Practicing Islam and Having a Dance Career Aren't Incompatible
Growing up, I never saw a problem with my dancing and neither did my Muslim-Egyptian dad or my non-Muslim, American mom. They raised me to understand that the core principles of Islam, of any religion, are meant to help us be better people. When I married my Pakistani husband, who comes from a more conservative approach to Islam, I suddenly encountered perceptions of dance that made me question everything: Is it okay to expose a lot of skin? Is it wrong to dance with other men? Is dance inherently sexual? What guidelines come from our holy book, the Quran, and what are cultural views that have become entwined in Islam?
Idris Ademola, Courtesy Shah
I became so overwhelmed that I quit dance for about a year. When I left it, I left myself. Even though I didn't have all the answers, my gut convinced me that dance is it for me. So I accepted that things could get messy and dove back in. Besides a clear rule of no nudity, my ideas on modesty became more responsive to the art, and less focused on one inch of extra fabric or the placement of my partner's hands. The clearer I became in my convictions, the more my family and friends accepted my decisions.
As a freelancer, I always research a company or choreographer before signing on to a production, and I occasionally pass on opportunities if I know a conflict will arise. I don't worry anymore about missing out because I know I can choreograph my own work.
Idris Ademola, Courtesy Shah
I often start my day silently reciting a few simple prayers: "Help me use my dance not just for my own happiness but for the benefit of others. Ease my doubts when I worry that the sacrifices and burdens of dance may outweigh the reward." But it's easy for that intention to blur amidst the hustle and bustle of the city, which is why one of the pillars of Islam is performing five daily prayers. Although I don't complete them in the traditional manner (which involves a pattern of standing and kneeling), I weave them in as I speed-walk through Central Park or sit on the subway, commuting from one job or rehearsal to the next.
Another pillar is fasting during the month of Ramadan. From sunrise to sunset, which can exceed 15 hours, I abstain from food and drink, including water. It's a time for reflection, charity and renewed gratitude for the basic necessities. But life doesn't stop just because it's Ramadan. I still have to go to work, class and rehearsal. I'll wake up around 3 am to guzzle water and eat a healthy meal that will help sustain me until sunset. If I'm in the middle of rehearsal when the sun falls, I'll take a few minutes to break my fast with a light snack and water.
Idris Ademola, Courtesy Shah
Sometimes non-fasting friends or my mom will be concerned about my health, but I assure them that if I ever feel ill I won't fast that day. I've also learned to listen to my body. There are days when I skip a two-hour class and opt for a nap. Other times, it's exhilarating to push through the last 30 minutes of my fast by going for a run.
I used to be filled with anxiety as Ramadan approached. But last year I had a breakthrough. I spent the month collaborating with writer/director Jesca Prudencio of Ping Chong + Company and fellow Muslim performer Natsumi Sophia Bellali to workshop Calling: a dance with faith. It's a biographical dance theater piece about Bellali's and my experiences being Muslim and dancers. Prudencio mined our personal stories, and we addressed our fears of being seen as "representatives" of Islam and all Muslim dancers.
Idris Ademola, Courtesy Shah
We confronted our peers' stereotypes—"Isn't dance against your religion?"—along with misconceptions we face from other Muslims—"Oh, so you're a belly dancer?" or "I didn't realize that dance can be more than a hobby." We danced until we passed out on the ground smiling. For the first time in my career, I was able to bring my love for dance and my faith into the same space.
Many mornings I take ballet class at New York City Center, a ritual as comforting as daily prayers. The person beside me doesn't know that I am Muslim, and I have no clue if they practice a specific faith. But it doesn't matter. In our multicolored socks and shoes we are a motley crew assembled for the same reason—to dance.
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Summer is almost upon us, and whether you're a student about to go on break or a pro counting the days till layoff, don't forget that with warm weather comes a very serious responsibility: To maintain your cross-training routine on your own.
Those of us who've tried to craft our own cross-training routine know it's easier said than done. So we consulted the stars, and rounded up the best options for every zodiac sign. (TBH, you should probably consult an expert, too—we'd recommend a physical therapist, a personal trainer or your teacher.)
The way we create and consume dance is changing every day. Now more than ever, the field demands that dancers not only be able to perform at the highest level, but also collaborate with choreographers to bring their artistic visions to life. Dancers who miss out on choreographic training may very well find themselves at a disadvantage as they try to launch their careers.
It's become second nature in dance studios: The instant anyone gets hurt, our immediate reaction is to run to the freezer to grab some ice (or, more realistically, a package of frozen peas).
But as routine as icing our injuries might be, the benefits are not actually backed up by scientific studies. And some experts now believe icing could even disrupt the healing process.
I'm a contemporary dancer, and I'm nervous about trying to get pregnant since I can't predict if it might happen during the middle of the season. We have a union contract that is supposed to protect us. But I'm scared because several of my colleagues' contracts weren't renewed for no particular reason. Having a big belly could be a big reason to get rid of me!
—Andrea, New York, NY
It's not often that a promising choreographer gets to stage work in a world-class theater, on a skillfully-curated program with professional dancers, and with the possibility of winning a substantial cash prize. But at the McCallum Theatre's Palm Desert Choreography Festival, that's been the status quo for over twenty years.
Since Shea New, the festival's artistic director, founded the festival in 1998, she's worked tirelessly with McCallum's director of education and festival producer, Kajsa Thuresson-Frary, and stage manager and festival production manager Joanna Fookes to build a festival that nurtures choreographers, highlights high quality work, powerfully engages the local community and cultivates an audience base for dance in the Coachella Valley. The trio is backed by a strong team of professionals at McCallum and the brilliant volunteers from the local and national level who serve as adjudicators.
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When the going gets tough, the tough start dancing: That's the premise behind "Dance of Urgency," a recently opened exhibit at MuseumsQuartier Vienna that features photos, video and other documentary material relating to the use of dance as political protest or social uprising.
The groups featured in the show, largely based around clubs and electronic dance music scenes, span the globe and respond to a variety of issues—from inequality and social stratification to racial divides to crackdowns on club culture itself.
Last night, longtime theater legends (including Chita Rivera herself!) as well as rising stars gathered to celebrate one of Broadway's danciest events: the third annual Chita Rivera Awards.
The evening paid tribute to this season's dancer standouts, fabulous ensembles, and jaw-dropping choreography—on- and off-Broadway and on film.
As usual, several of our faves made it into the mix. (With such a fabulous talent pool of nominees to choose from, we're glad that ties were allowed.) Here are the highlights from the winner's list:
When you're a foreign dancer, gaining legal rights to work in the U.S. is a challenging process. It's especially difficult if you're petitioning to work as a freelance dancer without an agent or company sponsorship.
The process requires professional muscle along with plenty of resources and heart. "There's a real misnomer that it's super easy," says Neena Dutta, immigration attorney and president of Dutta Law Firm. "People need to educate themselves and talk to a professional."
Here are four things every foreign dancer who wants to work in the U.S. needs to know to build a freelance dance career here.
What does it take to "make it" in dance? It's no secret that turning this passion into a profession can be a struggle. In such a competitive field, talent alone isn't enough to get you where you want to be.
So what kinds of steps can you take to become successful? Dance Magazine spoke to 33 people from all corners of the industry to get their advice on the lessons that could help us all, no matter where we are in our careers.
On May 18, 1919, Margot "Peggy" Hookham was born. She would grow up to become Dame Margot Fonteyn, England's first homegrown prima ballerina. She joined the Sadler's Wells School in 1934 and was performing principal roles with the precursor to The Royal Ballet the next year. Fonteyn was a company-defining figure, dancing Aurora for the re-opening of the Royal Opera House after World War II, creating numerous roles with Sir Frederick Ashton and forging a legendary partnership with Rudolf Nureyev.
Memorial Day is notoriously one of Chicago's bloodiest weekends. Last year, 36 people were shot and seven died that weekend. In 2017 and 2016, the number of shootings was even higher.
When Garley "GiGi Tonyé" Briggs, a dance teacher and Chicago native, started noticing this pattern, she was preparing her second annual Memorial Day workshop for local youth.
The event's original aim was simple: "I wanted the youth of Chicago to have somewhere they could come and learn from different dancers and be off the streets on the South Side on this hot holiday," she says.
A recent trip I took to Nashville coincided with the NFL draft. As we drove into town, my Uber driver was a fount of information on the subject.
I learned that there are 32 NFL teams and that the draft takes place over seven rounds. That the team that did the poorest during the previous season gets first pick. That during an earlier event called the scouting combine, the teams assess college football players and figure out who they want.
There is also the veteran combine for "free agents"—players who have been released from their contracts or whose contracts have expired. They might be very good players, but their team needs younger members or ones with a certain skill set. All year round, experienced NFL scouts scan games across the country, checking out players and feeding that information back to the teams. Players' agents keep their eyes on opportunities for their clients which might be more rewarding.
While I sat in the traffic of 600,000 NFL fans I got thinking, is there something ballet could learn from football? Could a draft system improve young dancers' prospects and overall company caliber and contentment?
Despite what you might think, there's no reason for dancers to be afraid of bread.
"It's looked at as this evil food," says New York State–certified dietitian and former dancer Tiffany Mendell. But the truth is, unless you have celiac disease or a gluten intolerance, bread can be a healthy source of carbohydrates—our body's preferred fuel—plus fiber and vitamins.
The key is choosing your loaf wisely.