Oct. 23 2013 12:05 PM

Photographer Scott Belding captures dance on both sides of the fence

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Belding photographed Melissa Loza and the dance company with which she performs, Grupo Minerva Tapia, at the border fence in Playas de Tijuana. It’s the same location where the Tijuana-based dance company first did a photo shoot when it was founded

Scott Belding lives by the hand of Jesus. Seriously, the guy lives right next to the giant Jesus statue located just off Highway 1 south of Rosarito, Mexico. Roughly two years ago, he made his way down the coast of Baja California from the Bay Area. After decades with one foot in the dance world as a director and producer and the other quickly gaining traction as a well-known dance photographer (especially in the belly- and tribal-dance genres), he felt the urge to move to Mexico, focus mainly on his photography and set up a space that would serve as a refuge where dancers could escape and eventually return to the U.S. with a unique portrait.

"I wanted to create an environment where artists can come to relax, rest, recharge their creative batteries, and, in that same process, we can take our time to do a photo shoot," Belding explained over the phone as he drove to Hollywood to photograph a dancer during the three-hour window she had available between performances. "People in the dance profession are so busy in their daily lives."

So, what Belding now calls "Baja Sessions" was born, and he's since photographed several dancers from the U.S. juxtaposed against the recognizable backdrops of Tijuana, Punta Banda and other locations in his neck of the woods. He locates iconic Baja imagery—vibrant street art, architectural ruins and even zonkeys (donkeys painted as zebras)—and strives to contrast the dancers against the scenery. The work often exhibits a surreal, dark-fantasy aesthetic that helps to make the dancers pop in the foreground; their bodies and the frozen moment become even more impressive and dramatic through Belding's lens.

Belding has also quickly built connections to the Tijuana dance scene and has photographed some of the city's top talent. Looking through his portfolio is a whirlwind tour of dance happening below the border.

 This Baja Sessions photo features Bay Area dancer Kristie Lauren leaping off a zonkey from Punta Banda. Fittingly, Belding ended up selling this photo to an arts-and-culture magazine in the United States called The Burro. 

Belding's photo of Tijuana dance company Subtarranea Danza Contemporanea shows off his love of a darker aesthetic. Of his tendency toward the dark side, Belding laughs and says it must be the result of a disturbed childhood. Seriously, though, he thinks the look is sexier and more sensual than brighter, lighter photos.

San Diego dancer and aerialist Jennifer Curry Wingrove took advantage of Belding's Baja Sessions photo shoots. Belding snagged this shot at the arches at Plaza del Mar. "So, as a dancer, I am super picky in the photos that are chosen," Wingrove wrote in a Facebook message. "Very often photographers think the dancer's lines and expression work, when, in our perfectionist perception, they don't. Scott chooses exactly the ones I would choose. He knows what dance should look like."

Dancer Lucrecia Navarro was named Tijuana's Belly Dancer of the Year after a fierce competition earlier this year. Belding's photographed Navarro often. This photo was for a tribal / belly-dance fusion piece based on Medusa. Belding still produces dance pieces when he can, and Navarro is one of the stars of his latest work, "Manifestations," a fusion piece recently performed in Los Angeles and travelling to Mexico City and Guadalajara soon.

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