Myra Krien is the founder and director of Pomegranate Studios (535 Cerrillos Road, 505-986-6164), which offers dance classes and youth outreach programs, as well as the director and choreographer of Mosaic Dance Company. Krien and Mosaic will perform Invaders of the Heart: One Love (7 pm Friday and Saturday, April 24 and 25. $25. James A Little Theater, 1060 Cerrillos Road, 505-986-6164).
SFR: How did you get into Middle Eastern dancing?
MK: My mother was a belly dancer and she studied with a lot of very famous dancers in the Bay Area—Jamila Salimpour, Bert Balladine. I went to classes with her from the time I was a little girl. I started performing when I was 11 and I taught my first belly dance class when I was 14 years old because I was sick of PE. I went and begged my principal to let me start an alternative class. I had both boys and girls in my class and some of them went on to become very successful dancers.
So men can belly dance?
In the Middle East, men belly dance all the time. It’s just our culture; we’re lucky if we can get a guy to two-step. But in a lot of other cultures, it’s different. You know, Latin men dance all the time; they grew up doing it.
You do a lot of educational programs for children, right?
Our youngest students are about 6 years old and we call those our ‘seedlings,’ and then we have what we call our ‘little seeds,’ which are kids about 10 to 14. We also have our SEEDs program—a youth mentorship program for social change. SEEDs stands for self-esteem, empowerment and education through dance. It involves three months of financial literacy planning, mentorships from different women in the community, and it offers so much more than just dancing. Dancing is the hook to get the girls involved.
What do you think are the biggest misconceptions about belly dancing?
The biggest one is when you say ‘I’m a belly dancer’ and you can see someone put ‘stripper’ across your forehead. It’s really unfortunate and I think it has a lot to do with our conception of culture. The dance is sexy but it can also be outright fun. It can be very emotional too. It’s very much centered on what is thought of as the emotional body—the shoulder to hip region. Of course love and loss of love come in, but it really has a wide range and depends on who’s doing it. We don’t really look at our cultural stereotypes. For someone in the Middle East to watch a ballerina, to see a woman take her leg and lift it over her head, is really intense. For them to see a belly dancer, who has her legs very close together, it’s sexy for them too, but it has a different definition.
You’re also teaching a veil workshop (11 am-2 pm Sunday, March 22. Railyard Performance Space, 1611 Paseo de Peralta, 986-6164). How does the veil work in dance?
The veil is more of an American invention. Usually, in Egypt, women go out and they’re covered and when they get to wherever they’re going, they take their cover off. So usually when a dancer hits the stage, she’ll come out with a veil but it’s just a representation of that covering and then she takes it off. In America we started getting into Oriental dance in the 1920s and we had this fantasy about Orientalism. At that time, the silent movies were The Thief of Baghdad, etc., etc., and Hollywood was having this romance with the Middle East. Well, they saw these Hollywood films and were really impressed by what we thought of them. As a matter of fact, the two-piece bra and belt costume that you see so often, that’s actually an American invention, but it became a traditional costume after they saw those films. This dance form has been in dialogue for the last 100 years.
What was the traditional belly dance costume before the whole coin-bra thing?
Big pantaloons, a tunic with very long sleeves, a sheer tunic underneath it, a vest that went around it and something tied at the hips—so actually quite covered. The first belly dancers that appeared at the World’s Fair were considered quite scandalous because they wore this vest over their sheer tunic and you could see through the tunic. At that time we were in the Victorian Age so this was absolutely shocking. Today people would be like, ‘she’s so covered.’