Faculty Bios

200KaeshiChaiHeadshotKaeshi Chai is a NYC-based performer, theatrical director, teacher trainer, and award winning designer. She co-founded the professional dance company and school, Bellyqueen, and PURE (Public Urban Ritual Experiment), a global community focused on healing and social change through dance and music. Kaeshi has extensive training in contemporary dance, physical theatre and Silk Road dances spanning the Middle East to China. She has taught or performed in 47 states and 38 countries.
She is an alumni member of the Bellydance Superstars, Jillina’s Bellydance Evolution and Kenji William’s Bella Gaia and curates the Djam NYC event for dancers and musicians to create and play together.
Current projects include Ocean Stories, a performance integrating art and science to create more environmental awareness, and Creative Labs in which participants conceptualize, choreograph and mount full-length theatrical dance shows in 3-4 days. www.kaeshi.com  www.pureglobe.org  www.bellyqueen.com

200IrinaAkulenkoHeadshotIrina Akulenko iis a New York City-based performer, teacher and choreographer with a burning passion for arts of all genres. Although she discovered Middle Eastern dance purely by chance, her interest in expression started at an early age and was channeled into ballet training, in addition to piano and voice lessons as well as drawing. Since 2001, Irina explored Egyptian Cabaret and American Tribal style belly dance, Flamenco and Classical Indian dances (focusing mainly on Odissi) and now enjoys fusing these styles as well as everything in between. Today, Irina performs on various New York stages and tours nationally and internationally as a soloist and as a member of various stellar projects. She released three instructional DVDs with World Dance New York and has two instructional series of videos with the popular website “Howcast.com”. She is currently Artistic Director and Creative Advisor of Kenji William’s multimedia show Bella Gaia and principal dancer and choreographer with the internationally renowned Bellyqueen Dance Theater. Furthermore, she holds a Bachelors degree in Political Science, and has strong interest in women’s issues and visual arts. www.DanceIrina.com

200MakiMovesHeadshotMaki Moves is a dancer and performing artist who relocated to New York city in 2012 from Nagoya, Japan. She has a background in hip hop, Cuban Salsa, Reggaeton, Egyptian belly dance and Tribal Fusion. She is one of the principal dancers and instructors of Sahara Layla from the Hermes Dance Company and has trained in the Bellyqueen style since 2005. Maki Moves has performed in NYC, Japan, Australia and Thailand and has taken respected Teacher Training programs led by Tamalyn Dallal and Bellyqueen. She was a competition winner with Bellydance Evolution in Sydney, Australia and was selected as the very first belly dance choreographer to be showcased at the prestigious 2014 7th Annual Choreographer’s Canvas in NYC.

Lexi is a New York based performer who took a leap into bellydance classes, fell in love, and never turned back. Her journey as a dance instructor and introduction to empowerment through movement began in 2013 when she taught intro to pole dancing classes in Los Angeles. Lexi completed the Bellyqueen Teacher Training course in 2019. She has been featured in Elsten Torres’ music video for his song Girl and performed on a vampire cruise of the Hudson River and in mixed media shows at the Ace Hotel in New York. Her love for dance, body positivity and movement awareness manifests in her work. She believes in the healing power of dance and enjoys the opportunity for physical expression that belly dance provides.

Brenna Crowley is an eclectic dance artist, choreographer, instructor and producer based in NYC, performing and teaching locally and across the country over the past thirteen years.

Rooted in various bellydance styles, her movement is blended with her background and continued training in vogue, hip hop, street jazz, contemporary and flamenco. She has performed as a featured soloist, as a member of Sera Solstice’s Solstice Ensemble, as part of many collaborations including Mirapiece Theater, The Pop-Up Project, and companies directed by Dalia Carella, Altagracia and Ayshe as well as her own collective, Zilla Dance Ensemble.
Currently teaching at Bellyqueen, she has taught for Serena Studios, Solstice Studio and Ailey Extension, including at dance events such as Art of the Belly, Raven’s Night, Lumen Obscura and Roxy and Dukes. Partnering with founder Giselle BellydanceNYC, they co-produce the theatrical dance events, the Witching Hour Boo-tique and Baile Noir. She is also an ambassador for the dance clothing company D. Webb Designs.brennadance.com Instagram: @brennzilla.

Amel Tafsout is a first-source internationally acclaimed Dance artist of North African Maghreb Dance and language instructor in French, Arabic and German. Fluent in five languages, Amel lectures, teaches, performs and conducts anthropological research. She has dedicated her life not only to raising awareness about her dance culture but also to facilitating dialogue and building cultural bridges with regard to Arab-North African women.

A respected scholar with a career spanning several countries, Amel brings her more than 40 years of teaching experience to Bellyqueen, offering Arabic language classes for the dance community. Visit https://ameltafsout.com for more information on her dance and academic work.

Gabriela Figueroa’s journey with Middle Eastern dance began as a self-taught dancer. She started her formal instruction with Natalie El-Ghoul, a Middle Eastern & contemporary dancer and choreographer at La Fábrica in Guayaquil, Ecuador. During her time at La Fabrica, Gabriela discovered her passion for Middle Eastern dance and continued her studies in Quito, Ecuador at Frente de Danza Independiente with Carolina Cruz, a professional dancer and certified somatic teacher, where she learned how to view movements from the inside.

Gabriela teaches Raqs Sharki regularly, focusing her class on the dance culture, history and creating community while integrating body and mind.

In 2015 Gabriela became a member of Natalia Nazario’s Raks Al Zahra troupe with whom she won different festival competitions. In 2018, Gabriela took the Bellyqueen Teacher Training Course led by Kaeshi Chai. She continues to grow each day by regularly studying with many renowned teachers

Rami ‘Tabla’ El-Aasser has a MS from NYU (2010) and BS from Northwestern University (1997). He plays darbuka and sings worldwide with groups including Alsarah & the Nubatones, Raquy Düm, and Zikrayat. Based in New York & the Berkshires, he is a regular at NYC’s taraab and dance parties with traditional musicians from across the mideast. With roots in Egypt, his repertoire includes classical and folk traditions from the Arab World, Greece, Balkans, Turkey, East and North Africa, by way of Brooklyn. Rami’s grooves also can be found on many recordings, soundtracks, and live theatre productions, most recently on Broadway at The Band’s Visit. The third album with Alsarah & the Nubatones, is coming soon. www.ramitabla.com