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Photos ©: 1 Domonique Cognee, 2 Shellie Gilbertson, and others - publication with kindly permission of Moria Chappell
Moria Chappell hadn’t finished her dance training proper, when she was detected by Miles Copeland already and engaged for the Belly Dance Super Stars. Soon she became one of the stars of this troupe and in the end she was their director. But some years ago it became very quiet about the BDSS, to put it mildly, and Moria began her solo career, which led her to Asia, especially.

While studying the Odissi, she noticed certain similarities between this ancient Indian dance and other dances in South East Asia and the Middle East. Soon she reasoned that there must have been a greatgrandmother dance.
Since then she is …

Interview with Moria Chappell

by Marcel Bieger

How did you manage the transition from being an ensemble dancer to a solo dancer?

The hiatus in touring over the last few years has been quite an adjustment and growing experience for me. Through touring with BDSS, I was able to see many countries and perform in front of many audiences. I am eternally grateful to Miles Copeland for affording me this opportunity.  Fortunately, the transition from BDSS troupe director to my solo career has been successful.  I’ve performed and taught in 40 countries worldwide as of this year. My passport is quite thick. By the way, BDSS is looking at scheduling another tour for 2017.

You combine an amazing spectrum of dance styles in your art and you master them all; but there seems to be one style, which stands out above all others, classical Indian dance. Would you care to comment on that?

The key, I think, is to continually learn and develop new or deeper understanding of the particular dance forms that fascinate you.  Personally, I developed a fascination for ancient dance, in particular the dances that developed along the spice routes of 3,000 b.c.e.

In 2008 I traveled to India for the first time to learn Odissi in Odisha, India.  I traveled throughout much of India watching and learning various dance forms from Rajasthani Folk Dance to Chhau martial arts, to Kathak, Bharathanatyam, and Odissi.

I found that the chest work and articulation of gaze in Odissi most resembled elements of Middle Eastern dance and was the only one of the surviving dances that was alive in 3,000 b.c.e.

I followed the boat routes of the spice route from the east of India to Thailand, Indonesia, Cambodia, China and Polynesia. Incredibly, I found elements of specific similarities in the dance forms that came from these regions, and these regions only. Elements of ancient Cambodian dance from the temples had more in common with Odissi Temple dance than folk dances that were geographically closer. This told me that the temple dance was shared and preserved and passed along the routes as incense, spirituality, and textiles were… each as an element of Goddess worship.

What fascinated me was that these dances are still alive, though dwindling, and that we can still participate and pass forward a classical form that was created 5,000 years ago. Heading west from India the spice route went through Mesopotamia, ancient Carthage and across the Mediterranean to Spain.  If you look at the path of the boats, not the land, then you see why some foot patterns in Flamenco, Tunisian dance, and Odissi have similarities. It’s akin to linguistic markers that trace back to an origin language... we can see and experience the dance moves that link back to a grandmother dance that links the Middle East with South East Asia.

Nepalese Charya dance, Cambodian Apsara dance, Yunnan Dai dance, Javanese Solo dance and hula/Tahitian dance to combine into a medley of dance forms that may have shared a common ancestor dance.

I was the first to ever fuse Odissi with Tribal Fusion Bellydance. It has become quite popular as a genre and I thrilled that doors have opened for so many dancers on that front, but I would like credit for being the first since it was quite difficult and there were a lot of fears and taboos at the time about fusing Odissi with anything.
Picture below: The figures in the Yogini temple in Odisha
(source: ) © Prithwiraj Dhang
I am also working on many projects with my mother, in particular writing a book on the Yoginis of Hirapur, a temple in Odisha, India, that houses 64 yoginis.  We have been researching for the past 8 years what the meaning of each yogini represents, her form, her jewelry, her weapons, etc. We’ve done a complete photo shoot representing each yogini in her complete form as many of the statues were defaced and de-limbed by invaders of this region. We plan to release the first 8 of the 64 yoginis in the first of 8 volumes on the subject. It’s definitely a life’s work.

What are your future plans?

I often perform, choreograph and direct a group of dancers, a mix of former BDSS dancers and my own students from around the globe who share my fascination with these dance forms, in a troupe we call Wild Saffron. Our shows are operatic in feel, connected by a dreamscape narrative with no hard story line, but a feeling of another world, an old time breathed through with new perspective. Last year we produced a full 2-hour show called “Nocturnal” and this fall we’ve produced a follow up show called “Incantation” that takes the audience on a hero’s journey of innocence lost and found again through transformation.

I also plan to begin filming online classes so that the mass of dance knowledge that I have been fortunate enough to collect via my travels can be shared with anyone who has interest in the subject. It is an anxiety of mine that many of these dances will be redefined according to modern dance principles and much of the “belly” will be removed, as is what is occurring throughout South East Asian temple dance forms.

If you would like to keep up with my travels you are invited to “like” my

facebook Fan Page (Moria Chappell)

or follow me on

or visit my, to see upcoming workshop bookings and class offerings.

Video below: Moria Chappell and her group Wild Saffron's with "Nocturnal" - click the image, please, and you'll be forwarded to YouTube ...

Moria Chappell is guest at

Leyla and Roland Jouvana's
24. Oriental Festival of Europe
22. - 28. November 2016 in Duisburg

Show tickets, workshop bookings
and all other Informations:


Tuesday, 22.11., 11:00 – 13:00 h
BDSS Moria Chappell - Odissi Tribal Fusion Bellydance
Passed from Guru to student for thousands of years, Odissi Indian Temple dance is one of the oldest classical dance forms on Earth. This workshop is designed for you to learn Odissi's most fundamental combinations and exercises and how they can enhance your Tribal Fusion Bellydance performance and practice. Moria was the first to bring these two aspects of movement together: Classical Odissi Indian Temple Dance and Tribal Fusion Bellydance. Moria teaches the movements, stances, mudras, and expressions and her own new and unique blend of esthetics to create Odissi Tribal Fusion Bellydance combinations and choreography.

Wednesday, 23.11., 13:30 – 15:30 h
Moria - Hula Avant Garde Tribal Fusion - Technique, Combos & Choreo
TRIBAL FUSION HULA finds its roots in ancient hula, which was a temple dance performed to extensive chanting and drumming. Its origins can be traced all the way back to India via Thailand, Indonesia, and the Polynesian islands.Moria teaches fundamental hula footwork, hip sways, and hand and arm articulation in its ancient style and then fuses it with avant garde tribal fusion choreography. Tribal Fusion Hula is an excellent way to add mystery, vitality, and great percussion to your dance repertoire.

Thursday, 24.11., 20:15 – 22:15 h
Moria Chappell – Javanese Fusion - Slow Transitions & Graceful Poses
Graceful movements of Javanese dance through the use of controlled and refine Muscular Bellydance articulation and combined movement. You will learn emotional, spiritual and physical expression, slow transitions, elegant gestures and poses derived from ancient "ancestral treasures”.
Video: Moria's Javanese Fusion on YouTube ...

Friday, 25.11., 12:30 - 14:30 h
BDSS Moria Chappell - TUNISIAN FUSION – Ancient Goddess
Fresh and unique dance techniques place heavy emphasis on twisting, unique posturing, and unexpected floor patterns with many high-energy combinations. You will learn how to infuse Tunisian combinations into tribal fusion belly dance possibilities. In TUNISIAN FUSION, this exciting form of ethnic dance pushes the edge of the desert onto center stage.
Moria's Tunisian Fusion Dance Video on You Tube ...

Sunday, 27.11., 09:15 -11:15 h
The 64 Yoginis of Hirapur reside in niches encircled by a mandala-shaped, open-air temple in Odisha, India. In YOGINI FUSION, Moria introduces these yoginis via a PowerPoint presentation then shares each yogini's unique and exquisite movements. In this experiential workshop, the dancer will visually encounter the devas then learn their stances and gestures, a divine alphabet which serves to activate the sacred feminine in order for it to incarnate inside the dancer.
Moria's Yogini Fusion Video on YouTube ...

Javanese Fusion
Odissi Fusion
Yogini Fusion
I fully credit my current Odissi dance teacher, Dr. Ratna Roy, for teaching me the very particular style of Odissi dance, called Mahari Odissi Dance, which she learned from the temple dancers themselves. The last one died a couple of years ago, but I was able to visit her with my teacher on one of our trips to India.  She was blind and no longer walking but as soon as she heard and understood. who was in the room with her, she immediately sprang to life and danced a Radha Krishna dance for us while sitting on the floor. She sang and used mudras and facial expressions that made her look 16 years old again.
When I’m not touring doing workshops and shows, I’m in the Pacific North West studying and performing with my Odissi teacher. She is 71 and grew up in India learning the very old method of Odissi dance. Because of the influence of modern dance and ballet on the global dance world, much of what is practiced in India is vastly different from what the temple dancers themselves actually did

The emphasis for the maharis was on breath, chest articulation and wrist movement. The overall look is smooth, not staccato, and circular, not angular. The maharis confided in my teacher that there was hip movement in their dance before the reformation of Odissi starting in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s. All of the hip work was taken out and much of the torso was removed to make the dance easier to teach and solidify. When I create my fusion work, I feel like I’m adding back in hip and torso movement. I try to focus on movements from Odissi that already have elements of torso and possible hip work so that the two flow seamlessly together.
What will you show us at Leyla’s and Roland’s festival this year?

At Leyla Jouvana’s dance festival in Duisburg this year I will teach many of these topics: Yogini Fusion, Tunisian Fusion, Javanese Fusion, Hula Tribal Fusion and Odissi Tribal Fusion Bellydance. I will perform a duet with Foxycat Alice that incorporates Dai Peacock dance, which comes from Southern China, with bellydance; an innovation in fusion.  Alice took me to her homelands in southern China and we studied this dance form that was said to have come from India 3,000 years ago in the old transcripts of her people’s history of origin.
In addition to that I have been working on various shows incorporating the elements of dance from around the world that I have found linked by the spice routes. For example I used Dunhuang Chinese dance,