Julia has been a dancer in Helene Eriksen’s Anar Dana and wrote about her experiences during the project.
This article was originally published in Jareeda magazine and is re-published here with Helene’s permission.
“Last year I had the great pleasure of being a part of Helene Eriksen’s intensive training program, ANAR DANA. This unique dance training, which ends with a grand finale of two recitals at the Rainer Cultural Center in Seattle, is a stunning display of traditional dances and costumes. A performance wardrobe is pieced together by hunting for finds in local stores, student sewing projects and from Helene’s extensive international travels and personal collection. The end result is an extraordinary display of music dance theater that makes this program exceptional and one of a kind in our region. Helene Eriksen is a renowned dance ethnologist with extensive knowledge of traditional dance and costume from the Balkans to the Islamic Orient. In preparation for the final recital our group, which consisted of women of different ages, dance experience and background, came together once a month for an intensive weekend to learn traditional dance as well as to practice and assemble the costumes for the show. Thanks to Helene’s extensive knowledge of traditional folk dress we were able to stay faithful to the culture we were representing. This gave the costumes a uniqueness and authenticity not often seen.
Often pieces for a costume were picked up at local thrift, craft and sewing shops. If one of the women ran across something she felt was just right for the costume and it wasn’t her size she bought it anyway and brought it to class in case another woman could wear it. Sometimes if someone came across a great find the whole stock of the item was purchased and brought into class. We borrowed from each other as some having more dance experience then the rest of us just had more stuff laying around at home. Many costumes were a combination. For the Roma dance as an example, my skirt and scarf came from another student who had it at home, my shirt from Helene’s personal closet, my braids from a beauty supply store, the coins in them from a fabric shop and my hip scarf from Helene’s costume collection. We worked together and in this way less time was spent searching.
One of the costumes the group had to sew was for the Turkish Zeybek. Helene brought the bulk fabric into class one day and after we had all finished oohing and awing over its beauty she, to our horror, ripped it into sections and handed them to us to take home and construct a traditional costume. Because Simplicity does not carry a Turkish Zeybek pattern, measurements were borrowed from other costumes similar in style and ideas were taken from videos and photos of traditional dance groups from Turkey. Luckily the costume was simple to make and ample in size. The baggy Shalvar pants covered not only sewing mistakes but a variety derrière sizes. The jacket did not have a front closure so the well endowed along with those of us with less could wear it comfortably. Any other imperfections could be quickly corrected by, those little friends of all performers, safety pins. Some of the undershirts came from Helene’s collection, others from personal closets, while some others from thrift shops. Shoes were purchased either on-line or Asian import shops. Once the correct jewelry was added and the headscarves tide on just right the end result was quiet impressive.
Helene has collected an awe-inspiring amount of garments and adornments of beauty through her many travels and studies of cultural dance. If all her collection was thrown into a 10’x10’ room and you along with it you would be swimming in rich silkiness, heavy damask, fine embroidered elaborate ornamentation. Some pieces are from turn of the century and rare while some in her collection have been made by past students as part of the learning process. It seems every region from the Balkans to the Orient is represented.
Any show of Helene’s cannot have the veracity of a traditional dance group without Helene’s personal collection, knowledge of folk costumes and traditional dance. These costumes play a major role in the great transformation of a any woman into a performer. Once put on it becomes so much easier to stop being yourself and become a woman from another time and place. Sometimes all it takes is the right costume to help you channel that someone else.”
I have been involved with Helene’s project behind the scenes, helping with filming, editing, graphic design, and promotion. We are very lucky to have someone as knowledgable and involved as Helene right here in Seattle and it is my pleasure to help spread the word about this truly special learning and performance experience.
Below is the video I produced for the 2012 season using a mix of footage from past performances and interviews I conducted with the participants and Helene herself. If you are considering being a part of Anar Dana’s 2018/2019 season, you are invited to attend the introductory weekend at Studio Deep Roots–learn more about it here:
Anar Dana – Chaikhana: an evening in an Oriental Coffee House: Friday, March 2nd
Anar Dana – Intro Weekend at Studio Deep Roots: Saturday & Sunday March 3/4
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