Dancing With Life: A Young Woman's Quest for Art, Love and Freedom
Updated: Oct 15, 2021
By Dhyanis I was part of the "AmCab" era in Northern California, when what we learned from teachers like Jamila Salimpour, Bert Balladine, Amina, and the few Persian and Middle Eastern women who taught (and those who learned to teach from them) was typically a mélange derived from Turkish and Greek based dance styles, with some Pan-Arabic flare. American Cabaret also incorporated fanciful veil work, lots of finger cymbals, and original adaptations of folk dances, such as debke and karsilama. All this carried me through my first decade of dancing and several years on the road as a professional, fulfilling my dream of dancing my way to Egypt. Yes, I was actually employed as a dancer, usually six nights a week, two shows a night, mainly in living in Portugal and Greece. From there I did get to tour Morocco, see a little of Turkey, and eventually made it to Egypt to study with a few of the greats, including Mahmoud Reda (who passed just last year).
Upon return to California in 1985, some dancers who had worked in Egypt, like Sahra Saeeda and Shareen Al Safy, were popularizing the more vertical "Egyptian" style, and for us AmCab-ers, it was like learning a whole new dance vocabulary. I had been in a troupe in the 70's, then formed my own troupe on the Big Island of Hawaii 1977 - 80, before hitting the solo trail, so it was natural to start teaching and attract a new troupe which I brazenly called "Troupe Dhyanis," so there was never a doubt who was responsible for the direction/choreography/costuming. The name morphed from my given name, Dianne, and when my troupe members said it needed to be more exotic, they coined "Diannis," which sounded clunky to me. So when I was reading the Vedas, or sacred Hindu texts, I found the Sansrcit word Dhyanis with an asterisk and following translation: Meditative Spirits, harbinged by the tinkling of little bells. OK! Very fitting, as I fancy that as I enter joyfully, playing finger cymbals, I lift the energy in the room. Thus it is, and now in 2020 I continue to direct a troupe, performing in festivals, retirement homes, corporate and theme parties, and we have even won competitions (Belly dancer of the Year 2003 and 2012, on YouTube under Troupe Dhyanis). During the pandemic we pivoted to open air classes in my driveway and filmed several of our new dances for virtual festivals, which we are now ready to perform live on stage.
Many other applications of the dance have presented themselves over the last thirty-plus years. I joined a group called "Poetic Dance Theater Company," under the umbrella of "Artists Embassy International," which combines poetry and dance (sometimes also music), adding an idealistic layer, travelling internationally with its mission being to spread peace through the universal language of the arts. I started attending dance retreats, three of them on Maui, hosted by visionary dancer Dalilah Flynn (of Seattle), where the concept of embodying Goddess archetypes was in the mix. And in both 1996 and 97 I attended retreats at a kibbutz in Israel, learning from fabulous teachers there (as well as Elena Lentini of New York) and dancing for a mixed audience, Jewish and Arabic together, also with the intent of "dancing for peace." Meanwhile I studied ancient Goddess lore of many eras and cultures and for thriteen years produced "The Living Goddess Dance Theater" shows in Marin county (North of the Golden Gate). Simultaneously I joined the masked dance theater company "Tuju Taksu," with original masks carved in Bali, which portrayed various myths. Also woven into the many workshops I pursued was a Sufi theme and the teacher Adnan Sarhan who loved to drum for hours for dancers, for many in-the-moment discoveries. And I studied with the famous dance therapist Anna Halprin (who passed just weeks ago at age 100). One of my best friends in England arranged for me to teach a summer intensive at Holloway Women's Prision in London, for a "cooperation through the arts" program, after which my little group of three student inmates put on a performance and wrote profuse thank you notes for the experience.
In the year 2000 I compiled with my troupe "Grandmother's Secrets," a one hour show of various styles of the dance, to present at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival of the Arts (yes, in Scotland) and my husband helped organize and produce the show, publicity, travel arrangements, venue and lodging for eight women for three weeks (onstage nightly). Finally in 2003 I attained my dream of having a dance studio (with like-minded business partner, Aruna) which we called "World Dance Fitness & Goddess Wear Boutique" where we could hold events with live music, and I could display and sell the clothing and costuming line I produce. Some of the beadwork for my designs was done in Bali, where I went several times to work with a wonderful beading family, as well as batik makers for my line of sarong designs. There I also manifested a veteran dance teacher to train me in the subtleties of Balinese dance. The studio eventually closed in 2010, never recovering financially from the large "recession."
All this time I worked in theater as my "day job," as costumer and scenic artist for plays, large musicals, and regional opera around the Bay Area. I won several awards and a few times appeared in the shows with dancing parts such as Kismet, Man of La Mancha, Funny
Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Die Fledermaus, and a cameo role in the College of Marin's production of Othello's tavern scene, dancing on a table. Also I worked in kid's theater, costuming and teaching mask workshops at theater summer camps. And I have maintained a vending booth at Belly Dance festivals around the country. For me the mothers of all dance conventions were Rakkasah in the Bay Area, and Cairo Carnival in Southern California (which became MECDA, and now Cairo Shimmy Quake). These have both hit their forty year mark, and now there are similar festivals in every state and nearly every country.
In 2011 I was travelling to one of these gatherings in Florida, and on the way to the airport in a shared van, a man talked my ear off about how his wife died two years previously, sabotaging all their retirement travel plans. Leaving him depressed and at a loss. He had discovered online a Grief Coach Academy where coaches are specially trained to help people with grief and loss, and he had been assigned a coach. He now felt recovered and was on his first outing. Something lit up in me and I felt called to this work. I certainly had the experience, since my 8 year old daughter and father were killed in a car accident, with my mother driving, and I had come through (with the aid of dancing in a supportive troupe), and everyone I knew who lost a child came to me for a compassionate ear. So I spent two years in training with the founder Aurora Winter and am now a Certified Heartbreak to Happiness Grief Coach, working by phone, all over the states and Canada. I have seen the transformation of many clients after loss through death or divorce and treasure this vocation. I also was a volunteer with our local Hospice organization for seven years, to help with quality of life during the end days.
Over the last few years I have developed a line of dancer greeting cards, now with a dozen designs, encompassing a variety of styles, based mostly on dancers I know and love. You can find these on my Facebook page (Dhyanis Carniglia).
If you ask my husband, "Oh, your wife does belly dancing (nudge, nudge, wink, wink)," he offers the distinction "No, she IS a belly dancer!" He calls it a lifestyle (versus a business) and acknowledges how deeply I have integrated the dance throughout the decades. One might even say it has been a "religion" as well as an art, but certainly it has provided a window into many cultures, a lot of joy and passion, and a cherished global community. I thought I would write a memoir after I could no longer dance, but at age 73 I realized that day may never come (knock wood). So during the year of the pandemic I took the gift of time to write about my first forty years, including those dance travels abroad. "Dancing With Life: A Young Woman's Quest for Art, Love and Freedom" is available on Amazon and I am now immersed in writing the sequel. Comments and feedback always welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org or www.dhyanis.com.