We had the good fortune of connecting with Farima Berenji and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Farima, let’s talk legacy – what do you want yours to be?
Dance can help us understand and appreciate other cultures; most importantly, it helps us learn about our past. It is deep in the heart of every culture throughout history; dance is part of the pulse of humanity. It embraces multiple genres, styles and traditions and is constantly evolving. Dance promotes understanding, tolerance, and friendship among all nations, races, or religious groups and fosters peace. Dance brings people closer together; it creates peace, harmony, and understanding among people. Dance is a universal language – a dialogue among cultures. It can teach us about our past, about history, and about our own being. It is a beautiful art that can easily take away any pain and put a smile on someone’s face. The ancient spiritual healing practices of meditative dance, sound, and movement therapy are increasingly being rediscovered today as effective healing methods to enhance well-being both mentally and physically. I grew up immersed in Persian, Azeri, and western culture and studied all kinds of dance, including ballet, flamenco, Central Asian, and Middle Eastern dances, but always had a passion for the beautiful classical or sacred dances and poetry of Persia and Central Asia. My many research trips to Iran and Central Asia enabled me to experience living sacred and ethnic dance traditions, and to see how dancing was still a normal part of life for many ordinary people. I have been privileged to study with great dance masters and institutions. Recognized as one of the few world scholarly experts of ancient and mystical dance ethnology, I travel worldwide to record, research, lecture, perform, educate, and to inspire dynamic creativity and rejuvenation through dance and movement. Dance requires both teaching and learning; it requires knowledge, beliefs and skills in order to make a better future. Individuals are needed who can protect and create resources for people to appreciate traditional dance so that cultural and ethnic history is preserved. In 2007, I established the Simorgh Dance Company in the San Francisco Bay Area, a dance ensemble that seeks to interpret, present, and perform traditional classical, folkloric, and sacred dances of the Silk Road. Based on my training and experience, I began a worldwide collaboration with other traditional of expert and emerging dancers and musicians devoted to cross-cultural dialogue and artistic collaboration in traditional, classical, and sacred dance styles of the Silk Road. I am the first Iranian woman to be a TED talk lecturer and performer. I also have the honor as the first Iranian woman to direct a Persian dance company to dance for a reception for President Obama. The Simorgh is a mythical bird of Persian lore. In the epic poem The Conference of the Birds by 12th century mystical Persian poet Farid al-Din Attar the birds of the world gather to decide who is to be their king. The Hoopoe, the wisest of them all, suggests that they should find the legendary Simorgh. The Hoopoe leads the birds, each of whom represent a human fault that prevents them from attaining enlightenment. Of the many birds that begin the journey, only thirty birds survive to reach the dwelling of the Simorgh. There, the birds approach the throne contemplating their reflections in the mirror-like countenance of the Simorgh, only to recognize that they and the Simorgh are one. As in the united power of the Simorgh, the mission of the Simorgh Dance Collective is to create a supportive and creative community to present the rich, ancient culture and heritage of Iran and the Silk Road. Dance is a dialogue among nations and we seek to bridge across the globe artists who love and share a like passion to present Persian Dance as well as those who hope to have a dialogue through dance. The non-profit Simorgh Dance Collective seeks to advance the choreographic works, research projects, global exchanges, and the visions of these artists. Dance has created beauty and harmony in my life and I hope that through the Simorgh Dance Collective my teaching and performances will create beauty and inspiration in the lives of others worldwide.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
Dance is my art and love. I am a third generation artist—my devotion to the world of arts inspired by both my mother and my grandmother as performing artists, poets, and musicians of Azerbaijani heritage. I perform, lecture upon the culture and history of dance, choreograph, and offer training in dance, especially the dances of the regions and cultures of the historic Silk Road. As cultural anthropologist and archaeologist I believe in dance as a cultural identifier. The work of the Simorgh Dance Collective and I helps present and build an awareness of the beauty of traditional Persian and Central Asian dance in a world today that ever threatens its existence in its land of origin. This art enriches the lives of those who trace their ancestry to these cultures while bringing beauty to our communities. Throughout my life, I have always sought challenges. I have also proven that I can surmount great obstacles. I felt that I needed to do more; I need to discover more of the hidden treasures of dance and to understand when and how such movements came to be. I need to teach others about the beautiful art of Persian and Silk Road dance but not just its technique but rather the history of where these elegant movements came from.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
My mother for inspiration and coaching, my company members, and my Simorgh Dance Collective musicians for always being there for me.
Varol Ozkaner, Kevin Greek