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My New Life in The Old World:

A Year in Spain

Crytal Silmi

by Crystal Silmi
posted May, 2012
in Spanish- Espanol

It is 2012, and it has been just over a year since I set sail for a new life in the old world.  I left the comfort and ease of life in Santa Cruz, California, with an amazing group of women dancers to see what life (and love) had to offer on the “other side” of the ocean.

No part of me can say that it has been an easy ride! Setting forth alone in a new country, speaking a new language with no one to vouch for you is a daring adventure, not to mention a lonely one.

My first attempts (made from the USA) to forge a contact with Spanish dancers were short of successful! In a lucky, misguided Internet search, I was led to discover the school of Alessandra D’Ambra, a lovely Italian dancer who is living in Spain. Alessandra was the first to open her doors to me.

The dancers in Spain seemed a bit wary of me at first: You are from San Francisco; why haven’t we heard of you? Are you Tribal or Cabaret? “Well, um–not really either, and yet both,” I wanted to answer.

(In Spain, “Tribal” is pronounced “tree-ball” so of course, I had no idea what anyone was talking about.)

This obsession with style classification in Bellydance is a worldwide phenomenon, and to be bluntly honest, it makes me squirm. I don’t want to be “tree-ball” or anything else. I am a dancer. I teach dance, technique and style, and all artists are free to choose what best suits them and their mood. No?

One of the greatest things I appreciate about my having studied with Suhaila Salmipour is that she was always encouraging students to discover their own voice in dance. Likewise, I try to encourage those who dance with me to do the same and not to be a knock-off of another dancer’s look or style of movement.

We dance to express ourselves; that is what art is – an expression of feeling. At least, for me it is…

PosterLittle by little, doors started to open for me in Europe. I traveled to teach workshops in Germany and Italy and perform at the awesome Split Tribal Fest in Croatia.

I stuck my neck out and did those types of performances that I had always refused to do in the US in which you actually have to pay to dance.

I don’t mean “pay” in the sense that I show up and pay someone, but to get on a train, book a hotel room, or even board an airplane to show my face on a stage somewhere to present myself and my work. I am not sure if it is my ego or my general practicality that prevented me from such quests in the US, but if you want to move to a foreign country and be a dancer, there is no other way.

My dear friend Ariellah, with whom I had the great honor of collaborating in Deshret Dance Company just before I moved to Spain last year, has been invaluable in trying to help connect me here. She spoke with Morgana who produces Gothla España and encouraged her to invite me to teach and perform at Gothla in 2011. Morgana is very popular here in Spain, and her events always attract dancers from all over the country and beyond. This event presented the opportunity to have some of my dancers from RaksArabi (my troupe in California) join me in Spain.  Ah! It felt like old times again. In one weekend, we performed and taught at 2 workshops in Madrid and drove to Valencia, then back to dance at Valencia Tribal Fest.

This was the lifestyle to which I was accustomed–and the lifestyle that I missed.

Life is starting to get on a roll for me now in Spain: I had successful workshops in Sevilla and soon I’ll be heading to Malaga, Barcelona, back to Croatia, and then to Montreal in the fall.

I am grateful to all the dancers near and far who have “taken me in” and have helped me carve out a niche in the European dance community. To return to California to teach and perform at Tribal Fest, as well as to reconnect with my local dance community, was an amazing experience this time around. It is grounding for me to be immersed with the dancers with whom I have spent many years (many of whom embody the vision of my work and my passion).

For any other dancers who may be thinking of committing an act of travel as an expatriate, you should be aware that the road is paved unevenly, so have a good supply of faith as well as patience in your first aid kit. This should get you through the rainy days and steep slopes!

Crystal performs and the Split Fest


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  1. Gina Bina

    May 25, 2012 - 09:05:14

    Crystal ROCKS!!!!!

  2. Dora E. H. Crow

    May 25, 2012 - 10:05:53

    “all artists are free to choose what best suits them and their mood” <– Exactly!

    I recently wrote to Crystal, teliing her, “it’s not just the dancing – it’s who you are. That’s what really draws people to you. They can tell you are authentic.. you’re not just dancing some steps — you are fully alive and immersed in your dances.”

    Watching Crystal dance is an experience that will make you feel joyful! 

  3. Christina Justus

    Jun 2, 2012 - 10:06:02

    Crystal, I am so happy you are following your bliss! I miss being in your classes and dancing with your great energy! But I love that you are getting to do something so very cool!

  4. Juniper

    Jun 19, 2012 - 11:06:34

    The expat life is not for the faint of heart!  It’s lucky you have such a good supply of heart <3 I know you will continue to dazzle and amaze.  Que se aproveche, eat em up chica!

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