neděle 8. září 2013

Interview with Farima Berenji (Czech Republic)

Full interview with Farima Berenji by Marek Čejka after her visit of Brno, The Czech Republic, March 2013

You are American-Iranian ancestry. For many Europeans this combination sounds curiously. Could you tell us something about American Iranians and how you came to the USA?

I come from a family of Iranian origin. My father was an air force pilot in the Iranian Air Force who died shortly after I was born in 1978. At the age of 2, along with my mother, we left

The most of the American Iranians live in LA. You are living in San Francisco. What was the reason of settling of such a huge Iranian community in California?

I think there are a few reasons, one is that California has some of the most famous educational institutions and Universities. Iranians take education very seriously and want to make sure they or their children attend the best schools. For such reason a lot of Iranians migrated to California for its well known education system. Second, California, especially LA, has some similarities to Iran and I think Iranians felt a sense of home and security and for that their friends and relatives started to join in and started to build a community. Third is that a lot of Artist left Iran and such artist found home and work in LA, which we all know LA is the capital of the Arts.

And where are you from exactly in Iran?

I can’t truly say “where I am from” since I’m really not from anywhere, yet from everywhere. I was born in a small town near Tehran (the capital of Iran), but left the country soon after. My father side is from Baku, Azerbaijan and my father was born in Azerbaijan region of Iran and my mother side is also a mix of Azerbaijan and Tehran and my mother was born inTehran, Iran.
Iran and joined my relatives in USA and I have continued my life in the USA since then. I have been fortunate to be able to go back to my homeland to visit and to explore the glory of Iran, its history, and its cultural heritage. Being an American-Iranian has its pros in cons. I have been blessed with great opportunities that have allowed me to follow my education, dreams, ambitions, and I have embraced this land, which I call home. I am also proud and been blessed to be born in a country that is full of rich history and culture, which has also helped me discover my true passion and has helped me grow in my filed of arts and I am proud to be part of that culture. I love both lands, the land I was born and the land I grew up in, however, I often have a feeling of Diaspora, just like many other Iranian-Americans. I feel that both lands are really not my home. I don’t know what home is. My body is in one place, yet my soul is at a different place. We are all pilgrimages in search of the unknown. 

So you speak Farsi and also Azeri language? As there is some tension between Persians and Arabs, is there anything similar between Persians and Azeris?

Yes, I speak, read and write fluently in Farsi. I am not fluent in Azeri however, I am able to understand a conversation. As far as tensions goes, its really hard to answer that questions. I have to say yes, and no. If we look back in history, Azerbaijan and almost all of Central Asia was once part of the Persian Empire. Most of Central Asia was still part of Iran until about the 1940’s and due world war 2 as well as the rise of the Soviet some of the regions split and later became its own state or country. Azerbaijan for that reason splilt as well. You have the country and you have the state of Azerbaijan in Iran. I think you will find 2 kinds of people, some who believe that all of Azerbaijan should be a full independent country and some who believe strongly in their Persian heritage and are considered Iranian-Azeri’s. Again, its hard to say, I think recently tensions have grown due to political factors but again I try not to be involve in it. My job is to create love. Dance and art has no boundaries.

Do you have any memories as a little child from Iran?

I have both beautiful memories and sad memories from Iran. As I mentioned before, I left Iran at the age of 2, however I was fortunate enough to go back and visit. Not only for visitation but also my mother was determined that I learn my heratiage and mother language so I would be sent back to Iran every Summer to go to school in order to learn how to read and write Farsi and to learn the Iranian culture. These travels made me a better person and I was able to meet and be with some amazing people who made a difference in my life. I had great friends and did what every child does in any country and that was to be a kid and do kids things. Every child has good memories from their childhood, there is never a care for politics, economy, world issue, and heart breaks, as kids your in a world of fantasy. It was also during my childhood in Iran where I was exposed to the world of Persian Art and Dance. I had experience in the filed of arts back in the USA studying theatre, ballet classes but going back to Iran, I fell in love with the beauty of Persian art and culture and my family had a big part of that, especially my mom and grandmother. Both side of my family are heavenly engaged in the arts, we all play music, dance, paint, and are archeolgoist or historians. There is a saying in Azeri culture that to be a true beautiful and strong woman is to be an artist.However, sometimes happiness comes with some sadness and I have to say that I was also one of the kids who were in the middle of a war. My mother who was a nurse in the USA, often volunteered to go back to Iran to help with hospital care and war victims in Iran and I often traveled with her in the early 80’s. Lets say, it was a time in my life where I wish it upon no child to experience. The memories of war, destruction, bloodshed, cry of the children, and the love ones who have died often hunts my memory but I try to erase it with my love of dance.

Iraq-Iranian war was the worst conflict in contemporary Middle East, your father was also victim of war as a military pilot? If it´s not too painful for you, could you tell us more about his story?

My father died shortly before the war due to a malfunction of his F-14 aircraft. I think for anyone who loses a parent is painful for them no matter how old or how they have died. I never really get to know my father since he died shortly after I was born, but his stories and his soul is with me and guides me. He died doing what he loved and that was to fly.

The reasons of emigration of many Iranians are political. Is it now difficult for American Iranians to travel to Iran?

I really can’t answer that question since every person might have a different approach to this and everyone travel status might be different from one another. Yes, many left due to political status but also many have left and are leaving due to family status and economic hardship. I guess it all comes down to is what you have done and what you have been involve with. We really don’t know what goes on in the political world. In my opinion, traveling to Iran has become a lot more easy and safe and I’ve seen many people travel to Iran who were not allowed before but I also have seen many people who used to travel a lot and now they can’t. I guess to answer this question I have to use a quote from Rumi “a seeker ask Rumi, do you believe that drinking is a sin? And Rumi answered “it depends who drinks it” so I guess the answer to this question remains, it all depends on who the traveler is.

So you also could easily travel to Iran?

Yes, I have been traveling to Iran often, in fact I spend many years researching in Iran and working for UN and non-profit organizations and have traveled many parts of this amazing country as well as many parts of the world. My travels included in-depth studies of dance, music, poetry, art, history, as well as mythology, and spiritual traditions of Iran and Central Asia.

You have dancing school in the USA. Could you tell us more and about your work and inspiration?

My family was very much involved in dance, arts, and literature. Both my mother and grandmother were artist and my first teachers who really encouraged me to succeed in this field. I grew up immersed in the field of arts and studied various styles of music, poetry, and dance, including Persian, ballet, flamenco, Central Asian, and Middle Eastern dances. As a young person whenever I would see a dance, I would often wonder about the history behind it and how its performance style and costuming developed. A meaningful dance must begin with an understanding of its mythology, its multi-cultural history, multi-ethnic population, and its dance contexts. As an anthropologist I tend to believe in dance as being a cultural identifier. Like many other cultural identifiers, such as clothing, language, and music, dance is a means for people to define themselves and to differentiate its culture from that of other groups. Dance explores the reality of human experiences as seen through cultural variation. There is a language in dance; there is a beginning, middle, and an end. The dancer tells a story, teases the audience with coquettish glances, or displays a variety of expressions: reluctance, joy, sensuality, pride, laughter, even sadness.

Because of this passion, for the last 15 years, I traveled great distances to learn, research, lecture, promote, and to teach classical, folk, and sacred dances of the Silk Road (Persia and Central Asia). For such reasons, I have taken my love of dance to form my own dance company and dance academy and to be a dance activist committed to the preservation of dance culture in my community. I am currently working on making a educational certificate program and y mission is to teach, perform, and to advocate dance as a means of global communication and peace. I want to help bridge cultural gaps and to create love, respect, and unity among all people through dance education and to help preserve the ancient history and culture and the authentic dances style of Iran.

You had just performance in Brno. How was it and how come you visited this town?

Brno was beautiful. Just like Iran, the Czech Republic is a country with rich traditions and culture and it is home to ancient cities, labyrinthine roads, and elegant churches, with a culture that has had a great influence on other countries in Europe. It was an amazing experience to be able to show my art to such an amazing community and to perform in a city and country where it was and still is a cradle of art and civilization. The people were very warm, friendly, and welcoming and it was so beautiful to see so many people eager to learn about the arts and culture of Persia. It made me proud and I hope to be able to come back and share more of my love and passion with this great city again.

One of your performances was a Sufi whirling dance. What is your main inspiration in this case? Could you tell us more about this kind of dance? About women in Sufism?

I discovered spirituality at a very young age, mostly because I needed to fill full a need to seek it since it has always been part of my ancient roots and it was what I was studying and also I come from a family of spirituality and arts. Whirling and dancing has been an important social phenomenon and a religious ritual in ancient Persia. Many great Persian poets extolled whirling and dance in their poems and used it as a symbol of the power of life: Hafiz, Saddi, and Mevlana (Rumi) each represented dance as a spiritual instrument to become one with the Universe. Doing archeological excavations and research I was able to discover artifacts that depicted such movements. While on field research and discovering ancient sites, one can even see dance and whirling depicted in artwork dating back to 5000 BC in the magnificent palaces or the ancient tombs and temples of Iran. For such reason I devoted my life in search of this path.

As a Sufi and Semazan and a spiritual person, I am strongly connected to spirituality, ancient Gods and Goddesses, and healing. My dance creations and my art work are very much influenced by my ancient Zoroastrian roots, Sufism, and spirituality. I have studied with great spiritual leaders, Zoroastrian leaders, amazing professors, and great Sufi masters in Iran, Kurdistan, and in Turkey. I am currently under the guidance and teaching of Mevlana Order Sufi master and dervish Dr. Rahmi Oruç Güvenç of Turkey. Sama (Sufi Whirling) represents a spiritual dance to ‘Become one with God.’ While whirling, we try to let go of our ego’s we open our arms to the Universe, having the right arm directed to the sky, ready to receive the power and healing of the Universe and having the left hand up to give away goodness to the world and we turn toward the heart (orbit of the earth). By whirling we enter a state of drunken of love and from there, we are no longer part the material world, we become part of the outer world.

I remember your experiences and feelings during whirling, could you tell us about it?

For me whirling is full of meaning and their movements are delicate, mystical, and beautiful. Whirling is healing as it offers a uniquely powerful means of expressing deep emotion and spiritual yearning. When I enter the state of Whirling, I think of nothing, I feel nothing, my body feels numb, and I began to enter a state of sub-conscious level. It is the only time one can actually talk to their own soul. I often can hear the guidance of other souls and communicate with them. It is a feeling that is hard to describe. And I go on, not knowing when mentally or physically I can stop. The mind and body stops when it’s the right time to stop.

In western eyes the sufism is usually connected with men, not a women. What is the position of women in various Sufi orders? Which are more open to women and which not?

Since the beginning of time, women had always been the source of spirituality. If you look into history, you see the important roles of ancient Goddesses, female warriors and leaders. From the earliest days, women have played an important role in the development of Sufism. Many women have followed the path of Sufism opened by Rumi. Rumi himself has always praised the role of woman and has always mentioned that there should be no separation among human beings. I think in the past, especially if we look in the history, being a Sufi women might have been a dance due to war and political issues and many practiced in hiding. But within the last decade society has changed, it has come to realize that there is no male or female, only Being. A new time is opening for the greater sharing of spirituality among men and women, in purity, patience, and mutual support.

Do you think if there will be a significant change in Iran that majority of Iranian emigrants will return?

Yes, I believe so. Iranians are very nationalist people and no matter where they live, they are proud of their heritage. Many young Iranians left Iran due to economic hardship and political changes and in the West these young Iranians have become extremely influential, educated, and successful. They have become the backbone of Western culture. But deep in their hearts they love their country and want to help in any way they can. I truly believe that if given the opportunity, most of Iranians will go back and will make a great difference in the society and in the future of Iran and the world. The new generation of Iran is responsible in keeping the Persian history and heritage alive and is fighting to make Iran a better place in the international society. I am working hard on this same path and I know there are many others who are or want to do the same. Iran has a long history of education. During its official 3000 years history, there have been many brilliant scientists and philosophers that had great contributions on various disciplines, “Omar Khayam,” “Abu Ali Sina” and “Dr. Hesabi” are a few examples of scholars who have had great achievements in math, philosophy, medicine, and physics in this world and we are proud of it.

Good luck and many thanks for the interview!
Marek Čejka

Farima Berenji (1978) is an award winning, internationally acclaimed performing artist, choreographer, instructor, researcher, and a dance ethnologist, as well as an archeologist who specializes in dances from Iran, the Silk Road, and Sufi Whirling. She holds a B.S. in Health Science with a Minor in Art History and the Performing Arts, as well as an M.A. in Anthropology and Archaeology with a special emphasis in Persian Studies. Farima has 19 years of experience in the field of arts and is currently the Artistic Director of Farima Dance Company (dance, music, poetry, and cultural education program, as well as the founding of the "Poetry in Motion" and the "Lioness" project) based in the San Francisco Bay Area. She is also the Artistic Director of the "Silk Road Collective Dance Company" in Anchorage, AK and Tampa, FL.

Farima is a third generation performing artist who has performed and choreographed internationally with numerous dance companies and master artists and has appeared as a scholar in distinguished national and international documentaries. She has received recognition for her work through many organizations, including the United Nation Associations, California Congressmen, Iranian Woman’s Activist, Payvand Organization, and San Jose State University. More info at

Žádné komentáře: