One of my favourite ways to stay inspired is to read about how other people put their creativity into practice and learn to live creative lives. Every so often, I’ll be interviewing someone who is letting their creative light shine. Hopefully, these folks will inspire you as much as they inspire me.
I first met Andrea when she was a fellow vendor at the Royal Bison market, and later started taking belly dance classes with her. Her passion as a dancer has been a huge inspiration in my own dance journey, her soulful approach to living warms my heart, and I look up to her success as a creative entrepreneur - she's killing it here in Edmonton.
What sort of creative work do you do?
I am a Belly Dance teacher and performer. For many years I taught weekly classes and danced in Greek restaurants and Lebanese night clubs. Recently I have shifted my focus and only teach workshops or private classes and perform only for events like engagements/weddings/birthdays etc.
I also created a performance piece called "Fortune Writer" in which people ask a question or suggest a topic and I generate a unique fortune for them on my typewriter.
Have you always thought of yourself as a creative person? Why or why not?
Definitely. I have always had a desire to create and make and share and connect. I find great satisfaction in the process and the actual physical labor of producing work; the end product is a great reward but it's the former that satisfies my soul.
How did you get started?
Dancing has always been something I loved but when Shakira hit it big in North America I was mesmerized by the way she undulated and moved her hips. After speaking with a friend, she recommended that belly dance might be right up my alley and suggested a local dance studio to take classes. Unfortunately I was 16 at the time and living in Sherwood Park where there were no classes so as soon as I moved in Edmonton I enrolled in classes at Isis Dance (now known as School of Raq). I had wonderful instructors that encouraged and guided me as I realized that dancing "professionally" was something I really wanted to do. After several years of classes I began travelling North America studying under my dear mentor, Hadia. I completed all three levels of her teacher training and attended her Pro Course three years in a row. From there I started teaching and dancing in restaurants and for special events.
I have a background in writing but hadn't found a way to pursue it or find a proper/comfortable outlet for it. I had borrowed a typewriter from my then boyfriend and became completely enthralled with the machine; I found myself constantly at the machine, ideas tumbling from my brain, and feeling so satisfied by the click clack of the keys. Fortune Writer began as a piece of performance art created for the Ladies of the North, a female arts collective. It debuted at Latitude 53 in 2013 and blossomed from there.
What’s your process like?
Lots of procrastination - it's a natural part of how I have always worked. I spend a huge amount of time thinking about what I am going to be doing and how to do it but not actually doing or practicing it. Then as the deadline looms, I get to work with a set schedule. I define chunks of time in my day to practice and do so until I feel satisfied. When I am preparing for a specific performance I spend hours listening to the same song on repeat until I can sing the melody- that way I know all of the nuances and phrasing and can better translate the music through my body.
Fortune Writer is always spontaneous - I take inspiration from music/books/podcasts so I tend to spend as much time absorbing and learning as I can. I also constantly challenge myself to learn new words or nail tricky spellings. It's a skill we lose on computers; there's no autocorrect on a manual typewriter.
What or who inspires you?
I have had amazing mentors - Hadia has been massively influential to my dancing and my life as a whole. She is a phenomenal dancer and instructor and also a massage therapist. Her respect for and love of the body inspired me to pursue a career as a massage therapist. My Canadian dancer friends - Melissa Gamal (Toronto) and Angelica Jordan (Montreal) seem to continuously keep the ball rolling with their dance careers, troupe work, and personal development. And most recently Katalin Schafer (Hungary) has become a huge support in my development as a dancer. I met her in Grand Prairie and was completely moved by her spirit and approach to dance; with a strong background in modern and jazz she is a "rule breaker" and soul explorer in Arabic dance and really pushes our conceived notions of what a "belly dancer" is. Personally, I am starting to move away from my persona of "Anya the Belly Dancer" and instead exist as "Andrea the dancer who dances to Arabic music." This shift isn't to poo-poo those who call themselves belly dancers or to say that belly dancing is not Art. It's more a personal cerebral shift that allows me more freedom to play and create.
What’s your biggest creative struggle and how are you coping with it?
The constant battle of being inspired/uninspired. It never ceases to end. I'm ready to stop dance at one moment and then POOF all I want to do is dance. It is the most torrid love affair I have ever had.
What’s your # 1 tip about everyday creativity?
Pause and pay attention. I tend to go for long walks almost every day...several weeks ago I stopped to stare at the most perfect ombre tree of green to yellow to red and it was just so totally beautiful. Cliche? Maybe but I never want to fall out of love with this world. Enjoy these moments of beauty! Drink them in - let them feed your soul.
What are you working on next?
A dance production! And I'm so excited. I am applying to the Fringe but regardless will mount the show next year. It will be an ensemble of 9-10 performers and be set to Alf Leyla W Leyla (One Thousand and One nights). I am holding auditions in the next 2 months and working on it bit by bit each day. Just talking or writing about it gives me goosebumps.
I'm also hosting a workshop with Melissa Gamal in April 2017 here in Edmonton so currently I'm doing all the fun administrative things for that. We are also planning a show on April 29th that will feature performances to pieces of music sung by Oum Kalthoum; it will be a beautiful weekend of learning and sharing.
Where can we find you online?