Alexis Smith, known as “Alexia” to her dance students, has taught Middle Eastern dance at a variety of studios. She now has been teaching at her home studio in Louisville, Tenn. since 2000.
Smith has danced for 13 years professionally in New York and California, and abroad. Her numerous years of experience and understanding of the dance is what draws students to her studio. She aims to improve the public’s opinion of the dance as well as her students’ understanding of their own bodies.
A 10-year student and member of the Alexandria dance troupe, Sonja Oswalt, said she previously took classes in Nashville. Oswalt explained that she was attracted to Alexia’s studio because Alexia was trained in classical Egyptian belly dance and had “performed all over the U.S. and in other countries.”
Smith began taking belly dance, or oriental dance, classes during her time at the University of Tennessee and decided to continue after she graduated. A former UT majorette, she decided to take a class with a friend while they were offered at the university. Falling in love with the sound of the doumbek, a Middle Eastern drum, Smith said she found the class “so much fun and so inspiring.”
The main goal of her studio is to provide cultural awareness and a unique way to exercise for the Knoxville public. When asked for a definition of belly-dancing, Smith said, it’s a “dance of the hips and shows you how to isolate the upper part of the body from the lower part.”
Smith explained that tribal style belly dancing actually originated in the U.S. and not in Egypt. This western style of oriental dance uses folkloric dance styles from the Middle East, North Africa, Spain, and India. The American tribal dance merges itself with the classical style of the Middle Eastern art. The tribal style of women belly dancing is what most people visualize, Smith said.
She finds that Middle Eastern dance has been shown in a negative light and is trying to change its outward appearance.
“It doesn’t always involve wearing a two piece costume,” said Smith. “And having the impression this is nothing but gyrating hips and half clothed women in a provocative dance.”
Smith wants others to understand Middle-Eastern dance “not as a seductive art form” but rather a beautiful art form that “celebrates who you are and joy of dancing.”
Another objective of her belly-dance instruction is to improve her students’ self-awareness of their bodies and their self-confidence.
A William Blount High School student, Jasmyn Herrell said, “Belly dance has made me a lot more balanced…If you can do belly dance you can do a lot of things easier.”
Smith enjoys working with her students and seeing them succeed.
“The best part about teaching is seeing your students improve,” said Smith. “And when they see they’ve improved, they’re more motivated to continue practicing and persevering with the dance form.”
The Alexandria Dancers, the studio’s dance troupe, perform around Knoxville at events including the Fantasy of Trees, the Rossini Festival and at Middle Eastern restaurants such as Cairo Café in downtown Knoxville, as well as other cultural events. Smith also takes requests for birthdays, weddings and other events.
The troupe’s upcoming event is the Fantasy of Trees performance of “Jingle Bell Rock” and a Nubian, or African-themed, dance, in addition to other dance styles instructed at the studio. The event will be held on Saturday, Nov. 29 at 6:45 p.m. at the Knoxville Convention Center to benefit the East Tennessee Children’s Hospital.
Smith offers beginner classes on Saturday at 10:30 a.m. and on Tuesdays at 6:00 p.m. Her intermediate/advanced class is every Tuesday at 7 p.m. with her dance troupe known as the Alexandria Dancers. She welcomes new students to join at anytime throughout the year.
For further information about her studio and the Fantasy of Trees performance, visit the websites below.
For information on Alexia Dance, click here.
Alexia’s email address: firstname.lastname@example.org
Fantasy of Trees Performance Schedule, click here.
Edited by Jessica Carr