Sunday, October 6, 2019

Nabila Nazem

Nabila Nazem will be dancing with MDTC in 2019's "Beyond the Image."

I have always been a mover. As a child, I loved to run and always heard my mom yell, “Don’t run in the house!” (Which never did any good, obviously.) Our house was filled with music too, and since my parents loved the arts, we went to the opera, the ballet, and to see the floor shows they had in fancy restaurants. Moving from the country to a small city, I noticed a dance studio en route to our new local grocery store. One day we stopped in. I still remember the exact instant: the sights, smells, and sounds ... it was glorious! Classical piano music, jazz, clattering shoes, thumping feet, a teacher’s voice from behind a door yelling out steps and counts, the smells of rosin, sweat, new dance slippers, and the sense of excitement -- a purposeful chaos. It felt familiar, and I wanted to be there more than anything.  I have kept dancing because it’s who I am. Being a dancer and performer is the essence of my being, and in one way or another, it’s going to manifest itself.

The best thing about Middle Eastern Dance is ... I can’t name just one best thing! I find the connection with the music  resonates deeply with me -- I get to be musician as well as dancer. Initially, one signs up for a few dance classes, but then, as studies progress, the musical aspect of the Dance opens up an entire additional universe to explore and learn about, informing the movement, and melding the dancer with the music. Ideally, the dancer is one of the instrumentalists of the musical ensemble, playing--no, being--an instrument that manifests itself visually rather than aurally.

Another aspect of Middle Eastern Dance that I like is that it is for everyone, everywhere! Because of its roots as social dance, almost everyone can do it, regardless of what age, size, or gender one may be. Whether done for concert performance or informally among friends, it truly is a dance of the people.

Although we lived in a rural area of Northern California, we traveled extensively, and my father commuted weekly for work in Sacramento. When I was quite young, I especially loved Zorba’s restaurant, and would beg to go there because I loved seeing the belly dancers. We’d get a stage-side table, and I would sit on my dad’s lap and give dollar bills to the dancers. One night, a dancer took off a jingly bracelet and put it on me. (I still have it, and it is one of my most treasured possessions.) Many years later, after cycling through Western dance styles, I discovered Middle Eastern Dance, and found it to be even richer and more fantastic in real life than it had ever been in my imagination.

The incredible number of variations that can be built on a relatively few basic movements took me by surprise. The same root steps can be done differently in ways that don’t resemble each other in the slightest. It’s deceptive though, because refining the movement takes as much application and discipline as any other dance form. Mastering the number of ways a single step can be done, the cultural and stylistic aspects of it, how it relates to the music, and the subtleties involved in all that can easily take a lifetime of study.

I tend to gravitate toward Turkish Roman, and a big part of my enthusiasm for it comes from the music, which often falls into 9/8 meter. It’s powerful and energetic. I also love Muwashahat, as that music is particularly appealing to me.

Scheduling is the biggest challenge for me as a performing artist. If you need a predictable routine with regular weekends and dinner at home every night, forget it. Like many of the performers here in NYC, I am a freelancer, a situation that features a few anchored appointments around which all other activities—jobs, meals, gigs, relationships, self-care, and so on—must flow. It's a demanding lifestyle with few compromises. Self-discipline, adaptability, time management, and organization are key, and staying focused and on top of all that can be wearing.

By being involved with Mosaic, I get to have more dance in my life, with high-level teachers and colleagues whom I get to work closely with. In contrast to more mainstream forms of dance, Middle Eastern Dance in a professional company setting is rare, and I love being here. Part of my responsibility as a Middle Eastern-style dancer is to be familiar with the various regional and cultural root sources of this art form.  With Mosaic, dancers have the opportunity to dive deeply into the nuances of the different folkloric styles, on an ongoing basis rather than the more common one-shot workshop experiences. The diverse stylistic repertoire of Mosaic puts my background in both Western and Oriental training to good use, which is wonderful.  It’s a win-win, as far as I’m concerned!

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