If you’re not familiar with Diana Bastet, you might wonder how a belly dancer fits in with metal music. But that’s probably because when you picture a belly dancer, you don’t typically imagine a gothic Ukranian woman with demon horns on her head dancing to MARYLIN MANSON and METALLICA.
Bastet’s fusion of styles has garnered a lot of attention, with some of her YouTube videos getting millions of views, and some metal bands inviting her to dance live with them. With her popularity growing among music and dance fans alike, it seemed like a great time to find out more about Diana.
I’m a belly dancer myself, having been taught for three years and counting at Vikki Gale’s Tribal Bellies Dance Studio in Pennsylvania (currently offering virtual lessons). With my background, I talked with Diana about how she developed her dance style, her favorite metal bands, how she makes her fantastical costumes, and her goals for 2021. Dubbed the “metal goddess” by her fans, Diana Bastet is the woman who brought belly dancing to metal music.
(Note: As a Ukranian woman, English is not Bastet’s native language. At her request, her responses have been edited where needed for clarity.)
Chris Isaac: From past interviews you’ve done I know you’ve tried several forms of dancing besides belly dancing, such as ballroom, and Latin dances. What is it about belly dancing that clicked with you and made you passionate about it?
Diana Bastet: Freedom and feelings in movements, which are very specific. Not romantique impressions about One Thousand and One Nights tales, not [Arabian] style [or] music. In belly dance I can dance solo. I can improve my own harmony with doing special isolation movements. Those isolations are like hundreds of parts of a great mechanism when I dance. And music is my fuel. And I love this machine.
Isaac: You’ve mentioned having to be self-taught to an extent because your style of belly dance isn’t exactly common. But I know you’ve also said you did attend belly dance lessons when you were a university student, and you’ve named the famous Rachel Brice as someone whose dancing you enjoy. What style of belly dance did you first learn in? What style would you say you currently draw the most from?
Bastet: Yes, I started to dance when I visited some belly dance hobby-classes while studying at the university. It was something totally new for me. I liked it, but got bored too fast. It was traditional [Arabian] belly dance lessons with traditional [Arabian] music. I didn’t like that music, and [only] rarely danced to some percussion or tabla [drums]—only version of [Arabian] music I still like.
Anyway, very soon I left lessons. If it could be tribal fusion lessons, that could be much more interesting for me. But there weren’t any tribal fusion in my town that time.
I watched a lot of different videos with tribal fusion by [Rachel] Brice, tabla solos by Sadie, and Ansuya. And just tried to dance alone, taught myself in a way of trial-and-error method. I loved dark composure of Rachel, but also loved passionate rhythm of Sadie. And [still] now, in my own style I love to combine different sides of dancing as well. I’m not chasing a one hundred percent clear genre. Dance is art. And I love to make art.
Isaac: Can you walk me through your journey starting out practicing to how you got into performing?
Bastet: I have big experience in performing. Parties and festivals, big and small. The first performance was just for fun, as an experiment. One of my friends asked me to dance at the festival. I [gave it a] tr[y], although [I was] worried as hell. Later, people who saw me asked me to perform again and again.
Someone watches my videos on YouTube and wants to see me live, someone recommended my performance to others.
Isaac: I know you went to university with a focus on design, and that manifests in you designing your own costumes and making costumes for others to buy online. Did performing come naturally to you when you found your passion for belly dance? I know many dancers who are surprisingly anxious about it
Bastet: I’ve learned interior design and history of art at the university. My costume making is not related with my education, maybe just with my artistic vision.
And yes, performing came naturally to me. I love the stage, I love to perform. But not because I love when a lot of people watch me, not because of attention. No, no, no. I don’t need that.
I love to perform because I love to show my art, see people’s reaction, feel energy exchange.
Isaac: What was the initial reaction of family and friends when you told them you wanted to get into belly dancing to metal music?
Bastet: [My family would say] “You’re wasting your time. Who’ll need that? Think better and find a normal job, be a normal human.”
I never had a lot of friends, but those few who were next to me that time supported and helped me a lot. I even can say they believed in me more than I believed in myself.
And if not [for] them, Diana Bastet maybe couldn’t appear.
Isaac: You’ve listed bands like Pantera, Tool, Nirvana, Sepultura, WASP, and Wardruna as some of your favorite bands. What is it about metal that speaks to you and your desire to dance?
Bastet: I can’t say exactly. I think it’s the emotional atmosphere of the song. Not every song has it. But if [it does], it’s catching me.
Isaac: I found a post on a blog called “The Rock Asylum” from a woman named Deb Gardner, who talked about how your style inspired her to seek you out and learn from you. She talked about how when she came across your belly dancing videos she “found this young lady, and immediately felt admiration for her ability to show a very sexy, feminine side to metal, but without taking out the intensity of the music.”
Would you say these are the common reasons given for why fans say they enjoy your performances? And what do you personally feel belly dance and metal bring out of each other when combined?
Bastet: Yes, I remember her. Lovely, very attractive, and bright metal goddess.
And yes, it’s exactly what I aim to do in my art, and teach at my metal belly dance workshops. Be strong but stay very feminine. Move gracefully, but merge perfectly with each sound of heavy music. This is a phenomenon of a good metal belly dance and that’s why people like it.
I feel a special power in myself while combining these two uncombined arts—metal and belly dance. And it’s my personal perfect drug.
Isaac: Are you a musician yourself? If so, have you ever thought of attempting to play while dancing? Obviously zills [finger cymbals] are common in belly dancing, but I know a couple people who have joked around with trying to play guitar while dancing. And then there’s someone like Lindsey Stirling who became famous for being a dancing violinist.
Bastet: No, I am not a musician. I never even tried, unfortunately. But I have a very good ear for music and flair, so maybe I should try.
I do not dance with zills, ‘cause I do not dance FCBD® [FatChanceBellyDance®, a belly dance format that heavily utilizes zills] and any [other] folk styles.
Isaac: Something else that makes you distinct is your performance clothing deviates a lot from traditional belly dance attire. You have outfits comprised of armor, you brandish medieval swords. You have costumes where you appear as demons, witches, crows, and ghosts. You’ve shared your musical inspirations, but what inspires your gothic dark fantasy aesthetic?
Bastet: In a process of designing I think a lot about how to make a costume look different. But still feel comfortable. It takes a lot of time and experience and appears in my own styling already.
I always loved everything dark, especially black. For me, it’s beautiful. Deep shadows and all dark shades. It’s another dimension of color attitude.
I am mostly inspired by music. But also, maybe it’s strange, I can find inspiration in materials. I love to see and touch fabrics, metal details, glass, lace, leather, faux leather, stones, feel a smell, sense it. And suddenly a lot of ideas appear in my imagination.
Isaac: What is the design process like on your costumes?
Bastet: Sitting on a floor with a bunch of materials and making costumes during nights. I never work in the daytime. Usually, I am with headphones and listening [to] loud music. Rarely, watching some films while working.
And always my cat is next to me.
Isaac: What are some of your favorite books, movies, or characters [who inspire you]?
Bastet: I’m a big fan of British cinematography. Love all films by Guy Ritchie and Alfred Hitchcock. Also I love all films by Quentin Tarantino, David Lynch, David Fincher.
Forever favorite book is The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov. I’ve read it five times already. And every time I felt and understood it differently, but always very close to my heart.
For [a recent] example, during quarantine I’ve read all seven books of famous Witcher [series]. Love it as well, great artwork, unlike new [Witcher] TV series. Now reading Roger Zelazny[‘s] The Chronicles of Amber. I grew up with books of [Thomas] Mayne Read, Victor Hugo, Arthur Conan Doyle, Henryk Sienkiewicz, Agatha Christie.
My favorite hero [is a] powerful, intelligent person. I’ve never read that endlessly stupid romances with passionate kissing half-naked couples on a book cover. I always loved something with deep meaning and sensation, what can open mind and blow my brain.
Isaac: In my own experience as a belly dancer, I’ve encountered people who are disrespectful based on assumptions they make because of me being a male dancer. And I’ve heard many stories from female dancers about frustrating experiences they have had to deal with, such as other women saying their dancing isn’t feminist, or people thinking it’s okay to try and solicit them for sexual favors. As a prolific figure in the belly dance world, I’m sure you’ve had to deal with disrespectful people as well. Do you have any strategies for dealing with such behavior?
And do you feel like your fusion of styles makes you experience any unique backlash from either the belly dance or metal communities?
Bastet: Some people have hatred as an incurable disease. People hate, hated and will hate. And will envy.
I love [the] saying “The dogs bark, but the caravan moves on.” Some people need to throw out their inner filth. And the internet is the easiest way to do it. Eas[ier] to write disrespectful comments under video on my YouTube than [to get] off [their] ass from a couch and finally do something useful. Don’t pay attention, it’s [not] worth your time.
Stage life can be with a lot of negative moments as well. What to do? Turn on your cold disregard. Your dignity above all. Any misunderstood, bad behavior, [tell] security and never come back to this place.
As for negative reactions from some belly dancers about metal in my dance or from some metalheads about belly dance in metal? Oh yeah. People with narrow worldview can’t accept a lot of things. So what should I do? It’s their problem. I can dance with very difficult belly dance technique professionally. And I can headbang powerfully as well. It helps me to not care too much about haters from belly dance and metal communities.
Strategy or advice here: be confident in what you do and do it well. Work hard, develop your possibilities and be better, try to do best. And haters will never throw mud at you. ‘Cause you will be too high for them.
Isaac: You live in Ukraine, and obviously international travel is tough right now [due to COVID], but your plans to come to the United States to perform and teach have been hotly anticipated. Once travel is easier again, do you see the long-awaited U.S. visit coming shortly after?
Bastet: Oh yes. Can’t wait until [I’m] finally able to go to all the countries I’ve planned with my performances and workshops. Especially U.S. Seventy Percent of all my audience are from [the] States. Really want to meet [the] girls, [the] metal belly dancers and dance with them ‘till we will drop.
Isaac: Since you have so many fans around the world who want to learn your style, have you given any thought to setting up virtual courses to instruct others online?
Bastet: Yes. I plan it.
Honestly, I’m shy of my English and I hate to talk on camera—even in my native language. But I want to teach girls with everything I know and can. A lot of metal women can try it and enjoy being graceful with their favorite heavy music.
Isaac: On a personal note, I was actually wondering if you’ll be open to teaching male belly dancers when you do try teaching more lessons. I know not all instructors are and I respect that if that’s your policy, but I find you a big inspiration as well and would love to learn from you if your lessons are open to men as well as women.
Bastet: Thank you. Everyone can dance, no borders for anyone about anything.
Isaac: What has belly dancing meant in your life, and how does it feel to know you’re inspiring so many others?
Bastet: It was my hobby, but now it’s my life.
I am super thankful to everyone who supports me. To every single inspiring word. I dream to meet all the [dancers] in the world who are also dancing to metal. You know, I am not so open on social media, don’t talk about myself and about my emotions. But I want all those people to know, they can’t even imagine how important they are. [Seeing] all their [support], fanart, [and] dances inspired by me, it’s bliss. Sometimes I cry happily and loudly applaud them next to my laptop. They’re so inspir[ing] [to] me. In those moments I think: I did something really good in this world. It’s happiness.
During this strange times in the world I wish to everyone to be closer to each other. Even if you’re in a distance of a thousand miles, not only in couple of meters, be closer mentally, sincerely and soulful. Support each other. It’s nearest proximity we all need now to be stronger and happier.
And as usual, I wish you all to want to dance. ‘Cause only happy people [want to] dance.
You can check out Diana Bastet’s metal belly dance performances on her YouTube page here.
Bastet also sells some of her handmade costumes which you can browse by clicking here.
All images in article used with permission from Diana Bastet.