Rasa Lila: Belly dance, Burlesque and Adornment. An Interview with Roxanne Vigos


by Britta Visser Stumpp

Roxanne Vigos is not always the first person who attracts your attention in a crowd, as she is contained, observant and soulful; rather, she has a sort of wildness about her in the purest sense of the word, as one “who knows,” and watches, akin perhaps to a wolf or bird of prey who may not be immediately noticed, but who takes in all. To see her perform however, is a different story, as her presence is grace personified.

I first met Roxanne in Deja Mitchell’s African dance class. Later, I came to know she had been one of the first student’s accepted into Rachel Brice’s 8 Elements™ program, that she is the front desk manager of Mindful Women’s Day Spa, and that she also makes gorgeous jewelry under the umbrella of her business, Sago Jewelry.

When I was getting ready to move away to Oregon for my husband’s graduate work, Roxanne gave me the gift of a pair of earrings she made which read, “Walk filled with place,” as if she somehow intuitively knew how attached I am to my homeland and how the memory of this “place” would haunt me. We have since had the opportunity to know one another even better upon my return home to Utah, and I would call her one of those rarest of gems, a truly genuine human being. Here is my sincere interview with Roxanne Vigos.

Sago Jewelry

Britta: Roxanne, can you tell us a little bit about how you started making jewelry?
Growing up my mom was always super creative, her passion was sewing. I used to make Barbie outfits with her left over fabrics. I would hand sew them and create the most fun outfits. When I was in the 7th grade my best friend’s mother gave me her bead start. It was a small pile of all sorts of beads. I took the next few days sorting each and every seed bead. The one thing I do remember was a large focal bead and two bone skulls. I used this to create my first piece of jewelry. I have been hooked ever since! I would beg my mom to take me to the bead store in high school. I had a budget and it was sort of a fun challenge to see how creative I could be on a budget. I later ended up getting a job at the store and working there for about 7 years.

B: What is it about jewelry that fascinates you?
I guess the main thing is that an item does not have to be considered precious by others in order to be precious. It is all about the story the item holds for the person wearing it, what experience they have with the item . A huge part of jewelry for me is beads….The fascinating part about beads for me is the history of how they were once used as currency. I mean some very famous properties are rumored to be purchased with a handful of beads. And it is sometimes hard to imagine how precious jewelry was even 25 years ago as so much is mass produced today. But that is very recent. Jewelry is very personal given the way it is worn. I believe jewelry becomes very infused with the energy of the owner and in some cases owners. And we also know from it’s history that it has been used as protection, medicine and rites of passage as well as adornment. But why is adornment so powerful in the first place? What happens to us as we adorn ourselves? These are the elements of jewelry that really appeal to me. I also loved researching materials and where they originated and one thing that is always interesting to me is how people choose to adorn themselves all over the world with many different materials. We have natural fibers, seed, shell and animal teeth, bone and stone as adornment. Then along came glass making and metal work and you see how those things changed beads over the course of history. I loved repairing old work because it was truly a study in not just bead history but human history.

B: What do you try to bring to your customers in your work?
I am super lucky because I really feel like the pieces I make choose the owner. I love it when people walk up to my booth look and pick up something and there is no doubt it speaks to them. That is what I aim for! A piece that turns a cog inside people. I feel like that is powerful to wear an item that helps you feel more like you, and connects you to a place inside yourself you want and hope to encourage. The other elements for me are sourcing my materials wisely, supporting the right industry standards and being very mindful of my suppliers. I am also pretty sensitive to a vibe something has. It happens not just with stone but also with metal. shell and glass for me. I have to feel really good about the materials I use or I won’t use them. I guess my main goal is that I really want to create pieces that empower people and tell tell a story that sparks curiosity and contentment at the same time.

B: Where can we buy your work?
Blooming Lotus Imports on 25th street carries my work. I also have an Etsy store that I use for a few items as well as custom orders. I really like people to touch and feel things, that is where I believe the most powerful connection comes from. And the places I tend to sell the most jewelry is in that setting. I am currently hoping to be accepted to Craft Lake City this year.

B: And when did you start belly dancing?
I took a class from Kismet in 2004 and it was really fun, I had even been to the festival they put on several times before I ever attempted a class. I am a research hound so I began combing anywhere I could to learn more. I discovered a treasure of belly dance media at a library in Sandy of all places. I checked out “Tattooed One” on VHS and it changed my life! I offer my deepest gratitude for the librarians who influence those shelves!!!! Because this was before the internet and technology was what is is now and holding information was a really powerful tool.

B: Who have you trained with?
My very first class was with Calypso at Kismet. I really enjoyed it but I knew after seeing FatChanceBellyDance® that I was more drawn to the style they were creating. I met my first dedicated teacher Angela “Papillon” Schultz. She was fusing so many cool elements into the dance and she focused on drilling in her classes she added an element of nature that I really loved. She also worked with local musicians and did some improvisational dance with her band Tribal Echo and was using the ATS (American Tribal Style) format and fusing Tahitian into it. She moved back to Hawaii and that is when I researched again and found Zahirah.

I took classes with Zahirah for about 2 years and was invited to join Desert Orchid Dance Company. I learned so much from Zahirah and she really taught me so much about not just dance but dance ethics as well. Zahirah once said to me “Women need Women” and it took a few years for me to fully embrace and understand what she meant by that. Zahirah has a very lyrical folkloric style and that was really rewarding to spend time training with her. So much of my dance foundation is based on that style. Zahirah was also a huge resource for dance culture and history. The intrigue for her was not just in the movements but the origin and geographic location, myth and story. Something that is so important to this dance form to understand and be informed about. She would always encourage us to learn about the Middle East and wanted to give such a well rounded example of belly dance by incorporating Egyptian Cabaret, Gulf Dances and Dabke into what she was teaching. And the meaning and story involved in all the different forms. Zahirah always created her pieces to tell a story of a place and it’s people.

My very first belly dance workshop was with Rachel Brice in 2004; that was also the first time I did yoga as well.

April2011InitiationAttendees

I am in the process of taking Rachel Brice’s 8 Elements™ program. I just signed up to do the second series “Cultivation” in September. I am really excited. When I did Initiation in 2011 it was such rewarding experience. I had taken a few years away form dance and it really gave me so much to understand about how to condition yourself as a dancer and what was required in that process. She teaches a style of yoga that I hope to be able to utilize more in my own yoga training called Viniyoga. The whole basis of the teaching is on adjusting yoga asana to meet the practitioner, not the practitioner meeting the form.

As I have watched dancers over so many years now I see dance very different than I used to. I actually watch less technique and more for how the dancer has manipulated the form to fit who they are. That is really powerful for me. It is so important to challenge yourself and grow but It is really important to love yourself every step of the way. And rather than the goal being the execution of a perfect hip drop with all the right muscle contractions, I like to see the radiating heart energy of a dancer. That is what makes my eyes water when I see dances that are really powerful. I love that the core of belly dance looks different on every body. I think taking Yoga teacher training and dancing at the same time is a very eye-opening experience. It has changed what I watch in dancing and sometimes just to see women moving and knowing how much effort and love they have for the form is so inspiring.

B: Why belly dance? Did you have a dance background prior?
RoxibellyI took ballet and jazz dance as a kid. I loved dance so much it really was a great escape for me growing up. My mom was a single parent and it was not really something she could support full time but the few years I had shaped me. I feel super grateful I was able to dance as much as I could when I was young. I think I have really always needed to move not for physical exercise but more for emotional release. I remember when I was young and I would get upset, I would flail around my room wildly until l felt better. It was almost like this body could not contain all the feelings and that seemed to be the best way to release them. I think most of us thought that if you did not stay in dance as a young adult it was out for you. I had a friend when I was abut 21 invite me to a belly dance performance. I was hooked not just by her performance but I actually loved supporting and cheering for her as an audience member. This performance was at the now demolished Grecian Gardens. She also had short hair and to this day that is pretty rare in the belly dance world. She was just so joyful and I remembered feeling that way in dance as a kid. And I wanted to visit that place again, so I did!

B: You make your own costumes correct? Can you elaborate on this?
So my mom was an incredible seamstress, she was always busy sewing. And when I started dancing you almost had to make your costumes..it is waaaaay different now. It really began as a basic necessity. But there is an element of dancing in something that you have spent hours on dreaming up and fine tuning that adds so much to the dance. It also makes it very unique. I have always been a very hands on person who really enjoys making things..anything. I am now creating items for other dancers and that is really cool too. It is a learning experience to go from sewing costumes for just your body to making them on other bodies. I hope to keep practicing and learning how to get better and better at it. I have been dying silk veil now for about 6 years. That had been really fun. I started making silk pantaloons this year and my friend Heather asked me to make them for her group Rose Noir bellydance. So I am lucky to have people give me the chance to get better, that is a really important element.

B: And then you started burlesque dancing with Two Bit Babes? Tell us a little bit about that journey?
I have amazing women in my life! My friend Meg Hinds, who I only knew a little through the dance world, invited me to a burlesque workshop. And right before that I sort of felt like I was stagnant and pretty invisible to myself and others too. I had taken some time away from dance for personal reasons and I wanted to open myself back up.

two-bit

Right as I agreed to myself to be open and see what happens I got the invite. I took the workshop and I loved it! I was invited to perform with the school and I thought what do i have to loose by trying something new? Then I was invited to dance with her professional group Nobodys Babay Burlesque and I did that for about a year. And out of that was born a burlesque group here in Ogden called the “Two-Bit Babes” It started as a fan dance between four of us and has grown into a really amazing troupe and sisterhood. The core members are Heather Gardner, Peaches Mon Cherrie and Jennifer Payton, this year we grew and added two more members this year. We are starting classes as well. It is a really great way to be connected with the power of sensuality.

B: Why burlesque?
That is such a great question! It is so easy to label burlesque into a category and sort of toss it aside. I admit when I first noticed the growing popularity I was not sure I understood it. I mean what is so neat about women in their undies? But then I tried it and I was so amazed at how the presence was so different from other dance styles. It is so theatrical and vast in its ability. You often see it as a 1950’s theme and that is really great but it has a really vast history. When Burlesque discovered me I was also looking to dive more into what I call “Exotic Americana” I had been wanting to reach more into the history of my own country and culture and art. And not that I did not get that from belly dance it was just a different story with burlesque. I loved that I could use Jazz music in a way that really highlighted the emotion of the music. I grew up watching musicals so I was really drawn to the old time element of burlesque in a way that related to the women in my life.

I also related burlesque in a way to Lila, the Hindu concept of divine play. That probably sounds so strange but I really feel like there is something powerful about being vulnerable and It hopefully can help people see our humanness in a way that is raw and unapologetic because of our impermanence. I think we need that reminder that we are all temporary and we need to seek joy however we find it. Life is way to short to not appreciate the experience of being alive in this incredible human form.

I think I have learned to really see bodies differently with burlesque in my life. I have so much more appreciation for all types of bodies and you don’t need to have any specific look or type of body to use your body in a powerful way. It is the secret language that you tell yourself…that is what people see. If you really embrace your body and you love it for how it is RIGHT NOW, it does not matter what category it fits into. You become powerful by really accepting yourself as you are. The unashamed acceptance of who you are makes a statement much louder than any dance move. That is what I think we need more of in the world. And I hope that is what people see. Because with burlesque it is not about the sharpness of your dance move, or the cut of your abs. It IS about the way you give your audience a chance to really see you as a divine temporary being and the soul of what you share with them.

B: You are also training to be a registered yoga teacher too, right? You are a woman of many talents. Can you tell us about that?
Yes, I again am super blessed because I applied for a teacher training scholarship and received it. I had been trying to find the right school and schedule for about 3 years. And finally after patience and persistence the right thing revealed itself in Timeless Yoga.

B: AND, you are also involved in women’s circles like Moontime Rising. Can you tell us more about that?
I am always combing around for different experiences and I came across the Full Moon gatherings in Salt Lake as well as open dances. That led me to Moontime Rising and then to the creator Guilianna. I attended a viewing of the film Red Tent Temple a few years ago and that inspired me to read the book “The Red Tent” I attended the Winter solstice gathering this year and it was truly incredible. I think the divine feminine has always been an element for me through dance. I think all my goals with dance really point to that direction. It unfortunately took some of the most difficult times in my life to show me how important community is.

I lost my mom to cancer, it will be 6 years this May. I think her absence in my life has really pushed me to seek a very strong sense of community and sisterhood. I think it is so important to support and be supported. It also really pushed me to be in touch with my divine feminine as it is one of the main ways I keep her energy alive in my life. I really feel like when she left I lost my best friend, it is still super difficult for me and I knew after she left I would never be the same. But I see her face in the many women I meet. I see her in my cute little mommy friends, I see her in my wild creative dance sisters. I meet her energy that way over and over again. I owe her my existence so the least I can do is support love and learn from as many women and men in my life as I can….I really feel that learning and understanding your own natural rhythm is a really great first step to more communication with your own divine power. And the moon cycle is a great place to start and if you want to understand that cycle Moontime Rising is the place to start.

B: You currently teach belly dance in Ogden at Reflections Academy on Sundays, how has that experience evolved?
It has been such a great experience! I just woke up one day and decided it was time. I had been thinking about creating a class that focused more on practice rather than performance and also a platform for showcasing the many great teachers we have in Utah. I think everyone struggles with the voice in your head that says “that won’t work because of A, B, C and so on. I just really wanted to become a better dancer and teacher and student all at the same time. It is super cool because I never know who will show up and it is very diverse. I close every class with a short guided meditation and that has also been very rewarding to explore. And it has helped me stop listening to the “I can’t” voice.

B: Do you foresee all of your talents culminating into one vision someday or do you like to keep lots of variety in life?
I have so many ideas!!! I really have to stop sometimes and go “ok…first things first.” I do love variety and It is really what keeps me going in many ways. But the last few years have really been about me being more comfortable being rooted. I consider myself a rooted nomad. I travel in my mind so much but I still want to remain very grounded and rooted to a core vision. My core vision if I were to put that into words would be that I could support my life with my jewelry and plant dye business and teach yoga and dance as well. I really want to use yoga in a Hospice setting. That is a goal of mine to be able to provide comfort and some the of freedom for those at the end of life, or with limited mobility. I have no idea how that is going to work at all. But I know how I want to feel. I want to know that I am giving back as much to this life as I have been given…that is really important to me. I see myself using yoga in more of a therapeutic environment. That is where my heart is. Oddly enough that is my goal with my jewelry as well. It can just be adornment, but it can also be an anchor for transformation as well.

B: Why Ogden? What’s so cool about this town?

roxiMan, Ogden is so cool! The best part about Ogden is it just wants to be more of itself. I mean, we have one of the coolest historic streets in the west and a diverse past. I feel like the people here are really comfortable just being Ogdenites. That is really refreshing. And the pace here is a bit more relaxed due to the smaller less crowded environment I think. The outdoor space is really where my heart is. I moved to Ogden 7 years ago. It was a big transition form Salt Lake but that was more about some personal life challenges and less about the geographic location. It took me a few years to feel at home. A gigantic part of that is the dance community. If it weren’t for the Ogden belly dance community I know I would have felt lonely for a much longer time. Having to seek out connections and friendships really made me get out of my comfort zone. I sort of started looking at my experience here like being on vacation for the first few years. When you travel you are forced to engage the world in a different way. Much more open because you have to be. I am really grateful for the challenge because that really shaped me.

B: Any closing thoughts or quotes you’d like to leave us with?
I am just really grateful that you asked me to be part of this. It has been really fun to think about the aspects of what I am trying to create and why. So I really appreciate that!

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