Moab Happenings Archive
Return to home

Desert Veils Tribal Belly Dancers

Desert Veils Tribal Belly Dancers have been gracing Moab and the surounding area with their performances since 1999. Founded by their director, Jamilla, they continue to amaze audiences with their graceful, undulating moves and fast, breath taking shimmies. And they do it all with swords on their heads! Twice a year they host an “Evening at the Casbah” where they serve homemade middle Eastern food and do lots of dancing. They decorate their studio to make it a surreal experience which takes the entire day...sometimes two.

“We really have a lot of fun doing these shows, they are a lot of work, but the reaction from the audience makes it worth while.” Jamilla said. “Decorating the float for the Light Parade was a real challenge, we used over 50 strings of light along with many veils and beads. We attached lights to our arms to emphasize the snakey movements and it was beautiful.”

Desert Veils started with three members and has grown to eleven accomplished dancers. Most dancers have been in the troupe for three or more years, a commitment that is both physically challenging and can be costly. The costumes are the biggest expense..but luckily Jamilla makes most of them. They adorn themselves with authentic tribal jewelery form the middle east, much of it quite heavy. “ I figure I gain ten pounds every time I get dressed.” Mandy, the assistant director said. “We have lots of coins, heavy hip tassel belts, coins on our tops, heavy necklaces, ankel bracelets and loads of arm bracelets. It all adds up.”

Jamilla began belly dancing in 1976 when her sister introduced her to the art. She was hooked. Since then she has taught and performed all over the western United States and in Hawaii. In 2001 she and her two members danced for King Abdullah 11bin Al Hussein of Jordon, along with two crown princes. “They got up and came on stage and danced with us. It was the experience of a lifetime” Jamilla said. The troupe has done over 150 performances in the last seven years, each one with new dances and costumes. Most of them have been benefits for the local area and they can bring in the dollars.

Desert Veils dancers have a range of ages, from Molly who is two years, to three grandmothers and three girls under 10. Jana Knowles, a principal dancer, has been with the troupe since 1999 and has danced through two pregnancies and brings both children to class now. It is a challenge for her, but she just loves to dance. She even brought Molly to a three day wedding for Alysa and Jeff, rangers from Island in the Sky.

“That was the funnest performance we have done” Melissa said. We presented the bride in a flurry of veils as a complete surprise to her husband. Four women carried her in on a decorated lawn chair.”

The troupe made belly dancing history when they did dualing shimmies to dualing banjos with the bluegrass band Cowgrass. It was a hoot! These dances can be seen on their website. Jana was very pregnant at the time, but stayed with the program. One month later she gave birth to Liam.

Desert Veils members attend one sometimes two classes each week in Studio Elite. This keeps these women in superb shape. Their deep backbends and isolating moves take years to perfect. Jamilla, Lorelie and Mary are grandmothers..Mary is Jana’s mom! Dancing in their 50’s presents some new challenges.

Under their ornate head turbons and hot lights it can get pretty warm which makes the makeup run and a fresh red blush cover the face...a real laughing point for them.

Jamilla’s dream for the last seven years has been to have a belly dance and drum festival here in Moab. She has made it a reality. Desert Veils will be hosting a Tribal Belly Dance and Drum Festival May 12th - 14th. It will include dancing and dining in the desert to live music, five different workshops and many perfomances from troupes from all over the U.S. and a river trip down the Colorado River on Sunday. They plan to decorate the boats like Cleopatra’s barges and float among the zills,viels and zagareeths. They will be known as Queens of De Nile. “We are really excited to have such excellent teachers and performers in our first year.

Hopefully we can make it a yearly event. Who wouldn’t want to come to Moab and dance?” Mandy said.
Currently they are looking for donations to help with expenses and have a page on their website where you can donate. Thanks to Don and Mary Ecsedy of Circuit Riders for putting together a website that they are really proud of. There is a lot of information on the site, including an amazing history of the dance, information about the festival and much more.

“We are also very greatful to Theresa King at Moab Happenings, who has given us great support here in town and is helping us advertise the festival” Jamilla said.

Desert Veils includes Jamilla, Mandy, Jana, Lorelei, Melissa, Mary, Becky, Samatha, Meera, Anna and Molly. They can be contacted at

Return to Archive Index
return to home
Return to home