Cathy Skora, executive director of Folkloric Dance Co. Inc., has an alter ego. When she dons her veiled costume, she becomes Jameela (which means "beauty" in Arabic), a name she was given by her first teacher. Skora started belly dancing in college more than 20 years ago. She later studied ballet and modern dancing, but belly dancing remains her first love.
Are there different styles of belly dance?
Yes, I do a variety. I do a Danse Orientale, which is designed for a concert stage, and we perform cabaret-style dancing at weddings or anniversary parties. Those are the roots of the dance, when it's done by a community at some kind of celebration. I teach it from the roots, because it makes people feel so good, whether they're doing it or watching it. I've taught everyone from preschoolers to seniors, and they absolutely love it.
Have you danced at people's houses?
Yes, when I first started, I was with an agency. I'd do up to 10 shows a weekend.
One time, several other dancers and I were hired to dance at an engagement party at a restaurant. Upon hearing that belly dancers had arrived, the groom's mother had an anxiety attack and paramedics had to be called. We didn't know that we were that exciting!
You must have tons of good stories.
Well, the sound of the finger cymbals, the zils, drives dogs absolutely crazy. Not only is a stranger coming into the house, but I'm playing music and jumping around, so I learned very quickly to ask people to put their dogs away. But before I knew this I went to a house with a Chihuahua. I'm dancing and the Chihuahua jumped right up and took a mouthful of my silk chiffon [skirt] and was hanging from this $100 chiffon panel! And everybody just stopped and stared, then somebody came and got him off.
I've danced everywhere from high-end country club to Lower West Side apartments. It kind of transcends the everyday reality of people's lives. I've changed in more closets than you can imagine.
Do you always go into houses clothed or covered up?
Yes, because I don't like to ruin the surprise. I don't want people to see me until the music starts, until I make an entrance. If they see me schlepping in with my boots and hat and coat, it ruins the surprise. A belly dancer is fantasy, out of the everyday reality.
My partner of 20 years, Errol Sull, comes along on a lot of gigs with me. I'll ask him later, 'How was it?' and he'll tell me it was good, so no matter how I'm feeling when I go in there, once those lights are on, you give it your all. You're an entertainer, and you're on stage.
What are the strangest places you've danced?
I danced in a hospital room for a man who'd just had an appendectomy -- his wife ordered that. Once, for a birthday present, I was sent to a spa where a man was having a spinach wrap, so he was in a little tube thing and couldn't turn his head much. He smiled and afterward he came out and said it was very nice, but that was an odd one.