Teach-Learn Connection

January 21, 2007

SEEDing Self Esteem

Teenage girls study belly dance in Santa Fe

When best friends Heather McDonald and Marissa Mathy-Zvaifler were 16, they signed up for a belly dancing workshop. It was an introduction to SEEEDS—Self-Esteem, Expression, Empowerment, and Education through Dance—for teenage girls at Myra Krien’s Pomegranate Studios in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The girls would try the two-week workshop, and afterward decide if they wanted to enter the full year-long SEEEDS program.


Heather and Marissa fell in love with the sensual signature movements of belly dancing. They learned to shimmy their hips and shoulders, roll their bellies, and swirl with their arms high in the air. But before they could enroll for the year-long program, Marissa was tragically raped and murdered. Heather and the other girls were shocked and scared, but they decided to rally and continue with SEEEDS in honor of Marissa, dedicating their dancing to their friend.


“The SEEEDS program saved my life,” says Heather, who is now a freshman at Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado. “After Marissa died I felt like my light had been extinguished. This class helped me face a lot of my fears, and the studio became my sanctuary.” Throughout the school year the girls attended 90-minute sessions, three times a week. They looked up to Krien as a role model, and soaked up her vivacious and supportive personality.


SEEEDS is designed to be more than a dance class. The goal is to help young women blossom through their confusing adolescent years when self-esteem, body image, and health are susceptible to negative societal influences. It’s a time when they’re at risk for pregnancy, drug and alcohol abuse, and for dropping out of school. Krien, who is also director of the Middle Eastern Mosaic Dance Company, founded SEEEDS as a positive alternative. The year that Marissa died, it was needed more than ever.


“The studio gave them community and a safe place to be,” says Krien. “Belly dancing helped them because it is physical, with bare feet. It’s very grounding.”


Now in its sixth year SEEEDS inspires young women ages 15 to 18 to feel good about their bodies, develop discipline and strength, and support rather than compete with each other. There are currently 23 girls enrolled. Krien, who has been dancing and teaching for more than 25 years, says that American Tribal Style belly dance—a fusion of movements from India, the Middle East, North Africa, and Spain—is the perfect vehicle to teach these important lessons. She points out that it honors femininity in all its shapes and sizes. “No one is too thin, too heavy, too short, or too tall for this dance form,” says Krien. “Right there the whole self-esteem issue becomes much easier.”


Tribal belly dance also nurtures positive group dynamics. The movement is largely improvisational, and the dancers shift seamlessly between leading the group and being followers. This requires attentiveness, cooperation, and respect. “This dance form makes you aware of how you affect other people and how they affect you,” says Heather. “When we’re dancing we become almost like one organism.”


The girls also learn hand drumming, zill (finger cymbals), and moving meditation, and are introduced to the concepts of talking circles and journal writing. Guest speakers give lessons on how to set and reach goals, financial planning, and sex education.


Eighteen-year-old Leah Woods graduated from SEEEDS two years ago. She is now enrolled in New College of California and dancing with the well-known Middle Eastern dancer Suhaila Salimpour. “I would never have been able to move to San Francisco, where I didn’t know a single human being, and be able to pay my rent, be in school, and keep dancing, without the support that SEEEDS gave me,” she says.


SEEEDS is purely educational, providing information and developing skills. Krien believes the art form is an effective healer, but she herself does not try to be a therapist. She offers a sympathetic ear, but if any of the girls need serious psychological advice she refers them to a professional. “Dance is such a powerful medium,” she says. “It centers the girls, clears their minds, and gives them a sense of control over their lives.”


Krien says the flirty, sensual nature of belly dancing and the provocative costumes allow the adolescents to explore their changing bodies in a positive way. “Young women are budding sexually and they need a healthy environment in which to channel that energy,” she says. “They become more confident in their bodies and I believe this will help them make safer choices.”


SEEEDS is intentionally inexpensive, and full scholarships are available. The girls have four performance opportunities during the year, and many of the graduates have gone on to perform in schools and for Santa Fe community events with Krien’s apprentice company, Ahatti, (little sister).


In addition to being a selfless teacher, Krien is a mesmerizing dancer. Her voluptuous frame embodies the depth and soul of this ancient dance form. “When she dances she transcends her physical self,” says Heather. “She is no longer Myra. She is everything and everything is her. It’s like her soul is dancing.” www.mosaicdance.net.


Shayna Samuels is a writer and yoga teacher living in New Mexico.


Across the Floor

Honor Roll

American Dance Festival dean emeritus Martha Myers received an honorary doctoral degree from Virginia Commonwealth University. Myers, who is a noted teacher of composition, began her dance studies in Richmond and attended Richmond Professional Institute, which eventually became VCU. Myers became dean of ADF in 1968 during the period the Festival was hosted by Connecticut College, where she founded the dance department. She traces her dance lineage back to Hanya Holm, Doris Humphrey, and Merce Cunningham.


Atlanta Ballet Centre for Dance marks its 10th anniversary this year under the leadership of Sharon Story. Story danced with Boston Ballet under both Violette Verdy and Bruce Marks, and with Atlanta Ballet under Robert Barnett. Centre alumni have gone on to perform with Atlanta Ballet and beyond, including Troy Schumacher, who was recently promoted from apprentice to company member at New York City Ballet. The school has three locations and is one of the largest dance education centers in the U.S.


Carol Walker celebrated her final spring concert in April as dean of the Conservatory of Dance at Purchase College, SUNY. Under her direction, the Purchase Dance Corps premiered a new work by former Hubbard Street Dance Chicago soloist Lauri Stallings. They also performed Bronislava Nijinska’s Les Noces, staged by Howard Sayette and Irina Raetz for Purchase Dance Corps in 1983; Gerald Arpino’s Valentine, restaged with assistance from Christian Holder, who originated the man’s role; and Mark Morris’ Gloria. Walker has served as dean since 1984 and will retire after the end of the year.


Barbara Weisberger celebrated her 80th birthday in April with guest performers from Pennsylvania Ballet and Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet. Weisberger, who founded the Pennsylvania Ballet and the Carlisle Project, is now artistic advisor for Peabody Dance. With Carol Bartlett she has launched a summer choreography workshop at the Peabody Institute of Johns Hopkins University.


Joan Woodbury of Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company is National Dance Association’s 2006 Heritage Honoree. Choreographer Rudy Perez received the Honorary Doctor of Arts degree from California Institute of the Arts in May. The Connecticut Dance Alliance presented distinguished service awards to Sharon Dante of Nutmeg Conservatory and Judy Dworin of Trinity College.


Mary Katherine (Kacy) Wiedebusch, head of dance at West Virginia University, has retired after 51 years. She was among the original founders of the American College Dance Festival Association.


New Assignments

Dancers who study at Alonzo King’s LINES Ballet School in San Francisco can now earn a bachelor of fine arts in dance. Similar to The Ailey School’s partnership with Fordham University in New York, LINES and Dominican University will coordinate class offerings to enable dancers to pursue both the intensive ballet training in the LINES studios and academic classes in the nearby community of San Rafael. Applications are being accepted for Fall 2006. http://linesballet.org/linesbfa/index.html.


University of Nevada, Las Vegas now offers a bachelors degree in dance production and design headed by composer/musician Beth Mehocic and union designer Peter Jakubowski. The degree includes technique training, dance history, and choreography as well as costume design and construction, scenery, lighting, video, and sound production. Graduates will be qualified to stage professional productions, manage companies, and operate independent studios. http://dance.unlv.edu.