What do you get when you cross “Sex and the City” with figure skating and belly dance?
Middle Eastern Dance Sensation, Marni Halasa.
The professional figure skater from New York City has somehow found a way to perform both dance disciplines with equal success. “Once I love something, I have a hard time letting go,” admitted Marni, who is a United States Figure Skating double gold medalist and figure skating coach at Chelsea Piers. “From my first belly dancing class twelve years ago, I became addicted to everything belly dance — from electronic Egyptian techno beats to organza Isis Wings to triple shimmy hip isolations. I would rehearse for hours after a full day at work and still want to dance more. It was kind of crazy.”
Getting in Touch With Your Inner Goddess
Obsessions — especially healthy ones — are not necessarily a bad thing, and in Marni’s case, her obsession seems to have paid off. She was recently featured in the movie, Sex in the City 2, as a belly dancer in the Abu Dhabi night club scene, dancing on a stage facing Carrie, Charlotte, Miranda and Samantha who sang the karaoke version of the song, “I am Woman.” The scene was filmed in Silver Cup Studios in Brooklyn with nearly 300 actors, extras and production crew, as well as 15 hand-picked belly dancers. The experience, Marni said, was one of the most exciting performances of her life.
“To be immersed in a beautiful dance with so many people watching and cameras filming was pretty amazing. You felt great energy from everyone on the set. It didn’t matter that we did the take over and over for hours until 2:30am, and that my feet were killing me. I would have done that scene the entire night if I had to,” said Marni. “And I think we did a pretty good job — the director, Michael Patrick King, said afterwards we had ‘killed it” and Kim Catrall made it a point to personally thank us for our performance.”
Not everything, however, was smooth sailing. The audition process was challenging, with various hurdles to overcome. Although Marni was selected as one of the few girls to bypass the first audition, she had to go through two additional dance auditions as well as a “photo” audition to be one of the chosen 15 from the 30 initially selected dancers.
“Not only did you have to compete against the best and beautiful dancers in New York City, you also had to learn a brand new dance in a very short time, and then dance on cue, with a quartet of “Sex and the City 2” directors watching,” she recalls. “It was nerve-wracking. It’s definitely one of those moments where you know you have to step up to the plate. But somehow I kept my cool, drawing on past experience, and everything seemed to work itself out once I started to dance.”
The Right Genes
Her affinity for Middle Eastern dance, explained Marni, also stems from her genetics. Her father, a chemist from Jordan, was an athletic marathon runner with a showman’s personality. Her mother, a psychologist from the Phillipines, was a graceful dancer as a child. Sports and physical endeavors were always encouraged in the Halasa household, as well as self-expression.
“I knew I had the genes — as well as the hips — for this,” Marni jokes. “I grew up in a large, loud, very loving extended family in Akron, Ohio, with many Jordanian uncles, aunts and cousins always belly dancing at family gatherings. But it was a good friend of mine, Mimi Ishidate, a Japanese skater/dancer that brought me to Amira Mor’s class at Broadway Dance in New York City. It was there that Amira, a renowned Israeli belly dancer, invited me to be part of her company that performed all over the country. Amira not only taught me to belly dance, but how to be comfortable with my body, and how to accentuate my curves effectively through movement.”
Such experience has helped Marni make belly dance her own exciting brand. Currently, Marni teaches belly dance workshops at the Sports Center at Chelsea Piers in addition to teaching “Marni’s Belly Dancing Extravaganza on Ice” classes to figure skaters, who have performed routines at Rockefeller Center and other rinks in the tri-state area.
And it doesn’t stop there. Also praiseworthy was a featured segment on the Today Show for her unique “Belly Dancing on Blades” routine for America’s Got Talent, where Marni taught television personalities Al Roker and Meredith Vierra how to shimmy. Exciting belly dance, according to Marni, really is a fusion of the middle eastern art, combined with athletic moves, jazz, hip hop, cabaret as well as spectacular costumes and props, elevating dance to a theatrical experience. But what really sets her apart, say skating and dance colleagues, is her choreographic eye.
“I have always tried to figure out what makes an act work, a dance more expressive or how to emotionally connect with an audience. There is a lot of intellectual thinking and strategizing to figure this out, and this is one of the most important elements in the success of a dance. Sometimes dance is about beautiful movement, but it will be even more interesting and compelling if it is about movement intertwined with elements of theater, art, purpose and emotion. The ability to transport the audience to another world is key,” she explained.
Taking It To The Next Level
Transporting audiences to other dimensions is nothing new for Marni. And you can be sure that she plans to do more of that in the future. Her other serious endeavor involves what she calls, “Parading,” i.e.: performing for the public in costume, rollerblades and wings in all the New York City parades, a personal pastime that has garnered much attention from the New York and national media (New York Times, New York Post, New York Daily News, NY1 and the National Enquirer) as well as other parade organizers. Recently Marni won the 2011 Mermaid Parade’s, Best Motorized Float Category, as “Icetina, Cosmic Snowmaid of the Arctic,” a silvery-sequined mermaid skating on synthetic ice on a moving float down Surf Avenue in Coney Island.
Such experiences have Marni currently creating a parade website so the public and parade vendors can get more information about parades in new york city, see www.paradesnewyork.com. There, the public can see Marni in various parades, including the Gay Pride Parade, Veteran’s Day Parade, Columbus Day Parade, Dance Parade and the India Independence Day Parade to name a few.
Although it is hard to believe that this performance artist gave up a lucrative career as a successful attorney, one begins to understand her views when she explains how she felt when she saw her face on the silver screen and her name in the SITC2 credits.
“All I can say is what a moment,” Marni remembers. “Even my conservative father’s eyes lit up when he saw me up on the big screen, saying, “You could have been on the Supreme Court, but how many lawyers can say they belly danced in “Sex and the City 2”…very few.”
Marni agrees. Her advice to other dancers: keep on dancing, which naturally will take your craft to the next level. Currently, Marni is organizing an artistic rollerblading company, Glitz Entertainment, with friend and skating coach Stephanie Jill. The two plan to reach out to companies and event planners to promote artistic inline skating as well as skating on synthetic ice for corporate events and private parties.
“Keep dancing, no matter what job you hold or what age you are (Marni is over 40) — keep performing and trying new things, even if you really have to work at it. It’s worth it for your own personal growth and inspiration, and you never know where things lead. You could be that dancer that hits it big and even if you don’t, you will have a great time trying.”
To learn even more, see Marni’s Facebook Fan Page, “Marni Skates.” Contact her at [email protected] Marni’s web site is www.marnihalasa.com