She was raised in Mexico City, but Pineapple Dance Studios owner Erika Ochoa loves all things Middle-Eastern.

“I always loved Egyptian culture,” she said, “Cleopatra eyes, pharaohs.”

So it was natural that after learning Baile Folklorico in Mexico as a child, she wanted to learn to belly dance. “Flamenco music and dance, which I also heard in Mexico, has a Moroccan sound,” she said.

Ochoa started Pineapple Dance Studios five years ago in Forest Park, teaching belly dancing to adults and teenagers. Today she teaches Zumba and belly dancing six days a week in the studio’s second-floor space at 7518 W. Madison Street. She and other instructors also teach hip-hop dance, West African dance, Peruvian folk dance and she has even offered a Bollywood dancing class.

“The women who take my classes may have seen a dancer in a restaurant or a video of Shakira,” she said. “They want to try something different.”

Instead of recitals, Ochoa hosts a “hafla” which means “party” in Arabic. She sometimes includes musicians and drummers, and professional dancers perform as well.

For her five-year anniversary last weekend, she threw a two-day hafla, which included a performance of past and present students and an open house where visitors could try any type of dance for free in the bright red studio draped with lush Middle Eastern fabrics and mirrors.

The success of her haflas and the superb acoustics of the space led her to branch out into other types of performances.

Enter Jodi Gianakopoulos, co-owner of Old School Records and fellow lover of all music Middle Eastern – in fact all world music – and radio DJ of a World Music radio show called “Old School Playground” at Triton College, 88.9 WRRG, on Tuesday nights.

The two women kept meeting over a record bin, where they realized they shared some of the same tastes, such as music by Manitas de Plata or the Andaluc’an Moroccan Orchestra.

“She was the only person who would buy West African, Brazilian, Middle Eastern music. I would say to myself, ‘I can’t believe someone bought that,'” said Gianakopoulos. “In this business you often find your customers know more about certain kinds of music than you do. Erika and I clicked really fast.”

Gianakopoulos loves the Pineapple space and held her store’s 10th Anniversary party there as well as a baby shower.

When she learned that the city of Chicago was cancelling the World Music performance series at Millennium Park under the new Rahm Emanuel regime, she felt there was a gap in performance spaces for world music – and for musicians who play jazz-tinged, funk-flavored or Afro-pop-inspired tunes.

“I like hybrid music,” said Gianakopoulos.

The two women decided to start the Madison Street World Music Series. “With the Millennium Park series gone and most World Music taking place at Old Town School of Folk Music [in the Lincoln Square neighborhood of Chicago] I felt there was a vacuum for this area,” said Gianakopoulos.

The first concert will be held Saturday, June 16 at 8 p.m. The cost is a suggested $5 donation. The performers will be Chicago band Magic Carpet, which plays West African and Indian music with funk and jazz undertones. “They look Italian and play West African Music,” Ochoa said, laughing.

On July 7, Black Bear Combo will bring their Eastern European Klezmer/gypsy sound, influenced by punk rock and ’20s jazz.

“We’re combining our mailing lists and trying to get both groups of people out to see some fantastic music in a great acoustic space,” said Gianakopoulos.

A hafla and a half.

Jean Lotus

Jean Lotus loves community journalism. She covers news, features, two school boards, village council, crime, park district and writes obits for Forest Park Review. She also covers the police beat for...