When Renata Milgrom first began with oriental dance she felt she had discovered a beautiful mystery. Not only the movement attracted her, but also the Central Asian mythology that accompanies the dance which brought her in contact with the cult of women and a matriarchal society. Through the dance Renata feels the beauty, freedom, and strength of feminine power. She finds that dance has deepened her relationships with women and with the feminine side of life. “Sure women want to enchant men with their dance,” says Renata, “But the best part is sharing the feeling with other women because they understand it.”
Soon, however, Renata was repelled by the commercialism of the popular belly dance that she was involved in, “So, I began looking for its origins and roots which brought me first to northern India and then into Central Asia,” she said. In these parts of the world, she found the dances exquisite and something far beyond the belly dancing she had started with. Here, Renata discovered that dance, or body language, is movement directed to God. “Lots of the movements of the dance draw the hand from the heart out. Its about losing yourself and dropping things,” says Renata. Through these movements the dancer explores the symbolism of embracing and then letting go. “For me, it’s a spiritual practice.”
Renata was led to find Sashar, an Azerbaijani/Canadian dance teacher who uses Sufism as a tool for dance movement. As Renata had been studying the poetic works of the Sufi Master, Rumi, for years, Sashar’s connection between dance and Sufism was natural and immediate for Renata. Renata brought Sashar several times to Prague to study with him and share his work with her students. “This dance goes so well with the spirit Sufi poetry,” says Renata, “It reminds us that we should not waste our time - just be in love with the Beloved- just give yourself up to that power and don’t worry about anything else because we are simply incapable of realizing why we are here.” It’s the passion, fire, and love of the poetry that fuels Renata’s dancing today and that inspired her to organize the RumiAlive Festival in Prague in November 2007. “I wanted to do something for Rumi and the 800 year anniversary of Rumi’s birth provided a perfect opportunity,” says Renata.
Renata also realized that she had been reading the poetry by herself for so many years and could only share her love of Rumi with three close people. “I wanted to share it in a more broad way with the Czech people,” says Renata, “Even though I now see that this was a little bit utopinisitic because Rumi and Sufism are virtually unknown in the Czech Republic.” However, she was pleased with the overwhelming positive response she received from the 700 or so participants in the festival. “People came because they are attracted to Persian mysticism. More than half already knew about Rumi. The other half were curious about the theme or they knew me and wanted to come find out what I was up to.” Renata hopes that she has aroused a continued interest in Central Asian culture, mysticism, and dance among the Czech people. “It’s a missing piece of the mosaic,” says Renata” There is nothing happening here around this particular culture. So many other philosophies are being explored, but no one is talking about Sufism.” Renata intends to continue the festival each year focusing on different themes. “The first year’s theme – the wisdom of ancient Persian poetry - deserves at least a few years of exploration. I feel personally that it is such a deep issue that it can not be touched in just one festival. Yes, participants enjoyed it immensely, but they didn’t even touch the core.”
In response, Renata has created Open Field (www.openfield.cz), a Prague based non-profit organization devoted to the research of dance and music traditions of the Middle East, Central Asia and North Africa. The mission of Open Field is to cultivate, protect and transform these traditions. Its members are dedicated to the growth of a more tolerant world community.
Autorka rozhovoru: Gabrielle Smith-Dluhá
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