The Joy of Dance

The Joy of Dance

Editor’s Note

Katya and I have had several fascinating conversations about the joy of dance.

How that joy is the foundation for creativity and expression as well musicality and composition.

You may well ask what all this has to do with African Development methodology or with Mezimbite Forest Centre? It is directly relevant: Without artistic ingenuity and innovation Allan could never have built a flourishing community out of the ashes of the civil war in Mozambique almost two decades ago. He needed to tap into that creative wellspring just as any artist must.

In just a couple of days – art teacher Suzanne Joyal heads to Zambia from California to implement an innovative eco-art program for the community she works with in the rural areas there. A program she has built within the support structure of Mezimbite Magazine Editorial Advisory Panel members Emmanuel, Keith, Jess, Lorena and Sarah. This was Allan’s vision of a “kitchen table” – a community that discusses creative ideas for development- and then heads out in the field to actually do the work that needs to be done. Put theory into practice.

Creative and innovative solutions to complex and tough problems in African development need to have their root in a sense of fearlessness and joy. And a community support structure or supportive sanctuary. Just like a corps de ballet. Which brings us back to dance – and to the very formidable Katerina Novikova who teaches at The Bolshoi Ballet in Moscow.

I want to thank Katya for sending Mez Mag two magnificent photos from the Bolshoi’s private collection. These photos are credited to Damir Yusupov. The first depicts Svetlana Zakharova and Alexandr Volchkov in Balancine. The second depicts Svetlana Zakharova in Bayadere.



Большой театр балета

The Bolshoi Ballet
Moscow, Russia

Hello everybody! My name is Katerina Novikova and I am the Chief Spokesperson for The Bolshoi Ballet.

I have had fascinating conversation with your Editor and we talked of many things – of Nureyev and Baryshnikov – of cave paintings and about how dance can build also character. How we perceive the world around us.

Thanks to Lorena, Suzanne, Sarah, Madhu – fellow dancers! – for your thoughts on dance.


Svetlana Zakharova and Alexandr Volchkov: The Bolshoi Ballet's production of Balancine


What is this thing dance?

Well, if we go to the earliest cave paintings in Africa, in France in many countries, we see that quite often the painters painted characters who were dancing, whose feet were in flight with sense of joy. Now why this is? This is because from very earliest man we have a natural inclination to do the dance. Dance is something very natural and very powerful as a raw energy and impulse in our being. Dance is state of being, a power.

Whether a person is going to make progress as professional dance or not depends on many things. But one thing is always for sure and that is discipline and character is cultivated through the classical dance training. Dance is also a metaphor for having a lens through which to perceive the world around you. To develop your sense of observation, musicality and composition of shape and form and movement and character.


Svetlana Zakharova in The Bolshoi Ballet's production of Bayadere


More than this also is the joy. Joy is everything in dance. The practice and the discipline serves the sense of joy and wonder. That is the correct order of priority.

I can always spot a person who has classical dance training. They are different.

They have excellent posture, they have a presence, they may be just not be talking or standing in line at supermarket but you can to look at them and – yes, yes that is dancer. Posture is correct, there is courage in their expression and intense focus and discipline in their eyes – they are observing, understanding, learning about life they are artists.

You can always notice a dancer. They have a way. So of course I want finally say that I recommend dance to all ages. I was talking with Karim – we discussed that Martha Graham was doing bar when she was almost 90 years old. So dance it is more than just mechanical movement of the body – it is about musicality and shape and form and artistic expression.

Keep dancing!

Katerina Novikova



Why do I love to dance?

There are many reasons that I could list over here:

It doesn’t matter who you are, your skin color, your height, if you are fat or skinny, because the only thing that matters is ” the connection ” you have with your partner.

Both of the dancers are there for the same goal, working together as partners, their identities melding, morphing together yet retaining their strong individual spirit – enriching each other, challenging each other, supporting each other.

Dancing and feeling the energy of the music seams to takes you out of your reality, away form your problems and routine. Like when you are watching a movie or reading a book, it seems that you transport yourself to that space so it is with dancing – you are part of a play at that moment, where the act and result of an action depends on you..

It’s a wonderful form to communicate the same language without even needing to say one word, so this artistic expression goes over the national barriers of African with Brazilian, or Japanese with American .. it just doesn’t matter.. they will become related and they will cooperate toward the same purpose !!

A community feeling is created inside of the ballroom where even though its filled with people and dancers you’ve never seen before you will feel like home because they will speak the same language as you… And I’m not talking about the nice words you can say, but the language of your body and what he can show within the moves.. two dancers, one body.



On Ballet Dancing

Artists problem-solve, as do scientists, and economists, and bankers, and everyone else who is successful. Maybe we are all artists in our own right?

When we dance (especially with a partner), or sing, or paint or sculpt, we are visualizing or listening to a problem in our heads, and working out solutions as we do. A good artist explores the “problem” in countless ways, and experiments with many different ideas before settling on a final solution.

I also danced for many years, and when I danced in the corps de ballet, I would need to visualize the dance in my own head, and also visualize how my role fit into the role of the dancers who were with me. I learned to collaborate.


Dance as Meditation


We all need a creative outlet.

It brings balance to a life that would otherwise be go, go, go. It allows us a moment to stop, reach within ourselves, to tap into something personal and true.

For several of us at Mez Mag, the form is dance. Our friend and editorial panelist Madhu, who has a PhD in urban planning and architecture from MIT, and who now teaches at MIT, says:

“Dance provides a sense of peace and a creative and experimental outlet.”

For me, dance is therapy, meditation. It allows me to explore a place that is beyond verbal or written expression. It’s cathartic. It’s an exhale, when the world has me gulping too much air.



Aesthetics of Dance

When aesthetics is understood as a branch of philosophy (derived from the Greek word “aisthetikos“, meaning “sense of perception”), rather than merely an appreciation of beauty or appearance, the concept can immediately embrace a broader notion of beauty. For example, when a “technical solution” is fitting, elegant, and simple yet powerful, it can also satisfy our aesthetic desires.

Conversely, for something to be truly “aesthetic”, one cannot ignore the “technical”.

A dance performance, for example, involves the mechanics of the body, the ability of the dancer to navigate spatially, and the power to communicate emotion silently, and while doing all these things to be able to do so beautifully!!!


The Pure Joy of Dance

Dancing is very special to me.


Dancer and Tennis Player: Anastasia Ajania by the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco

The feeling of gliding across the room is indescribable.

When I’m dancing, I’m dancing for me. It is my way of celebrating a feeling of exaltation and happiness. All my problems and troubles from the day fade away when I am dancing. All the worries are gone and all that is left is a pure joy.

I focus upon the good, the silver lining. When I am dancing I get this presence that I do not get anywhere else. I’m living in the moment. The feeling of swaying to the music and expressing the genre of the music. When I am dancing I feel peaceful and exuberant as well.


I have a “book review club” with my dad (Editor-in-Chief of Mez Mag). The other day at breakfast we talked about the biography by Diane Solway on Nureyev.

It is good for me to experiment with all of my artistic expression when I dance. Rudolf Nureyev said:

”I had the feeling that if I didn’t try everything, then my life would be wasted.”

And his dance partner Margot Fonteyn said of Nureyev:

”He has a great deal of knowledge, ability, imagination – if you have these things you can’t sit still.”

I am so proud to have a Russian name – Anastasia – Russians are the best ballet dancers!

Editor’s Note

My daughter Anastasia is also an outstanding tennis player.

Tennis is a lot about footwork and rhythm… when I see her shuffle around nimbly on the tennis court I can appreciate how all the ballet lessons have made her agile and quick.

I also have a sister and her name is Kim (Kimberly Maha Akhtar).

I met Kim in the late 1980’s when she was a 20 year old graduate of Bryn Mawr and I was by then a dedicated member of Cicero’s Corner. She did not have a brother and I did not have a sister and so we adopted each other as siblings. We misspent our 20’s dancing the night away at dance clubs in New York. I could never have envisioned then that Kim would go on to be a key New York City media figure and right hand strategic advisor to Dan Rather at CBS.

Or, that she would then go on to become an internationally celebrated and best-selling author. Or, that she would continue to add to her immense language proficiency – Kim is proficient in:

English, French (she went to school in Paris), Spanish, Italian, Hindi, Arabic and Urdu.

What I did know for sure back then was that Kim could really, really dance.

It is no surprise that she also became a dancer. A glimpse into Kim’s dance performance…

Kimberly Maha Akhtar

Dancing the Flamenco

The musicians walked to the stage door as I gave myself a final look in the mirror. What was I going to feel like tonight? I asked of my reflection…
Would I feel different dancing tonight?
Would I feel like the granddaughter of a flamenco dancer?
Would Anita Delgado have been proud?
There were ten minutes left.

My heart was pounding. My throat felt constricted. My nerves were at breaking point.

Tonight was the first night I would be dancing flamenco with the knowledge of my heritage behind me. Would that give me more power? Would it give me that extra little something that makes dancers not just good but great? Would I be able to project the emotions I felt in all their authenticity as they arose in me? As I stood behind the velvet curtain, I locked my hands in prayer as I always did, as I had always done even as a young Kathak dancer.
I prayed for strength, I prayed for courage, I prayed I wouldn’t disappoint my old guru, Krishna Maharaji, who I knew was looking down from heaven, as I hoped was my grandmother.
I heard Emilio clear his throat.
I heard him hum softly, the prelude to his salida when he called for the muse, a moment so powerful in flamenco song, that if it came from the heart, if it rose up from somewhere deep inside the singer, it could inspire overpowering passion that could reduce one to tears.

Emilio’s salida was powerful, transporting me to another world. It sounded so Moorish.


The letra he sang before I entered was about love, pain, anguish, separation, fate and death. I have no recollection of how I danced. As I stepped through the velvet curtain, I remember a feeling of calm came over me, replacing the jitters, slowing down the adrenaline, bringing me an otherworldly inner peace.

From the moment I walked on stage, an energy enveloped me. It took over my body and went out and sought to penetrate the eyes and ears of the blasé, the cognoscenti, the aficionados and everyone else. I felt as though I danced with my soul, my emotions, displaying my suffering and my yearning for life. I dominated the rhythm, my emotions authentic, poured forth from a fount of strength somewhere within me.

I danced the Seguiriya possessively. And in those 15 minutes, I felt flamenco.
When I walked off the stage, I heard nothing, but I knew that I had danced as never before.
I knew I had danced with all the power of my heritage standing behind me like a pillar, a tower of strength. Tonight I knew who I was: I was half Arab, quarter Indian, quarter Spanish… it was as if the blood of Al-Andalus had risen up in me like fire. Much later that night as I sat in the dressing room, I tried to remember the performance but couldn’t. It was a blur.
It felt as though I had gone to sleep and just woken up. I was trying to remember the dream.
  1. Concita04-10-2012

    Beautiful. Beautiful. Beautiful.

  2. Nigel C-T04-14-2012


  3. Lilli04-19-2012

    This is a lovely piece of writing about dance.
    It’s almost as if you are dancing when you read.

    Thank you

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