursday, September 13, and classes are at the Deer Valley Community Center, 2001 West Wahalla Lane. Adult passes are $20 for Phoenix residents and $40 for nonresidents. To see the Dancers of DeNile perform, check them out at Daddy-O's every second Saturday of the month. The next drum and dance circle is themed Gods and Goddesses and is on Saturday, August 11.