Belly dancing at the U

Belly dancer, Tiffany Madera, 37, has been belly dancing for 14 years. Madera now works as the assistant director of the Center for Latin American Studies at the University of Miami. Photo by Denise Marino courtesy of Ariel S. Brown

For the performer, Tiffany “Hanan” Madera, Middle Eastern dance is a vital part of her existence.

Madera, 37, has belly danced for 14 years. A life-long artist, she has acted in theater, written for the “Miami New Times” as a hip-hop journalist and worked the New York spoken word scene as a poet alongside Mos Def and Saul Williams, two well known emcees.

When Madera is not dancing, she works as the assistant director of the Center for Latin American Studies at the University of Miami.

However, Middle Eastern dance had the biggest impact on her life.

“I was a very shy person and when I started belly dancing I came out of maybe the darkest, most difficult time of my life with family and personal tragedy,” said Madera, whose stage name is Hanan. “It took me on a healing path.”

Madera credits her Arabic dance instructor, internationally acclaimed Tamalyn Dallal, with raising her level of consciousness and empowering her to become the woman that she is today. The founder of the Mid Eastern Dance Exchange, Dallal handed the 20-year-old non-profit arts organization over to Madera last year. MEDE produces international theater shows and festivals.

Madera, who is a Cuban-American Miamian, is also the founder of the Hanan Arts Cooperative and has traveled to Cuba several times to empower women through Arabian dance. She is filming “Havana Habibi,” a documentary about the women in her dance troupe and the dissonance she faced from family and the U.S. government for her work in Cuba. In the film’s preview, one of her students discusses the significance of Madera’s teaching.

“I strengthen myself spiritually,” said the woman referred to only as Aissa. “In Hanan’s school, Hanan’s workshops, I’ve learned something that I haven’t learned in any other school of dance. I have learned to dance with my heart.”

A self-professed rebel, Madera did not let the opinions of others stop her from going back to her roots.

“It was almost ‘utopic.’ I learned a lot and part of it for me was my own process of identity,” Madera said. “I grew up thinking I was Cuban. Certainly, not thinking I was Anglo, or American, or white, and then I go there and I am a foreigner.”

Madera grew up in a middle-class liberal household. Both of her Cuban-born parents stressed the importance of a good education to Madera and her brother. She graduated from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst with a bachelor’s degree in Comparative Literature and French.

“Every summer was filled with learning,” Madera said. “I remember I came home from Amherst and was sleeping all day, as college students do, and my mom sat next to my bed and gave me a stack of ‘New York Times’ and said, ‘How can you sleep when there’s so much to read?’”

Her parents invested their whole lives to give her and her brother the best education.When she was 17, Madera moved to France for three years and studied abroad at the American University of Paris.

“She’s one of the few people that I know that knows a lot about culture, because of the places she’s lived in and just because she loves culture,” said Stephanie Ceverino, a student assistant at the Center for Latin American Studies

She still manages to bring her artsy lifestyle to the workplace. In 2008, Madera created the arts initiative, Organicarte, which brings Latin American and Caribbean artists to the university.

She said that next phase of her life will be finishing the film and an autobiographical book, directing various dance projects and eventually getting her doctorate in Latin American Studies.