Rebecca Brown is a new addition to our ETD Outreach instructors. She brings a very unique skill set to our programming - she is a practicing social worker and a belly dancer! We are so excited to get Rebecca integrated into our workshops. Here is an interview we did with her to learn a little about her background as a dancer and mental health worker living in New York City!

1. When did you begin dancing? Has being a dancer always been your dream job?
I started out dancing jazz, tap and ballet at the age of 3 and stopped a few years later, mainly because my heart was not in it. I have always loved music and dance and it was always around me growing up, so I continued dancing, but with Latin (including Afro Latin), reggae, hip hop and later Belly Dance.

2. When did you join ETD Outreach? Where do you teach for us? How has your experience been so far? 
I joined May 3, 2018 as a sub teacher, so at the moment I am wherever I am needed :) My experience so far has been a great one. I am excited and look forward to teaching at the other sites.

3. What other dance, theater, or film companies have you worked for or taught with?
While attending college in Boston, I was part of the Johara Snake Dance Troupe Theatre. I have worked with Belly Motions while dancing in Miami and here in NYC I have been a part of Troupe Azmara and The Dream Team. In addition to Belly Dancing with these lovely troupes and companies, I have also trained and danced with master teachers of NYC,Boston,Miami, Egypt, Turkey, Cuba, Costa Rica and Algeria.

4. What is your ultimate goal as a professional dancer/instructor?
As a mental health provider and dancer, my ultimate goal is to blend these two practices to better help others heal and tap into a deeper level of self that they may not be aware of. Many cultures use music and dance to heal, comfort and soothe. If there's not a need to heal then it's at least still fun!

5. Describe your style of dancing and teaching. What artists have impacted you the most?
For me, dance is fun, spiritual, a work out and a way to express the self, in addition to many other things. I like to approach teaching dance in a non threatening and safe way where participants can feel a connection to the movements and the cultures behind the dances (when referring to folk or cultural dances). I like to also use dance as a way to promote social justice and by preserving cultural dances through transmission, one person at a time I can do so. While there may be a place for strictness in teaching a dance form, I try to keep it less on the restrictive side and more expressive, unless there is a specific reason to do otherwise. I think it is important to maintain integrity to any art form, especially if it represents something larger than the movements itself. When teaching dances that have it's origins in a given culture,I believe there should be education around meaning and the value it has to the people that the dances come from. The artists that have impacted me most are my dance teachers and some dance friends. They have taught me how to bring out the best dancer in myself and how to use my body in a way that makes a statement. They have always encouraged my creative process and supported me when my self confidence as a dancer was not as high. They have also instilled the knowledge that I have on the dances I do as well as remind me of my responsibility to not only uphold high standards for myself as a dancer but as one who will preserve the art forms I share.

6. What public figure has had the biggest influence on you and why?
At the moment I don't have a public figure that has had a big influence on me, but I can say that there have been "movements" that have been inspiring such as the Beauty and Healthy at Every Size (Body Positivity) as well as the concept of self love. Though these ideas are not entirely new, they have been pushed more to the forefront over the past few years. This has resulted into a larger diversity pool where we are beginning to see more positive messages about different body shapes, sizes colors and abilities. As a woman who has struggled with body image, in size shape, color, even down to my hair, I can see the changes of acceptance or at least conversations regarding this. While we still have a long way to go, I am pleased to start seeing individuals question the discrimination and biases that we as a culture have held onto for so long. It's a great feeling when I am not the only person who looks like me doing what I do or when I am not barred from an opportunity due to my locs, height or body type. Overall, I am happy to see that there is more of a consciousness on what it means to be truly unique and loving yourself just the way you are, whether your are darker, shorter, bigger, rounder, smaller, taller,lighter, non cis gendered and so forth.

7. Do you have a quote or mantra that you live by?
"Do what makes you happy. The rest will follow".

8. What's been the largest obstacle/struggle in your life to becoming an artist in NYC? How did you overcome it?
Whoa! What a loaded answer! To briefly describe, I'll start with the one I think we all come to know, which is that like many of the other art disciplines, it can be very difficult unfortunately, to make a decent living with the salary (if any) that you can earn from the dance world. I am a Native New Yorker and have always dreamed of being an entertainer. Growing up, my focus was always on dance and the arts. Once I discovered belly dance, which was at the age of 15, I became obsessed and there has been no turning back, Though my family was very supportive of my dreams, they would also continuously tell me that I needed a "back up" or a safety job that would pay for my bills and all other expenses. I continued my pursuit of Belly Dance through out my college and graduate school training, though I would say that it was easiest in high school for me to balance, but I nonetheless kept up with my academic studies and dance. Ironically, I am in much student loan debt due to my "safety career" and often find that I have to resort to dancing in addition to my psychotherapeutic practice to help pay of these student loan bills! The good thing is that I love what I do. I am a dancer, period. I am also a licensed social worker who enjoys working with others and sharing the healing practices of dance. To be brutally honest, it is financially hard, but I feel great about the work that I do!