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Interview with Amy Sigil, Unmata

by Marcel Bieger and Konstanze Winkler

Let’s do a little statistics, yes? When did you start dancing?

Sixteen years ago. With kinda Turkish belly dance, 15th Century Turkish belly dance. I went to Renaissance fairs and so on.

Did I get that right? 15th Century Turkish belly dance? What’s the difference to modern day Turkish bellydance?

Them main difference of Turkish bellydance in the Ottoman Empire was the clothing. Egyptinas wear like coins, small and little pieces, and it’s refined. The old school Turkish belly dance costume was big, they wore a lot of glossy coats, a lot of coins, also huge tassels and so on. I started with a teacher called Antarnepa for the first three years. I was just getting clean of amphetamines, at the time I did a lot of amphetamines, and when I decided to get clean, I took a bellydance class, a painting class, a ceramics class, and a whole bunch of other classes.

When I did bellydance I liked the group, I guess, because this was the first time I danced, I had never danced before. I was for sports, played basketball all the time, bellydance was for the sissys, for the girly girls who wore sparkles. My teacher wore sparkles, and I thought, hm-hm, it’s nice and it’s kind of athletics, but back then it wasn’t the way bellydance is now. But they did already have a tattoo. I loved the music, I loved listening to it, and I loved dancing to it. The style wasn’t exactly my favorite, but I fell in love with dancing. For a 22 years old person there weren’t too many places where you could go and dance, I mean, just dance.
Do you do any kinds of sports besides dancing today?

No, dancing has become my sport. We play volleyball from time to time, me and my friend Lea, sometimes before dance class starts. I live three hours from the sea in the Valley, so there were no water sports.

What came after cabaret?

Then I found ATS®. When I saw ATS® for the first time I was really blown away how it looked exactly like a basketball game. There’s a captain of the team, he’s got the ball he calls out the play. And when I found out that there were cues and that you read what the music says, I clapped in my hands and said, I can do that, that’s it. So then I started learning ATS®, but this still wasn’t exactly my style.

That was about ten years ago when I started working on my improv format. It was and is still definitely rooted in ATS®, so as any tribe or dialect has taken it. It’s on another level but you can still see the root language in it. We still lead of the left, we make our circles the same, well, you know. That started a whole new chapter, and I’m more in love with my dance today then I’ve been in my whole life. I’m probably the strongest, I’ve ever been, and I’m probably the most flexible, I’ve ever been. And I’m 37 today.
I would have guessed you at the beginning of 30.
Because I’m living a dream, that makes you look younger.
And you like tribal music better now than cabaret music.

Well, what is tribal music and what is cabaret music? Do I like my music better, yes definitely. That’s anything and everything. In Tribal Fusion you can use any music you want. That’s what I love. In Egyptian or cabaret, you can not. There’s a particular type of music that goes with it. Same with flamenco, ballet, it’s the format of sorts in the music. It’s what I love with tribal fusion that it literally has blown of the seals of the rules game, and so I can use any piece of music I want.

I studied ATS® for about four years. At the same time I picked up ATS® I picked up also hula and hip hop. And about four or five years into that, things started to change a little bit. My style started to change, and Shawna and I had to split. I learned ATS®, with Shawna and I loved it. She always taught ATS® at the studio. When she left I was like: "So well, there goes ATS®". I taught choreography, and that was that. When I told the other girls there would be no more ATS® classes they all felt very sad. They got really upset with me, they were “All this work we should just give it up?” – And I was like: “I don’t have a teacher. And this is not what I do.” But they talked me into teaching it, and I made a deal with them. I told them, I will learn how to teach improve, but I get to revamp it and I got to do what I want. I get to pick the music I want, I can change the movement if I want. I can do whatever I want, make my own rules.
What are your favorites?

I love hip hop, for sure, lot of electronica, for sure, gangsta rap, and I also like things that change a lot. I got to have 135 beats per minute, things like that. For choreography I need something that switches up constantly. I love mostly electronica and hip hop, that’s for sure. I just love doing what I like to do. Chemical Brothers, Wiz Khalifa, Girl Talk, Eminem, Afrika Bambaataa, Beastie Boys, I even like some old Country, not so much the new Country – my dad in the garage with his motorcycle, hearing Country music that’s very dear to my heart.

Is there any music you would never mix into fusion?

I try not to use any music about the Lord. No religious music. Maybe anti-religious music a little bit, but never religious. My dad was a preacher, which explains my whole entire life. My mom plays the organ for the church.

Are you a religious person, or do you believe in nothing?

Ooh. I believe in the earthly powers, I believe in the wind, in the sun, I’ve seen the rain. But do I believe in a creator? To tell you the truth, no. I sure don’t, I do not believe in God. Sometimes I can get really witchy, when I feel the rebellion against my parents in me and I want to be anti-religious. It’s really easy for me to believe in witchcraft, but when you get deep enough into wikka, it’s a religion, too. I think that I’m trying to practice the religion of tolerance. That’s what I do today. Some time ago it was not possible for me to have a relation with a person who was deep religious. But since I’m trying to practice more tolerance, my relation with my parents has gotten better. They have become more tolerant, and we are working on it.

Do you have any relation to Gothic?

If you would ask a true Goth if I had relations to Gothic, he would probably say no. If you would ask a conservative religious person if I was partly Gothic, he would probably say yes. Some people call me a tribal fusion dancer. If I ask tribal fusion dancers do you see me as a true tribal fusion dancer they would say no. Some people call me a belly dancer, but if I ask Gabriella here, do you think, I’m a belly dancer, she would say no. It’s all relative (all are laughing).

Don’t you have any labels for your style, then?

No, I’m a dancer. I usually call my style fusion, so people can understand better what I do. World dance works for me, because I think people understand that. I don’t say I do my hula piece or I do my hip hop piece, I just set out to choreograph a piece of music. And believe me, anything goes. If I think I better put a shimmy into this, or there ought to be a shimmy here, then I do it, but that doesn’t make it bellydance. Because I’m not just a bellydancer. People want you to be just one thing, they say, be a bellydancer. But I can’t be just a bellydancer.
I’m a lot of things.
How long did it take you to do what you do today?

Well, sixteen years (laughs). But in a more serious sense, I would say, since Shawna and I split in 2003. In 2003 my life turned pretty much upside down. I had this studio, where Shawna taught ATS® and I taught choreography, and it was a huge place, with bars, a lobby, parking place, and after we split, it was too big for me. As a part of my addictive history I tried cocaine, and for about two years I took “coke” as a way to drive on my business, because I was exhausted. Obviously it didn’t work. Two years later I was crazy, for one, broke, for two, my dance partner was like, you’re killing yourself, for three, and I was living at the studio that time. I was that crazy that people pretty much stopped to come to my class. I stopped earning money so I tried to do car washes. Eventually, of course, I lost the studio, and I had no place to go. It was about six months before I got my shit back together again.

After getting sober in these six months I kinda realized that this was exactly what I wanted. The first studio just happened, it wasn’t really me, it just happened. I had never seen myself as a studio owner, and the next thing I know I have my own studio. And once I lost it, I knew that this was exactly what I wanted to do. Shawna, my partner, left me, and Shelly, in whose computer room I stayed in these six months, said, I’ll shall sit here and watch you kill yourself, for as long as it takes. She was a big support for me. So six months later I was starting to feel better and I said, okay, I’m gonna start something again. And this time I’ll do it really small. I’m gonna get me a tiny, tiny place. No lobby, no check-ins, no nothings.
That’s how I started the „Pot“ thing. There’s a bean pod in the studio, and till today I still do no paperwork in the studio. Everybody puts their 10 $ per class in the pod, which sits in the back of the room, because I can’t handle this emotionally. From this tiny studio I went to a middle studio and I kind of found a balance or middle ground.
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Amy Sigil
Shelly and Amy
Graphic work/WebDesign: Konstanze Winkler
Photos ©: 1, 3, 4, and 7 Konstanze Winkler, 5, 6, and 8 Brad Dosland (, 2 with kindly permission of Amy Sigil
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