"I'm simply a self-made woman"

By Laura TomassiniLex Kleren Switch to German for original article

Jennifer Santiago is a single mother, a professional belly dancer, a skydiver, teaches yoga, rides a boat and a motorbike, speaks eight languages and is currently enjoying her fresh love. The jill-of-all-trades is always open to new experiences, because one never stops learning.

"You better not ask how many hours there are in my day!" With an unmistakable smile, Jennifer Santiago sits in the Caftan restaurant in the capital and talks about her myriad facets and hobbies as if they were the most normal thing in the world. "I don't see myself as an adrenaline junkie or a hugely sensual person. I'm just me – a woman who enjoys life, " the 39-year-old proclaims. Yoga, skydiving, motorcycling, travelling, bachata, pole dance – the list of activities Jennifer does every week seems endless. Whereas she sits for the interview dressed simply in jeans and a jumper, on weekends the single parent dances in a somewhat more extravagant outfit, for then she performs between the tables of the restaurant as a belly dancer.

"The correct term is actually 'oriental dance', but most people know it as belly dancing, " Jennifer explains with a grin. She has been moving her body to the sounds of the Orient for 17 years and also lives the culture behind it. "It is actually a dance by women for women and not provocation, as it has been seen since the time of Napoleon." Through a friend, Jennifer ended up in her first belly dance lesson – and was in love from the first second. "I was a national champion in Taekwondo at the time and did both sports in parallel for a while. But the martial arts kept leaving me with bruises all over, so I finally decided to put my time into dance and discover my femininity."

The world of snake charmers and belly dancers

Through her first boyfriend – the father of her now seven-year-old daughter, who was her partner for 20 years – Jennifer had already come into contact with the cultures of the Orient at a young age – but not yet in the "right way", as she reveals: "My ex-husband loved Bollywood films, but that was nothing for me, because they don't reflect real life in India." In 2009, Jennifer travelled to the land of colours, spices and contrasts for the first time herself and has been returning there ever since to broaden her horizons. "I lived in Pukshar several times with the nomadic Kalbelia tribe and learned the traditional dance of Rajasthan in the temple there, " says the single mother.

The people from the Thar Desert are considered casteless in India and belong to the lowest Hindu social groups, along with the caste of the "untouchable" Dalits. While men traditionally become musicians or snake charmers, the women of the tribe earn their money by dancing. "We cooked on the floor and slept six to a small tent in the Kalbelia camp, which was a beautiful experience, " says Jennifer. She also learned the traditional Odissi dance in India, but she got the skills to teach it in the belly dance school of Colleena Shakti, a virtuoso of this art form.

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