Interview With Sera Solstice
Sera Solstice is the founder of East Coast Tribal dance and the owner of Solstice Studio in New York City.
CG: Festivals continue to have a strong influence on you. Besides introducing you to dance and large-scale sculptures, how do these events affect you?
Sera: So much of my growth resulted from being totally anonymous at these events—letting go of my face, name and self-interest and approaching the experiences with only the bare necessities. This is how I learned about the barricades I have built against my own surrender. I learned that a person can be changed for life from a one week experience like this, though you can’t go in with the expectation of being changed.
I realize it is not a fitting medium for everyone but one week of all night festival dancing can fuel me for an entire year. It has happened many times for me, and many others as well. It can be one way to self-realize, evolve and connect more with others. It is much more than the mere party it may appear to be by observers who aren’t participating directly.
CG: When did you begin to recognize dance in general, or belly dance in particular, as a form of healing and empowerment?
Sera: We joke that dance gives us two inches of height. When you learn to stand and walk with a dancer’s alignment, your muscles eventually agree that it’s okay. But this ultimately happens because your brain accepts this new body language. A subconscious shift in the way we move and carry ourselves can change everything about our lives. Change how you move and you change how you feel about yourself and then, how others relate to you.
Over time, as the dancer drops down into her body and the movements become comfortable, she has the opportunity to access the mysteries of dance in a more conscious way. But most of the energy shift will continue to happen subconsciously.
You can’t just download it into your body. It’s something that grows through over time. It’s important to dance with the right people, keep the flow of energy open and refuse to be cookie-cutter. But it is accessible to anyone.
CG: You encourage an environment that is supportive and are firm about tackling issues like gossiping among dancers. Why is this so important to you?
Sera: Dancers who are attracted to my classes are drawn to the general aesthetic and the positive energy that surrounds the community. Bold choices take guts and good dancing requires bold choices. I want to inspire others to make these bold choices themselves. It is a big step for a dancer to step into their very first dance class or get on stage for the first time. This is especially true if they are moving in a way that may not be considered traditionally pretty. Being able to do this successfully comes from allowing the unique, authentic individual to speak to the world.
Preventing the dancers from gossiping at Solstice Studio helps free the dancers from worrying about what others think when they want to make those bold choices. Then there is nothing holding them back; they have opened your internal gateway of expression. It’s human to surround ourselves with rules, standards and stylistic directives but if we can keep the creative gateway open, then we can change and evolve through it. There were many things I did not know I could do until that gateway opened for me and cleared away my fears.
CG: What was you vision for opening a dance studio? Has the vision been realized? Has it evolved since you first opened it?
Sera: The space still has many levels of evolution to go through but it is only a temporary space for the developing dancers, including myself. I’ve negotiated one short-term lease after another so that I have the ability to walk away when the project is complete. The community that gathers there is not tied by the location but by each other. I have very little attachment to the physical space so that it doesn’t control too much of my life.
What’s truly amazing to me is how much others care about the studio and how much they believe in my vision. They’re willing to lift the weight off my shoulders so I have the time and space to create, which protects my life as an artist.That’s something that can’t be bought. The people who have supported me this way are the greatest gifts of my life.
CG: What have you learned from running your own business?
Sera: I have learned so much from owning a business and have a new level of empathy for the people in the world who have this kind of responsibility. When I go to Bryant Park, next to my studio, and look up at the thousands of office windows, I realize that many business owners are just trying to pay the rent like I am. And I start to look around and notice the hardness in people’s faces and recognize it as a reflection of my own developed hardness.
The business mind acts like a spider upon my being and drains my energy. I see it in others too. Once you go down that road, it’s hard to reverse or pull out. I have to battle the spider every day so that I can use my space to dance without getting lost in the details of running a business.
I’m not sure if it’s worth it or not but I have grown a lot through this battle. I have made the firm decision to never worry about achieving perfection. The spider wants perfection and there’s no end to how I could keep feeding the spider so I decided to give only what I can with my time and energy. Sometimes I feel that I am slacking on many fronts because of that but I am okay with this for now.
CG: What have you learned from being a full time working artist?
Sera: That I am the only one who shapes my reality. When I was in college, everyone told me I would do nothing with an art degree but two months after graduating, I was sculpting and teaching in a permanent studio. My partner at the time berated me and told me I needed to face reality. Everyone would say I couldn’t make money from dancing; that it can only be a hobby. But my career took off.
I wanted to work as a bellydancer and I did. People said New York is too competitive, that you can’t hold down a class there, etc. but I worked my ass off until there was an over-flowing wait-list for my classes.
Then people said I couldn’t have an artistic career and kids. This one, I almost believed. Then I became pregnant in 2006 and started getting requests for international workshops and performances anyway. I have two kids now and I have travel all over the world, bringing my family with me.
I have to say that I love being in my thirties and the maturity that comes from getting a little older. I have a new perspective on what is important and what is superficial bullshit.
CG: What would you like to tell others who are interested in pursuing similar paths?
Something I realized through all of this is that you really have to want it for itself. If you act from competitiveness, spite, greed or a desire to be cool, then you will always be weighed down by those attachments. When I feel my competitive nature driving my decisions, I work hard to push it aside because I know it’s not a pure place to operate from. I say I am, “putting my blinders on”. I shut out all those tugging false motivators, and do what I feel is most genuine within me. This is how I do my best work.
This is easier for me to do as an artist than as a business owner because I feel the struggle and competition with the latter. I have become hypersensitive about the ulterior motives of others and am very careful about who I choose to work with. I am not interested in trying to control the flow of people around me. One of my current lessons is to allow this aspect of myself to reach the surface and be released. I think it is essential for everyone to face their competitive nature, to accept it and speak to it openly. We must recognize the ways it serves us, but more importantly, the ways it doesn’t.
In the United States, we encourage this competitive way of living and have created a whole system based on it. What would happen if we released this way of being? Our fear is that we would live mediocre lives and we would not feel the pride of being the best. But I hope we can think about what else can inspire us.
CG: Where do you see yourself going forward?
Sera: What’s next for me is a transition of mediums. I am working with sound as a sculptural medium now. I know it will take time but I have always wanted to make my own music to dance to.
I am also very interested in using dance to help people heal and connect with others. I have mastered the trance-shamanic elements of dance on a personal level, but the next challenge is figuring out how to bring it into the world at large; I want to promote it as a tool for personal growth and am figuring out how to teach this in an accessible way.
While I value the healing circles, I do not want to sit in a circle and pour forth words. I prefer to access the subconscious through movement. I am particularly inspired by events that use dance shamanically to expell negativity and replace it with personal exploration, evolution, expression, and love. I also want to wield new tools that help integrate our changed selves back into our daily lives so we let go of old negative patterns. For me, dance is a deeply spiritual and positive path that integrates the inner self with the outer world via movement. And I want to share that with others.
Learn more about Sera Solstice’s career as a sculptor and dancer in our Grinder of the Month feature article.