Photo of Melina with Cymbals by Algernia Perna

The Gilded Serpent presents...


of Daughters of Rhea

Melinda Heywood Pavlata, Ph.D. -- stagename "Melina of Daughters of Rhea" -- is a second-generation circus performer, belly dance artist and teacher, producer, choreographer, juggler, educator, writer and mother. She graduated Phi Beta Kappa, magna cum laude from Wellesley College and was a Ben Franklin Fellow at the University of Pennsylvania where she received her PhD in French Literature. Melinda is cofounder of the Daughters of Rhea belly dance company , the circus arts theatre Cirque Passion , and the nonprofit biotech ALS Therapy Development Institute.

Born to musician father Phil Marsh and gypsy-artist belly dancer mother Rhea of Greece during the late 1960s Berkeley, California cultural revolution, Melinda exited the womb into a vibrant life of belly dance, folk music & circus rings. Melinda first belly danced on stage in San Francisco with her mom at the age of 2 with a costume pinned to her diapers. When she was 6, Melinda’s maverick mother, oriental dance trailblazer Rhea, left the U.S. to lead a permanent life of dance in Athens, Greece. Throughout her childhood Melina crisscrossed the Atlantic traveling between amicably divorced, loving & bohemian parents. She danced professionally alongside her mother and sister Piper in the ancient city of Athens, Greece, then turned cartwheels in the circus ring on America’s West Coast where her father Phil Marsh was bandleader and songwriter for the Pickle Family Circus. She continued her circus arts career as an adult, dancing with horses, juggling with clowns and performing on the trapeze in and above the ring in Circus Flora and now in her own circus, Cirque Passion.

Young MelinaMelinda loves to explore the artful and entertaining intersection of circus and belly dancing, elegantly incorporating circus skills into her belly dance performances and vice-versa. Melinda owns her own French circus tent and performs a variety of circus and belly dance acts including a spinning aerial hoop act and a romantic trapeze duet with circus star husband Alexandre Sacha Pavlata. They perform at festivals and galas worldwide. She recently returned from a tour of Auckland, New Zealand and Taipei, Taiwan where she made her debut on the platform with the legendary Flying Wallendas.

On the academic front, Melinda is a magna cum laude graduate of Wellesley College. She holds a D.E.S. from the University of Geneva and, as a Ben Franklin Fellow, earned a Ph.D. in Late Medieval French Literature from the University of Pennsylvania in 1997. Despite Ivory Tower accolades and a deep commitment to higher learning and scholarly excellence, Melinda experienced the primal realization that her childhood arts of belly dancing and circus were more personally rewarding than teaching in the university system, so she dedicated herself full-time to the free-lance performing, producing, teaching and writing life

Melinda's essays on growing up belly dancing and performing in the circus have been published in Brain, Child magazine, The Boston Globe, Habibi magazine and Middle Eastern Dance in New England. Her commentaries on the economics of belly dance have aired on NPR's Marketplace. Her dancing life has been profiled in The Boston Globe, the Boston Herald, the Boston Phoenix and Wellesley magazine. She has been featured on News Channel 5's Chronicle and her performing and fundraising efforts for ALS Therapy Development Foundation have been written up in the New Yorker and the book His Brother's Keeper by Pulitzer prize winning author Jonathan Weiner as well as the documentary So Much, So Fast by West City Films.

Articles on Gilded Serpent by or about Melina

  • Alive - Inside and Out! Tai Chi Can Enhance Your Dance
    Exploring and blending these disciplines has long been my “secret sauce.” Centering and breathing, conscious transitions, body and soul awareness–from footfall to fingertip and beyond–nourish and replenish my dance.
  • Successful Art Entrepreneur or Belly Dance Dummy?
    Here it was, the pivotal moment, the moment where what you say determines what happens, or what doesn’t happen, the moment of which you are either proud in retrospect or in which you feel defeated and ashamed, covering it up with the sands of time and silence and try to forget about it.
  • The Hippie Connection: Robert Altman’s 1969 In Utero Belly Dance Portrait of ME
    There it was, the second of a series of black and white hippy portraits --people raving, a woman blissfully breastfeeding, couples hugging, dogs leaping – THE SEMINAL PHOTO OF MY LIFE – only, I was cut out!
  • Finger Cymbals
    Above all this cross-cultural cacophony soared my mom’s perfectly paced zills, right left right, right left right, right left right left right left right. If you put me in a room blindfolded, I could distinguish her playing from any other dancer on earth.
  • Circle Dance
    The circle is a perfect, democratic & unending shape, the shape of an energized community, the shape of this lovely round planet.