When I came to belly dance, it had been years—as in, my age was in the single digits—since I’d set foot inside a dance studio. I was a chain-smoking night owl who hadn’t bought a pair of sneakers in years and who had most recently used an exercise DVD as a temporary bookmark.
But my friend knew a place where we could take belly dance lessons. I’d seen belly dancers in my hometown of St. Louis before, and I was intrigued by them. The dance they did looked feminine and graceful, but they were strong, terrifically strong.
I still wasn’t prepared for my first class, though. The warm-up alone was grueling, drawing on muscles I’d never used. Before drills even started, my endurance reserves were tapped. The music was unlike anything I’d ever heard before and my first ever lesson was on three-quarters on the down, which even experienced belly dancers will tell you can be tough. (I still struggle with it today.) My face was crimson. I was sweating buckets. I loved it.
I’ve been belly dancing for ten years, and in those ten years I have seen dance effect a profound change on my life. I’ve done things that I didn’t think it was possible for me to do. I’ve pushed my body to—and past—limits that I thought would always hem me in. I can move in the beautiful, passionate way in which I’d always dreamed—and when I can’t, I’m only inspired to do better, knowing that I have it in me to be the dancer I want to be. Dance has brought me freedom and joy in a way I didn’t anticipate—and even better, it’s brought me to a community where I can share those feelings.
I’m so grateful for how dance, and how Moon Belly, has helped me build the life I want. Sometimes, I look back at the person I was, and I’m astounded by how far I’ve come, and how much I look forward to what the future holds.
I grew up dancing. My mother enrolled me on the advice of my pediatrician for the strengthening of my flat feet, and could never have known what a gift it would be to an otherwise shy girl like me. Dancing quickly became, from ballet at the tender age of four, through my ever-broadening exploration, my method of release, expression, and perfect freedom to become whatever and whomever my imagination wanted or my psyche needed. I danced all the way through college, teaching to pay for my school, and drinking in all the different styles I could access from my Nebraska home town. Over the years, I traveled to find teachers of Latin dance, ballroom and swing, stylized workshops from students of teachers like Bob Fosse and Alvin Ailey and, coming to Columbia in 2001, found a home at Dancearts, where I have taught Musical Theater, ballet technique, tap and yoga, and continue to study Modern Ballet with Maggie Dethrow, in a class of women in our 30s and 40s who continue to dance because there is just nothing that can ever replace it.
I was introduced to the idea of belly dance when Kandice Grossman and then-Dragonfly Christi Kelly took my adult ballet class at Dancearts and, while I was instantly intrigued, didn't start studying belly dance technique until 2 years later when, inspired by the diversity and familial nature of the belly dance community, and my friendship with Kandi, I let my fascination draw me in. I believe our learning should never end. I do not believe decline is an inevitable part of growing older. So, to find a thriving community of adult dancers still forging ahead into new creative endeavors, I couldn't resist, and continue to be fascinated, not only by the task of learning and training for a completely new expression of dance, but also by the task of telling such a powerful and necessary story as the one this show endeavors to tell.
Some background about me: I am a family medicine doctor in my second year of residency training. There are many reasons I chose to become a physician, including my sheer amazement at learning about the human body. Medical school is rigorous, but every step of the way I marveled at the glorious creation that is our living, breathing bodies. Consider: the physics of how your diaphragm draws air into your lungs, electrical currents rhythmically flowing through your heart, or the fine motor and neural coordination it requires to walk, or write, or even shake someone’s hand . . .
I was in medical school when I discovered belly dance. I had danced my entire childhood, and had had years of competitive training in ballet, tap, jazz, hip hop, and other formats. As much as I enjoyed school, I never felt more alive than when I danced. In college and medical school, I thought my dancing days were behind me, and I missed it terribly. When I discovered belly dance, and specifically Moon Belly, I was thrilled and inspired—this is a dance that utilizes muscle isolations in ways I’d never imagined were possible, that celebrates bodies of all shapes and sizes, and the dancers are women from all walks of life.
These days, I am a busy family doctor. Most of my time and energy are focused on noble goals – easing suffering, healing sickness, and reducing risk of future disease – but I am often frustratingly limited by logistics, finances, or time. I sometimes forget why I fell in love with medicine in the first place, but when I dance, I remember. I am grateful for ears to hear the music and a mind that sees the rhythm. I delight in movement and thank God for strong bones and hearty muscles. I can hardly fathom how my body is made of billions of cells that work together to make art. When we use our bodies to tell a story, it is nothing short of magic.
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
Moon Belly Dance Studio is seeking a team of costume designers, including mask and headpiece makers, and make-up artists for a new work, Mother Nature, to be performed October 3-4, 2015 at Talking Horse Theater in Columbia, Missouri. The costumes, masks, head pieces and make-up provide depth, character, beauty and reinforce the mood and style of the production. Creative collaboration of the design process is required throughout the year between the costume designers, make-up artists, artistic director, lighting designer and the choreographers.
Mother Nature is rooted in belly dance technique fused with contemporary movement and sensory theater. It is a personal and political exploration of the symbolic relationship between women's bodies and the planet. Performances include dancers from MOON dance company, as well as local performance artists including actors and aerial performers. The overall costume style we are seeking could be described as an eclectic fusion of tribal meets modern meets avant-garde/fashion-forward meets dancer functionality. Inspired by the fashion of Ruth St. Denis, Jean Paul Gaultier and Alexander MQueen, whom we adore.
Qualifications - Please send a portfolio or examples of work before February 18, 2015 to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Requirements - Show up to design meetings, send sketches and designs by required dates, do fittings or trial runs (for make-up) with dancers 6 weeks prior to show, be available for re-sizing and mending prior to and days of the show. First introduction and discussion meeting set for February 18, 2015 at 110 Orr Street in the front waiting area at 7:30pm. Please send portfolio or examples of work prior to meeting.
Benefits - Unfortunately, this is a community arts project and the budget is very small. No financial compensation will be available from Moon Belly Dance Studio for costume designers, mask or head pieces makers; however, you will have the option to sell your costume/mask/head piece to the dancer who performs in it at a price you set. A small compensation will be offered to the make-up designers. All designers and make-up artists will also receive advertising in the show program, Moon Belly blog and related social media sites. Moreover, we hope to co-coordinate a fashion show with all designers and artists involved after the show to highlight your works specifically. More details on this to come.
1 Wild Queen (1)
2 Forest Dance: Tree Sprouts (3) & Flowers (4)
3 Maiden Dance: Maiden, adolescent, child
4 Eve/Serpent Dance: Eve (1), Serpent (1), Tree chorus (5-7)
5 Birth Dance: Mother (1), Woman in Water (1)
6 Motherhood Dance: Mother chorus (4)
7 Priestess Dance: High priestess (1), priestesses (4)
1 Captured Queen (1)
2 City Walkers Dance: walkers in animal masks (10)
3 Worker Dance: Secretary (1), workers (4)
4 War Dance: Warriors (5-7)
5 Sex Objects Dance: Stripper (1), S & M dancers (1-2), Geisha (1)
6 Demon Dance: Demon (1), ghost (1), crone (1)
7 Hurricane Dance: Aerialist (1), Veil dancers (4), Cymbal dancers (2)
Moon Belly hosted its first auditions, ever. And, it was awesome.
I really had no idea what to expect.
I didn't realize that I would be so inspired by the dancers, but I absolutely was. In a profound way.
I learned so much about each dancer - both her strengths and areas where she can grow.
Honored. - Kandi
(See event description and the Q and A that surrounded it below.)
Moon Belly Dance Studio will be presenting a new work, "Mother Nature," October 3-4, 2015. Rooted in belly dance technique fused with contemporary movement and sensory theater, "Mother Nature" is a personal and political exploration of the symbolic relationship between women's bodies and the planet.
Formal auditions will be held January 18, 2015, 2-4pm at MCB. ALL levels and genres of dancers are invited to audition. There are a range of dance, movement and theatrical roles suited for the beginner to the advanced.
Prior to auditioning, please attend class with Kandice and ask for a registration form.
Expectations for performing will include:
- Class attendance (with minimal absences; exceptions made only for dancers auditioning outside the belly dance genre)
- Commitment to learning choreography
- Commitment to required rehearsals
- Purchase of costume (some costumes provided)
- Monthly private lessons w/ guided mentorship (reduced fees)
- Community building & sharing exercise (at least one)
For me, this project is about more than just putting together a show. It is about community building and artistic collaboration. It will be a process and a journey- and a chance for us to grow individually and together as performers, dancers and artists.
Q and A
Q: When will we be learning choreography and for how long?
A: There are a range of different roles and dances to be learned in three different ways throughout the year: private sessions, workshops or 4-week classes. The 4-week classes will be either on a T or Th evening after regularly scheduled belly dance classes. Workshops will usually be on the weekends and consist of 2-4 hours of teaching at a time. Usually an entire dance will be taught in one workshop slot.
Q: Will we be charged for choreography?
A: Yes, but most private choreo sessions will be complimentary (except for rental rates). Workshops and 4-week classes will also be reduced by more than 50% of normal costs to cover rental space and choreographer fees.
Q: How will we know the schedule?
A: Once everyone is cast in the show a very detailed schedule for the entire year will be posted. We will contact all dancers to confirm their roles and confirm that the schedule can be maintained. You will know all required times expected of you for the entire year. If you ask for a smaller role - your commitment level will obviously be much less than a leading role.
Q: If I have a smaller role, will I still have to do the 6-weeks of full show rehearsals?
A: Yes, small and large roles all must commit to a weekly rehearsal 6-weeks prior to the show to be sure it runs smoothly and maintain artistic integrity!
Q: What is the "theatrical" component of the audition about? What will we have to do?
A: Great question! All members will be asked to participate in a rasa box exercise. You will be asked to show, through body movement, facial expression and poses, a specific emotion - such as joy, anger, grief, shock etc. This show is rooted in belly dance, but is also fused with contemporary movement and what I am calling "sensory theater." Sensory theater is to transmit emotion and story through body movement and the senses. To find out more about rasa boxes go here: http://rasaboxes.org/about/
Q: What does the "choreo" section entail?
A: There are 4 parts to the audition - choreography, technique, theatrical and dance movement. In the choreography section you will be taught a very short combination and then you will dance it - as a group. No individual performances required. No prepared choreographies expected. smile emoticon
Keep 'em coming!
Q: If I can't make auditions on 1.18 - will there be another opportunity to try out later?
A: Yes, I will be holding a second, smaller audition in late spring for smaller roles in the show. They will be smaller parts because we will be running out of time. We want to start working on the larger roles and choreographies in February. All show parts and roles must be learned by late August so that we can have a good 6 week run of full-show rehearsals. If you are already a MBE member and you have performed with me before and you cannot make the auditions - please email me to make special arrangements.
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.