Banafsheh interview with Felicia Tomasko
Banafsheh’s interview with Felicia Tomasko, Editor-in-Chief of LA Yoga July / August 2011 Master of mystical Persian dance, when Banafsheh teaches or performs, she moves with an attitude of liquid gold pouring over silk velvet. Banafsheh embodies what it means to dance with abandon, what it means to fully live the ecstatic poetry of Rumi, of luminous moonlight on radiant silver clouds. Watching her dance is to glimpse something both otherworldly as well as fully grounded in the momentous meaning of the present. For Banafsheh, dance is a connection with the divine, with the infinite, and is an expression of oneness with the universe through this artistic language. To create the soundtrack for her practice, she often collaborates with skilled sacred musicians, including the heartfelt Tony Khalife. Banafsheh and her friend and colleague, Andrew Harvey, the mystic who frequently writes and speaks on sacred activism, the poetic words of Rumi, and the path of the sacred, together created a DVD called In the Fire and Grace. She spoke to LA YOGA while still unpacking from her recent trip to Turkey, where she led the retreat: Dance of Oneness, Upward Spiral of Love. Felicia Marie Tomasko: When you dance, what do you call upon for inspiration? Banafsheh: I call upon the Beloved, which in essence is all-that-is, so everything inspires me to dance. I dance to become empty, exorcising myself of emotional buildups, so that the Divine music can play through me. Rumi likens the human body to the ney or the reed flute. He says, “We have two mouths like the ney, one mouth is hidden in the lips of the Beloved.” FMT: How do you connect with music when you dance? B: I become the music. Sometimes, I feel I am one of the instruments in the orchestra, other times I am the whole orchestra. FMT: How do you connect with music as a performer and as a teacher? B: As a performer, I echo the music and feel moved by it, especially when I improvise with musicians where we create in the now as a group channel for Divine music. As a teacher, the music is sometimes the source of choreography and other times I begin with a choreography. I want to teach, then I choose the piece of music based on the sequence. In my classes I use music to open people’s hearts, wanting for them to connect deeply with themselves, with the dance, and with others. FMT: What was the impetus for creating the DVD: In the Grace of Fire? B: I have been performing and touring since 1999 and have an extensive archive of concert footage, which I have never released to the public despite the great urging from my audiences. Shortly after I began teaching and performing with my dear friend and colleague, Andrew Harvey, he urged me to create a DVD of our work together. From this kind of presentation, I could see a real value emerging. I see my work and offering as an invitation to all, especially women, to break through resistance and express themselves fully, as has been my own journey as a Middle Eastern woman finding herself in dance – one of the most tabooed public activities in the region. FMT: What makes In the Grace of Fire different from your live performances? B: There is no live audience: It’s literally me and the Divine. Having not had much experience with dancing purely for recording, I approached the filming experience like a dance with the Divine. I performed the dances from beginning to end without stopping and repeated them a number of times. FMT: What has been the response to the DVD thus far? B: The response I have received is much more than I had hoped. People feel inspired by the invitation to embody the Transcendent fully: in both peace and passion as outlined in the five stages of the path in the DVD. People tell me that seeing this helps them to live knowing that everything that happens in our lives is an act of Grace, or in other words, to live love. FMT: Speak about your collaboration with both Rumi and Andrew Harvey. B: The poet Rumi has always been my spiritual guide and teacher. He brought Andrew and I together at Kripalu in 2007, when we began teaching and performing the five stages of the spiritual path as set forth by Rumi – The Call, Falling in Love, The Dark Night, Union, and Living as the Lover. Collaborating with Andrew has been an amazing journey as he so passionately and utterly has given all of himself to our offering, supporting me so completely along the way and encouraging me to take flight. FMT: How does your study of Chinese Medicine and healing connect with your work in music and dance? B: I approach dance and music as a way to heal, to become whole. Chinese medicine teaches us about the management of our energy, the meridians being like our energy flow channels and focal points. My teaching is in part based on meridian energy flow, and I have also developed movements for each of the seven bodily chakras. I dance with the intention of being open to that vast field of healing, and by embodying myself fully in each moment – thus being empty to channel light, love, and grace. FMT: How does Yoga connect to dancing for you? B: The process of calling on the Beloved, being open to heal and to be divine, be the Oneness through dance – is a kind of Yoga. In this manner, Yoga and dance for me are connected processes in that they both develop and prepare the body to be a channel for light and love in the world, and one is essential and integral to the other. Banafsheh teaches regularly in her current home city of Los Angeles as well as throughout the world.
Banafsheh Dance of Oneness