BY FELICIA M. TOMASKO
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
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.”
B: I become the music. Sometimes, I feel I am one of
the instruments in the orchestra, other times I am the
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.