My parents put me in dance classes when I was three years old. I was reeled in by the lights, the applause and of course the sequins! The fire started in me when I was five when I saw Gene Kelly dance with Jerry the Mouse in the film Anchors Away, and I said, “I want to do that!” I wanted to see every dance show and musical film in existence. I was blown away by the grace and confidence of these dancers. However, even though I was an extroverted kid, I was shy as well. Picture a quiet tomboy hanging with her big brother and friends wrestling, racing cars, and playing in the dirt. Even though I loved learning steps and combinations—I felt awkward within my classes, like an outsider. My life would continue to be a balance to find out what it means to be a dirty tomboy by day and a glitter ballerina at night.
An experience in Karate classes, as one of the only girls, made me realize it wasn’t about expectations of society. It was about having confidence in one’s self. That experience somehow narrowed my focus, and guided me in my determination to be a dancer. That is what felt right. I freed myself from expectation. My classmates wanted to be a ballerinas; I wanted to be a Fly Girl. I didn’t care anymore if I liked the black leotard more than the pink one everyone else loved. Feeling that connection from my body and soul to tell a story to the audience; the movement and presentation-- that was what mattered. Surrounding myself with inspiration, I watched in awe as I studied my teachers and fought to master their movements. I studied stories to think of routines. Flash forward to a few years later, and I was putting on shows in my Grandma’s carport with friends! It was no surprise that I went straight into theatre for my career.
Belly Dance drew me in as I matured into my womanhood. It was a call to let my tomboy loose and be the wild child in a different light. After years of studying various dance forms including: Jazz, Modern, Ballet, Tap, and Hip Hop—Belly Dance has been a primal outlet for me to explore. I felt empowered by the confidence of the women who exuded feminine mystery and sensuality in their movements. The serpentine softness and subtleties of the art form encouraged me to feel present and safe in my own skin. The fight is in me to always have that connection to the world’s energy—to flow freely and feel the pulse of life. Belly Dance is like my adult-self playing in the dirt. I love the wild call I feel to combine all past training and create amazing expressions of what it means to me to be feminine— I surrender to it.
Dance has taught me discipline, respect, awareness, and how to listen to and know my own body. I fight to dance. The fight is the fire in my blood. The power of dance has established unbelievable bonds with amazing women from all over the nation. There is always a sense of belonging in this universal community of dance; and I have met some of the most amazing women in my own dance community of Moon Belly. These women also have the fire in their eyes and in their bellies, and they are hungry for it. I am constantly inspired to fight harder. I fight for it to stay in my life, even with the highs and lows of my career, family, and all other twists and turns on life’s road, because it is who I am as a woman. I am a dancer.
Feel free to check out my full biography at: www.moonbelly.org/company.
Saying I was a shy child is a gross understatement. My teachers thought I was mute. They had never heard me talk so they assumed I couldn’t. I was full of thoughts and ideas, as most kids are, I just didn’t like talking. I liked to play it safe - under the table, in the corner, where no one would talk to me. I suppose that’s why I was always drawn to dance. It was my outlet, my way to express myself without saying a word. It was the physical expression of my soul, the parts of me I wished to communicate, that wished to be seen and heard, but didn’t otherwise know how. And I suppose that’s why it hurt so deeply to be told I couldn’t do it anymore. It wasn’t just the physical activity and creative expression that I was losing – it was my means of connection.
Since I was four years old I grew up taking ballet, tap, and jazz at a local dance studio in St. Louis. However, it was the strength and grace of ballet that attracted me most to dance and kept me coming back year after year. As my body grew and changed, I began to experience pain and swelling in my knees. I went to orthopedic doctors, physical therapy, and again more doctors. But, with no luck the pain continued. I was told I would have to stop dancing, but I didn’t listen. So months later when I went back to the doctor I was again told I would have to stop dancing. I asked the doctor what I could do to stay in shape that wouldn’t hurt my body. I will never forget his response: “Some things aren’t meant for everyone, and you are just one of those people.”
These words, coming from the mouth of a well-educated professional whom I had entrusted with my care, fell on receptive ears. After all, I had been defiant and not listened before, and had only continued to be in pain. So, that was it. No more dance. I believed this time I had to listen; I spent the next few weeks crying, perhaps even mourning the loss of dance. After all, he was the professional. He knew best.
So, for years I walked around believing I was just “one of those people.” When I had to stop and take a break walking from one class to another, because my whole leg was cramping - I was just one of those people. When I had to stop midway up a flight of stairs, because the pain was so intense - I was just one of those people. I would have to learn to deal with it. Through surgery, physical therapy, and absolutely no dancing, I dealt with it.
In 2006, about four years after I stopped dancing and a year after I had surgery, I saw Kandice Grossman in a solo performance at the Blue Note. Sitting in that chair, my bones ached. This time it wasn’t because I was sitting with bent knees for too long. My bones ached with longing, because for the first time in years I thought “I can do that!” Watching Kandi perform I believed I could do that type of dance without hurting my body. The strength and grace in that performance enlightened the dancer in me. I would dance. I knew I could, and would dance again.
I soon enrolled in belly dance classes. In December 2007, I performed with Moon Belly Ensemble for the first time. I found a health care professional that was willing to look at and care for my whole body, and help me take care of myself. Since then, I have continued to study and perform with Moon Belly as part of the ensemble/dance company and as part of the Dragonfly Dance Company. I continue to love training and performing, and most recently have found new passion in teaching beginning classes.
My knees will never be perfect. There are limitations. I imagine knee braces, ice packs, and regular chiropractic care will always be a part of my dance routine. After all, I’ll always be one of those people. You know, the ones who refuse to sit out just because they can’t keep up. One of those people who knows her body, owns her body, and loves her body – “faults” and all. Not only has belly dance provided me a safe way to dance - I’ve found that Moon Belly is full of “those people”, of women, just like me.
Growing up in a home with a musician for a father, music was a big part of my life. I was raised with singing, guitar, and drumming. Going to rehearsals and playing on stage was what I did. I would pretend to perform, and it was wonderful. I also loved being in the sound room at church, and loved all that went into a show.
I started dancing in my friends living room; making up dances every day of the summer, putting on shows in the backyard to empty seats. My friend would take classes and come home and teach me her combos and what she learned. I LOVED it. That part of my life didn’t last long, there were a lot of family changes and on top of that, I had to grow up quick as a teen mother. I know now that music, and performing were very much a part of me and it had become EMBEDDED IN MY SOUL.
As i watched a bellydance show at the Missouri Theater in 2006, I knew at that moment that I wanted to be on the stage. I remember how CONFIDENT and BEAUTIFUL the women were, and I wanted to feel that kind of passion, express a form of art, and TO BE INSPIRED. I was most inspired by Kandice Grossman, and her presentation. Her style if fusing belly dance with contemporary movements, and I wanted to study with her. She encouraged me to study under her mentor as well, Suhalia Salimpour, and I traveled to CA to get my level 2 certification.
Going to classes brought a sense of community I had never experienced. I loved the painful warm up that slowly became easier and the mind and body awareness that it brought me. I loved the creative process of what it takes to put on a show, and TELL A STORY. Women that come from different backgrounds and some who work full time who come together to share their PASSION FOR THE ART FORM.
I am now challenging myself to work in the “sound room.” I want to focus on telling a story. I want to be a part of the creative process and work on choreography. I will always dance, but in this show, my focus is to share my passion with newer dancers, push myself to think outside the box, to “play” with bodies in order to tell a story, and make a powerful statement.
I am a grounded-out, body-connected, non-romantic dancer. Most days it is my body that pushes me to dance. My muscles cry out a little beg, "move me, repetitively." The morning chill inspires movement across the floor for the ripple of warmth up my legs. My spine yearns for expansion and contraction. Twyla Tharp in her book, "The Creative Habit," says she keeps dancing every year to stay warm in New York. I love her approach.
I am a deeply-emotional, soul-connected, romantic dancer. I feel sorrow and know I have to burn it out. I imagine what it would feel like to be a seedling sprouting out of soil and try to speak its language. Or, as dear friend recently suggested, consider the amount of pain and joy the caterpillar must experience as it transitions into a butterfly. I try to feel that and it becomes my dance.
The both/and paradox inspires me to dance.
I am overjoyed to be directing a new production, Mother Nature, with the beautiful dancers of MOON company and amazing local, visual artists. This blog is a way for us to share our experiences of this journey. The next several weeks will be brief introductions to all the performers in this show.
For a full bio, please go to http://www.kandiceg.com/bio.html
This blog is designed to provide information about Moon Belly and MOON dance company happenings. At times, it becomes an open journal of our various theatrical explorations. At other times, it serves as a source of education on belly dance culture and history.