Monday, July 25, 2011

Dance: an Interview with Liesa Bassoi Pedersen

Lisa Bassoi Pedersen is the founder of Masouda Dance Ensemble in Plattsburgh , New York. She and I were close friends in college, where we shared our love of books, art, crocheting and life in general. Liesa was the first person I knew who had a green thumb, and to this day I picture her pinching her coleus house plants in just the right manner to make them thrive. Liesa became a dancer after I left Plattsburgh, and although I have yet to attend one of her dance events due to the long distance between us, I have kept up with her ensemble via emails and youtube.

How did you get into belly dancing?
I come from a mixed ethnic heritage from NYC - my favorite family functions were weddings on the Turkish side complete with mesmerizing music and Belly dancers! In the 60's, my beatnik older sister took me to the 8th Avenue clubs in Greenwich Village & I was hooked! I took folk dance & modern dance classes as a teen; and Turkish dance at the local coffee shop & art gallery where I went to high school. I started serious study Middle Eastern Dance with Amira (Joanne Ives) in Plattsburgh NY in the 80's.

Tell us about the evolution of your Masouda Dance Ensemble.
I loved being in my teacher's dance troupe "Hayetti" (my heart, my life - Arabic). When she retired I took up the torch and formed my own group. Masouda means happy, lucky, fortunate in Arabic. I consider us fortunate to spread the joy of dance! I formed it in 1993 as a collection of students to perform at local functions. As time went on, the ones that stayed pursued studies in dance and our tone evolved into a finely honed professional group. Some of my troupe members have studied in Egypt. At this point the core group has been with me over 15 years; and all the members have had extensive dance training in various areas of dance and movement. The newest member joined a few months ago. I am very proud of the hard work, energy, and creativity that they put into troupe.

Tell us a bit about what's involved in belly dance choreography and costuming.
Music drives the choreography - Arabic music has an emotional quality produced by quatertones; and the percussive TEKs of the doumbek drum make it impossible to sit still! I start with a piece a music that calls to me; or with an idea that calls to me. Then I work out the nuts and bolts of the choreography according to basic movement principles. I make notes with how many beats are in a certain section; draw pictures of the sounds of the music; write a story about the music - I have a lot of tools in my box. It is like any other endeavor to me: inspiration + sweat = result. I am constantly dreaming of dances, movement, body placement.
Costuming: same as above but more challenging due to money and time constraints! I design most of the costumes for troupe, classes, and my solo work. Then it's a matter or how to make, what parts to purchase, what's affordable, who can sew, etc. I cull ideas from everywhere and am constantly dreaming of colors, fabrics, shapes...I research traditional Middle Eastern Dance costumes, current styles, and theatrical treatments as well.

How does teaching dance inspire you?
I love to share the growth of my students as dance leads them to a place of freedom, self acceptance, and a joy in music and movement. It's been over 20 yrs and I never tire of the process.

How does dance inspire and/or change the lives of your students?
Most of them say things along the lines of "It has opened up a whole new world for me"; "I always loved to dance; now I have somewhere to channel that"; "I had no body confidence or awareness, now I have gained some" and my favorite "I've become addicted to Belly Dance - there's just something about the music and the movements!!"

What's next for you? To keep the next generation of dancers growing so I can pass the torch on when the time comes!

Thank you, Liesa!

Photos by Ron Nolland:
Liesa on stage.
Masouda Dance Ensemble, 2011,bottom L to R: Ali, Ilana; middle: Treza, Samian, Erika; top, Caitie, Liesa, Paul Pedersen, drummer for the Ensemble.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Despite the Near Drought

Despite this summer's near-drought conditions, some of the foliage in our yard continues to flourish. And yes, our water bill has been larger than our electric bill for a couple of months, even though we take certain water conservation measures. Houston is a difficult summer gardening locale and I am always looking for plants that thrive in spite of our heat and humidity. Here are some photos of the happiest plants that produced the large water bills. Not shown -- brown grass and the bare spots where the tomatoes used to be.....

1. Last of the sunflowers, in front of a jicama vine growing towards the roof.

2. Unknown hanging plant that grows strangely embryonic looking flower heads.

3. Coneflowers (Echinacea) -- largely dependable, and the flowers last a long time.

4. Blanketflowers (Gaillardia).

5. Two tiny Meyer lemons (hope you can see them) on a miniature tree the Friends of West University Library gave me a couple of years ago.

6. Hibiscus growing in a planter on the patio -- they come and go in the space of one day.

Photos by KAO

Monday, July 11, 2011

The Journal Keeper by Phyllis Theroux

I borrowed The Journal Keeper: a Memoir (Atlantic Monthly, 2010) by Phyllis Theroux from the library, but halfway through it I knew I better order my own copy; there were just too many passages worth keeping. In other words, this is a book of uncommon substance, rich and thought-provoking. The author is very much a reader and thinker, peppering her memoir with brief excerpts from a wide range of writers. Theroux skillfully relates their wisdom to whatever is going on in her life. She dips into Ralph Waldo Emerson, Karen Armstrong, Lao-Tzu, Eckhart Tolle and Gary Zukav, to name a few.

Theroux is a journalist, novelist and creative writing teacher based in Ashland, Virginia. To hear her tell it, Ashland is a small town laced with colorful characters and charmed views. But it doesn't much matter where Theroux lives because wherever she goes, her writer's eye for detail paints a vibrant picture. During the course of the five years presented here, Theroux loses her mother, who she had been lovingly sharing her house with. Suddenly, the writer is alone. Her three children are grown and gone. Matters of mortality, aging, independence, home maintenance, faith, finance, love and family are given careful consideration.

In Theroux's contemplative search for what matters most, her journal is the perfect stomping ground. As per Ralph Waldo Emerson, "There is guidance for each of us and by lowly listening, we shall hear the right word." Such "lowly listening" is presented as her own inner voice, the one she searches out so carefully. And here is her angle on the process of keeping journal that I most loved: that journals are a place "to collect the light" and can function as a personal cheering section. Journals can also be a ragbag of impressions, later laid out into a beautifully embellished quilt, and that indeed, is what I found in Theroux's insightful book.

Here is one passage that exemplifies her substantial way with words:
Yesterday was a perfect summer day. All the earth was perfectly moist, the weeds came up easily, the grass glistened, and I spent nearly all day outside planting flowers, pulling up lamb's-quarter, and reclaiming the garden. It is beginning to have a luxuriant cared-for look. And even though, at various times during the day, I realized I was alone and should perhaps be uneasy over this, I dismissed the thought as unworthy of the day itself.

Perhaps this book can be most enjoyed by those in midlife or beyond. Enlightenment and wonder sure to follow!

Friday, July 1, 2011

My Collage Show @ Caladan Gallery

Marjorie Kay at Caladan Gallery made my day back in January when she awarded me with the opportunity of having a solo exhibit this summer. Well that time has come. Visit Caladan Gallery to see the 15 "Altarpiece" compositions in the show.

I had just begun the Altarpiece series when the opportunity to show at Caladan came to me. My sense of purpose increased and the series expanded. Buddhas and goddesses, labyrinths and mandalas rolled into my picture frames. From my point of view, many of these ancient symbols and forms seem still to be magically alive, as well as full of mystery. Perhaps my Unitarian Universalist faith is also involved, because we believe there is wisdom to be found in all the world's religions and spiritual practices. Although the initial series wound down after a few months of focused play, I'm sure eventually there will be new pieces forthcoming. Happy Fourth of July, and thanks for taking a look at my collages!

collages by Keddy Ann Outlaw:

Altarpiece 1: The Widow's Altar

Altarpiece 16: Compassionista

Altarpiece 39: Chaos Balanced