Dance! For the Love of Tradition

In my life I have been lucky enough to meet some fascinating people.

About a year and a half ago, I had the opportunity to attend my first WorlDance show. My 12 year old was in it with her character dance group through SLC Ballet. The children had rehearsed for hours over the fall months preceding the show. My daughter was especially excited, because she had just joined the studio’s youth company and knew it was an honor to do this EXTRA performance. The extra rehearsal and studio time would pay off with bonus stage time. Always a plus in my family…this genetic mutation that somehow changes panic and apprehension for being in front of an audience into a rush of adrenalin and joy, has been passed down through my mother, skipped me, and entered my daughter. She simply loves being on the stage.  I sat down in the audience that night, and watched the stage fill with folk dancers from around Europe and Asia, traditional Persian Dancers, and listened to traditional Persian music. This show was the labor and love of Eastern Arts (also known as the couple Katherine St. John and Lloyd Miller). Through their perseverance, the WorlDance show has been staged annually for over 15 years. They are the creators, producers, directors, they participate in it, and feel passionately about it. It’s an endeavor that has been hard-won over the years.

Misunderstood in the west, Persian culture and dance have been played out as very 2 dimensional. We look at belly dancing as the only dance coming out of Persia or the middle east. Yet somewhat paradoxically, we only pay attention to the extremism we hear about in the news and forget that the people in the middle east come from cultures as diverse as those in Europe. As westerners, our history includes the intellectual traditions of Greece and Rome, the art of the renaissance, the various folk traditions within Europe,  all the different foods that come from our various homelands, and all of our different European religions. Though we see all this within ourselves, somehow we neglect to see  the complexities of cultures beyond our own. I suppose this is a perfectly normal human trait. After all, we only have our own eyes. We feel trapped within ourselves. But, there are things that bring us together as human beings. We share common desires for ourselves and our families. We want to grow. We want to stretch. We want to love. We feel isolated, but we are more alike than different.

I couldn’t possibly share all the nuances of Persian culture with you. The simplest reason being that I don’t know and understand them myself. I can however share Katherine and Lloyd with you.  It is their love of this culture from Persia that fuels their desire to share it with the rest of us….to make Persian culture more understood and more 3 dimensional.

As a jazz musician, Lloyd Miller lived quite the bohemian life in the 50s and 60s. He played with many of the great jazz musicians of that time across Europe. But, because Lloyd lived in Iran for 7 years his passion became Persia; the music and the people. Eastern Arts was born in Paris in 1960. He brought this child of his here to Utah in 1963. Lloyd; multi lingual and multi instrumental is a force of his own.  A tower of creativity and passion, he is gifted and genius, but Lloyd alone was unable to convey the true nature of his passion to the public of Utah. That is until Katherine St. John came into the picture in the 1980s. Katherine created a foundation that all their  passions could stand on. It is her heart, kindness, determination, and hard work that has brought success to their program and cause. I would say that together, these two great people have created something completely unique and one of a kind.They have a synergy in their work that is visible to the casual observer.

When I found out SLC Ballet would participate in the show for a second year, I had a twinge inside. Hmmm….maybe that desire to be on stage didn’t skip me. It simply lay dormant for a while. Ya….I already knew that. Anyway, I emailed Katherine asking if there was a place for my dance in the show. I’m quite sure she and Lloyd were baffled at what to do with my request. My dance is from South America. Their hearts are in Persia. It would not be an easy request to fill, but a month later I received an email from Katherine asking me if Nicholas and I were still interested in being in their show. She lay the plot of the shows story out for me. A man from Persia has a dream of a beautiful woman. He travels the world in search of her; in search of love. In the moment they created this storyline, they created a place for us. We had 2 performances lined up in the 2 weeks previous, not knowing that WorlDance would pan out, but it was an exciting prospect: to perform on a large stage with my children and 200 others. The night was full. It was surprisingly calm backstage, for all the dancers, as well as for us.  I was excited about the dance, and I was calm.  It was a fun night…a night of shared experiences, friends, family, and opening up to new possibilities.

Thank you Katherine and Lloyd for your passion, your work, and your willingness to share.

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