An interview with Safiyah. I enjoy being interviewed and sharing my thoughts, but sometimes, it’s good to turn the tables and get inside someone else’s head for a change. Since I’m all about getting a more cross-generational approach to the arts, I was thrilled when my dance friend Safiyah agreed to share her views. Safiyah is in her 20s. We have been taking classes together for about four years. She is amazing dancer and has been dancing since a young age. Have a read and for any “longer-living” people out there, just know that there are many “shorter-living” people waiting to support you in your endeavors and dreams whether they be dance or something else!
How long have you been dancing and what styles?
I started dancing when I was 6. First Ballett, then Streetdance, Jazz and then Hip Hop. Now at age 26, I’ve been trying to learn as many styles as possible for some years. I haven’t gotten to some yet but I hope I can add them to my list soon.
Which teachers and or dancers have inspired you the most and why?
I literally take something from every dance class I go to. From teachers AND fellow students. Also dance events like Club Oval or Outbox Me have talents that have inspired me. There are, however some dancers I should mention, though: Raha Nejad for example has, from the first time she saw me in her class, supported me in every way! She is a very good teacher and always tries to create a safe space where it’s not about „killing it“ but using your body correctly. I love her choreographies (which are always different and versatile) because she tries to make them as organic as possible, so you just have to follow what your body is already telling you. And because Raha has a very wide range in style, you automatically learn more than one in her classes.
There’s also my colleague Vihra Shopova. She is absolutely amazing when it comes to improvisation. I wish I had the ability to connect the music so perfectly with my body like she does. There are so many more, and every one of them has something I can aspire to learn or to achieve. Manuel Neubauer also has a safe spot in my list. He is the kindest soul I have ever met and probably will ever meet.
What makes a good dancer in your opinion?
A good dancer, in my opinion, should have an open mind and try to learn as much as possible, widen the horizon. We’re never finished as dancers, as humans, we can always learn more and evolve to get out of our comfort zone and try new things.
Being a good dancer means also to be a good person. Respect others, don’t hate on each other, don’t make it a competition, support each other, learn from each other, push each other and help each other. Discipline is also very important I think. Especially when you dance in a group. Don’t be selfish; Be on time, make sure you don’t hold back the group and be devoted! So basically, for me, being a good dancer is being a good person with an open mind.
Can anyone dance? What about “limitations” like age, body type, physical handicap?
EVERYBODY CAN DANCE!
Dancing has no definition. Everybody dances in their own way. Of course it’s different if you go to a dance class, because there are patterns you have to follow (warm up, across the floor, choreography) and you can’t just do whatever you want. But if you don’t like that, you don’t have to go to a dance school to dance.
If you do, however, and you feel like you have “imitations“ , then try the best you can do and don’t compare yourself to others! Of course that’s easier said than done. I myself often have problems in contemporary when I see how higher all the other legs go or how far all the others can stretch. And don’t get me startet on my feet! I do not even have an instep and therefore can’t do some stuff where you need one. And I’m very insecure about my thighs, which are humongous! So I just try to compensate as best as I can. I guess it’s also important that, IF you really have a physical handicap, accept it and don’t strain yourself, because otherwise you’ll hurt your body and maybe won’t be able to dance for long. Embrace it and work around it.
In my blog I mention feeling invisible and never being selected for groups at the end of class or to record a class video. You wrote a post on FB about this which touched me deeply. I think it resonates with many other dancers.
A shortened version:
“Sometimes I’m afraid to take a class. Not because I’m afraid I won’t be able to execute but because I’m afraid that the vibe created by some individuals will kill the original reason why we do what we do: dance. Because the original reason is not connections, is not fame, is not money. It’s love….
We always feel like we have to “kill” everything in order to be “selected” at the end of a class – And this concept of “selection”…what is this, the freakin Hunger Games ?! Darwinism?! Definitely feels like it sometimes. And don’t get me wrong! I totally support the concept of giving people the chance – and the space – to show their world to the rest of the class. But people shouldn’t be “selected” to show how it’s done but to show how it CAN be done, for inspirational reasons.
Or to empower people, to let them know they’re being SEEN! Yes, maybe they don’t “kill” the choreo like some others but fuck comparison! Fuck rivalry! They kill in their own way! It often seems more important to have the “perfect” video in the end (and “perfect” does not exist. I know. I’m a perfectionist.) than to push and reward those who work twice as hard.
You mentioned you’d like to see other dancers in these class videos and listed some names. One of the names you listed was mine. Since you are such a great dancer and usually selected in most classes, I was really surprised and happy. What can someone like me (older/less training) offer someone like you in terms of learning or inspiration?
Are you kidding?! You’re almost twice my age and you take as many classes as I do! You show me that we can do anything as long as we really want it! And that it’s never too late to do what you love, whether it’s dancing, mountain climbing, running the Marathon or whatever! You’re disciplined like hell and work SO hard and I’m just sad that so few people really see you! The world needs more people like you!
To anyone out there scared to take class because they feel intimidated…..what advice would you give?
Do not think about what you can’t do, think about what you CAN do! No one and I mean NO ONE is perfect. Not even Béyoncé, haha!
What always pushes me is that I can’t stand thinking I can’t do something or don’t like something without having tried it. If you try and you realize: „Okay, not my thing.“ that’s totally fine! But don’t let your fear hold you back. There is this one class I take on Mondays with Raha Nejad. And she always does across the floor where you have to go solo and freestyle. Not to show off but she gives you tasks. And new people are always scared and don’t want to do it. They ask :“Is she doing this every time?!“ with big scared eyes. And I feel them so badly! We all had to go through that; our fist time in a new dance class.That’s why it’s important that teachers make sure that everyone in the room feels comfortable.
What do you think makes a great class? What class etiquettes (if any) do you believe are important to follow and would you advise newcomers to be aware of?
I think a great class is one where everybody feels comfortable to express themselves, whether beginner, intermediate or advanced.
One advice I can give is, when the teacher starts to explain things, listen! Listen and already try to understand what he or she maybe hasn’t told you yet. For example: If you start the choreo part and the teacher explains the steps without music, then turns it on and shows it to you, already try to hear which step is on which sound. It helps so much with learning chreos faster!
I think it’s important to create groups in order to give people space. If you still do not want to be seen (which is also totally fine), then just stand in the back and do your thing. I also very much like the support that is given when the other groups sit in the front to observe and cheer on their peers. Everyone should participate in that.
I guess when your a newcomer, you should just make sure that you really want to take part because there will be classes where you may have to go solo across the floor or improvise or dance when someone else watches you. Just don’t be afraid. If it’s a good teacher, he or she will create the safe space you need.
What does the ideal dance community and industry look like for your generation?Well ideal would be if everyone who wants it would be given a chance. That the casting directors would choose who’s good and not who’s got the looks. This will never happen! It’s not pessimistic, its realistic. Society will never let this happen. But that’s where the community comes in I guess. We should stop seeing everything as a competition and instead support each other. If someone’s good than cheer him on instead of talking him or her down. Do not always only let the same people dance. Give others a chance, too, whether they’re doing every step correctly or not. And stop making connections more important than skills! That’s probably a long way to go but I’d say let’s try and start in the class room!
Thank you for sharing your thoughts! I hope this will inspire many more to overcome fears and dance!