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.

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