Tag Archives: dancing

Generational Journey Through Nightlife

August 23, 2017 by
Photography by Amy Lynn Straub

When I was 19, I could be found illegally sneaking into nightclubs. As the youngest person in the room, I was essentially walking into a raucous Generation X party.

Back then, around 2003-2004, the height of the ’90s rave era had passed and the post-rave scene was acclimating into the then-emerging ultra-lounge wave. House music and techno reigned supreme in the underground, Red Bull and vodka covered everything, and Gen Xers lived by this credo to make the most of the weekend. At the time, this apparently meant binge drinking with friends to loud music for long periods of time—every weekend.

As time went on and the millennial flavor began to form, I remember how exciting it was when all the indie kids started dancing. Parties like Goo at Slowdown and Gunk at Waiting Room spawned a new infusion of creativity into nightlife. Along with Bar 415, Loom at España, and Nomad Lounge, it looked as though millennials were headed down the same work-hard, play-hard path as Gen X. That is until the Great Recession struck.

Along with 9/11, and later the technological advancement of social media, the recession of 2008 would become a defining feature of our generation, shaping the millennial psyche and influencing collective movements.

In the face of layoffs and widespread economic downturn, here in Omaha I witnessed early 20-somethings foregoing the cover charges and high drink prices of bars and clubs. Instead they grabbed a gas station six-pack and headed to the nearest midtown house party to aptly channel their youthful angst and economic anxiety through the jaw-grinding sounds of electro. That same year, PBR sales took off and Google searches for “electro music” peaked.

But the millennial taste began to evolve, and all of those sweaty basement experiences transmuted to the rise of micro-breweries, Netflix, and Instagramming your farmer’s market foodie experience as a way to say, “Hey, I didn’t waste away my Friday night like you all did, so now I’m eating this farm-to-table cucumber at 9 a.m.”

There’s an entire industry dedicated to studying generations to predict buying behaviors, and when you study the research, millennials tend to say terrible things about nightclubs. Complaints often touch on high cover charges, rude bouncers, long waits, overcrowding, and loud music—all things that didn’t seem to
bother Gen X.

This notion—supplemented with social media, dating apps, and streaming music—meant that you didn’t really need to leave your house in order to feel connected to your friends, to what’s happening with cutting-edge music, or even to find a date. All compelling reasons to go out for generations before.

Because of these factors, I believe millennials developed a sense of economic conservatism as a response to the Great Recession. Because they didn’t have the expendable income like previous generations, they adapted by finding reasons why the commercial-party atmosphere of a club wasn’t worth it, perhaps merely as a means to justify their inability to participate. This was all, of course, reinforced by the needs technology filled in. But that doesn’t mean our generation doesn’t like a good party.

Yes, nightclubs have been closing in record numbers all across America and the United Kingdom. We are witness to this even in our own city. But festivals have been on the upswing. Think about the rise in awareness of Burning Man, Coachella expanding to two weekends, or even our own Maha festival, which sold out the last two years.

To put it another way, instead of going out every weekend—a routine Gen X had ritualized—millennials decide to save up for the big moments. And with social media and smart phones, they can capture the experience and #TBT-it over the course of many weeks and months as a way to make the moment, and their dollars, last.

All of this in mind, if someone were to ask me today if opening a nightclub was a good idea, I’d tell them, “No.” Throw a festival instead. One that offers coffee with amazing floral and acidic notes, and a fast-casual gastro pub that offers a saffron, foie gras, and grass-fed beef burger.

Now, Generation Z is beginning to pump out its first 21+ers. As they enter into the nightlife picture amidst the Trumpian era, it’ll be interesting to see how they respond to present circumstances. Will the pervasive fear, racial tension, and stagnant wages turn our youth inward, or will they tap into the collective anxiety of our times as a source of inspiration to compel the use of art, music, and dancing as a means to escape, to find solutions, and propel our society forward, like generations have done before?

I sure hope so.

To share your life perspectives—or whatever—with Brent Crampton and Encounter, email millennials@omahapublications.com.

A Professor in Motion Stays in Motion

April 27, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

The sun barely penetrated the narrows of the canyon. Kris Berg, Ph.D., scrambled over dusty red rock, carefully avoiding the steep cliffs that plunged down 50 yards on either side of him. History and geology combined with each footprint he left behind.

While most come to Las Vegas to roll the dice, Berg would rather hike with his wife in the outdoors, taking in the natural beauties of the world (which he accomplished during a recent winter trip).

Berg is a self-described exercise nut. The physical fitness bug struck him at a young age. When Berg was just 12 years old, he was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. Rather than a healthy boy, people saw him as fragile and sick. In high school, Berg’s coach even kicked him off the football team.

“I’ll show you. I’ll be so healthy that no one would do that again,” Berg thought.

After his family moved, a new doctor told Berg to experiment. So Berg lived his life, not letting diabetes limit his physical abilities.

“Exercise is such a powerful thing,” he says. “People are always looking for a magic pill. It’s right in front of us.”

He played multiple sports in high school and college. The science behind it all stimulated and fascinated him. With a doctorate in exercise physiology from the University of Missouri in hand, Berg began teaching at the University of Nebraska-Omaha.

“Top to bottom, front to back, he is enthusiastic,” former student Robert Buresh says.

Kris Berg, Ph.D.

UNO had no laboratory at the time so Berg developed one with the backing of the dean. Berg, a prolific researcher, made ties with the University of Nebraska Medical Center. He developed an exercise physiology lab geared toward an investigative-driven program which would look at the human body from a scientific angle.

He soon started a special exercise program for Type 1 and 2 diabetes. His own brother had passed away from the disease at 32. Berg spent years of his career dedicated to informing the public on the positives of exercise to help regulate blood sugar.

Berg’s interest never wavered. He tackled osteoporosis next. The Strong Bones Program was born, helping the elderly build up confidence and mobility to avoid falls.

“We were very fortunate Berg initiated this program,” Berg’s former colleague Josie Metal-Corbin says. Although a dancer and yoga enthusiast, 65-year-old Metal-Corbin took the class for the added strength training and sense of community. The classes soon combined into the Adult Fitness Program.

After four books, more than 200 articles, and 45 years at UNO, Berg hung up his tennis shoes last May and retired. However, retirement didn’t stop him from doing what he loves.

Berg still finds time to visit with graduate students who need his help on papers, and he spends two hours or so a day researching.

“I wanted to go on being physically active regardless of age,” Berg explains.

Long and lean at the age of 73, Berg follows a diverse workout plan. He smacks the ball around on the tennis court four or five days a week. The physical and mental “chess match” keeps him sharp. He also still shovels snow, pulls weeds, and hikes.

“I have a tremendous enjoyment of exercise. I never get bored,” Berg says.

At the gym, Berg avoids the machines, preferring resistance training (similar to his classes). He stresses the importance of maintaining coordination and mobility. His goal—for himself and for others—is to prevent age from becoming an obstacle to living life. 

The Adult Fitness Program is open to members of the general public age 50 and older. The supervised fitness class takes place twice a week at UNO’s Health, Physical Education, and Recreation (HPER) Building. The program costs $36 for three months; parking costs $54 for three months. Contact the UNO Exercise Physiology Lab at 402-554-3221 or exphyslab@unomaha.edu to enroll.

Visit unomaha.edu for more information.

The Secret of the Shimmy

January 5, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Inhale. exhale.

The slow Middle Eastern music increases in tempo.

The ladies’ hips sway side to side in rapid repeat. All three wear black spandex pants and V-neck T-shirts. Scarves, loosely wrapped around their waists, accentuate their movements. Bells jingle in time with the rhythm of the beat.

“Don’t give away the secret,” Carol Wright warns as her hips pop. “If they want to know the secret to the shimmy, tell them to come and see Della.”

The other two women laugh as their torsos undulate. Wright closes her eyes in a losing-herself-to-the-music moment, hands on her rolling and rippling hips.

“Is this too fast?” instructor Della Bynum asks from the side of the room. She has been watching this improvisation for a while, a half-smile on her face, relishing the freedom and artistry of the belly dance.

“We will have to find out,” Wright says.

“This is where you just have fun exploring,” Bynum explains.

Anna Lewis, 22, struggles for a moment, “Which way should I go?” 

Lewis has been shaking her hips for about a year now. At 6 years old, she watched her mother and Della’s group perform for her Girl Scout troop. 

“My mom is re-inspired whenever she comes to visit and will always make sure she comes back to Della’s class,” Lewis says.

Bynum steps in to help Lewis and demonstrates a front and back roll to add to the dance. The women continue as a solid unit.

It isn’t the shimmy that is the secret, but it is this connection of women coming together to celebrate themselves and each other. Feeling that connection is one of the main reasons why Bynum stays in dance. Bynum, 67, believes belly dancing creates a bond regardless of age, ethnicity, or size.

bellydancingShe should know. She’s been dancing since she was 8 years old and aging hasn’t stopped her. It is a vivacious, beautiful, and uplifting experience.

“It makes you aware of your senses—how you see, hear,” Bynum believes.

Bynum began with traditional ballet, then shifted to modern dance. She moved from Baltimore at 19 to begin school at Creighton University. A business degree wasn’t important to Bynum. 

“Dance classes were my love,” she says. “But unless you are teaching dance, you are not assured a position to support yourself.”

She continued taking dance classes and studied ethnic forms of popular dances of the 1970s, including African, Polynesian, and belly dancing. In addition, she performed modern dance with the UNO Moving Company. In 1980, Bynum started teaching her first classes at the YWCA and continued to do so for the next 25 years. 

When Bynum retired seven years ago from her day job as a timekeeper for the Omaha Fire Department, she needed…well…something more.

“You need to move more as you age, not less. If you don’t move, you aren’t able to move as well,” Bynum believes.

“You should open up a studio,” a long-time friend and fellow dance instructor told her.

“Hmm…that’s what people do when they are young,” Bynum replied.

With some help from her friend, Bynum did the unthinkable by opening her first studio. After three years, Bynum realized the ceiling was too low for the wavy and slinky arm movements of belly dance. After searching, she discovered a spot in the Center Mall on 42nd Street. After that, it was just a matter of finding economical ways to create a studio.

Bynum teaches four days a week and her crew puts on performances for The Durham Museum, Omaha Performing Arts, Renaissance fairs, and other organizations. The women sew their own costumes for a variety of different styles including tribal, folkloric, and Oriental belly dancing. 

A six-year attendee, Michelle Widhalm, 50, says Bynum is holistic in her approach. It is emotional and spiritualistic.

Bynum’s mantra: breathe. 

“When I tell people I belly dance, it is interesting to see their reaction. Eyebrows raise,” Widhalm says. “Western culture sexualized the dance. For me, it is about the female connection.”

Widhalm was surprised the older generation seemed more open to the idea, commenting only on how it must be a good form of exercise. In fact, a 2003 study in the New England Journal of Medicine reported social dancing lowered the risk of dementia in the elderly by 76 percent—more than reading. It also reduces stress, releases serotonin, and improves overall physical health.

Bynum’s parents passed away in their 50s, which has motivated her to keep exercising. If someone likes it, he/she will keep active. Belly dancing is multi-generational. 

“It’s more of an ageless environment,” Bynum says.

Her oldest client started when she was 80 and quit at 90 due to arthritis.

When Shakira entered the scene in the 2000s, shaking those hips that don’t lie, the belly dancing industry boomed.

So what about those ripped abs?

“I had those when I was young,” Bynum says tapping her black-stockinged feet on the floor to the beat of the music. “But it isn’t about that for me anymore.”

Bynum steps in the front of the class in black leggings with a bright orange scarf tied to her waist, a dark blue shirt, and a whole lot of confidence.

Bynum works with the three women on choreographed moves based on an old saying she modified. 

Walk forward, beauty before us.

Walk backward, beauty behind us.

It continues with the side, upward, and downward until the climax.

Beauty within us.

Wright squeals at the end in time with the music, arms raised, and all of them laugh together. 

Oh, and the secret to that shimmy?

Bending the knees, breathing, and relaxing.

Visit delladancing.com for more information.

Jocelyn and Deven Muhammad

August 26, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

This article appears in July/August 2015 Omaha Magazine.

Since coming out a few years ago, Jocelyn and Deven Muhammad have been known as “the gay siblings.” But as a LGBT Nebraskans profile put it: “That’s one of the least interesting things about them.”

Jocelyn’s a promising singer-songwriter with an old-soul spirit. A May graduate of Millard South, where she was named prom princess, she can be found performing her sweet-sad love tunes on Old Market street corners and at open mic nights around town. Her from-the-heart work, some featured in YouTube videos, has attracted the attention of the music industry. She recently sang during open mic sessions at the legendary Whiskey a Go-Go in L.A. and the Bluebird Cafe in Nashville. She plans to return to L.A. this summer.

Her goal is to write hit records. She’s currently creating songs for what she hopes is her debut album on a major label.

Deven has been selected as a touring performing artist with The Young Americans, a nonprofit group founded 50 years ago to promote understanding and goodwill through the arts. The charismatic junior-to-be at Midland University in Fremont recently helped his school’s competitive dance team win two national titles with his dynamic hip hop, jazz, and pompom routines.

In high school he starred in musical theater before becoming the first male dance team member and being voted Mr. Millard South. At Midland he was crowned Freshman Homecoming Prince.

These creatives fiercely support their individual expressions and dimensions. For a long time it was Deven who sang and Jocelyn who danced. As kids they became determined to swap lives.

“What I love about us is that I know she’s the singer of the family and she knows I’m the dancer…and we kind of leave it as is,” Deven says. ”We do our own thing, we have our own thing, so we don’t get jealous of each other. But we also love to share what we’re doing.”

The siblings not only identify as gay, but also Caucasian, African-American, and Chinese. They have encountered racism, both subtle and overt. Through everything, including a childhood when their father wasn’t around much and they made do with less than their friends, these two have been simpatico. Of course, the siblings also sometimes stole each other’s clothes.

“We feed off each other and we respect one another,” Jocelyn says. “We’ve always had each other. We have this bond. He’s always pushed me. He’s very real, very blunt. He’ll tell you what’s up.”

Though brutally honest about her first vocalizing attempts, he worked with her. Most of all, he reminded her they come from a loving family that supports whatever interest any member follows.

“He showed me there’s no such thing as trying,” she continues. “You do it or you don’t do it. That’s what he’s done with his dancing. He’s very inspiring. I look up to him a lot.”

Tough love is necessary if you expect to get better, Deven says. “That’s why I’m hard on her on some things and that’s why people are hard on me. I love being pushed, I love reaching for a new goal.”

Though not surprised by Jocelyn’s success, he’s impressed by how far his little sister has come since picking up the guitar less than three years ago.

“She’s growing up really fast. She holds herself very well. She’s different every time I listen to her. It’s literally a whole new voice. Jocelyn is making strides like it’s nobody’s business. She’s doing what she feels she needs to do to succeed.”

Jocelyn has surrounded herself with veteran musicians who’ve taught her stagecraft and the business side of music. She considers the defunct Side Door Lounge, where she played extensively, “the best schooling I’ve ever had in my life,” adding, “Just being there experiencing everything, meeting musicians, having jam sessions—that one venue changed the rest of my life.”

Deven’s refined his own craft through dance camps and workshops.

“I know if I want something in life I have to work for it,” he says. “I love that the things I have are because I worked my ass off for it. I’m very appreciative of what I have. That’s really shaped who I am.”

As life’s grown more hectic between rehearsals, school, and work, the release that comes in dance, he says, is more precious than ever.

“It kind of makes me forget about everything going on in life,” he says. “It’s the one thing I love to do.”

When the vibe’s just right during a set, Jocelyn gets lost in the music, deep inside herself, connecting with the audience.

“It just makes you feel your highest self,” she says. Jocelyn feels the chances coming her way are, “happening for a reason. You create your own destiny and your own luck.”

Muhammads

Joanna Kingsbury

April 9, 2015 by
Photography by Rogue Icons

Originally published in March/April Encounter.

Joanna Kingsbury, a resident of Omaha for the past three years, has dipped her toes into many creative fields: acting, singing, dancing, and DJ-ing. She recently completed a role as Sarah Trecek, the conservative girlfriend of the main character in the local, independent film, Flyover Country.

But now she seeks to add another line to her resume: Air Force enlistee.

On Jan. 5, Kingsbury took a break from singing, acting, dancing, etc., to train in aerospace physiology in the United States Air Force for the next four years. It’s a career move that seems crazy to most, but on a dreary winter  morning, Kingsbury is eager to explain why it’s a perfect fit for her.

“I love being a contradiction so much,” Kingsbury says with a grin.

While an acting career didn’t pique her interest until high school, she’s always felt at home in the arts. One of six children, Kingsbury hails from a naturally creative family in the Chicago suburbs.

“We’re the kind of family that when we get together, we always do a talent show and do like handstand competitions,” says Kingsbury. “We’re kind of just a goofy, crazy artistic family.”

It’s also family that brought Kingsbury out to Omaha in the first place. Kingsbury’s older brother, also a member of the Air Force and a DJ, lived in Omaha alongside other military members with an interest in the arts. Kingsbury visited her brother’s house in 2010, and was surprised to discover a vibrant underground arts scene in this so-called flyover country.

“I was just like, man, it seems fun in Omaha. My brother’s DJ-ing, they’re doing all these gigs, and he has all of these friends that are doing all of these really cool things,” says Kingsbury.

A year later, Kingsbury decided to take a leap of faith, move out to Omaha from Chicago, and hit the ground running. She joined acting groups on Facebook, formed a cover duet band with a man she met on Craigslist, and eventually landed her role in Flyover Country. 

The film, which examines the friendship between main characters straight Russ and gay Todd, didn’t just conveniently land in Kingsbury’s lap. Although she “blew” her audition for the role of Sarah the first time, the director and producer saw that Kingsbury was passionate about the project, and encouraged her to try out for a second time.

This vote of confidence didn’t keep Kingsbury from being plagued with doubts during filming. It was her first time playing a speaking character on film, a character who was saying “some of the worst things ever” about the LGBT community.  But Kingsbury tried to focus on the fun, rather than the fears, that came with stepping outside of her comfort zone. “I love to push myself,” she says.

Thus, whether it’s DJ-ing late into the night at a club or modeling for pin-up magazines, Kingsbury is enjoying her wild ride. Her journey is about to get even tougher over the next four years, as she will be serving her country among the nation’s finest.

But Kingsbury is adamant that being in the Air Force, where discipline and perseverance are championed, will make her a better actress and singer. Her goal is to make the Air Force Choir, and naturally, she is relishing her unorthodox route.

“I know it sounds totally ludicrous to anyone that wouldn’t be in the military, but you can be in the military and you can pursue artistic things,” says Kingsbury.

encounter4

Puttin’ on the Ritz

December 26, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

The rat-a-tat-tat of tap shoes resonates throughout the studio. A big out-of-town gig looms less than 24 hours away, and the troupe is working to perfect the pitter-patter steps of the “Lullaby of Broadway” number from the film Gold Diggers of 1935. Never mind that the company’s oldest hoofer was already in junior high when the film premiered. And never mind that arthritis and bum knees have perhaps taken a bit of a toll on the gams of even the leggiest members of this troupe—the Dancing Grannies won’t rest until the curtain call of 
tomorrow’s performance.

“I love dancing, and it’s just a fabulous feeling to be out there in front of all those smiling faces,” says 73-year-old Linda Hall. “But the Dancing Grannies is more than just dancing. We practice together, we travel together, and we perform together. The camaraderie among us is important, and we’re a very close-knit bunch of girls.”

“And we love the crowds and all the energy we get from them,” adds Katie DiBaise. Spending any amount of time with DiBaise leads one to guess that she was probably the class clown back when the Palmer Method was being taught for writing lessons on Big Chief tablets. Her sense of humor serves her well as the cracking-wise emcee at Dancing Grannies events. But that doesn’t mean she doesn’t have a serious bone or two in her 78-year-old body.

“When I’m out there dancing,” DiBaise muses in one of her more reflective moments, “all I can think of is just…just…‘Wow!’”

Now in their fifth decade of grannie glitz and glam, the troupe originally formed in the late ’70s as the Camelot Steppers before later adopting the Dancing Grannies name. Assisted living centers occupy a number of dates on their schedule, but you may have seen them everywhere from high-stepping through halftime at CenturyLink Center sporting events to country line-dancing through countless area festivals and just about anyplace else where 
crowds gather.

Patricia Chase, Katie DiBaise, Jean Granlund, and Linda Hall

Patricia Chase, Katie DiBaise, Jean Granlund, and Linda Hall

Road trips can be full of surprises for the still-adventurous women who refer to each other simply as “the girls.” When the company made a refreshment stop at the retro soda fountain of Springfield Drug in the community of the same name south of Omaha, the scene seemed to practically beg for an equally retro, impromptu performance.

“The soda jerks asked us about our costumes, and one thing led to another,” explains 76-year-old Patricia Chase. “Let’s just say that there were free root beer floats involved.”

Assisted living performances remain a favorite for many of the women. “They see our costumes, and the music starts, and their faces just light up,” says Chase.

“And those hands start swaying, and those toes start tapping,” adds 81-year-old Jean Granlund, who has been with the group for more than 25 years. “They always tell us afterward that they’d be right up there dancing with us if only they could.” Granlund and Chase are the de facto leaders of the otherwise loosely organized group.

The minimum age for membership is 50 and the oldest member is now a still-spry 89. Bringing in new recruits can be something of a challenge for a group that, by definition, is limited to women of a certain age. Prospective members generally lead much more active lives than did women in the earlier days of the company, but all, Granlund explains, are welcome to check them out by visiting a rehearsal.

Like all “the girls,” she shares a lifelong love of dance.

“My mother was born and raised in Glasgow, Scotland,” Granlund says. “She was a traditional Highland dancer, so dance has always been a part of my life. Later in my mother’s life when she was in assisted living, they didn’t do the sorts of entertainment programs that are common now. I always picture it as if my mother is out there in the audience every time I dance and especially when we perform in assisted living facilities. I know she would be very proud of me.”

To learn more about membership and bookings with the Dancing Grannies, contact Jean Granlund at 402-392-0497.

Hustle and Sew

June 20, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

If you looked at 46-year-old Tamara Heasler, you’d probably assume that she’s a loving wife and mother who runs a cute, little boutique in the Old Market. And you’d be right. But what you might not assume is that said boutique sells sexy lingerie and adult toys. Or that Heasler had a wild past—you know, the kind of past some of us wish we could boast to our children someday because it would make us seem a little less square.

Drinking, stripping, moving across the country on a whim—Heasler’s done it. “I think it’s important to take risks,” she says. “I started taking risks at a young age.” That’s probably also why Heasler remembers her 20s as a blur. “I’m glad the liver can repair itself because I was a party animal,” she adds.

You know how people joke that it’s only a matter of time before they start stripping to pay the bills? Yeah, Heasler wasn’t joking. Her life was lacking two things—excitement and money. Where better to find both than through stripping?

It didn’t help that she also had a sister to compete with. “My sister was an exotic dancer in a Los Angeles club called The Classy Lady. My thought was if she could do it, so could I,” she says. “I guess you could say it was sibling rivalry.”

Boomers in Fremont, 20’s Showgirl in Omaha, and Mickey’s Razzle Dazzle in Council Bluffs all got a show of sexy Tamara. And no, she wasn’t embarrassed to use her real name (Yes, we’re throwing shade at you, Tasty Melons).20130430_bs_2913_Web

In the early ’90s, Heasler decided she needed a change of scenery and took off for San Antonio, Texas. “I didn’t know anyone who lived there. I just answered an ad in the paper for a roommate.” A bold decision, yes, but it was one that eventually led her to where she is today.

For three years, Heasler lived in San Antonio and bartended. “I grew tired of the bar business. It’s a trap. Once you start to live on tip money, it’s hard to get a 9-5 job and make the same kind of money.” But she couldn’t shake the nightlife.

In Dallas, Heasler found work as a house mom at a gentlemen’s club. If you’ve never heard the term, house mom is fairly similar to a woman who cares for the girls in a sorority house—except, in this case, the girls are strippers. Heasler loved being a house mom because she could work day shifts and care for anywhere between five and 20 girls who reminded her of her younger self.

“Many of the girls in the exotic dancer industry are paying for college [or] are single moms. I support them.”

“I spent lots of time in the dressing room or running errands for the girls or managers. The club paid me to work, and I received tips from the girls at the end of their shifts. The girls took good care of me [and I them].”

It was there that she stumbled upon a new business opportunity—sewing clothes for strippers. Back in her stripper days, Heasler had sewn on the side, making her own garb. It only made sense that she could help out the girls under her care.

After giving birth to her son—“I guess I did it all wrong. I was supposed to get married first, [but] that damn biological clock started ticking”—Heasler moved back to Omaha to reunite with her “stable” family. She started bartending at Mickey’s Razzle Dazzle once more, but this time, she also worked from home, making and selling clothes for local exotic dancers. In time, she had enough pieces to display her products in local strip clubs.

When she turned 35, Heasler knew it was time to get serious about her career. “I knew I couldn’t work in the bar business forever, especially because tips dwindle when you’re not a young, attractive woman anymore.”20130430_bs_2879_Web

In Dallas, she had seen many sexy clothing stores selling shoes, clothes, and lingerie. Her plan was to open a store very similar in Omaha. In 2004, she did. Basic Tease became the hot spot for local strippers, bartenders, go-go dancers, and waitresses to purchase sexy clothing. Heasler made a large percentage of the inventory, so the girls knew they had unique pieces.

As a former stripper, Heasler loved talking with the girls who came into her shop. “I always told them to have a plan,” she says. “I didn’t want them to fall into that bar-business trap. Many of the girls in the exotic dancer industry are paying for college [or] are single moms. I support them.”

After marrying her “wonderful husband,” Brian, in 2009, Heasler moved Basic Tease from its original location on 120th and Blondo to the Old Market and expanded its concept from just sexy clothing to include adult items, pole dancing classes and parties, and boudoir photography. Are you clutching your pearls yet? You don’t need to. Heasler just wants a comfortable place for women and couples to shop for their sexy needs.

“I love having the store,” she says. “It gives me an opportunity to have my own retail outlet for all of my artistic projects.”

Sammy Sunshyne

Photography by Bill Sitzmann

The most surreal event of Sammy Sunshyne’s life happened last year, at the Electric Forest Festival in Rothbury, Mich.

“It was the biggest show of the festival,” recalls the Omaha acrobat, “and I got to go inside of a giant inflatable bubble and crowd surf.” The plastic ball made for a rough ride with such a big crowd (she estimates there were 50,000 people), but it was probably the most awe-inspiring thing she’s ever done. “It was only six minutes, but it was the best six minutes of my life. I ran back and hugged my friend, and she spun me around because it was the most beautiful thing.”

Just two years before in 2010, Sammy (Samantha Mixan) had attended a different music festival that introduced her to hoop dancing. “Hula hooping was where it all started for me.” Today, she’s a professional acrobatics performer with shows in Downtown Omaha clubs, at festivals and concerts all over the United States, and at international events. Though she will graduate in December with a degree in psychology from University of Nebraska-Omaha, it’s her performing career that has captured her focus.20130503_bs_3087_Web

While Sammy’s current proficiency is in hooping and fire dancing, she’s training in contortion as well. “It’s all about increasing my flexibility, mobility, arm strength,” she says. “I’m working on a contortion act with fire for this year.”

She’s debuting the act on her summer tour with Quixotic Performing Arts Ensemble, the same troupe she performed with at last year’s Electric Forest Festival. Except for a couple weeks off here and there, she’s traveling with them as a fire dancer for most of May through August.

“It’s been an amazing opportunity to work with a group on their level of performance,” Sammy says. “They’ve been so inspiring, and they’ve taught me a lot about performance. They’ve taken me to the best places I’ve performed, the biggest places. It’s a huge part of my career.”

When Quixotic contacted her to work as a performer, “it was a dream come into motion for me.” Sammy gives the credit for that connection to the tightly knit community of acrobats in the Midwest. “It’s small and interconnected and people know people. That’s how most opportunities present themselves, through people you know.”

“I’m trying to push the art aspect of performance. I want to make it into a work of art that you refine to be something impactful and beautiful as opposed to the sexy entertainment aspect.”

Attempts to train alone are things of the past since she injured herself trying for more complexity on a tour in India in 2010. “There’s a subtle strength that’s needed to control the body in those really intense poses,” she says. Sammy now travels to Kansas City frequently to train at Quixotic Performing Arts, perfecting the lessons at home in Omaha. She practices yoga, takes ballet, and is what she calls a six-day-a-week vegetarian. It also helps that she has access to a great training facility locally, thanks to her position as a tumbling instructor at Elite Cheer. When she can, Sammy trains with circus performers she knows from Montreal and San Francisco, such as Haley Rose Viloria.

In Omaha, she attends hoop jams, little get-togethers of amateur and professional performers around town, such as Circle of Fire at McFoster’s Natural Kind Cafe and a group at Elmwood Park. “We get together to show off our skills, and there’s usually a drum circle.”

Professionally, Sammy’s performed at Sokol Auditorium electronic dance music (EDM) parties. “They have their own show going on, and I’m a bit part of that.” She worked at the Mayan New Year’s Eve at House of Loom and last year’s Omaha Fashion Week after-party at the Burlington. Sometimes, you can catch her work at clubs like Red9 in Lincoln and Halo and Rehab in Omaha. She’s also performed at the Bourbon Theater in Lincoln, both with Quixotic and her fire-dancing partner, Ken Hill.Maybe-_Web

“She’s amazing,” Hill says emphatically. “I’ve seen her since the beginning up to this point, and it’s been awesome to see.”

She makes all her own hoops (out of polypropylene) except for her fire props, which are custom-made. Sammy dips the fire-resistant Kevlar spokes into a white gas fuel before performing. “You shake off the excess fuel, and then you light them,” Sammy explains. “It burns the gas, not the Kevlar. So when the gas runs out, your fire prop goes out.”

Little scars run up her hands and arms from fire spinning. “I don’t get burned every time, but it’s just something that comes with it. Obviously the more proficient you are, the less likely you are to get burned.” Sammy uses safety precautions such as putting up her hair, wearing lip balm when she’s fire eating, and perhaps squirting a water bottle on her hair and clothes. And when she gets burned during a performance, she doesn’t give it away. “Sometimes, you don’t even notice them until later.”

Sammy estimates she performs about twice a month in the off-summer months. “The community’s really growing,” she says. “It’s slowly getting bigger. More people are getting interested in it.” She feels two urges: to experience the performance scene in cities like Oakland, Seattle, Portland, and New York City, but also to bring that scene to the Midwest. “Event planners are only now realizing performers could add so much to their shows, so they’re just now starting to hire them. They add so much atmosphere.”20130503_bs_3073_Web

Sammy’s signature performance style is breezy and fun. Constantly smiling, she never makes poses look taxing or difficult; hence her stage name given to her by a friend. “There’s no possible way I could do this without a support system helping me,” she says. “I wouldn’t have these opportunities if I didn’t have the connections. You have to go out there and meet people who can make your dreams happen.”

While pursuing her dream on tour this summer, Sammy’s put a lot of thought into instilling her performances with a message. “I’m trying to push the art aspect of performance,” she says. “I want to make it into a work of art that you refine to be something impactful and beautiful as opposed to the sexy entertainment aspect.”

For her summer tour, she’s created a backstory for her fire-spinning piece. “So I’m a lost girl looking out over the audience, with my one light,” Sammy explains, “and she’s looking and searching, not knowing where she is. Then she becomes possessed by this inner being, this other side explodes through her personality. She’s confident and doing things that don’t seem possible for humans to do.”

Let’s Dance!

Photography by Bill Sitzmann

For over 50 years, Dottie Dankof and her husband, Dan, have been partners in life as well as on the dance floor. The couple met while Dottie was an instructor with Arthur Murray Ballroom Dance. Today, Dottie says they try to go dancing four to six times a month. The Dankofs enjoy ballroom dancing, which includes the tango, the rumba, foxtrot, swing, and polka, among others. “We do all that stuff, but we favor the waltz,” she says.

One of the benefits of dancing that Dottie cites is the fact that it’s great exercise. “They say that it’s the one physical exercise you can do that works the whole body, and they’re right!” She also finds dance to be relaxing. “When you’re out dancing, you’re not thinking of all the other things [going on]. You’re just having so much fun!”

Gone are the days of seniors spending their retirement years rocking in the front-porch swing. Today, more and more folks ranging in age from their 60s to well into their 90s are doing swing moves on the dance floor.

“It’s really, really good exercise,” says Elizabeth Edwards, dance instructor and owner of Omaha Ballroom at 153rd and Q streets. “It’s [great] for memory, too.” Edwards explains that dancers have to remember a wide variety of dance steps and that keeps their minds and their bodies active. She shares that she and one of her students have a running joke: “When he forgets a dance move, he says he has waltz-heimers.”

Dottie and Dan Dankof

Dottie and Dan Dankof

Omaha Ballroom teaches all types of dance, but Edwards says that the seniors she works with are mainly interested in ballroom and swing. The instructors have also traveled to local retirement communities to teach lessons. Edwards is working on adding line dancing and Zumba Gold (Zumba for seniors) to their repertoire. She adds that such classes are good options for seniors who are single and may not feel comfortable dancing with an instructor.

As an instructor, Edwards meets many people who come to her studio to learn a dance for various reasons. “Some people just want to dance socially,” she says. For those, Omaha Ballroom offers what they call practice parties every Friday night. “They get a lesson and then everyone dances until 10 p.m.”

For others, who wish to pursue dance on a competitive level, Edwards and her staff can help their students achieve their goals. “We just kind of see what they’re interested in and then get them started in the right direction.”

“They say that it’s the one physical exercise you can do that works the whole body, and they’re right!” – Dottie Dankof

What would ballroom dancing be without a big band to provide the music? Thanks to the Greg Spevak Orchestra and Lonny Lynn Orchestra, local dancers won’t have to find out.

The Greg Spevak Orchestra has been playing for 43 years. “We used to play at the Music Box downtown…it’s not there anymore,” Spevak adds wistfully. The Peony Park Ballroom is another lost favorite. But today’s dancers are making memories at some other local ballroom hotspots. Of course, the Wahoo Starlight Ballroom is a favorite, as are Omaha Post 1 American Legion Hall and the Bluffs Center across the river, just to name a few. Both Spevak and Lynn play at the regular Wednesday dances hosted by the Center.

While the Greg Spevak Orchestra plays a wide variety of music—from ballroom, Latin, country, swing, and popular music from the 1950s through the mid-80s the Lynnvts Orchestra tends to stay with the Big Band Era. “But we mix a lot of Latin in throughout the evening,” Lynn adds.

Both band leaders say that the majority of their audiences are in their 60s and 70s, though it’s not uncommon to see dancers in their 80s and 90s grace the dance floor as well.

“These people move great…they dance every dance,” says Spevak. “It’s an aerobic exercise. I don’t know if I can keep up with them, to tell you the truth,” he laughs.

“If there’s a dance, the seniors don’t miss it,” says Lynn. “It’s their recreation and their social get-together.”

 “We have five or six parties a year where we hire a band and invite a bunch of our closest friends.” – Linda Todd

Lynn likes the fact that he has come to know a lot of the people who come to hear them regularly. “The people we attract to the dances…they have become like family.” He says that while he can’t remember everyone’s name, “I look at their face, I can remember their favorite song.”

Bob and Linda Todd of Gretna are regulars on the ballroom dance circuit and are close friends with the Dankofs. “We’ve been married for 20 years, so we’ve probably been dancing for 25 years,” Linda says. The couple enjoys dancing so much that they’ve built a ballroom in their basement. “We have five or six parties a year where we hire a band and invite a bunch of our closest friends.”

She adds that while they have participated in local dance classes, she and Bob often use DVDs to learn new dance steps for the convenience. “We want to learn the Argentine Tango,” she says.

Both the Todds and the Dankofs travel around the metro area to meet their friends and fellow dancers several times a month. “We enjoy socializing with our friends,” Linda says, adding that their group of friends range in age from 50 to 90. “It’s just a lot of fun, and we love it!”