Take the Stage: Danse Salmagundi is an open mic of a different sort

I hadn’t heard of Danse Salmagundi (pronounced “dans sal-ma-gun-di”) until I was thrown into a performance in front of a group of people I’d never met or seen before. At its performance, housed in the Chifferobe Atelier in the Hope Artiste Village in Pawtucket, I found a packed room full of smiling people in bellydance gear, all excited about what was to come that evening.

It all began when Manuela Ameena Birner started performing bellydance more than 20 years ago when there were not many places where you could get experience performing, as you had to be a professional to get a job at an event. As Manuela studied bellydance more and performed more in the discipline, she realized that she wanted to create performance opportunities for people who have not had a lot, or any, performance experience, and to help them get in front of an audience. She was inspired by the open mic nights she was seeing at night clubs, as well as a monthly show that was being held in Boston where people were invited to perform. Since no one wants to drive to Boston, Manuela decided to bring the idea local.

At each Danse Salmagundi, performers who range from newbies to near-professionals get up in front of that packed room of people and perform whatever their heart desires, be it another bellydance number, a song, or in my case, a dance choreographed by Kristen Minksy of Chifferobe.  

“I want to bring the performance community together,” says Manuela, “…I want to open up the community so it’s not just one kind of performer.” She continues, “It’s great to talk to other performers, to get their experience, maybe even network with them.” The event is fun. There’s really no other way to put it. At my show, I saw a Bellydance Shimmy Mob, a newbie performer who had choreographed her own piece to help deal with the trauma she had been coping with, and bellydancers who put professionals to shame. (How do they move those abs like that? I mean, really.) 

Since its inception eight years ago, there have now been more than 80 Danse Salmagundi events that have showcased 800 performances and 200 performers.To perform at a Danse Salmagundi, it’s pretty simple — you just contact Manuela. If you tell her that you to want to perform, she puts you on the list, though spots are limited. She reminds performers who are new to the scene that, “It’s not just belly dance. If you’re any kind of dancer, or a singer, or spoken word — anything at all — it really is a place to just come and show your stuff.” 

Manuela says that the most important thing to her is giving people the opportunity to perform. “I’ve had quite a few people make their performance debut at Danse Salmagundi. It’s a great experience to see someone put themselves out there and be brave.”

My experience with Danse Salmagundi was just that — performers putting themselves out there, being brave and having one hell of a good time expressing themselves through art.

The next Danse Salmagundi showcase is September 29 at 7pm at Chifferobe Atelier in the Hope Artiste Village in Pawtucket and is family-friendly. Since it’s a Sunday night, they also try to keep it on the shorter side, with the program ending around 9 or 9:30. Tickets are cash only and children get in free. There is also a theatrical Halloween event that will happen on October 27 at DUSK in Providence, which begins at 7pm.  

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