A group of people wearing costumes - Modern dance
Xenia Leonteva and her team perform on stage. The Festival of Oriental Dance Delights, set for Nov. 2-3 at the Murray Nelson Government Center, will involve two days of dance workshops. CONTRIBUTED

A unique festival of dance presented by Xenia Leonteva and Xelestial Bellydance will hit the Murray Nelson Government Center this weekend. 

The Festival of Oriental Dance Delights will involve two days of dance workshops taught by guest master instructor Ahmed Hussien, culminating in a Saturday night performance by stellar oriental dance artists of South Florida and their students.

Originally from Kyrgyzstan, Leonteva moved to the Florida Keys in 2006. Dance was always part of her life, but her interest in oriental dance, or belly dancing, was piqued the few years she was living in Germany working toward her master’s degree. 

“Dance has been my passion since childhood; any kind of dance seemed fascinating to me,” she said. “I have found that dance is like a universal language, and I am lucky to be able to communicate in it.”

Leonteva became a student of oriental dance in 2004. In 2015, she decided it was time to share her skills with other eager students. That’s when she founded Xelestial Bellydance, an Islamorada-based oriental dance group dedicated to cross-cultural exchange and community engagement through performing arts. 

“I have been very fortunate to form strong bonds with my group members over the years,” she said. “We’ve shared many wonderful memories through dance and various projects that we’ve worked on together. And to me this is a wonderful thing — to share experiences together, to work together towards a common goal, to see it come to fruition and bring joy to everyone involved.”

In addition to her dedication to the art of oriental dancing, Leonteva works as the Veterans Service Office administrative assistant and said she is passionate about serving the community. 

“It is sometimes challenging to juggle my daytime job and evening part-time occupation such as dancing, but I’ve enjoyed it over the years and find myself lucky to have many passions in life,” Leonteva said.

Her heart for service sparked the idea for the Festival of Oriental Dance, which is her third production of its kind at the Murray Nelson Center. Part of the proceeds from the festival will go to Islamorada Community Entertainment (ICE), a not-for-profit dedicated to enhancing local arts and supporting young artists.

Leonteva said this year, despite the success of her productions in the past, she’s stepped the production up a notch by inviting guest instructor Ahmed Hussien to conduct workshops. Originally from Egypt, Hussien has vast experience in classical oriental, Egyptian folklore, ballroom, ballet and Broadway. He has toured internationally with the Cairo National Ballet, the Near East Dance Group and the Bolshoi Theater. Leonteva says his work and dedication to oriental dance continues to be a source of inspiration for fellow artists. His classes, which will be held Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 2 and 3, will focus on authentic oriental dance and Egyptian folklore.

The performance itself will be held Saturday night at 6:30 p.m. and will be a demonstration of Egyptian folklore, modern Shaabi, classical Egyptian oriental and American Tribal Style. 

Leonteva says she is grateful to be part of the Keys community and has enjoyed great support from local organizations and individuals. This year’s event sponsors include Don Yontz Corporation, Forget Me Not Floral, Airhandlers Mechanical, Sandy McTeague Massage Therapy, ADORA World Dance Productions, Gary Johnson, Tracy & Joe Widener, Lamis, Olga Grant, Key Largo Chocolates, Studio South and Felipe Correa.

Tickets are available at the door (cash only) or by visiting bellydancedelight.eventbrite.com.

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