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Larissa a.k.a. Zaara

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Welcome to Zeitgeist Radio. I'm your host, Morgan Roe, founder of the Zeitgeist Academy. Zeitgeist means spirit of the times, and it is the collection of cultural forces that all contribute to what it feels like to be alive and part of a dynamic culture. Every episode I speak with someone from a unique musical subculture.

We dig into their passion and explore how music is a powerful force that brings people together. If you're like me, you come out of these interviews with all sorts of questions. Each week, after speaking with one of our amazing guests, I dive into something they introduced us to that I find interesting or important.

I write a blog post about it and email a nice tidy bundle to your inbox. Every two weeks, never miss an exploration of an awesome musical subculture. Join the academy and sign up for my free slash radio.

My guest today is Larissa aka Zara, a belly dance performer and teacher out of Atascadero, California.

**Morgan:** Larissa, welcome to Zeitgeist Radio.

**Larissa:** Well, thanks for having me.

**Morgan:** I'm so excited to ask you all about belly dancing. So, uh, let's start with how long did you, like, when did you get into this and, and can you tell people kind of like. Like, what is belly dance? Because I think a lot of people think like old movies from the eighties.

**Larissa:** Oh, yeah. Uh, when first started, when I first started getting into belly dancing, a friend of mine was performing at the local Renaissance Fair. And my girlfriends and I, we went to go support her and we see it. And I was just mesmerized. I was just like, I, I have to do that. I, I have to learn how to do that.

Um, So as soon as my friend was done performing, we pulled her aside and we were like, where can we take classes? Like, so she introduced us to her teacher and we started taking classes with her. Um, this was my junior year in high school, so that's really dating myself. We won't say how long ago that was.

Yeah. Yes. A minute. Uh, yeah. So ever since then I've been doing it and, um, I started out just. Taking like the beginner classes and the next thing I know, my teacher is like, oh, you're really good and you guys should perform. And we're like, what?

**Morgan:** Okay.

**Larissa:** What was your first performance? Fine Street Showcase. Wow.

You remember that immediately? I do, I do because it was very cold. Oh, tell me all about it. Yeah. Yeah, cuz So Vine Street Showcase is always in December. It's like a Christmas themed thing, and. It's always freezing cold. Um, knock on wood, thanks. Climate change for making it slowly warmer every year. Oh no.

But um, so sorry. Yeah, it used to be like 40, sometimes 30 degrees at night cuz we'd do it at night cuz Fine Street Showcase is all about the lights and the Christmas lights. So yeah, we would be all bundled up. Until we had to perform, then throw everything off and then wear our belly dance costumes. Oh

**Morgan:** my gosh.

And how did that first performance go? Were you

**Larissa:** like super nervous? Um, I was pretty nervous and my teacher had the entire beginning class perform and the stage was really small, so we were all just crowded on this little tiny stage just hoping that we didn't break it. Oh man. Which we didn't, so, yay. Yay.

How big were, was this class? There was about 2020 women in it. Pretty gosh. Yeah. That's a lot. Yeah. A lot of them only took it for a few classes. Yeah. I, I was one of the diehards.

**Morgan:** I still are one of the diehards. Yes,

**Larissa:** yes. Um,

**Morgan:** awesome. So, oh, I have so many questions. You have so many stories. So where did Zara

**Larissa:** come from?

It actually came from a Bollywood movie. Nice. Because that's my other passion is Bollywood. Um, traditionally, I. Somebody is supposed to give you your belly dance name. Um, But Lindsay and Annette took too long, so I just gave myself my own dancing name. Nice. And so that, was that a character that you really liked or do you like the sound of it?

Yes, yes. Uh, uh, kind of both. I, I liked the character from this particular movie that I saw, and I just liked the name of it. It was like, Ooh, Zara. Yeah. That sounds cool. Cool. That nice. It rolls off the tongue really well. Yeah. So

**Morgan:** before we get into, A little more about Zara. I think another good place people should like get some context.

Is Ren fair? Mm-hmm. So have, how many Ren fairs have you done, do you

**Larissa:** think? Oh boy. Wow. A lot. Um, so since the first time that I went and slow and I've been to a rent fair pretty much every year since then, at least one. Uh, minus of course our pandemic years. Right. But you've also gone other places, right?

You've travel. Yes, I've to Vegas. Yeah. Uh, San Jose. Uh, OI Ren Fair. Oh, r i p o. I was one of the best fairs we ever went to. Can you give people, Mo, I feel like

**Morgan:** a lot of people know what Ren Fair is, but in case there's folks out there that have never been to one, can you give people like a real down and dirty, what is a

**Larissa:** Ren fair?

Oh, boy. Well, there's two different types of fairs. There's ones that try to be a little bit more historically accurate. They're going for that traditional medieval. English time period. That's kind of what our local rent fair is like. And then there's the other fairs that they kind of technically call themselves fantasy or pleasure fairs.

And those are kind of like just a free for all. It's people can dress up as fairies. Uh, I've seen folks dressed up like full on like dragon humanoid costumes. Um, It, it's, it's really fun. So those are more of

**Morgan:** a fantasy element? Yes. Yes. Versus others that are more like, like people are still in costume, but it's more like traditional costume.

Yes. Yeah. And you walk around and there's like, you know, Turkey legs and you won't see like, you know, You won't see neon signs. You won't, it's a lot of handmade

**Larissa:** goods. No. Yeah. Yeah. It's, it's a lot of, um, a lot of the vendors are all like artisans. They sell, uh, handmade soaps. They sell a bunch of like weapons.

Um, sometimes the people selling them are the ones that make them, sometimes not. They just collect them from various people. Um, people selling like leather goods, um, furs. Just, yeah, a lot of like natural handmade stuff. Yeah. So how does

**Morgan:** your belly dance fit into these Ren fairs? Like, let's talk first, the like more common one.

**Larissa:** Okay. Yeah. Uh, so our troop actually had to come up with a whole background story because our fair again, in particular is very picky about it being historically accurate. So our guild leaders, um, Ron and Margie, Their rent fair personas as Lord Shirley and Princess Samia. So they actually found that these were real people in that set time period that our fair is supposed to occur, which is about mid 15 hundreds.

Um, so Lord Shirley was kind of like a diplomat ambassador from England and he went to a lot of the Middle East and when he was traveling he met. A princess from Persia. Her name is Princess Nia. So they fall in love. He marries her, and then she becomes like an additional ambassador for Persia to England.

So they traveled around all across Europe and Middle East and the princess as was pretty common. For women in her court. You didn't travel alone. You had ladies and waiting. You had, um, Just women to kind of entertain you. So that was kind of the whole point of the Belly dance troop is we were her entertainers.

Mm-hmm. And some of us were her servants. We served her whenever she needed something.

**Morgan:** And hence where Zara kind of comes into play, right? Yes. Zara is a

**Larissa:** character in her court. Yes. So my character is actually from the Mogul Empire. It's cuz of the name is actually a Muslim name. Um, so yes, I am. My character is a court dancer from the Mogul Empire.

Nice. When you're at these fairs, can you describe the setup

**Morgan:** of your, cuz you, it's not just like, oh, it's your turn to go on stage. Like you guys have a whole setup

**Larissa:** that you do. Well, sometimes,

**Morgan:** I mean

**Larissa:** that's, well, the one I saw you did, that's the goal. That's the plan. It doesn't always go to plan, but yes, usually we have a particular set that we put together.

We have dances that we practice. Most of them are group dances, and then we try to sprinkle in a solo or a duet. Just to kind of mix it up a little bit. Um, sometimes when things don't go to plan, uh, or we're missing somebody, we'll just throw a soloist on, be like, here, fill in some space. Entertain the people so they don't go away.


**Morgan:** Um, And you're dancing on a stage, you're like, can you describe, like, I wanna get into the actual dance, but I think the scene of it and the setting of it mm-hmm. Is kind of like essential to the feel of it. Yeah. So what does that look like? The, the, like your

**Larissa:** area? Well, back in the day we used to not really have a stage.

We just had rugs. We just laid them all out and hoped that that was big enough for as many dancers that we had. Sure. Um, Ron or Guild Master, he actually kind of built us a stage and it lasted for a little bit while and then just kind of started to wear down. Um, so we had to get rid of it. And then this last year when you saw me dance, yeah.

Um, the fair, the had another stage that it wasn't getting used because. They weren't able to recruit enough performers, so they just built the stage in our encampment, which was wow, really, really nice.

**Morgan:** Do you prefer a stage

**Larissa:** or do you prefer the rugs? Uh, I, I prefer a stage if we're gonna be doing a. The sword or balancing stuff on our heads, like it's so much easier on a stage.

Yeah. Um, the rugs can be fine because then you're a little bit closer to the audience. I can interact and engage with them a little bit more. Um, but balancing stuff on my head on rugs is not as easy. Yeah. Okay,

**Morgan:** so let's get into the actual dance now that we've set the scene. Um, what are some types of dances?

You know, so many.

**Larissa:** Yes. Uh, so there's different types of dances and they depend on the different countries because belly dance is kind of all over. It originally came from Egypt and Egypt. Back in the day, it used to be broken up between upper Egypt and lower Egypt. So there was actually two distinct styles that came out of that.

Um, upper Egypt was predominantly the EDI dance. Uh, it's, it's a lot of. Like lifting your feet and legwork and usually they would use sticks or a cane. Um, and then lower Egypt is, there isn't really a specific name for it. It's kind of just generally referred to as like folklore dancing. Um, I think the KGI style is from there too.

And that was like women would wear these really billowy calf dances and they would dance a lot with their hair. They would kinda like throw them around and it was a very specific type of movement that you would do. Wow. I had no idea. Yeah.

**Morgan:** Just about those two. And that's only one country. Yeah. Um,

**Larissa:** and Greece has their own style too.

I, I forget the name that they call it. Yeah. Specifically in their country. But, um, I think the Greek dances are a little bit more like there's more clapping, um, more spinning, uh, and I think a little bit more prop work. Because most Egyptian dancers don't typically rely on props. I think the stick in the cane is probably the only exception.


**Morgan:** And then what about some of the, so what are, what are some things you've

**Larissa:** balanced? Oh gosh. I've balanced swords, um, bowls, baskets, uh, metal trays. Uh, I know, I forget Kanes. Um, I think that's it. There's so many. Yeah. No,

**Morgan:** and, and I think, I don't know. I was really impressed with the, the bowl that you, I don't know.

There was one particular dance where, where Larissa, like you were basically upside down. You were bent in half and somehow this bowl was still balance. How do you do

**Larissa:** that? Yeah, so the trick is to keep your chin. Parallel to the ground. So I, I can, like, if I lean really far forward, as long as my chin's not dipping down and I'm keeping my head up, whatever is on top of my head's gonna stay.

It was, it was amazing. It was incredible. It helps that we wrap our heads. Um, with fabric and we pick specific things, um, like fabric that's really textured and grainy, that's gonna keep something more stable and it's not gonna slip off.

**Morgan:** I did feel much better after Larissa told me that because she was like, here, do you wanna try balancing this on your head?

Yes. Course. Sure. Yeah. And I, like, I have a lumpy head apparently, and it just kept falling.

**Larissa:** There are, there are tricks of the trade. Um, some dancers also for their swords, they'll have little grooves cut into the blade. Mm-hmm. Right Where they know the balance point is, and that will help them balance it.

Wait, were you balancing

**Morgan:** swords on your head or on your, I was picturing on your like hands or something.

**Larissa:** Yeah, no, we balance 'em on of our head. On your head. Yeah. There are dancers I've seen that will balance them on like their shoulder or even on their hip bone. Oh my gosh. Um, yeah, tho those, those ladies are next level.


**Morgan:** So the, the rest of so belly dance, I think when a lot of people think belly dance, they picture like, just like moving your, um, Kind of like doing like a wave or something with your belly, but it's so much more than that. Are there, like, can you describe some of the moves and some of the like Yes.

Muscles that are involved

**Larissa:** in this? Uh, so traditionally, Egyptian belly dance actually focuses more on hip work. Um, and, and that's like all kinds of isolation of hip work that you could possibly think of. That's like lifting one hip higher than the other, dropping the hip, um, which people

**Morgan:** like, try this at home.

Like, try this right now. Try just like doing that. It's almost like a, it's like a stretch, it's a workout. Like, yes, I do that and I'm like, Oh, wow. I


**Larissa:** like, yeah, feel stiff. If you don't feel a muscle pinching or straining, then you're not doing it right.

**Morgan:** Are those the dances that have, so when, when would you use those little, um, like disc?

Oh yes. Shiny

**Larissa:** things. The, they're finger symbols or they're called zals. Um, I mean, you can use those at

**Morgan:** any time. I mean, like the ones on your hips, the like, like when you think of belly dance, a lot of people think Oh, of the like shimmy,

**Larissa:** shimmy things. Yeah, the coin belts. Yeah. Yes. So the coin belts came from a time when women, you know, they didn't have their own money and they didn't have bank accounts.

Um, so a lot of the times women got a dowry when they got married and all of their. Wealth, like their coins, they would sew it into their clothing so that way they always had it with them. And it kind of became a thing of like, oh, well when I move, it makes this cool sound. So let's, uh, let's dance with that on us.

Nice. Um, And it just like became like just add more and more and more. And if a dancer had like a lot of coins on her belt, it was kind of signifying like, you've pretty wealthy. You're wealthy, like you had money. Yeah.

**Morgan:** Yeah. Um, is it hard to make those things shimmy?

**Larissa:** No, actually no.

**Morgan:** Like, I don't know, maybe I'm just really inflexible in my hips cuz it seems like, like just moving that fast.

Would be difficult.

**Larissa:** Yeah, they're, they're pretty, they're pretty sensitive. Like just a little bit of hip movement will start to make them jingle and move. Yeah. How many costumes do you have or like, have you danced in? Oh boy. Um, I've had a lot cuz I, I've also changed size wise over the years. When I first started, you know, I was, I was at high school, I was a tiny, petite little person.

Um, and, and I didn't have any money. I was totally, I. Poor at the time, cuz I'm a 17 year old. Right. Um, so a lot of this stuff, me and my girlfriends made not, well, not not well at all. We, we did the best we could. We went to Walmart and bought those simplicity patterns. Oh yes. I, I did the best we could. And then we went to a belly dance convention, Rakaa, which is like the biggest belly dance convention on the west coast and just, Lost our minds.

We're like, oh my God, there's so many shiny pretty things. Like, I want one of everything. Um, so, you know, we'd save up all of our money and buy like one thing. Yeah. And then just like, ha Yes. Add this to my collection. Um, so yeah, just over the years, I, I've gotten. Some stuff for free from other dancers. I mean that's pretty common in the belly dance community.

Um, cuz you know, we're women, our sizes fluctuate and so we end up passing around things around, well this no longer fits me anymore here. This will probably fit you. Here you go. Um, and I've done that with my stuff too. I've given it to some of the younger dancers and um, yeah, just I would say, gosh, At, at the most.

One time I probably had like 10 full different costumes, but a lot of our stuff is very like piecework, like I have a skirt that I can combine with different things or top or uh, a bra, uh, belt or coin set that you can mix and match with stuff. How often do you change

**Morgan:** during, like, during performances? Do you change or, or

**Larissa:** is it, oh God, we did that one time for mid-state Fair.

And that was a nightmare. Mm, I I We never did it again after that. Cause we were like, oh, no, no, no. Nice. Okay, so let's go back to the dance

**Morgan:** a little bit. So, um, so is each dance, um, related? I know there are specific songs that are played, like is a dance tied to a song or do you make

**Larissa:** up your own dances and traditional Egyptian belly dancing.

Yes, typically, um, usually dances are related to the particular rhythm that is played, so it's the rhythm on the drum. So we have one dance called aub. AUB is a specific drum rhythm that is played, so our dance kind of revolves around that rhythm. Sure. Um, if it's more of like a tradition, like a recorded piece and there's like lyrics to it, then we kind of just do whatever and, um, Yeah, but usually when we create a set list, We try to have like a general theme that goes with it.

So one year we did, um, we called it our primal set. Ooh. So we did this like African fusion stuff, and that was so much fun. Oh my gosh. We actually learned some African dance moves, which wow. I, you know, uh, belly dance is pretty challenging as it is. And then to learn African on top of that was intense. Yes, yes.

Oh, So,

**Morgan:** um, what goes into crafting a set? Or is it just like, you know what, we just gotta fill

**Larissa:** time? Um, I think we usually like to start with kind of a general idea of what we want the theme to be. Um, for rent fair, that's a little bit easier. We're trying to just stick to things that are more traditional things that make sense for the fair that we're at.

Um, again, with our local fair, they want it to be more historically accurate, so we try to stick to pieces that are more focused on the drum rhythm. Mm-hmm. Uh, so yeah, we've done aub, um, we do a, uh, shift to telly piece that's usually more for soloists. Um, cuz shift to telly is a really fun rhythm. You can do it really slow and be like really slinky.

And then there's a faster version. It, it almost sounds like a different song, but it's not, it's the same exact rhythm. It's just sped up. So that one's a fun one to do. Um, and then Rock Sharkie, um, that's a. Ballad based dance number. It's always a crowd favorite.

**Morgan:** Why is it a crowd

**Larissa:** favorite? Uh, it's really fast.

Okay. Okay. And it involves clapping. Uh, people love to be able to clap along, I guess. Sure. That's, that's seems to be very popular. Yeah. Audience interaction. Yeah. Yeah. Uh, uh, the drummers like to drum it too. Like they always put a little extra into their drumming when we, when we do that one, so. Nice.

**Morgan:** How many drummers will you have in a troop when it's like,

**Larissa:** like a, a full troop?

Oh, man. The best that I think we ever had is we had either five or six drummers and, um, we had one guy in particular, Uh, he was really, really good. Like he was our lead drummer, so he would do all of the extra flourishes. So I'm gonna go into a little drumming thing here. So a lot of, um, Belly dance music, the drumming, there's, there's different parts.

Kind of like how when you have in an orchestra, there's like, uh, a flute seat three, two, and one. So Sure. The, the threes are kind of doing like the very basic, uh, backbeats and then you have the second level they're. Maybe a little bit more than the backbeat. They're adding a little bit on, and then the lead person is doing all of these extra flourishes.

And for drumming, that involves like a lot of these like texts and slides off of the, the drum face. Um, it's really technically hard. There's not a lot of drummers that can do that. So if you have a somebody who can do it, like you let them shine.

**Morgan:** Yeah. So you get a like a. Almost a solo for them too. Yes,

**Larissa:** yes.

Yeah. Yes. Uh, actually, uh, a guy that we've known for a really long time, Keith Hawk, uh, reached out to us this year and he said he wanted to perform with us. And he is one of these guys who are incredible. Yes, he's incredible drummer. He drums for the, um, Cal Poly Arab Music Ensemble. So the fact that he's coming is really exciting.

We're like, oh, yay.

**Morgan:** Nice. Nice. Yeah. Um, so let's talk. Okay, so let's talk about re fair again. Um,

**Larissa:** it's kind of a bit

**Morgan:** of a

**Larissa:** commitment, right? It is, yeah. Yeah. Can you

**Morgan:** describe like, I mean, you're basically out of pocket for

**Larissa:** two weeks. Is that about right? Um, well a lot of our stuff has been in the troop for a long time.

Like we've reused a lot of stuff. Um, when I'm in thrift stores, I'm always looking for like, newer fabric to kind of replace some old stuff cuz things just get, you know, weathered from the sun. Um, we do need to look at replacing some of our rugs. Um, but that's usually something like we'll try to like pool our resources together.

Yeah. Uh, although Ron and Margie are guild leaders, they kind of have spent most of the money, um, I think cuz they know for a long time a lot of us were poor and or going to school, you know, so we didn't have the money and their boomer age. Um, They're very subtle. They own their own home. They're both retired now.


**Morgan:** how, like, is there a, just like a huge storage unit with all

**Larissa:** of this stuff? Yeah. Well we have a trailer that most of the stuff just kind of stays in, and then Ron and Markey have a storage unit at their property where they've stored some extra stuff. Yeah.

**Morgan:** So the fair, because the fair itself is what every weekend.

So our, is it every day or is

**Larissa:** it every weekend day? So our rent fair is pretty small. It's just. The one weekend. One weekend. Yes. Uh, there are fairs that do like a two weekend, so they'll do one weekend, week goes by, nothing's going on next weekend, have the fair, and then there are other fairs that do it for an entire month.

Yeah. So those ones actually will have like permanent structures Yeah. At the fair site that they just leave up all month long and they'll have different themes for every week. So they'll have a week of like, the theme is fairies or mermaids. And they had one week with the theme was belly dancers and, um, those are really fun.

We've never actually gone to a month long one because,

**Morgan:** well, you'd have to like, quit your job or, yeah, go on. Our, our

**Larissa:** tro uh, would not have enough. Des the dedicated people to pull that off. Yeah. Yeah. That sounds

**Morgan:** like so much, I mean, even just what you've been describing, like you basically go underground during Ren Fair Week, like Yeah.

Like it may only be the weekend, but for you guys with all of the setup and making sure that everything is, you know, the way it's

**Larissa:** supposed to be. Yeah. Well, my group, like, we actually can get our setup up pretty quick. Um, most of the other people at the fair have to come. Yeah, sometime during the week and start setting up.

We show up the Friday before Nice and just go to town, put everything up, decorate, um, and we're usually done before it even remotely gets dark. So. Nice, nice. We've got it down to an art form.

**Morgan:** Awesome. So you've mentioned, okay, so where else, what are some other places that you've performed, obviously? So you've mentioned the Ren Fair and then the Christmas show.

Mm-hmm. Have there been other places or is it mostly those

**Larissa:** two? Uh, we did do Elegant Evening. And was that, it was downtown Paso. Um, it's something that Paso's done for a really long time, and it was originally created to kind of help. Drive business in the downtown area, Paso, especially for during Christmas time, wanting to keep people shopping locally instead of spending their money in big box stores or online.

Um, and it was, uh, It was also in coordination with, um, the schools doing like plays. So they would always do the Nutcracker play. Um, and so in the stores they would do, in the window of display, they would have the actors dress up as their Nutcracker characters and pose as if they were a mannequin in the window and they were supposed to like not move.

And so people would like try to mess with them to get them to break character and stuff. Um, and then they would have the band, um, play and then, yeah, the belly dancers. We had a particular era we would perform and they had other, um, like children's dance groups, uh, choirs. Yeah. It was all just kind of to entertain people and to get people to be downtown.

Spending money for Christmas. It does sound like another

**Morgan:** winter thing.

**Larissa:** Yes, I know. What is it with that? I don't know. I don't understand why that kept happening. It just did. Um, I guess we should clarify

**Morgan:** that. Yes. The outfit is kind of like you see in the movie. Like it is Yes. Fairly

**Larissa:** non Yes. Covering, yes.


**Morgan:** Yeah. So it's, you know, basically a top and then some like, Loose,

**Larissa:** flowy pants. Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm. Um, but there are workarounds too, like, so we would wear hair and pants under, or sometimes just tights, uh, under our skirts. Mm-hmm. Like thick fleece line tights, um, boots. And sometimes you like there's belly dancing type of like chili tops that were long sleeved so you could have your arms covered.

Mm-hmm. So you weren't totally exposed. And to be fair too, once you start dancing Yeah. You get kind of warmed up.

**Morgan:** Yeah, so I think some people think belly dancing like and they think like, like just like the sexy element. Oh yeah. That's kind of gross. Yeah. Uhhuh, what would you have to say to about that?

**Larissa:** Ah, well, it, it gets back to the exoticism of like, Orientalism.

Yeah. Um, I mean this has been going on for a really long time as Europeans going to Middle East and fighting that culture. Exotic and just yes, sexualizing the women, uh, because. They dress differently. You know, I, I found this, uh, a little while ago actually, and it's really interesting because it gets back to kind of like the translation stuff and culture differences.

Um, so in the Middle East, women don't wear corsets. I mean, they don't wear any kind of binding around their stomach region. Um, but obviously the women in Europe did so when the men were going to places now, most of the time, They didn't see or interact with women until they started going to like the palaces and being entertained.

Mm-hmm. And, you know, Kings and queens and nobleman always had some type of entertainers and so they didn't think anything of it. They would have somebody perform for them. They're like, oh, we're sharing our culture with you. And then they'd see these women. Not wearing any type of corset or binding material, and they were just like scandalized by, they're like, oh my God, your women have, they, they, they thought that they were bare belied, and that's kind of where the term belly dance comes from.

Oh, it wasn't necessarily their belly was dancing. It was just that, oh my goodness. They're not like, Constricting their stomachs cuz like they did cover their stomachs. They wouldn't expose it. Like a lot of we see in the artwork or like Right what Princess Jasmine was wearing. Like that's, that's not a thing.

So, Ever. Uh, no. Right, right. Um, ah, that's interesting. So yeah, they, they never danced with exposed bellies. It was just because they weren't wearing corsets or stays or any type of binding material over their bellies. So it was just like the men were just like, scandalous. So, scandalous, yes.

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**Morgan:** Oh, so, Do you feel up to telling

**Larissa:** some Ren fair stories?

Oh God, there's some really good ones. Yes. Yes. I love telling Ren fair stories and this whole culture

**Morgan:** is just so interesting.

**Larissa:** Yes. And I think a lot of people have no idea. Oh my God. The shenanigans we get up to, there's a lot of shenanigans. There is so much like I, I. I'm sure people think that they see that stuff during the daytime and, and think that that's wild enough.

And I, I promise you it gets so much more wild at night because then we don't have to behave in front of the general public and people get very good and drunk. So I will share a story that, uh, is about me, cuz then I won't get in trouble for sharing it. So, This was at the Ojai Renaissance Fair. Um, it was a beautiful location.

It was right on the lake. Um, there was grass, which is very exciting. Now a lot of Ren fair sides have grass. Um, but it gets very cold at night. And I had boughten these boots, these like witchy style boots that went up to my knees. Um, I love them. I was so excited to wear them cause I don't get to wear them during the day cuz I'm wearing belly down stuff.

So at nighttime, like I'm gonna wear my sexy witchy boots and like a peasant blouse and you know, that kind of thing. And we were walking around at night and I had had like a few drinks, but I wasn't like, Super drunk. I was just a little buzzed and I trip on a tree route. I didn't fall. I caught myself.

And then my, my friends who were walking with me at the time, they were like, oh, are you okay? And then I said, and this exact way, and I have to always remember to not say it the correct way, but I said, I'm dark and it's drunk. And I knew after I said it, I was like, no, no, wait. I met and, and my friend Jake, he was like, no, no.

We all heard it and we're gonna remember this forever. You're never gonna live this down. I was like, cool, cool. Great, great, great, great, great, John. Yes. And so then the next day Jake comes up to me and he's like, Hey, you know that bone pin guy? So there's this guy who sold these bone pins and they had all these different quotes and phrases from like, movies and pop culture and stuff on them.

Um, so Jake comes up to me, he's like, Hey. So yeah, that bone pin guy, he makes custom ones. And I was like, where is this going? He's like, you should have him make a pin with what you said last night. And at first I was like, is that weird? Is that a weird thing to do? And I was like, you know, everyone else has like a crazy Ren fair story.

And this was like when I had just started going to fairs, so I was like, you know what, I'm gonna just double down on this and go for it. So I tell Jake, okay. I'm gonna do it. So we go to the bone pan guy and ask him if I can make a custom one. And he said, oh yeah, just write on here what it is you want. Um, so I write it down and then he reads it and he looks at me and he's like, Is this from something and I was, no, no.

I said that last night and he just starts laughing and he's like, I love it. I love this. He's like, can I make more of them with this? I was like, I mean, yeah, I guess you really

**Morgan:** want to, you're like, just cut me a royalty check and we'll, yes.

**Larissa:** Um. So, so he, because when they're custom made, it takes him a while to make them.

So he said, okay, like, I'm gonna go be at this fair in a, a few months. And I was like, oh, well my TROs gonna be there too. He said, perfect. You can pick it up there. So, so I pick it up and I put it on my pirate hat, which I pretty much always wear at some point at Refa, especially at night when we're all hanging on partying.

And I remember like the next year, I'm at another guild. We're hanging around out, just talking, and this guy in the middle of the conversation, he like turns to me and he's like, wait, are you, it's, it's dark and I'm drunk out girl. And I'm like, yes. How?

**Morgan:** How do other people

**Larissa:** now know about this story? He presumes to tell me like, oh yeah, I heard it from such and such person.

I was like, Oh my God, my story has become infamous now.

**Morgan:** Nice. Oh, so one thing that, um, that you said in while telling this story that I just kind of wanna like, I don't know, point out,

**Larissa:** I, like you picked it up at another fair. Oh yeah. Like there's this whole culture of, yeah. Oh, I'll see

**Morgan:** you at this like this.

Like these people you only see at fares, but you see them enough Yes. That you can plan on meeting up.

**Larissa:** Yes. Yes. So yeah. Here's another fun fact about, especially rent fair culture here in California. Um, our state has a fair every month. Like no other state in the country has that many affairs. We're the only one.

Yeah. So it definitely, yeah. Helps allow for that to happen. It it, because it's the same people. It's the same. A lot of 'em are same vendors. It's a lot of the same guilds. So if you go to different fairs, you kind of see the same people and you're like,

**Morgan:** oh, hey. Yeah. You get to know people and you're like, oh, my friend from this.

Yeah. And it's like this, do you, like for example, there's um, right next to your. At least this last year when I saw you dance right next to your like setup, there's a whole pirate setup. Like do you just like know those pirate guys and like just travel?

**Larissa:** You know, I honestly, I've honestly only ever seen them at our fair.

Okay. I think they do more of the southern ones. I think they do Irwindale and Escondido and those are like the really. Beak fairs that, uh, they probably make more money at those ones. Mm-hmm. I mean, I'm sure they're making a decent amount. It's ours too, but, um, yeah, I, I don't think I've seen them anywhere else.

Um, I've seen the, the guy who does the Parrot Act, the foul tales. I've seen him pretty much every fair we've ever gone to. Like him and his wife are just, they're dedicated. Yeah.

**Morgan:** Do you think that this is some people's, like main livelihood? Oh yes, absolutely. This is kinda outside of our belly

**Larissa:** dancing, but like, yeah.

Yeah, especially the vendors. Um, the guilds maybe about like half and half. Um, I think some people just do it just because it's fun. Yeah. Um, but uh, yeah, I know the vendors for sure, like this is their breadwinner. Yeah. I did have one incident in Ojai Faire where. I was just walking with my girlfriends. We were just strolling around the fair, and this guy comes up to me and he's just like, oh my lady, you are so beautiful.

And he, he, he referenced some like daring deed that he would be willing to, to win me over. And, and I'm just like rolling with it. Like, oh gosh. Oh, if, if you say so. And then this other guy just. Kind of appears out of nowhere and he's like, no, my lady, I would, I would do this. And it was like something even more ridiculous and I was just like, oh well that's nice.

And then they start going back and forth towards each other. And I was slightly concerned cuz then they started to like, Raise their voices. Like, I mean, it was like, is this gonna turn into a fight? And a part of you is like, oh no, that's terrible. But then another part of you is like slightly turned on.

Fight, fight, fight. The idea of two men fighting over you. So I was like, boys, boys, don't fight over me unless you absolutely have to.

**Morgan:** Yeah. Ren fair is just, I mean it, I've really enjoyed hearing like, Just kind again, it's, it's kind of a niche thing where Yeah. Um, for those who are in it, there's just so much and there's so much richness Yes.

And joy that happens. It's,

**Larissa:** it's like when you combine like a theater kid. Yeah. And, um, and then they, in history, super nerd, like a d d nerd and then someone who just really loves alcohol. Like I always describe Rennys as. The alcoholics of the nerds and I mean that the best way possible. Yeah.

**Morgan:** Yeah. Uh, okay.

So let's go back to, um, there was one thing I wanted to come back to in the, the belly dance side of things. Um, you've mentioned solos a couple times. What would, do you remember

**Larissa:** your first solo? Oh boy. I think so. It was at rent fair. And, uh, yeah, I think it was again, one of those moments where we just needed to fill time.

Yeah. And my, my dance teacher was just like, do you wanna, do you want a solo? And I'm like, I, I guess so. I'll, I'll try. I'll do it my best. When you solo,

**Morgan:** do you have, is that an opportunity to be a little more freeform or do you plan out what you're

**Larissa:** gonna do? Uh, I mean, there are some dancers who super choreograph their solos.

Um, Yeah. And, and I, I think I would do that more if I was on a stage with recorded music. But at red, a lot of times it's just improvised. Nice,

**Morgan:** nice. Yeah. Cuz I saw you several times. Um, so do you prefer soloing or do you prefer the group dancing?

**Larissa:** Uh, are there just different? I mean, I like, I like both. Um, yeah, like, I mean, soloing is fun.

Yeah, because yeah, it's just you. I mean, you're getting all the attention and I love attention. Um, but dancing with a group is fun too. Um, I actually really, I think I like doing duets a lot. Oh, yeah. Yeah. So like me and, uh, either Nikki or Sarah will do a duet of a sword dance together and. That is really fun.

Um, it's a little bit easier to kind of sync yourself up with another person if it's just one person. Mm-hmm. Sometimes with the group dances, it's hard to get everybody coordinated and. Right on the money together. Yeah. But if it's just, it's pretty

**Morgan:** incredible when that does happen. Yes. Like it looks amazing.

Yeah. Um, so with a duet, is that choreographed or is that also

**Larissa:** That's hugely choreographed. Okay. Yes. But I mean, hey, there are times where something wonky happens and we've kind of just like self-taught ourselves to just roll with it. Um, and that's something I've been taught by a lot of. Different dance instructors, no matter what style of dance you're learning, is learning to just kind of adapt when something goes wrong, uh, just keep doing like something, you know, keep that smile up, uh, pose, whatever you gotta do to keep it going.

Cuz like we've done our sword dance and a sword had fallen off of a girl's head. And they had to just keep going. Like, just keep doing the move. Right. As if they had a sword still.

**Morgan:** Ah, that's so scary. Has anyone been hurt by a sword?

**Larissa:** No. Nice. No.

**Morgan:** Well, that's good.

**Larissa:** Not that I know of. That's good. I mean, I'm sure someone somewhere in the history.

Yes. Yes. But like in, in

your experience, we actually like to joke that, that somebody did get hurt at some point. Um, I think Nanette and I and the girls, we came up with this whole bit of how like, um, we're gonna go out and do the sword dance and Annette will try and stop us and she'll be like, don't you remember what happened the last time you guys did this?

Oh, yeah. And we were like, what? Talking about he. He just lost one ear. He had two. He's fine.

**Morgan:** It's an extra, yes. Yeah. Um, have you, so she is mainly the one who does a lot of the interaction with the, like leads the narrative or have you done that

**Larissa:** too? Um, I've done a little bit too. Uh, we used to have a girl in our group who was Sika.

Um, she was a theater kid. Like legit theater kid and she was the most interactive with the crowd. I mean, she, she would come up with these bits that would just be so funny. Like, we are trying to be serious cause we're supposed to be in on it. But I, I would laugh sometimes so hard. I'd had to like hide my face in a scarf for something.

Um, she would do this thing. Where we would have the good dancer, bad dancer. So we would pick a girl who was supposed to be the good dancer and they were arguing over who was the better dancer, right? So we'd purposely have one girl dance well, and then Seco would pretend to be bad, like purposely dancing, just awful, right?

And every time she had to like top herself and do something more outrageous than the next, oh gosh, there was this time. She like. She was like trying to do a shimmy, but like again doing it badly. So she would just do like convulsing thing and then one time she just dropped down on her stomach and did doing like a swimming

**Morgan:** thing.

That one, oh my god. That one had

**Larissa:** me in stitches. I was laughing. So hard.

**Morgan:** Yeah. Just doing like, like weird dance moves from

**Larissa:** Yes. The eighties. And she would, she would heckle people in the audience too. Um, when someone was soloing sometimes, like she would go and sit next to some random person and just

**Morgan:** start talking to them like, do you like the show?


**Larissa:** Are you gonna give us a good tip? They were like, the people just didn't know what to do. They were like, oh yeah. Okay. Oh,

**Morgan:** I think what's so interesting about this little like microculture that you're part of is there's like this whole like deep element of music with these complex rhythms, and I know some of the, some of the music from that area, like harmonically is just really fascinating.

Yeah. Um, and con and way more complex than. And even Western music sometimes. So there's like this whole deep like music thing. There's this whole deep history thing. There's like actual, like your, your knowledge of each piece of these has to be, you know, fairly intensive.

**Larissa:** Yeah. And then also like, there's this element of just ridiculousness.

Yes. And performing. I mean, you're at a Ren fair, which is kind of ridiculous, just in and of itself. Mm-hmm. You know, you're, you're trying to make it like, Like, yes, it's a historical performance, but it's also like needs to be entertaining and Yes. You know, there's lots of kids.

It's a family-friendly thing.

Yeah. I always tell people like the whole point of rent fair, even the ones that try to be historically accurate, I mean, I. They're not, they're never going to be Yeah. Purely historic, accurate, because if they were, no one would have any fun at all. Maybe like the royalty and the nobles would be having fun.

Right. But nobody else would be really having fun. Um, so yeah, I always think of as more as like, it's a. Modern recreation of an idyllic version of, of that time and period. Yeah,

**Morgan:** no, I think that's a really good way to put it. Cuz I want myself a giant Turkey leg. Yeah. And that may not have been, and that's like Yeah.

**Larissa:** Like Turkey legs were not historically accurate. Right. That's an American version. It is. It's, um, but it also, it, it, it's popular and yeah. It, it, it's a big meaty meal, so Yeah. You know, people are willing to stand in line for that. Yep. And then

**Morgan:** you get to

**Larissa:** feel like, you know, r you're, yes, I feel like a barbarian as I gnaw on this giant leg.

**Morgan:** Right, right. Yeah. No, that's, um, again, it's just, it's such an interesting like. Little subculture here. Mm-hmm. There's like several, there's the, there's the music. Okay. So let's talk about the drummers. Um, what do you do? So how often would you say you dance to recorded versus live music?

**Larissa:** At, at ren Fair or just like in general?

**Morgan:** Um, I don't know. In, I was thinking in general, but either way.

**Larissa:** Uh, well, so, so. Like I said, some of the rent fairs that wanna be more historically accurate, they won't let us have recorded music. Ah, and for a long time, SLO was like that. Um, they recently changed their tune, I'm assuming because of the pandemic.

Yeah. Um, but yes, typically we would just have live drummers. Um, a lot of the more like pleasure, fantasy faires, because they. It was already a free for all to begin with. They didn't care if we had recorded music. Uh, which actually was nice because our drummers like, we can only perform what the drummers know how to drum.

Sure. So if the drummers don't practice and rehearse things, we can't perform that dance. So if we had a recorded music, it was a lot easier. Sure. Um, Uh, let's see. For San Jose and Vegas Fair, we could have recorded music and, uh, Vegas Fair was definitely a must because it was farther away. So not a lot of people in our troop would go to it.

Mm-hmm. So we usually had a much smaller group for that. Uh, there was one year it was only me and another dancer for the whole time. For the whole time. And Vegas is three days. It's Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. So, and, and this other dancer, she's not even technically in our group, she was just like a guest dancer that we've become really good friends with.

She lives in San Jose. And so we were, we were just kind of looking at each other and we're like, well, I guess we're just gonna have to do a lot of improvisation. Yes. Um, but she, oh God, she's an amazing dancer. Her name's Firefly. If you live in the Bay Area. You're ever able to watch Firefly do it. Nice.

Because she's incredible. Like I, I know that I've gotten to a pretty good level now, but like Larissa's amazing. Firefly is just something else. She's, she's just incredible. Um, I. Yeah, she, she's so good at reading somebody else, like anticipating their body language and what they're gonna do next. So when we had to do that fair, and it was just the two of us, she could kind of read me and predict what I was gonna do so we could kind of like feed off of each other.

Uh, that was actually a really fun, fair. We had to perform in front of a, a. A king and queen for their dinner. And we were both just like, okay. So, uh, I guess what we'll do is you solo, I'll solo and then we'll do a song kind of together. Yes. And, uh, yeah, we, we killed it safe. No, that's awesome.

**Morgan:** Uh, what do you think is next for you for Devali

**Larissa:** dancing?

Oh, well our troop has kind of declined as of late. Yeah. A lot of the dancers have moved away. Um, and we just haven't been able to get new people really in like Covid was rough on performing groups generally. Yes, yes. And then my dance teacher, she's been having a lot of health issues, so I'm not sure if she's ever gonna really be able to teach new people again.

So I'm actually. Looking to start teaching myself. Nice. I just need to find the right place. Mm-hmm. To do that. Um, but yeah, I think that's gonna be the next adventure is teaching, which I've never done before.

**Morgan:** Oh, very exciting. It's, yeah. Teaching is awesome. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. You'll, you'll totally rock it. I absolutely know that.

Awesome. Uh, so my, for my last question there is a, um, uh, so

**Larissa:** do you know, do you know what zeitgeist means? Zeitgeist, you have to remind me. Yeah. So zeitgeist

**Morgan:** is like spirit of the Times. Okay. And it's kind of like that feeling for what it's like to be like, like alive and part of a dynamic culture. Mm-hmm.

Um, and there's a moment that I call a zeitgeist moment, which like every single person I think who enjoys music at all has had this. And I'm always so interested to ask my guests, like they all do such different things, but they've all had this moment. Mm-hmm. And so I call it a zeitgeist moment where I.

You're listening to music, so music is part of it, but you just feel like you just like come alive and you feel like, like something just clicks for you and you just like, it just there's like a flow or you know, whatever. Um, where, where you just kind of like pop alive. Um, yeah. When was like either a recent zeitgeist moment or like a really memorable zeitgeist moment for

**Larissa:** you?

Oh man. I think I know the exact moment. Uh, this was back in o Ohio Run Fair, and I was soloing and I, I don't know what it was. I, I, I just tapped into something. I was just on a roll. I was soloing and like the crowd was kind of going crazy and, um, I was like spinning really, really fast at the end and the drummers were like going really, really fast to like match my spinning and I actually kind of tripped on my skirt.

But when I landed, I landed and I like made this cool pose at the end and. Yeah. Everybody thought I had done it on purpose and I was just like, oh my God. Yes, I am a star.

**Morgan:** Yes. Where even like your mistakes make you just like, yes, look so

**Larissa:** epic. Yes, yes. And then I, oh God, yeah. There was that one. And then, uh, when we were doing our primal set, we were performing at Rcoa and there's this part in the music where we, um, do this cool back bend.

Um, And I just remember hearing the crowd like go nuts when we did it and I was just like, oh yeah. Oh, that's so

**Morgan:** good. Well, Larissa, Zara, thank you so much for being on my

**Larissa:** podcast. Yeah, thanks for having me. This was so much fun.

Thanks for tuning in to this episode of Zeitgeist Radio. To up-level your musical journey and become a music student for life. Join the Zeitgeist Academy by signing up for my biweekly newsletter. You'll get exclusive content, blog posts, and behind the scenes insights. I love putting it together and you'll love reading it.

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