Posted by: Necci – Apr 23, 2012
I’ve known Kim Sikorsky (perhaps better known as Khalima) for a number of years mainly by association throughout Richmond’s performance art community. A formidable businessperson, fierce organizer, and a sweet soul, she has performed and collaborated with some of Richmond’s finest artists, musicians, and dancers. Her eye for detailed costuming, impressive stage presence, and grace in movement has earned her an unparalled reputation in Richmond’s dance scene. She was kind enough to take time from her busy schedule to talk about her career, passion, and life as a dancer.
What was it that originally led you to the world of bellydancing? And what is the origin of Khalima?
I had never danced before, and in fact had a really difficult time even wrapping my head around it, but my former partner saw a performance in Philadelphia that impressed him. That dancer became my teacher. My first class changed my life and my mind about dance, and I knew I had to continue on. I'm thankful in so many ways for having my mind opened and to have had my partner's support in taking on a new way to create.
The name I chose, Khalima, reflects the changes I experienced after dance made its way into my life. When I began performing, I wanted a name that reflected both transformation and tradition, since my bellydance foundation is in a classic style, Egyptian Orientale. Kali Ma is a goddess I identify with heavily, and the mythology surrounding her as the "Dark Mother" or "slayer of demons" paralleled my personal journey. As I searched Arabic names, I discovered Khalima, which is phonetically similar to Kali Ma, but without the weight behind taking the name of a goddess. Khalima is a male surname that means "speaker." It fits with my notion that dance is a language; the male aspect also nods to my own gender neutrality (which is not readily seen when I'm in bellydance mode).
What were some of the obstacles that you experienced in making a career out of dancing and teaching?
Some have been financial, and others more logistical or emotional in bent. It can be difficult to make a living as an artist, and moreso as a dancer in a small city. It’s ironic in that the very sparkly patina we present onstage belies the challenges that dancers and artists often face financially.
After "going pro," I found that the regular avenues for seeking work as a dancer just don't exist here in Richmond, so I became determined to make those opportunities, not only for myself, but for other artists as well, working to increase the presence of bellydance city-wide. Also, when first starting teaching and performing, I was a new mother navigating the time away from my son while learning to manage my own business. It all takes hard work, and is simultaneously inspiring and fulfilling. I am incredibly lucky, and thankful to be surrounded by a tribe who have been supportive of my art, family, and business from the start.
Khalima as Vasilisa the Beautiful in Raqs Luminaire
Raqs Luminaire is your yearly production. Can you tell me about the inspiration for these performances?
Raqs Luminaire began as an extension of my teaching practice, evolving into an annual stage show incorporating dance, theater, writing, live music, and actual illumination. Conception of the show was rooted in the idea of cycles and interconnectedness. It takes place it in the murkiest time of the year, when the days are shortest and people struggle with the dark. We defy the notion of succumbing to the metaphorical death of the winter. I am inspired by the metaphors of creation: starting as a dark seed in the soil. What does it mean to grow into something else, to reach for the light? I had a wish to see this played out onstage, and this is still the fundamental concept for each show, even as the productions unfold in different directions.
Inspired by bioluminescence (the physical ability for creatures or plants to light up of their own accord), this fascination of mine defines the visual aspects of Luminaire. I encourage my performers to find ways to build lights into their pieces. I produce Luminaire at the historic Byrd Theater because of its gorgeous feel, glow, and inherent light-producing qualities! I want the audience to be floating in a bowl of gorgeous light, sound, visuals, and story, and there is no better place in Richmond for that than at the Byrd.
At the end of the day, what is the difference between the stroke of a paintbrush, the flourish of a hand, the surrender of the body to an ache that must be released, melodies pulled from strings, the heartbeat thump of a drum, the roll of words across paper or tongue? What is the difference between the audience and the artist? How are people the same and different all at once? I want to level the playing field, and show that these things are all one and the same. A serious goal for Luminaire is to wind a thread that ties together many vital ideas, our global community, and dancers of all stripes.
In basic terms, Luminaire is a really fantastic, unique, high quality stage show in Richmond that demonstrates the wonderful variations bellydance can embody.
Sekhemti as Pan and Nymph
Lore is obviously a huge inspiration for your costumes and the stories that you tell through dance. What are some of your favorite characters that you have incorporated into your performances throughout the years, and why?
Legend, lore, and universal archetypes are such huge influences on so many of my dance pieces. In tandem with LeVar Carter, who is an amazing artist and yogi and the other half of my performance duo Sekhemti, we've embodied Shiva and Kali Ma, Pan and Nymph, Hathor and Sekhmet, and others. I've loved delving into each of these stories, and bringing together really theatrical visuals and energy with yoga and bellydance movement for a magical audience. LeVar is a huge inspiration to me.
I also love portraying the High Priestess of the Tarot. Her archetype speaks to me. It's about secret knowledge, and going into the strangest of places inside you to access that information. It's a very fulfilling, cathartic archetype to embody.
Another favorite is Vasilisa the Beautiful; it’s a Russian folk tale that I discovered in childhood. I was simultaneously terrified, drawn in, and full of empathy for the life experience of Vasilisa. It's dark and gorgeous, and was a perfect fit for Raqs Luminaire, which is where I performed the piece for the first time last January. I fashioned a somewhat modern Urban Primitive version of Vasilisa, complete with a skirt lit up with LED's to fulfill part of the story I rewrote that included fireflies gathering around Vasilisa to lead the way in the dark. I was musically accompanied by Barry Bless, August Hoerr, and Pippin Barnett to an accordion piece composed by Barry. Live music adds an energy that is palpable to the audience.
Khalima and Dawn Flores in Raqs Luminaire
Most ancient traditions are attached to dogmas. As a performer that fuses older traditions to new forms and styles, what are some obstacles that you've had to overcome in this aspect?
My foundation in bellydance is very traditional, and although my first teacher is very creative and also a visual artist, and loves what I do, I was also taught that there were "right" ways to do things concerning bellydance. I am grateful for a strong foundation, but struggled for a while with who I was onstage and on the inside. I had a period of about a year where I started questioning everything in my art, and researched a lot of the history that I didn't get as a baby bellydancer.
The short story is: it turns out that bellydance as we know it is not so ancient after all! There is definitely a history, lots of cultural relevance, and the truth that art imitates life. There has always been a global and political influence on all arts, including dances that women do. The "traditional" bellydance that includes a lot of glitz and glam is not so traditional; while there is a ton of cultural relevance to Arabic culture through the music and movement vocabulary, there is a decidedly Hollywood bent to much of it, the costuming being the first thing that comes to mind. Bellydance is sexy! What happens in the village is not what is happening on stage, and in fact there has been a lot of backlash against bellydance, for instance, in the restrictions put on dancers in Egypt, and in the pervasive notion that bellydancers are prostitutes in many parts of the Middle East. There is a simultaneous embracing of the art form in these places, but the dichotomy is confusing.
Western audiences also often view bellydance as something it's not, so education becomes an important tenet. I understand where bellydancers feel the need to distance themselves from any notion of overt sexuality or stripping, but the connections between bellydance as a form of entertainment, and art forms that include the bawdy and sexy are too close to overlook. One of the great things that bellydance allows is a bridge to understanding cultures outside of our own, especially in an era where there is so much anti-Middle East sentiment in America.
Finding the links between burlesque, entertainment, bellydance, and fantasy really allowed me to expand the ideas I wanted to bring to the stage, and feel more fulfilled as an artist. I am comfortable with edginess, playing with the idea of sexuality, gender, humor, etc. I still like to delve into dark or esoteric places, and oftentimes want to create things that are simply beautiful, or emotional vignettes that tell a story. I've also discovered that burlesque, which is such a no-no in many bellydance circles, encompasses much more than stripping, and often doesn't include stripping at all.
Professor Bless and the Dancing Madwoman
You are a notorious collaborator with various other artists in Richmond and surrounding areas. What are some projects that you are currently work on?
Right now I am putting a lot of energy into Professor Bless and the Dancing Madwoman, my collaboration with accordionist Barry Bless, who many know from the Ululating Mummies, Happy Lucky Combo, The Indigenous Gourd Orchestra, and other projects. Barry and I bring together song and dance into theatrical vignettes. Barry has composed many songs on accordion which we use; we also pull music from popular culture of older eras and the world. I have also returned to playing music after a long break, have started singing, and am adding a drag bit as well. We are working on a portable stage that will allow us to take our show directly to the people, on the street! This project is so exciting to me, and it is a joy to work with Barry, who is full of creativity and is an amazing musician and family man. There are no holds barred. Working with a musician with so much discipline and heart is a real backbone to me, and I thoroughly enjoy what we do. Together, we have been hosting a monthly Cabaret Brunch at Balliceaux where Richmond has been able to get a taste of the pieces we have been working on, and also an open format for other creative performers and bellydancers to try out their pieces.
I also work with recent Richmond transplant Madame Onça, formerly of Asheville, a world-traveled cabaret artist with deep roots in both the bellydance and burlesque communities. In addition to working with her on her festivals, TribOriginal (an awesome four day tribal bellydance culture camp in the mountains near Asheville) and Asheville's Americana Burlesque and Sideshow Festival, we are in collaboration on dance projects and also with her band, the Mezmer Society, which is a treasure trove of Eastern European song, dance, and accordion. Onça is also in the throes of producing the Virginia Burlesque & Sideshow Festival, slated to debut in April 2013. With all of the years of event production being brought to the table, and Onça's experience, Richmond is really in for a treat. I'm really excited to be part of this, and am producing two VBSF teaser events the end of this month. More details can be found at khalimadance.com.
Another project I've been involved with when I can is the League of Space Pirates, with Noah Scalin of Skull A Day, Mikemetic, and Abby Davis. It has been an awesome creative outlet of music, dance and theater.
Madame Onça, with Khalima in background
What are some of your personal goals for the future? And where do you see Illumination Dance Studio in five years?
I want to take what I'm doing to a larger audience. I am also playing music and singing every day, and want to build my musical repertoire beyond playing guitar, bass, and zills. I have started learning davul, which is a big Turkish bass drum. Several years ago I conceived an idea for an album, composing pieces that I think will comprise it. In five years' time I'd like to have it done!
I am traveling more in a teaching and performing capacity, and editing this past Raqs Luminaire narrative for touring. I’ve been refining plans for Illumination Dance Studio: in five years, I see Illumination alive with dance classes each day of the week, with students really invested in a supportive community of dancers, musicians, and artists. I’m feeling aflutter with great things!
To those that may be interested in your classes, what would be your primary selling point to getting involved in the world of bellydance?
Bellydance is good for you! Starting with the health perspective, and moving on to the social implications of dance, there are so many ways one can benefit from taking bellydance classes.
Bellydance classes build strong bodies, hearts, and minds. Physically, bellydance hones in on oft-neglected core muscles, improving posture, endurance, balance, and self-awareness. It's an inherently sensual way to work out, which is liberating to many people. Bellydance helps build confidence. Imagine the social implications of women getting back into their bodies, having confidence, and strength!
Bellydance is also great for women who choose to have children, or who have had children. When you walk into a class at Illumination, you enter a lady-positive environment. There are some seriously wonderful implications for women seeking a way to connect to their bodies when they take on a decidedly lady-centric dance form that honors all shapes, sizes, and ages. It’s about finding safety, strength, confidence, and comfort among peers. Most people come to class simply to enjoy movement, or learn a new dance vocabulary or choreography, to learn to make costumes, feel sexy, and enjoy time with other like-minded individuals. All are welcome, including men and gender-neutral peeps! We enforce a positive and respectful environment that is not based in competitive behavior, but rather supportive of encouraging thoughts and actions.
By Rachel Braford