Susannah Grant comes Face to Face with Cristiane Azem, acclaimed Director, Dancer and Artistic Producer. Originally from Sao Paulo, Cristiane weaves her oriental heritage into her love of belly dancing and explores movement from a fascinating anthropological standpoint.
How old were you when you first started dancing?
I started out with modern ballet and contemporary dance aged 10. Later, aged 15, I was introduced to Flamenco and Spanish folkloric dance for the first time and I instantly fell in love with it. My love of Oriental dance came to me through my family as my father was Lebanese.
You have three strands to your business. Tell us more
Yes, I do. I have had a Dance School in the centre of Madrid for 15 years, where I teach and direct various artistic training projects for professional and amateur students and we put on several artistic productions every year.
In addition, I am a stage director of projects of other professional artists such as the great Flamenco dancer Manuel Reyes or the creator Lenna Beauty from Brazil, as well as international artistic events, mainly in Turkey.
Finally, the third strand of my work is focused on me as a dancer in my own shows, and also as a guest dancer for musicians such as Eduardo Paniagua, Emilio Sanz, Efren Lopez and Misirli Ahmed among others.
What is it that makes your dance school different from others?
Before opening my own school, I taught for 10 years, focussing not only on the dance technique itself but also on the importance of the anthropological and historical features of Eastern culture.
When I opened my own school, I pioneered a method that I call TRANSVERSAL DANCE whereupon I incorporate the experience of literature, the arts, philosophy, anthropology and history into the very heart of teaching of dance. In this way I don’t categorise the students by their level, we practise more of ” a vertical-style learning”, just like it is done in the Eastern way.
Is there a huge difference between the different countries well-known for belly dancing such as Turkey and Middle Eastern nations?
Whilst there is a great variety of styles, there isn´t a huge difference because the steps and movements are similar. However, the way of performing them is the differentiating factor and it is very enriching to study the Oriental dance of each particular region, as well as the different periods and the personal style of the great dancers of the past.
What is the history of belly dancing?
The history of Belly Dancing goes back to the history of human mankind. Starting with the first sacred dances to goddesses and gods and then social dances as a means of communal identification which later became engrained in folklore.
And then came the artistic phase that we know more superficially as “Belly Dance” which was popularised at the beginning of the 20th century by Egyptian cinema. Today belly dancing continues to evolve, often far beyond its origins or its artistic purity.
What is the knack for mastering those tiny, impressive shakes of one´s stomach area?
The first thing is to recognise your own body as having different parts, yet one energy flowing through it. Then you start to investigate the specific movements of each zone in order to isolate them. This way the “shakes”, “shimmies”, “snakes” and “ondulating movements” gradually appear as something powerful, pleasurable and sensual.
What do Flamenco and Belly Dancing have in common?
Both Flamenco and Belly Dancing have long historical roots that stem from our need to connect with the forces of nature and pass down a cultural legacy to generations to come. Flamenco has a particular musical rhythm that the dancer has to master in order to dance it well. Whereas belly dancing, at first sight appears more subtly sensual and graceful. Both invigorate both body and soul and are very restorative!
What advice would you give to anyone who thinks they have 2 left feet?
Everybody in the world is able to dance. Dance is a gift we all have and if you are shown the doors, you can walk through them without fear and feel all its magic.
What is your secret Madrid?
My “secret Madrid” are the windows of my School which are very close to the sky of the Plaza de Tirso de Molina, in the city centre. There I can see wonderful sunsets and the moon… and the trees changing according to the season, I love that.
What´s next for Cristiane Azem?
I have three new dance plays about to be released in theatres:
JAMSA dedicated to the Woman of the Orient.
METÁFORA PARA FRIDA dedicated to the work and life of Frida Kahlo combined with women’s poetry.
And the other one, BOHEMIAN VINTAGE, is a show dedicated to an imaginary oriental café in the 30s.
I am also developing a project about García Lorca with important flamenco musicians where we will incorporate the Japanese Butoh technique into flamenco and Lorca’s poetry.
And as on top of all of that I’m preparing the edition of my first book on the anthropological evolution of dance. So lots to look forward to!
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