It's hard to forget her.
She's the American performer who made it big as an overseas belly dancer.
Sure, there's the bird motif of the Southfield resident, whose name is Robin Schienle. She goes by the stage name Shadiah, which, unbeknownst to her when she chose it, means "the enchanting melody of a bird song” in Arabic, and then there is the infamous yellow lovebird Precious, with whom she wildly spins across the stage. There were actually four generations of Precious to be exact, the original and three replacements throughout Schienle’s 35-year career.
But what makes her stand out just might be the passion she portrays for the Arabian art.
"When I was younger I always had an affinity for Arabic things and I loved to dance as a kid. There’s just something about the music. The rhythm itself, the drums. There’s just something primal about it that draws me in,” Schienle, who started belly dancing in 1981, said. “Even so, never ever did I dream, even in my wildest dreams, that from me taking adult education classes (for belly dancing), that I’d end up traveling all over the world. The novelty of me was that I was an American, but I danced as well as the Arabic dancers.”
What also made her stand out, she noted, was the bird — not something typical in belly dancing, but a signature feature for Shadiah’s performances.
“In 1985 I started incorporating the bird into my show, and she would hang off my costume bra. I’d spin and spin and spin and she’d never fall off. She loved being in the show, and Precious went to more countries than most people,” she added.
Schienle said she’s been in “retirement” for some time now, but after being sought out to perform with an international dance troupe coming to the area, she’ll be returning to the stage.
It’s Lana Mini, a metro Detroit teacher in Warren, Dearborn, Macomb and several other cities, who helped to convince her to perform once more. Mini’s company is hosting Bellydance Superstars, a troupe put together by manager and producer Miles Copeland, for a Feb. 7 performance in Detroit.
She said she knew that Schienle was the act to land in order to make the show a hit.
“Belly dancing is not mainstream in this country; many people don’t really understand it. The idea of this smaller show is to just have fun and be really creative,” Mini said. “My job was to scout out the best handful in Michigan and put them up onstage. I sought out Robin even though she’s retired because she’s legendary among musicians and generations of belly dancers.”
Mini said that her students always ask about “that one belly dancer” from the ‘70s and ‘80s, “the one with the bird on her shoulder.”
“They remember her. It’s hard to forget her. So I knew we had to get her out of retirement,” Mini added.
Schienle said she remembers taking her first belly dancing class in Warren on a whim. She said she took to it immediately, and out of hundreds of girls who started, she was one of the final eight who made it to the debut show in front of about 300 people.
She still laughs when thinking about not just learning to belly dance as swiftly as an Arabic woman, but realizing that people appreciated her just as much.
“When I started getting bookings, I was shocked. I didn’t look like them,” she said, noting the other women’s dramatic makeup, lots of hair and voluptuous bodies. “I looked different. I even had an afro.”
But she went with it, she said, and began performing around metro Detroit at Arabic weddings, clubs, even a bar mitzvah at a synagogue. She said she picked up on the value of red lipstick, hair pieces and costume making very quickly, too.
Soon enough, famous Arabic musicians — some who couldn’t even speak English — were reaching out to her, and she was being flown around the world to perform. Nova Scotia, England, Syria, Jordan, Egypt, Greece, France and several countries in Latin America are just a handful of the places she’s performed.
“I’m the only American belly dancer to have travelled to 38 counties to perform,” she said, adding that she’s danced for leaders in the Middle East and for celebrities in America, such as Usher and Patrick Swayze.
Her professional career lasted more than three decades, two of which were overseas. Occasionally she teaches local classes since she stopped dancing professionally 10 years ago.
To have Schienle make a special appearance, especially after all these years, is something Mini said takes the show to a whole new level.
“What makes it incredibly interesting is that it’s the only kind of dance where the older you are the more respected you are,” Mini said, explaining that belly dance started as a show by women, for women, mimicking childbirth with movement of the stomach. “In many dance styles you need to be 20 (years old). But this is a kind of dance that comes from the hips, the stomach, inside the chest and deep inside the soul. The audience knows the more you’ve lived, the more passion you have inside you from life experiences.”
Mini said that Schienle will “tell her story with her body” and she will be doing it with a specialty dance called “Khaleeji.” Schienle explained that it’s a dance that comes from the Persian Gulf area, where women are known to throw their hair from side to side while picking up the long dress they wear and dancing with it.
Other dance styles the audience will see in the Detroit show include tribal dancing, fusion dances with Flamenco, traditional dance and other styles by Bellydance Superstars.
Schienle said she’s excited to get back onstage and show she still has what it takes, too.
“You never lose your enthusiasm for the stage,” she said. “How do you tell a good belly dancer from someone with less experience? When she dances right through the stop (in the music) for a rhythm change. It’s an art; your body has to be trained. I love that challenge.”
Club Bellydance performance featuring Shadiah will take place 7:30 p.m. Feb. 7 — doors open at 7 p.m. — at the Hastings Street Ballroom, 715 E. Milwaukee St., in Detroit. Tickets are $20 in advance for general admission, $25 at the box office. Visit www.bellydancesuperstars.com or www.club-bellydance.com.
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