Serious about sci-fi, belly dancer raqs to geeky beat

Professional belly dancer Jill Warden has never been shy about weaving the art form she expertly practices and her love of science-fiction together in electrifying ways.

She famously choreographed a dance to the Mos Eisley Cantina song, complete with a sign bearing a bold statement on the whole “who shot first?” controversy. She’s also currently working on a choreography inspired by Star Trek.

Her performing name is Faizeh and I can attest to the fact that she’s absolutely enchanting when she dances for an audience. When she’s not giving lessons — yes, you really can take a class with her — she’s participating in medieval reenactments, dancing with one of her many troupes or collaborators, or sharing her love of sci-fi with her husband and daughter.

Most impressive of all? She’s a fan of Star Trek and Star Wars, and she loves them both equally. That’s a delicate dance. 

How did you first become interested in belly dance?

I’ve wanted to belly dance since I was a little girl! My first “performance” was when I was around four or five, and I tucked a bunch of my mother’s scarves into by bikini bottoms and wiggled around for my family.

When did you realize you wanted to dedicate yourself to this art form and become a professional?

In the early 2000s, I was ending my career as a photographer, and decided to pursue belly dance as more than a hobby.

 When and how did you start teaching? What do you enjoy about it?

I started teaching at the end of 2000, teaching little girls, ages 8 to 12.  It was fun sharing the sparkle, and seeing the enthusiasm in their eyes!

You once choreographed a belly dance piece to the Mos Eisley Cantina song. It finished with a sign that read, “Han Shot First.” How did you get the idea for that? What was the audience reaction?

I got the idea because we all know that Han shot first in the Cantina, and I thought it was imperative to reiterate this fact, regardless of George Lucas’ loss of his senses. The audience loved it. Because they know, too.

A belly dance troupe performs a piece set to the Mos Eisley Cantina song, choreographed by Jill Warden, aka Faizeh.

 I understand you are currently choreographing a dance to the Star Trek theme. 

I am! It’s going to debut at LosCon (science fiction and pop culture convention) this November.

Have you ever choreographed or worked any other “nerdy” themes into dance pieces or performances?

Yes. Years ago, I produced a yearly alternative-style belly dance event, with a different theme every year. The second year the theme was “SciFI” and there were some creative performances! Princess Leia did raqs assaya, another dancer was a twi’lek. My troupe performed to Juno Reactor and did a “Matrix”-themed number.

Obviously, you are a fan of Star Wars and Star Trek. What are your memories of discovering these franchises? How does your interest in the two universes manifest itself in your life?

I come by Star Trek via my sci-fi-loving father. I can’t remember ever not watching “The Original Series.” Star Wars was released when I was 7, so I got to see it in the movie theater during its first run.

What other fandoms are you passionate about?

Who doesn’t also love “Firefly”?

Oh, and I do medieval reenactment.

Jill and her daughter check out a Clone trooper.

Does your family share your interest in “geek culture”? Tell me about your shared and individual interests.

I think our love of sci-fi is the very foundation of my marriage. We named all our cats after “Star Trek: The Next Generation” characters. We also love to play in the Society for Creative Anachronism together, where my husband is an armored combat fighter, and I perform medieval Central Asian dance. My husband also is an avid comic book fiend and gamer.

Do you collect anything?

I used to collect sci-fi toys and general stuff, but now I mostly collect belly dance costumes, and cute boys.

Do you have any other interests we should know about?

Oh, the usual stuff … reading, playing with my kid.

Costumes and performance are, of course, a huge component of belly dance. Do you think there’s kind of a cosplay element to it? Have you ever done any cosplay or costumed reenactment?

I think the two definitely can appeal to the same people. I enjoy adding a cosplay element, and actually am focusing more intently on doing even more crossover cosplay/belly dance.

The belly dance community is very passionate and unique and close-knit. Do you find that there are similarities between the belly dance world and the world of fandoms?

Of course! There are always people who think their way of doing it is the “right” way. That being said, belly dance is born from certain unique cultures, and I think it is incredibly important for westerners to be aware of this and honor them. Too many dancers get very lazy with their historical education and excuse it by saying it’s “art.” Well, yes, it is, but art still has context. Know the rules before you break them.

As a woman, is there anything you would like to see change about the world of geek culture?

The world of geek culture parallels the rest of the world. My observation has been that misogyny runs deep even in subcultures. If we can make it unacceptable everywhere, perhaps we can make it unacceptable in geek culture as well. I know I’d be really happy to get fewer unsolicited pics of guys’ junk.

Every time I’ve seen you dance, you just look like you’re having so much fun. What does it feel like to perform?

I am having so much fun! My original classical Persian style teacher (Dr. Robyn Friend) once said, “We don’t perform so our audience can tell us how much they love us. We perform so we can tell our audience how much we love them.” It’s a unique way to express yourself and show people (whether you know them or not) how much magnificence they bring to the world.

What troupes do you currently perform with? Where can people see you dance?

Currently I perform with my American Tribal Style troupe Djinn Swizzle, and I’m collaborating with another dancer, Adrianne. And then my sci-fi project, Rogue Shimmy. I dance regularly in Lancaster and the greater L.A. area. Check my Facebook fan page for updates!

What classes do you currently teach and do you have openings for new students?

I teach at the Antelope Valley YMCA, and also technique classes on Thursdays at High Desert Dance Company (in Lancaster, Calif.).  I want more students, always!

What is the next big nerdy release or event (movies, TV, books, comics, etc.) you’re looking forward to? 

I CANNOT WAIT FOR EPISODE VIII!!!!!

As a Trekkie, what are your thoughts about the new Star Trek series, “Discovery”?

I love that it has another female lead, and that she’s a POC! To me, it’s fulfilling Gene Rodenberry’s vision.

Who would you rather belly dance for? Captain Kirk? Captain Picard? Jabba the Hutt?

Gul Dukat

As a Star Wars fan, do you have any big plans for the release of “The Last Jedi”?

My husband and I have matching T-shirts (mine says “I love you”; his says “I know”), which we will wear when we go see it the second it is released.

And I have to ask … No pressure! Which is better? Star Wars or Star Trek?

Neither! Star Wars is all about faith and finding your purpose through that hope. Star Trek is about science and the logic that we can become a better species by ridding ourselves of tribalisms that distract us from the truth that we are more alike than we are different.

About the Geek Goddess Interviews:

No Man’s Land chats weekly with a “Geek Goddess” whose devotion to her fandoms manifests itself in unique and inspiring ways. We’re always looking for interview subjects, so if you know someone who might be ideal, please respond via the comments, private message, or email, lavendervroman@gmail.com.

 

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