Jennifer Trieste understands belly dancing sometimes gets an unfair rap.
The ancient, traditional form of entertainment is often seen as a sort of striptease or burlesque act that is usually performed at nightclubs or places for adults only.
But thanks to her background in dance and desire to break the stigma associated with her craft, Trieste, a 22-year-old Countryside High grad, is bringing belly dancing into the 21st century.
“Belly dancing is sensual, not sexual,” she said during a break from her day job at the Safety Harbor Chamber of Commerce. “It’s a battle belly dancers have been fighting for a while now.”
She emphasized that there are many forms of belly dancing, including gypsy, Egyptian, tribal, theatrical and fusion. All are meant to be forms of family entertainment.
“I dance around children. I dance around families. It’s supposed to be a dance of celebration, not sexuality.”
Dancing On Stage At An Early Age
Trieste, who was trained in ballet, tap and jazz, found belly dancing when she was just 7 years old when she visited the old Renaissance Festival in Largo.
Captivated by the whole atmosphere of the event and the performers, she immediately looked to get involved with the headliners, the Demzarah Gypsies Show.
“It was the gypsy style of belly dancing, fun and family friendly,” she said. ”I had a knack for dancing so I picked up their steps right away."
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She was asked to perform on stage with the group two years later at the age of 9.
But instead of being nervous or shy, Trieste fit in with the group like a seasoned pro.
“They expected me to just stand there next to them, but I started dancing right with them,” she said. “They were all amazed.”
Since then her career as a dancer has been on an upward slope.
She's performed in shows at the Straz Center and Ruth Eckerd Hall, and she scored a coveted gig as the lead dancer in a production at Busch Gardens.
But like many people who are good at what they do, eventually she knew it was time to take the next step with her career.
On Her Own
After years of performing shows all over Florida and the South Trieste, who also designs her own costumes and briefly owned a boutique in town called MetalGypsy Fashions, decided to form her own troupe.
Last year she started MetalGypsy Productions, which now consists of six members and has played three gigs so far, including the the Taste of Safety Harbor last month.
While she’s still learning the ropes as far as running her own company goes, Trieste is confident her abilities and talent will help he be successful at it.
“Our first show, we sold out. We had people sitting on the floor. That told me I could do it,” she said of the event last August in Tampa.
“I was nervous because I had never put together an event like that by myself before. Being able to know I could pull it off was amazing.”
Trieste is continuing to work her day job at the Chamber, where she can remain somewhat incognito — “people come in and they don’t recognize it’s me,” she said.
But when it’s time to don the costume and hit the stage, she just hopes people will recognize what she does for what it is.
“Not many people appreciate belly dancing, but there are so many different forms,” she said. “It always been entertaining, but it’s becoming much more theatrical now.”
“But I don’t say I’m a professional belly dancer,” she added. “I tell them a professional performer.”