A Dancer's Life

Maria Grujicic
Published on: 20th December 2013

Looking back at my own childhood I find happiness, peace and love of which I treasure. I remember the way my father had a type of charm with us. We loved him wholly and did not leave his side. Now I watch him in action with my nephews and nieces. Thomas, my two year old nephew is a clear example. Everyone is absolutely bemused by his attraction with Papou. Papou is Greek for Grandfather. He turns to tantrums and fits of cries when he has to leave Papou. Thomas makes coffee and washes Papou's clothes, and plays a game on the swings called kounia bella in Greek. When Papou goes into his room to take a nap Thomas screams and bangs on the door for him to come out. My family is dumbfounded. Thomas is like a little alien who has taken over the house and we can't do anything to stop him.

Thomas empties and fills the tool box, and puts things where they belong in the kitchen. He can't rest until everything is put to order. He has an uneasiness about him and he doesn't stop walking about the yard and the house. He is like a little man going about his little man's business. When Thomas has a problem he runs to Papou for support. At the sensitive age of two Thomas is free to explore the garden. Watching him play is like witnessing a secret waiting to be revealed.

Thomas has a home education based on love. He is learning to love himself and others as he builds his own beautiful world. My own childhood is where I discover the heart warming experience of unconditional love. My past is a place where I try to learn about myself but I don't have the answers because I'm so distanced by the events. So I focus on emotions, building a secure identity from which to explore; fulfilling an unpredictable, exciting new life and a story to tell. My father was like a wizard who burst into song and laughter, even when times were tough. He told stories by inserting our names in them as the main protagonists. My mother was like the beautiful, strong Afroditi The Goddess of love. My parents were a big influence on my life and I have a spiritual bond that will never break. As a girl, I was surrounded by games, stories and songs and connecting to these in adulthood led to discover my gifts. Over my travels abroad I've learned to take away my fears and take more risks. My parents were always with me spiritually, like a voice in my head during the tough times. They taught me that I can achieve anything if I put my mind to it.
As a child I was naturally curious about languages. Growing up in Darwin, Australia I was lucky that my parents spoke to me in Greek, my first language. I lived in Europe for 8 years and taught in London, Madrid, Albacete and Frankfurt. The young children I taught abroad adored my English lessons and learning about me. They developed empathy by gaining perspective of what it was like not to understand another language. They developed sensitivity towards other cultures and people, creativity and imagination and a different way of thinking. I was their role model who displayed genuine love, respect and interest for languages, its people and lands.

One of my most memorable experiences was working in Albacete for The British Council at a Spanish Government Bilingual School. Initially I taught children to express their immediate needs in English such as asking for a drink, to say when they were going to the toilet and responding to instructions and requests. I helped the children realise that another language existed apart from Spanish. 'Poor Miss Maria,' they would say, 'she can't speak Spanish.' Greek sparked a cord in me in the same way as the words 'Darwin, Australia' were spoken. In fact whilst living abroad, I sought it. People say that Greeks in Australia are more Greek than the Greeks in Greece for this reason. It was like the Greek culture froze in time while the culture developed in Greece. 'Xenitia', a term meaning estranged in a foreign land, is more a concept than a word, and I discovered why when I found myself abroad. My ethnicity and upbringing gave me a deeper understanding about why we need languages.

At school the children learned to read words by connecting them to spoken words. I observed children beginning to read as young as three years old. The first word they wanted to learn was their name which extended to other interesting words. Teaching 3, 4 and 5 year old children was daunting enough but I also didn't know Spanish. When people asked, 'How did you communicate?' I simply replied, 'I sang, and I sang to survive!' The voice is a marvelous tool for self-expression. Songs are memorable and they are not only fun and catchy but very useful. I kept the rhythm, tempo and tune the same and changed the words. When I wanted the children to repeat something I've sung, I changed the pitch in varying degrees from low to high. This livened the children up and they sang to themselves. Singing was therapeutic. As babies they listened to lullabies and soft music to go to bed, they listened to musical chimes and toys. Music was soothing and calming and they were captured by it. A day in the classroom was like a musical! The children made their own lyrics as they learned about the pattern of language. I involved them with building the ideas in songs through games, drama and music. Stories and instructions were sung, everything was sung! I used sign language and actions matched with the spoken word, also assisting visual learners. Another advantage for integrating movement was that it helped develop fine motor and gross motor skills. Language skills built the child's intelligence which also developed positive self-esteem and confidence. Movement promoted a healthy body and mind. This led to my interest in Dance. After two years living in Albacete I moved to Frankfurt and joined a Tribal Fusion Dance group enhancing my artistic and personal life. Working with my good friend and mentor Gala Yakovleva I learned that Tribal Fusion Dance was more than a set of movements pulled together to make a choreography. It was about character, joining personalities to create a self-expressive art, and ultimately a performance. Gala Yakovleva nurtured every dancer and helped them develop their look, grace and style. Ultimately a bond was created so great between the dancers it was hard to ever break. Each were very different and together they were one.

I also worked with Gala and her children's dance group. Gala created choreography with children using their spontaneous improvised movements to allow their self-expression to flow. There was no stage fright, no getting it wrong, just pure love. Like a piece of writing or a dialogue, they didn't need to interpret the words of another. The choreography emulated the adult dances with sophisticated yet simple moves. Props enhanced the drama aspect of the dance of which I used to inspire my illustrations for picture books. Gala also involved parents in the dances, building relationships through this unique performing arts experience. Leaving the group to return home to Australia I was more than saddened. I was like a child separated from the sacred womb of a mother. But like that of my own mother and father, we will always be spiritually together. Gala mentored me about my life goals, the way I projected my look and involved me in the choreography. I continued to study the tribal fusion philosophy and how the concept evolved. This helped me understand womanhood, and the evolutionary triumphs and struggles placed alongside it. Through my search for the place of my cultural roots I was drawn to the tribal style because the more ethnic and folklore look of the dance and costumes fulfilled my identity. My dance classes were a place to find and be my true self and I felt accepted and free. American Tribal Style Dance was like Tribal Bellydance but featured a specialized type of group formation and an improvised, lead-and-follow cueing between the dancers. I just started to learn this dance before leaving Europe. I found it graceful, flowing and becoming. Tribal fusion belly dance was a modern form of belly dance. It was the style I found the most interesting. It evolved from American Tribal Style Bellydance and blended elements of ATS with any other style of dance such as cabaret bellydance and hip-hop and more traditional forms, flamenco and other folklore dance styles. This made me wonder about the possibilities of mixing the styles of dance that made up my cultural roots and those of which I experienced abroad, such as Greek dance styles and Manchegas from Albacete. I could only imagine the possibilities that could be created and this made for a very interesting process of discovery, creativity and ultimately a performance.

I adored the beautiful layers of tribal belly dancing with heavy fabrics and extensive yardage in the skirts, harem-pants and tops. This created the romantic look that went with my personality. As a girl I didn't learn a lot about make-up. I tried to apply it, but I managed it all wrong. I lacked a lot of confidence because I was worried of what others thought. Insecurity showed in my face. So learning to apply makeup was very liberating. It celebrated womanhood and femininity, creating a look of authentic woman power. It gave me confidence that I could also use in my daily life.

It was through dance that I found a voice and a way to express my thoughts, and ultimately defining them to find and develop who I was. The experience touched me so deeply that I started to write poetry in abundance. It also gave me the power and the mental resources to continue writing my novel. I explored the importance of education society and how it has impacted on my relationships. I wanted to reach out to people who had the same beliefs that Literacy and The Arts, including aesthetics and self-expression have a big role to play in the growth of healthy minds. A dancer and poet at heart I created my concept and label, Poems That Dance. Through my writing I try to reach my unexplored self. This unites strongly through poetic philosophy that delves into ethical boundaries, aesthetics, education and love. It becomes true in its purest sense as every word put to paper is felt by my heart and a final breath celebrates creation. Travel, love, life and true friendship is the why I write and dance is my vehicle.
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