Most of my students and, of course, my dance company members, know that I am training for level 4 this year, but my audience and community might not be aware. I have had several people ask me about the changes in my performance style this year and/or about this "test" they keep hearing about...so I thought I would take the time to share what it is I am doing.
I am working toward my Level 4 certification with the Suhaila Salimpour School of Dance, based in Berkeley, CA. Suhaila Salimpour's school is one of the best belly dance schools in the world. It has a well-rounded curriculum that trains dancers in a logical, cumulative sequence to become proficient in technique, finger cymbals, rhythm identification, history, music, culture, improvisation, choreography, performance and teaching skills. Inspired by Bruce Lee's methods, Suhaila developed 5 levels of development. I have been training with Suhaila since 2005. After 13 years of training, I am now ready to test for Level 4. I think this speaks volumes as to the rigor and high expectations of the program.
Level 4 testing is a 1.5-2 year process. It entails performing over 100 minutes of improvisational dance to classical Middle Eastern Music, performing 20 minutes of Suhaila choreographies, a choreography recital with all of the highest level choreographies in the format, a recital with a live Arabic band in Berkeley, CA, and so much more. I am mastering dozens of finger cymbal patterns, both right and left hand dominant, and learning various stylizations of Middle Eastern dance that come from specific regions in the Middle East, Turkey and North Africa.
I often get asked, why? Why do so much work for a certificate? This is a really good question and one that I have thought long and hard about. I do this because it feels really good to learn about something I love. The history, musicality and cultural influences are so very important to understand in this art form. The last thing I want in 2018 is to be dancing a cultural dance and not be thoroughly educated on where it comes from and the nuances of its roots and culture.
This is called being a responsible and ethical artist.
I also love teaching and I want to be the best teacher I can be. This means really knowing the content, inside and out. Safety and structure are key to teaching dance. I am committed to this. I also want to demonstrate the highest quality of the art form that I can and I am committed to this.
2018 is about commitment.
I hope folks in COMO are able to attend some of the performances I am offering this year with the Level 4 required improvisation and classic Suhaila Salimpour choreographies. I truly appreciate your support on this journey. I have grown up as a dancer in this lil' big town of Columbia, MO and many of you have watched me grow from a baby belly dancer to the full grown belly dancer I am today. Thank you for witnessing and supporting me along the way.
1. To be revolutionary.
Let's face it. To be a belly dancer is political. (Don't believe me? Google "identity politics in belly dance", read Asharah's essay on white belly dancers, or simply research the history of gender in the Middle East). Whether you like it or not, you are making a statement when you perform. And, I suggest you be clear on what that statement is. Mine is clear most days. I belly dance because I want to express myself sensually and powerfully on my own terms, not the cultural sexist terms I have been taught. This is a transmutation of poison to power. And, it feels damn good.
2. To create happy chemicals in your brain.
If I do not belly dance, I feel depressed. Trust me, I have tried to take a break, and BAM! within a few weeks I am a weepy mess. Research shows us over and over again that when we exercise a magnificent firework display of endorphins and dopamine fires away in our brains. For me, when I dance, it feels like the big bang. A whole new universe opens up in my mind. I feel like absolutely anything is possible.
3. To stay sane, especially for mothers.
When you go to class or take some time to practice, this is officially your "me-time." Self care cannot be over-emphasized in today's manic-paced world. For mommy's, if you do not take care of yourself first, they will seriously suck the life out of you. They don't mean to, it is just programmed into their little brains to do it. So, take care of yourself so you don't become resentful of the most amazing job you will ever have on the planet.
4. To feel beautiful.
I know this one is totally cliche. And, sort of obvious. But, I love it. All of us struggle with self acceptance, body image, and self worth issues sometimes because we live in an image-oriented culture that promotes narrowly defined and nearly unattainable ideals of beauty. So, we either succumb to the bullshit OR we learn that we have to define our own ideas of beauty and fight like she-tigers to feel it. I have had the honor of witnessing women transform. As they stand before the mirror sliding their hips into an infinity shape for the first time, they get this little glimmer of self-love in their eye. That is beautiful.
5. For the badass community.
I don't know about every single belly dance tribe, but I've met quite a few across the country now, and I think it is safe to say that primarily badass women are attracted to this art form. The weak, bitchy ones don't last long. Belly dance is for women who appreciate other women. It takes hard work, dedication, attention to detail, sensuality, passion, humility, confidence and grace (to name a few) to be a belly dancer. The women who are up for that are usually totally freaking cool to be around.
6. For the badass costumes.
Do I really need to say anything else here?
7. To burn out old baggage.
Sort of like the happy chemicals and sanity reasons above, belly dance is great for burning out old sorrows. Louise Hay says we hold emotional pain in our bodies. The hips are supposed to be the storehouse of the deepest emotions. Belly dance gets in those hips and not only opens them, but strengthens them too. Because, as we have humbly learned, our suffering is also our strength.
8. To heal from a divorce (or break-up).
I cannot tell you how many divorcees I have had in my classes over the past 15 years. Let's just say I feel like a divorce dance therapist. When marriages end, people grieve the loss. Part of the healing process is acceptance and self love. Belly dance helps women get their groove back. It is sensual and sexy, but also dignified and powerful.
9. Fun fitness that doesn't totally bore you out of your mind.
I like fitness with a purpose, besides just to look good. Dance is the perfect combination. You get in shape while also learning a new skill and creating something beautiful you can offer others. Dance tells your ego-vain-monster to suck an apple.
10. To give your ass deep purpose.
All your life, your ass has been seeking its highest purpose. It has patiently hung out back there, full of some of the strongest muscle in your body and coated with juicy fats that can make a grown man cry. But I dare ask, what have you really been doing with it? I mean really-really? When we belly dance, we squeeze the glutes to make the hips move. Yes, it really should be called the butt dance, but whatever. When I discovered the Suhaila Salimpour technique, my glutes wept butt tears of joy. Yours will too!
By: Kandice Grossman
The DragonFlies Dance Company, of Moon Belly Dance Studio, is excited to offer a new collaborative choreographic work that explores cultural and spiritual meanings associated with female ghosts. The "ghost dance" is a theatrical fusion of contemporary modern dance with foundations in belly dance and feminist perspectives.
Three dancers of The DragonFlies Company, Kandice Grossman, Nicole Beasley and Jessie Holdinghaus, each represent a female ghost character. The female ghost is a culturally fascinating figure. In part, because her role as an ephemeral character is not too far of a leap from her expected passive, submissive feminine real-life role. Her subtle, intriguing haunting is a mere extension of this expected gendered behavior. The other intriguing aspect is that the ghost implies a soul that is trapped. She cannot seem to find her way out of this life and into the next. Our interpretation of the female ghost is one who is trapped by her earthly, oppressive gender roles even in death. In fact, it is resentment that killed her.
The central theme of each ghost is motherhood. Each ghosts' submission to essentialist ideas about woman's nature as nurturer, victim and neurotic all play themselves out in this 17 minute choreography. The characters, costumes and choreographies were co-created by each dancer. Jessie plays the overburdened, over nurturing mother who cannot let go of the excessive, hyperactive attachment to giving - to the point that it kills her and she haunts all those she gave to, both begging them to love her and also hating them for taking. Nicole plays the victim mother who is lost and disoriented in her passivity - a true victim of gender violence in waking life, her haunt is forever disoriented and grieving - unable to accept misogyny and the loss of her child. Kandice plays the unfit daughter who's resentment toward her own mother leads to heroin addiction and ultimately death - her haunting is a constant oscillation between outbursts of child-like anger and euphoric highs, scaring everyone she haunts in an effort to get them to also try to escape reality.
Still in the shadow of the lunar eclipse and fast approaching Hallow's Eve, we are thrilled to present this eery work on the foggy banks of the Missouri River at Cooper's Landing on October 11th at 6pm.
In addition to the ghost dance, we will present two other 15 minute choreographies: Warrior & Duality, both include newer and older choreographies and includes student dancers from the Moon Belly Dance Ensemble.
Artistic Director: Kandice Grossman
I am currently teaching an academic course titled Unruly Women in American History and simultaneously teaching a dance course on Jamila Salimpour technique. The two are perfectly complimentary.
Both give us tradition.
I chose several unruly women from the American radical tradition, including Sojourner Truth and Mother Jones, to study in my course. We are examining their personal and political lives, in-depth, and focusing on how these two spheres of life are inseparable and constantly informing the other. The unruly women of our past were all social artists. Each of them devoted their lives to pointing out hidden truths of society and teaching people to see with fresh vision. They dug into the roots of social beliefs and reexamined tired slogans and lifeless symbols.
What is tradition?
It is a process in which one generation passes its ideas and beliefs on to the next. There has been very little emphasis on the tradition of American radical women because there has been little acceptance of women as a political force. For most of history, they were defined by their private lives.
To learn about radical women is to get new insight into incomplete interpretations of the past.
Lessons I'm learning - without tradition, people act without consciousness or form.
Know your history.
Find your traditions.
xoxo - KG