About Jensuya Belly Dance
"If there were only one thing that I could teach you, show you, inspire you to do, it would be this—embrace your fear, then dance with it." —Jensuya
Jensuya Belly Dance is the performance and teaching company of Jennifer "Jensuya" Carpenter-Peak and Robert Peak. With a focus on dance and music of the Near East and Mediterranean regions, the company entertains and teaches Middle Eastern music, belly dance, folk dance, and culture through public and private performances, online courses, workshops, YouTube videos, and education programs. TarabRaqs Mid East Arts Education is the school division of Jensuya Belly Dance.
The Berkeley Springs, West Virginia, company has been featured twice, with band TarabRaqs and Jensuya Belly Dance, in documentaries by U.S. Government-funded Middle East Broadcast Network (AlHurra and Elsaha), featured by the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee at the 2012 National Convention, and headlined four consecutive years at the American Turkish Association Turkish Festival in Washington, D.C.
“Your enthusiasm for music and dance inspires others in many ways. Never forget that. Keep reaching out to help people to understand the Middle Eastern culture.” —Julie W.
“From xenophobia to xenophilia—dancing to connect people, art, history and culture.”
Our mission at Jensuya Belly Dance and TarabRaqs Mid East Arts Education is to help people find connection within the diversity of living in a multicultural world through appreciating and learning the arts and traditions of a culture that may not already be familiar to us.
The first question we usually get asked:
“How is it that you two Americans are living in the hills of Appalachia and doing Middle Eastern music and belly dance?”
1993 — We set out to see the world
In 1993, on the verge of entering our third decade of life, we ditched my career in engineering and Bob's in graphic design in Washington, D.C., in favor of spending nearly 4 years traveling around the world by bicycle. (Yes, crazy, I know! But I had grown up traveling by sailboat with my family, and Bob was itching for that kind of adventure.)
It was a year into the journey when we first felt the sparks of interest in Middle Eastern music. We were being hosted for an afternoon by a family in a rural village in Tunisia—in fact, it was in the town where one of the scenes in the first Star Wars movie was filmed. The family was as intrigued to learn about our American lives as we were about their Tunisian lives. After many cups of tea and a wonderful meal, I was adorned by the girls in traditional costume, then Bob and I were paraded through the neighborhood by the family. We paused in front of a music shop, mesmerized by the mysterious sounds of the popular Tunisian singer "Amina" blaring from the speakers.
“Growing up, my house was filled with music, lots of jazz—but I had never heard anything like what I was hearing and seeing these men playing on these hand-held drums in North Africa.” —Bob
1997 — We start drumming in West Virginia
Fast forward to 1997 and the end of the odyssey when we settled in Berkeley Springs, West Virginia. In the spirit of the town's legacy of being a spa town since before George Washington surveyed it, there were lots of retreat-style events and groups of friends with new families doing fun stuff like hosting drum circles.
Drumming with friends and our new toddler, Dakota, reminded us of the intricacies of the melodies and the complexities of the rhythms that we encountered on our travels in Tunisia, Morocco, and Turkey. The fun drumming together also re-sparked Bob's childhood notion of being a drummer. "I was in 3rd grade, and we had to pick an instrument to learn. They didn't have drums, so at my dad's suggestion, I took up the trumpet." (Bob, incidentally, went on to become a whiz kid on the horn, and turned semi-pro by the age of 16.) But his career in design lured him away from the nightlife of a musician, and it wasn't until 1998, that the musical spark was re-ignited with the drum circle in Berkeley Springs.
“From the moment I first swirled the veil to the melody of the music,
I knew this dance was for me.” —Jensuya
2001 — I take my first belly dance lesson
Bob got his hands on the goblet-shaped hand drum called a dumbek—tabla in Arabic, davul in Turkish. By the time our second son, Lhasa, was born in 2001, Bob had learned to play the rhythm called "Beledi" and was teaching himself more eastern rhythms from CD's. He used to drive me crazy practicing his technique while we watched movies! Then the excitement struck me when I took a "life-altering" weekend workshop in belly dance at a local retreat center. From the moment I first swirled the veil to the melody of the music, I knew this dance was for me. And at an intense time for a young family—learning how to juggle parenthood with personal identity—the drumming and dancing time was Bob's and my tiny respite from the demands of parenting.
As I learned to belly dance, and Bob learned to drum, we together delved into the accompanying music, languages, history, and politics of the music, dance, and the Middle East in general, and without realizing it, the seeds of our performance career and arts education programs were germinating.
“Just as our amateur performance group, TarabRaqs, was gaining a following, we were shattered to lose our musicians, and in desperation, we recruited our young sons to fill in.” —Jensuya
2004 — We establish TarabRaqs Middle Eastern Music & Dance
Within a few years, we formed TarabRaqs, our live music and belly dance performance group with two other musicians new to the genre, an oud player and a ney player, both of whom Bob became friends with at the famed, annual Arab Music Retreat of Simon Shaheen on the campus of Mt. Holyoke College in South Hadley, Massachusetts. Within a few years, the other two members of the band went on to other pursuits and with a dearth of Near Eastern musicians in West Virginia, we recruited our very young sons to join the band. They were only too happy to be in the group, as gigs meant lots of great food post-show and pocket money.
With half a decade of performances, multiple trips to the Middle East and North Africa, and our sons growing into full-fledged musicians (Dakota on oud, saz, banjo, and Lhasa on riq and bass) as we homeschooled them, we broadened the original scope of TarabRaqs from just gigging at restaurants and parties to programs and performances at educational, concert and festival venues.
“As our musician-sons shifted into their own lives, Bob and I came full circle, back to our core—the two of us drumming and dancing, this time paying it forward.” —Jensuya
2015 — We launch Jensuya Belly Dance
By the time Dakota left for college in 2015, our group, TarabRaqs had performed hundreds of shows and arts education programs and had been bestowed with multiple honors.
As our musician-sons shifted into their own lives, Bob and I came full circle back to our core—the two of us drumming and dancing. But this time with a generation's experience of homeschooling (not to mention our college days of owning and running a windsurfing school) and the wisdom gained in half a century of life experiences, it is with great passion that we share what we've learned through our shows, our online courses and in-person programs.