Sunday, September 29, 2013

Miss Nyx

by Kita


Miss Nyx is a woman full of surprises. With a passion for experiencing life, she's utterly dived into her art. Between modeling, and dancing a large array of dance styles, she's successfully managed to express herself in countless forms. A little bit cheeky, a little bit "take-no-shit", and a whole lot of energetic, her work has shown a variety that is hard to come by.
  An Idaho native, who found her way to Salt Lake City, she's tried a wide array of jobs and lifestyles. However, what sticks out to me the most about all of this, is how strongly she's been able to grip onto her own sense of self and preserve who she truly is throughout it all. She's a kind woman, with a twinkle of humor in her eye, but she's honest, and upfront in a way that's hard to find these days. Her chest tattoo even brazenly states, "Pretty Fuckin' Self Spoken".
  Nyx's work has attracted attention from audiences and other performers alike. Not one to follow trends, her work expresses exactly where she's at when it's happening, and plenty are taking notice. Easily one of the most unique performers in the SLC valley, Nyx has a vision and a story to tell, and I don't recommend missing it.

The Interview:

Kita: So what first got you into performing?

Nyx: When I was pretty young, my mom put me in the general ballet-jazz-tap classes for little kids, so I started out around five. She pushed stage performance on me; I did a lot of stand-up, I did a lot of monologues, I had my own half hour public access channel television show for about two weeks. From there, it just kept going. I thought I was going to be doing a lot of acting, but that never did it for me. Eventually I moved solidly into dancing, and that's really where I've stayed.

Kita: From that point, where has your style evolved to?

Nyx: So I started "on-purpose" dancing, where, you know, it wasn't just my mother signing me up, when I was about nineteen or twenty, and it was belly dancing with a lady named Zidora, out of Boise, Idaho. It was very basic, very Egyptian style. And cabaret style belly dance just doesn't look good on me. So then I went to Germany for three years with the airforce, and when I came back, I discovered Rachel Brice. I immediately fell in love and decided that American Tribal Style was exactly what I had to do. I joined up with a troupe in Salt Lake City, who did very American Tribal Style, and around the same time, I started up with a troupe called Dragomi, who did a very dark fusion style. It was very earthy, very grounded, full weight on the heels style of movements. And that took off really well in the community, and with me, personally. So I really grew from there, and started adding in things I learned from clubs, things I saw in videos, pop and locking, a little bit of ballroom, a little bit of jazz, some modern, cabaret, just whatever I could find. Now, I don't really have a nameable style. 

Kita: Because you're so heavily into fusion, have you gotten any trouble from any of the purists of the styles?

Nyx: No one's ever said it to my face. I'm positive that some of them feel less than enthusiastic about it. I personally have been to belly dance events when I was first starting out actively performing, and I would go, "That's not belly dance! She can't do that here!" So even I've been there. And people who are focused on purity of particular forms, you know, that's their thing, they're preserving something. It's just not what I do.

Kita: Do you prefer the creation and the learning or do you prefer the performance? 

Nyx: I don't know if other performers do this in a similar fashion, but when I'm doing solo work, I have a strong tendency to absolutely fall in love with one song. Just head over heels. The rhythm, the pulse, the tempo, the meaning of the lyrics, it's exactly what I want to dance to right then. It's perfect for me, and I will dance the shit out of that song until I have a solid choreography that makes me thrilled to practice it. And then I will perform that once. And then I never want to hear that song again. So, I guess, I do get a lot of satisfaction out of the creation process, but the actual performance, sending a story out into the audience, and having them see it, and understand it, and respond to it, and having them sending back their own energy in the form of yelling or clapping, or whatever, I live for that part of it. 

Kita: What's been your biggest struggle with dancing?

Nyx: I'll name two. One is staying motivated. Staying motivated without a class, a troupe, a teacher, or any of that can be incredibly hard sometimes. There are a lot of people in the community that just push through those times, and just rock them, and then they're back to their motivation, but I'm not that person. I lose my motivation, and it's chocolate and cookies time. I'm pretty much done. But, I'd say bigger than that, the reason I stopped dancing as much as I used to and narrowed it down to solo work is the community. The community may be different in other areas, but the movement performance community in Salt Lake is so ridiculous. How little we are supportive. The Salt Lake City community in general doesn't support movement artists very much unless they're in a classical form, you know, like ballet, jazz. And so the movement artists who are out on the street, practicing in the park, or in their living rooms, will put a show together that took six months to organize, they get volunteers, they get people to donate stuff, they put together raffles, they make it a charity show, and they get maybe ten people to show up who aren't other dancers. And that makes it hard. Because when you're in a community, the thing that keeps it alive, that keeps it growing and moving is seeing new stuff. And if the only people who are coming are the other dancers, you don't get new input, you don't get new infusions of ideas. It gets stale, and I think that's a big part of the reason you can find so much interpersonal drama among many of the performers. I've never been part of a community that was so over the top with the soap opera episode type drama, and I think  it's because we get stuck in this little bowl with only each other for company, and we don't deal with it well. We don't know how to go out and recruit new people very well to come in and see and share our stuff. 

Kita: How about the people closer to you? Are they supportive?

Nyx: If they weren't, they wouldn't be around me. My friends are fantastic. People will come to my shows, they'll watch me rehearse, they'll give me critiques on my outfits and that sort of thing. I think people are generally interested in seeing it, and getting involved with it. 

Kita: How about stage fright?

Nyx: Well, as I said, I've been onstage in one form or another since I was five, and that's (insert massive coughing fit here) number of years, and I could have a rock solid choreography, that I could do in my sleep perfectly, and every time I go onstage, I get the shakes. I get shake-y, I get nervous, but the second the music starts, you've got two ways to go. You can do it, or you can be afraid. And if you do it, it rocks, every time.

Kita: Would you say from the point you were at when you first started branching out, to now, your goals have changed a lot?

Nyx: Absolutely. Yes. A lot. When I first started actively performing belly dance, I just wanted to be neat, I wanted to do something that was fun and different. In the belly dance class I was in, I learned that when you are doing belly dance, you are sparkly, and smiley, and bouncy, and you have long hair, and so those were the things I aimed for. I wanted to fit into that little niche. I did pretty well, for as well as I can really do cabaret style belly dance, but now? Now, I don't want to look like I'm doing a style. I want to look like I am onstage dancing. That's what I want people to see. I want them to see the character that I am creating, the story I'm telling. I don't want to be doing that through someone else's form.

Kita: So you also do modeling. Do you find the two coincide at all?

Nyx: Absolutely. Being able to dance increases your body perception by leaps and bounds. So it's easier for posing. It's easier for someone to say, "Keep your feet and your hips where they are, turn your shoulders toward the camera, and lift your chin higher." It's easier to isolate those things if you have more experience talking to your body parts. So yes. 

Kita: You've done nude work. What got you to start doing that? 

Nyx: Well, I like me naked. So I figured I'd like to have a picture of that. So when I ran into a photographer who wasn't creepy about that, we tried some stuff out, and it turned out amazing. 

Kita: Are a lot of photographers creepy then?

Nyx: I haven't gotten to that point with a lot of photographers. So far, I have done nude photoshoots with a couple of photographers. It's not so much creepy like, "Hey, little girl..." It's hard to explain. I had a photoshoot with a guy once, and I was modeling a corset that his partner had made. I had a long sleeve shirt on underneath, I had some pants on, and we're doing the photoshoot, and at one point, I was laying down on a fur rug. He just had me rolling over and over like a log roll, and he was asking me to do stuff like pull my shirt open at the top, and squish my elbows in on the side of my breasts. I was like, "Can you even see the corset in these?" And he just looked at me, and was like, "Oh! The corset!" He had completely forgotten the corset and was working towards me not being in the corset. So stuff like that happens a lot. I don't think it's so much creepy, as people get excited, and want to see where everything goes. But I would rather have a situation where I can just sort of lounge around, and be naked, and be pretty, and have that be the point than have it be a situation where they feel they have to sneak up on it because I might get skittish and leave.

Kita: What have your biggest anxieties with modeling been? 

Nyx: Being murdered in the desert.

Kita: That's a good anxiety to have.

Nyx: Yeah! Granted, it's never been a huge worry. But I've never been concerned about looking silly in a picture, or doing something people might not like. 

Kita: So what about your biggest struggles with modeling?

Nyx: Finding photographers I like. It's kind of like trying to go to a show where you know you'll be dancing for other dancers, so everyone's going to be very well informed, and you're trying to pull off doing something that is new and unique and doesn't look like stuff that everyone else is doing. So finding ideas that are new, exciting, sexy, and fun, but that aren't all over the internet already is a big challenge. 

Kita: So what do you do to get ready for a photoshoot?

Nyx: It depends. For certain really casual, artsy photos, I won't do anything in particular. But for a photoshoot once, I did full body paint, and a big set, and prosthetics were being made for this. I slimmed down with the Atkins diet for two weeks, I did a lot of cardio, and a lot of stuff to trim my figure down. For the most part, I just make a half-hearted attempt to not eat too much candy. 

Kita: And with a dance show?

Nyx: Practice. One of the things I do like about the community here is really that, if I were to go to an expo downtown, and do a performance, I would feel a bit of pressure to be toned and in shape, and at the top of my game. And with a belly dance show, it's not that I shouldn't be those things, or that it wouldn't be better, but I know that if I get onstage and my stomach is pooching out over my pants a little bit, no one is going to be sitting in the audience going, "Oh my God! She has let herself go!" In this community, it's not even a blip on the dial. And if it is, you probably do cabaret and I don't care. 

Kita: With either modeling or dancing, what inspires you?

Nyx: That's hard to say. I want to have something profound here to say like, "My family," or something,  but
really, it's more like, one day I'll find a song that I really like. And I'll do that. Or I won't. But I never really know. 

Kita: If you want my opinion, that's more profound than saying something like, "My family," because it makes it sound more like that's just how you react to life.

Nyx: Yeah! That! What she said! 

Kita: Outside of dancing or modeling, what other forms of art have you wanted to get into?

Nyx: I kind of a dabble a little teensy bit with photography. I will occasionally write, as a form of catharsis, and when I do, it's pretty impressive. I like my writing. But I've never been a huge fan of painting, drawing, sculpting and that sort of stuff. I like the crafty stuff, like crocheting, or I can sew a pair of pants together that are pretty cute. Stuff like that. I like making things, but maybe not art. 

Kita: So have you had struggles with working an ordinary job and doing your art on the side? 

Nyx: To a certain extent. Finding ways to do it is easy, I feel. But finding places to hire me while I'm doing it is a little harder. I have a lot of tattoos, I do a lot of fun things with my hair, so it can be hard to find a job
 while all that's going on. But right now, I feel happier letting myself do the rest of those things despite the fact that it might affect things in rest of my life than I would if I did have an easier time with a job, but I didn't have, you know, purple hair and tattoos.

Kita: Have you had a lot of trouble with feeling drained? 

Nyx: It depends heavily on the job. For example, I just left a job with a company where I worked right out at the front desk. They weren't terribly straight laced, but they were still pretty normal. I couldn't even allow my arm piece to show, I couldn't have my hair dyed any unusual colors, extensions were absolutely out of the question. You know, so I had a solid, steady job, great benefits, thirteen paid holidays a year, good insurance, ect. ect., but I'm the lowest paid person in the building, and expected to adhere to the highest social and physical standards. It feels unfair, and against my nature, which is draining. So at the end of the day, do I want to dance? Well yeah. But do I want to get off the couch to do it? Absolutely not. I just had a shit day doing stuff I don't believe in for eight hours. I don't want to dance right now. Now, the job I have right now? I go in and I work on things with my hands all day, and then I go home. I get to have my pink hair, and I get to let my tattoos show. I get home, and physically, I may have had a harder day, and mentally, I may have had more challenges, but my soul? I haven't squished it in a box. So it's ready to go. It doesn't need unpacking, or ironing times. It's out of the box, onto the dance floor. And I'm happy. 

Have anyone else you'd like us to chat with? Suggestions are taken in the comments below! 

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Jorge Arellano

by: Mandy

Is there such a thing as accidental art?  When Jorge Arellano was a teenager in a punk band in Mexico City, he claims to have fallen into stencil art without knowing there was even a movement of the same kind in existence.  “ I started a band with some friends, and we needed a logo for our band,” he says.  Arellano gathered a set of images that sparked his fancy, cut out some stencils using an old sewing needle (how punk is that?!), and spray painted the first of what would become many works of art expressing his own political messages.  Is there such a thing as accidental genius?

Jorge continued to dabble in graffiti and stencil art, but his passion for it really ignited around five years ago, and the artist made the decision to pursue it full speed and full time from the studio in his basement (by the way, he’s still singing in a punk band, too).  He couldn’t care less about making money with it, and actually likes to leave pieces on the street as a sort of “gift,” or give them away when he knows a patron will really appreciate what he has created.  His main inspirations are politics, current events, and women's rights.  “When there is something that is bothering me and I feel it needs to be told, this is my way of expressing it.”  We had the pleasure of sitting down with Jorge, who is a surprisingly down-to-earth and upbeat political activist.  We left with a feeling of excitement, and with positive expectations for the future of street art in Salt Lake City.  

The Interview:

Mandy: What kind of artist are you?

Jorge: I like to say I am an urban artist, and the technique I use is stencils.

Mandy: How did you learn to do that?

Jorge: It was kind of like an accident. I started first in music. I started a band with some friends, and we needed a logo for our band. We drew some stuff, but we didn’t have a way to do anything like silk screen. So, I came up with the idea of using a stencil and spray painting clothes. So that’s exactly how it started. And then friends would ask me to do it for them, for their jackets. I kinda became the popular guy in the neighborhood for it. I didn’t get paid much, or even paid. But I actually had no idea there was a stencil world out there.

Mandy: So you used to use sewing needles?

Jorge: Yep! I would just grab the needle and start cutting the paper. I would put electrical tape around it to protect my fingers.

Mandy: When did you first notice you were interested in art, then?

Jorge: Probably about five years ago. Before that, it would be about every six months or so. My first stencils, I did when I was about eighteen or nineteen, but then I stopped for a long time. But when I saw people were doing stencils, I thought, “Wait a minute, I can do that.”

Mandy: Do you have any inspiration that you draw primarily from?

Jorge: I like this question a lot, actually. As I said, when I started doing this, I had no idea that other people were doing this. I didn’t know what it was called or anything. I just started cutting and spray painting. When I found out, of course, there were people that I really really admired. And one of the ones I really liked is C215. The other guy is named Sneak. So those two are probably the ones I really drew from, my inspiration.

Mandy: I noticed a lot of your art is political in nature. Tell us about what is behind that.

Jorge: First I started in music. Punk rock. Back then, punk rock was really political. So all the lyrics, everything in the songs, you could use it for real life. Now, everyone plays for fun, or they might sing political songs, but they spend so much time on facebook. Back then, everything was just more involved in your real life. So the art would go hand-in-hand. We needed it for fliers for protests or shows, and so I started doing the art for all those. And that’s why I started following that path. So I would mix my art with whatever we were doing with the band. Then it expanded to let me do a little bit of everything.

Mandy: What is your biggest struggle as an artist?

Jorge: My biggest obstacle right now is technology. It’s making things so much easier for people. If somebody wants a piece of art, instead of buying it, they can just print a nice quality print of it, and put it on their walls. People that aren’t even artists can print stuff and repaint it over on their walls. And I think that’s the biggest obstacle right now, because it means it’s so under-appreciated. Sometimes I’ll be working on a piece for like, two or three weeks, and then I go and see somebody who printed something like it in a few seconds. I guess another one would be that I live in a small town, where street art is not really appreciated. It’s hard for me. Every piece I make will take two or three years to sell. And I don’t care much about selling, but getting them out there is hard.

Mandy: How about the people in your life? What are their feelings towards your art?

Jorge: I’m a very lucky person. The most important people in my life support me, so much. I haven’t been working a different job in a few months, and if I struggle, they help me out. Sometimes I feel like I need to give up, but it’s them. They keep me going. Especially my wife. She’s the one taking all the trash out. I consider myself really lucky.

Mandy: Do you like to collaborate?

Jorge: I love to collaborate. I just don’t like to ask for it. I like it to be in the moment. When it happens, it happens. To me, it’s like asking someone to be your friend.

Mandy: I know you said a bit about how street art is under-appreciated here. What about the art scene here?

Jorge: I think it’s always been good. When it’s considered graffiti, a lot of people just see it as a bad influence, but when it’s art, they understand it. I love graffiti, I consider it art. I just think the town is so small that we don’t get that exposure, where people want you to paint a whole building with street art. I think art in general in Salt Lake is great. To me, it’s kind of weird that you can go into an art gallery and find really great artists that sell their stuff for a decent price, and then you go to other places like Park City, and find stuff that’s similar for thousands and thousands of dollars. And if you like art, how can you tell? To me, art is really great. I just don’t understand that.

Mandy: So do you have any work around the city?

Jorge: I have always done small things. I don’t have any murals or anything. Most of my pieces are done on recycled materials, and then they’re left on the street. I don’t know what happens to them after I leave. So hopefully people are taking them and starting to figure out that there is someone dropping art around the city. I think it’s better to leave something they like and can take, and do whatever they want with it, than to spend half an hour or an hour on the street to have it wiped out by the city in minutes. I think that’s the real vandalism. You know those gray spots on the walls? I think they look horrible. And I have stuff at the Urban Art Gallery, too.

Kita: What goes into creation for you?

Jorge: It really changes, from time to time, depending on what’s going on, in the whole world. When there is something that is bothering me and I feel it needs to be told, this is my way of expressing it. Everyone has their own way to express. Some people just scream and scream, some people get out in the street and protest, and some people just whine about it, and for me, it’s just a way to release that nonconformity. One thing I can say is that I really concentrate on is painting a lot of women. I have always thought and said that I think that women are way stronger than men. And you can see it everywhere. Every country where you have a revolution or somebody rising, it’s always a woman who starts rising, and then the men start following. So for me, showing this in my art is a statement.

Kita: How would you go about making a piece of art on a technical side?

Jorge: I like to be as original as possible. And I take pictures of everything I want to turn into a stencil. I started taking my own pictures, making collages and the like. When I’m done with the image, I would just print it, raw, as it is. I don’t know how to use photoshop, I never have, maybe I’ll learn one day. But as I print the image, I start editing the image with sharpies or pencils, and that’s the longest process for me. It takes one to three weeks, depending on how many layers. Once I have the image done, I put it on top of different materials. It can be paper, or mylar, or cardboard, or recycled photographic film. I love using recycled materials, because you’re giving life to something that is already garbage. So then I cut all the layers, and then I spray paint each layer. So that’s pretty much the step-by-step breakdown.

Check out more of Jorge’s art at:

Upcoming events:

September 28 at 8 pm, Burt’s Tiki Lounge:  Jorge’s band All Systems Fail with Maimed for Life

Have anyone else you’d like us to chat with? Suggestions are taken in the comments below.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Heather Gardner

                                                                               by Kita

This week, I was lucky enough to sit down for a chat with Heather Gardner, who has quickly become a SLC favorite for burlesque, belly dance, and all around entertainment. With her pretty face and quiet voice, one might mistake her for being demure. I learned that this is a woman with a passion, not just for her art, but to master her own self and skills.
  As one of the up-and-coming stars of Salt Lake City, Heather has found herself performing with several top notch groups in a wide variety of events. Her star shows no sign of dimming anytime soon. Often spotted at Juana Ghani events or practicing silks in the park, she has spent the last few years learning everything tossed her way. It's more than paid off.
  Still, Heather is a kind soul, with a gracious and smiling demeanor. She's been not only a talented artist, but a happy addition into an arts community that has embraced her fully. Keep your eyes peeled, Utahns. She's taking over!

The Interview: 

Kita: So, what kind of artist are you?

Heather: Oh, that's a hard question to answer, because I do so many things. Well, I do burlesque, of course, and belly dance. I'm learning aerial arts right now, so probably my main focus right now. I'm trying to get good at that, but it's really challenging. It takes a lot of strength. But I like that. I'm also taking modern dance, and I took ballet in college, so I'm trying to incorporate that into everything I do. I'm also a musician. My band hasn't played very much lately, but I still like to sing and play the guitar. It just has to take a backseat right now.

Kita: How did you get into dancing?

Heather: Well, I started with belly dancing. That was the first dance I ever did. I started with my mom, and it was in, I think, 2002, so I was about twenty-three. I always wanted to take it. I think I saw a belly dancing segment on some TV show once, and thought, "Oh, I want to do that!" So, I made up my mind that I wanted to try it, and I wanted someone to go with me, so my mom went with me. We danced together for about five or six years, and I took from a lot of different people. I think the first one I ever took was in a community education class in West Jordan or somewhere around there, and my teacher was Ravonda. We took lessons from her that summer, and then we started taking lessons from Thia. So I was there for quite a while, and then I stopped taking lessons from her and started learning from a girl named Melissa Walker. I took lessons from Lara Zorn, and Trisha McBride. Then I started doing my own thing.

Kita: How about music?

Heather: Well, my family is a very musical family. My brother and I learned piano when we were very little. He was always better than I was, and I kind of quit when I was eight years old. My mom wanted everyone in our family to learn an instrument, and so that's when I decided I wanted to play the flute. So that's when I really wanted to do music. I used to go to a different elementary school to take classes, and then I did it throughout middle school and a few years in high school. When I was in the ninth or tenth grade, I decided I wanted to play the guitar. So I got myself a guitar, using all the money I had from the summer job at the time. I was a custodian for a middle school. I kind of taught myself how to play, and started writing songs. It just kind of happened that way and I've been playing ever since.

Kita: Do you write a lot of your own stuff then?

Heather: I do write some music, yeah. I've been writing songs since I was about fifteen. They've changed throughout the years, and a lot of them, I don't even want to think about anymore. But I do like to write, and play other peoples music as well.

Kita: Do you find yourself using this to connect to the arts community in Salt Lake?

Heather: A little bit. I was in a Celtic band. I kind of still am. A member of our band passed away, so it would have to be a different band if we were to bring it up again, but we did perform quite a bit. It was great to connect with different bands and other artists that way. I really enjoyed that. I enjoy just meeting random people who I can play music with. I enjoy playing bluegrass music a lot, since it's a great way to play music for that. A lot of people know the same songs through it.

Kita: Would you say with your experience as a dancer and musician, are the two communities really different?

Heather: Yes. I would say they are. They are similar in some ways. But it's different just in the mediums themselves.

Kita: When you first started dancing, what were your goals?

Heather: My goals were just to be able to learn how to do it. It was new for me. I never really wanted to dance when I was younger. I mean, I did, but I was scared to. I never thought I would be able to do it. When I started belly dancing, I fell in love with it. It was amazing. I learned that my body could learn movement, I just had to try hard and keep working at it. So really, that was my main goal. I never really thought about performing, but I guess after that first year I started thinking about it. Then I had another goal of being a good performer. So those were really my two goals.

Kita: How about now?

Heather: They're pretty much the same, depending on what I'm doing. They've just deepened. I mostly just want to get better, and new things that I want to master. I think they've mostly stayed the same.

Kita: What about music? What were your goals there?

Heather: Just to be able to play. And to be in a band. I've always wanted to play guitar and sing in a band. And that happened! So that was an amazing experience for me. I wouldn't change it for anything. I would love to play in a band again, and continue playing in the band I'm in if it's possible.

Kita: How do music and dance complement each other? Has learning one helped with the other?

Heather: Oh, I think so. I think just being a musician helps you understand music, and being able to create music is really special. It connects you to music on a primal level, and that's kind of moved over into dance.

Kita: So how about your different styles of dance? Burlesque, belly dance, and aerial are all pretty different. Do you find they blend well?

Heather: I think they do. Doing burlesque, you steal a lot of movements from other dance forms, unless you'd like to have a number where you don't do a lot of dancing in. There are those in burlesque that aren't just dance-centric. I like to pull from the dance styles that I've learned. I use it for inspiration, or I'll use certain moves. I do find they go in and out of each other a lot. Modern has helped because it really strengthens your core.

Kita: How is performing? Do you get anxious?

Heather: I do! I used to be really bad with my stage fright. I still get it, but it's not nearly as bad as it used to be. It's more of an excitement or anticipation than feeling like you'd want to die. I still get a little bit excited and nervous.

Kita: What have your other struggles been?

Heather: I've had a lot of technical struggles. It seems I've had a lot of problems with music and things not playing right for me. That's a real challenge, because you don't expect it, and then you have to just wing it and do the best you can do. So that's happened. Other than that, it's been coming up with original and fun choreography that other people will find artful and enjoyable.

Kita: So you mostly do your own choreography?

Heather: Yes! I do a lot of freestyling, too. I do like to have a set based choreography, especially if I'm dancing with my students or if there's a song that I really want to get through and convey an idea about. It can be a struggle, but I enjoy letting things flow naturally, and then picking an idea and running with it.

Kita: So do you prefer working with groups or is it really mostly about your solo stuff?

Heather: I like both sides! It's hard to say. I love being a soloist, but I love performing with a group too. I really enjoy being a part of that bigger picture. I enjoy dancing, synchronized with other ladies, and the communal aspect of it. It's like a sisterhood. I love that a lot. But I really like doing solos too, because it really lets your own personality shine through. You can really say, "This is my own medium, this is what I came up with."

Kita: How about when you're doing other peoples choreography? Some dancers I've talked to say they feel almost like robots just going through the motions. How easily do you tap into other peoples viewpoints?

Heather: I love doing other peoples choreography, actually. It's something that I find a challenge sometimes, especially if it's something I'm not technically used to. But I love to master it. I really like trying to match the style they're going for, and trying to capture the mood they're trying to give.

Kita: How well does the art you do harmonize with your day to day job?

Heather: I don't think it's hard. I just barely got my job, a few weeks ago. I'm a student at the university in Ogden, so I work at the library archives, and I'm a scanner. So I get to scan in all these old pictures, and I think it's fun and enjoyable. I've always liked photography, and I get to listen to music while I do it. So even if my mind wanders, I can be thinking of choreography or how I want to play with a song. I think it's a good job for me to have right now.

Kita: What's your favorite aspect of either music or dance?

Heather: I love feeling victorious after I've mastered something. Like, when I'm doing aerial dance, there's a really hard move that took me a long time, and it was always the hardest move for me when I started learning. And then when you get that, it's such an amazing feeling, and you have such respect for yourself and admiration. You feel like, "I can do this!" And then also performing, there's something amazing about it. Being able to make people happy, and bringing a little bit of magic to their lives.

Kita: And least favorite?

Heather: Probably when I mess up. You know, when things don't go the way you want them to, that can be hard. But it's a good learning experience, so I don't feel like it doesn't have any value.

Kita: Where do you find inspiration?

Heather: I find a lot of inspiration in the lyrics of songs. Sometimes, they just speak to you, and you really connect with the message it's sending and the emotions that go along with those things. So I feed off a lot of feelings.

Kita: When you first started with this whole crazy adventure, is this where you saw yourself going?

Heather: Not at all. I don't really know what I expected to be doing, but there's so many different things I'm doing now. I think I just expected that I would be performing and liking it, but I never saw myself branching off into all these different areas. I've always had it in my head that I would be performing something, whether it's songwriting, or music, or dance.

Kita: You've kind of become a local celebrity. Do you ever have strange experiences with that?

Heather: I do! I've had people recognize me in bars, that I've never met but they're my Facebook friend or something. It's really weird when that happens, I'm never sure how to respond. Other than that, it just seems that all the circles I know are connected. I always run into somebody that I know. Everyone I know knows everyone else with all these different connections so that's kind of cool. So sometimes it's pretty cool, and sometimes it's kind of weird. You feel like you're being stalked or something! But it's cool.

Kita: How do the people in your life react to all of this?

Heather: I think they appreciate it for what it is. My family loves to come see me perform and the different styles that I do. They like to support me whenever they can, and my husband likes to come whenever he can.

Kita: Do you find that helpful, or do you really prefer to perform for strangers?

Heather: Oh so helpful! I like having people I know in the audience. It's a bit of moral support. There's also something freeing about performing for people you don't know. There's less expectations and you don't have to worry about whether they liked it or not too much.

Kita: In the belly dance world, the debate over being sexy is pretty strong, but burlesque is obviously meant to be sexy. Did your feelings on that and on what you're willing to do with that change along the way?

Heather: I think so. I think the more I experience different forms of art, I stopped confining myself. I don't like confining myself, or setting any artistic boundaries. If you have something and it's going to work, then you just go for it. And people will hate it or love it and that's going to be the case no matter what you do. So my ideas about what my performances should be and how I should convey them have changed over time and over the years. But I think that always changes.

Kita: People have a lot of different opinions on dance with body image. Some people think it helps, others think just the opposite. Where do you fall on that spectrum?

Heather: It really helped me with how I view my body and gave me such respect for it, so my opinion is that it definitely helps. It promotes healthy self image. When you can move your own body and see it moving in ways you never thought you'd be able to, I think it helps in so many ways. Just getting out there and dancing is healthy.

Have anyone you'd like us to chat with? Suggestions are taken in the comments below. 

Friday, September 20, 2013

Mike Sheffield

                                          by Mandy

     Mike Sheffield, a long-time resident of Salt Lake City, is a man of many talents.  A pianist, singer/song writer, novelist, and sometimes photographer, his latest interest is in writing poetry.  Sheffield serves as keyboardist and backup vocalist for local band Smokin’ Id, and works as a psychologist.  He and his wife Darby are coming up on their one-year wedding anniversary.

     While Mike’s roots were in classical piano, he began picking out popular songs playing on the radio through the boom box in his bedroom when he was in the 8th grade.  He soon taught himself to play over 200 songs, and he credits this gradual development of the knowledge of song structure as a basis for which he learned to write his own music. Since then, he’s developed by leaps and bounds as a songwriter, but the man just can’t settle on being good at one thing.  He’s always had a deep need to create, whether it is pleasing to the ear, eyes, or soul.

Your wings are a whir
delicate engines 
transporting you 
forward backward sideways around 
and into stillness.  

You levitate 
before a purple beauty, drink 
what the gods have offered 

The Interview:

Kita:       What type of artist are you?

Mike:    Well, I do a lot of things.  I grew up playing piano, so I’ve been doing that all my life.  I started writing songs in high school.  And I’m a writer, poet, and singer.  Those things kind of developed later.  I never envisioned myself to be a singer, though, until a few years ago.  And I did photography too, although I didn’t study it formally.  A lot of these things I just picked up on my own.

Kita:       Did you start out with classical piano?

Mike:    Yes, my mom was actually a piano teacher, so she started giving me lessons when I was four years old.  Then when I was in the eighth grade, my parents wanted me to take lessons from this woman who was a professional music teacher, and she was very good.  She had taught at the Leningrad Conservatory, and then immigrated.  She had guest soloed with the Minnesota Orchestra, so she was top notch, and also very demanding.  I didn’t like it, I felt too much pressure.  Finally, at the end of the year, my parents let me quit.  That was pretty much the last time I played classical.  I started thinking, “You know, it would be great if I could just play stuff on the radio.”  So I would just try to play along, and I would record songs on a tape recorder, and I would try to pick out the bass line, and really learn those songs.  And within a few years, I had learned a couple hundred songs.  I never knew the names of the chords.  I didn’t have music theory, but I discovered right away that I had a really good ear.  In the process of doing that, I learned the structure of songs.  I couldn’t articulate how to structure a song, but I just knew it.  I tried for years to write a song, and I just couldn’t do it.  And then one day, I sat down at the piano, and this song popped out.  I wrote it in about half an hour.

Kita:       At what point did you start focusing on this for yourself and not your parents?

Mike:    In the eighth grade, for sure.  Because then playing got to be really fun.  I took refuge in music.  I was not happy that year.  I was pretty depressed.  I was very shy, and I kind of went into my own world, and music was a big part of that.  It might have limited my social development, but it also saved my life in a lot of ways.  My parents were supportive.  They always wanted me to be involved in music.  They didn’t like pop or rock music at all, but they liked my piano playing. 

Kita:       Since it was them who really got you into this, did all your siblings play as well?

Mike:    Pretty much.  She [my mom] tried to teach everyone piano.  A couple of them didn’t stick with it.  I’m the oldest of eight, and I think about three of them didn’t stick with it.

Kita:       So, when you hit that point of writing your own stuff, what became your biggest goals at                that point?

Mike:    I really wanted to be a songwriter.  I didn’t ever anticipate being the greatest piano player, and I didn’t practice enough to be a great piano player.  I did what was fun for me, and I wanted to be good enough that I could play in a band.  But the thing I really wanted to do was write songs.  So I always looked for opportunities to write songs to get other people to sing and find some way to record.  I thought about having a career in music for quite a while.  I have my undergraduate in psychology, and I started grad school.  I went to Northwestern for a year, for their PhD program, and then I didn’t like it.  I took a leave of absence from that program with a pretty solid idea that I might not go back.  I worked for a year, and thought very seriously for a few months about just giving up psychology and just being a songwriter.  And then, I realized that I did like psychology and that it was more practical, so I went back into grad school.

Kita:       Do you feel that since that point, have you reached any significant goal steps along the                way?

Mike:    Not at all to the degree that I would like.  I haven’t gotten a song well recorded, and I’d really like to do that.  I don’t necessarily want to be a performer, although I started going after it a few years ago.  There are some things about performing that I really like, and I wanted to take that seriously.  But for me, the greatest joy is creating.  I’m not satisfied with just creating, and I want to get it into a form where other people are hearing it, whether I’m singing it or someone else is.  And I haven’t got that yet.  People hear the songs and they like them and I get positive feedback, and that’s great.  But I also want something more.

Kita:       What has been the biggest struggle you’ve had to deal with?

Mike:    Being able to make that transition, and wondering if I can get to that place where I’m making money.  I would be really happy if I could just do my creative projects, full time.  So how you make that transition…I haven’t figured out how to do that yet.  I was ready to go sell my house and live out of my truck in the wilderness so I’d have more time to write.  And I decided that six weeks before the economy tanked back in 2008, and by the time I got my house on the market, it was too late.  And then I got cancer, right after that, and that changed everything.  Now I’m really glad I still have the house.  I really needed it, it turns out.  So I’m happy with my life.  I’m still struggling to figure out how to carve out enough time to do the projects that I want to do.  And the other big struggle is that there are a lot of things that I like to do, and I would probably have gotten farther if I had just focused on one thing.  But I don’t’ regret trying all the things that I have.
     Two years ago, I took a class on creative nonfiction, and started working on a memoir.  So now I’m working on a poetry book and a memoir and all these songs.  I’m still hopeful that someday, I am going to be able to do more with all of the things that I’m doing.

Kita:       You’ve really become a jack-of-all-trades.

Mike:    Yes!  There are ways in which all of those things come together.  For example, poetry was one of those things that I had never really considered.  And then one day, I was out watching a hummingbird and I started writing a poem.  I’d only written a few poems in my life, and by this point, I was in my forties.  I got to the end of the poem, and I was surprised by this line.  It was, “For you I would be a poet.”  It just jumped out at me!  There was something deep inside that was evoked by this experience and the poet inside just woke up.  I wrote sixty-five poems over the next year and a half.  That’s kind of how my artistic path has been; here, there, and everywhere.  The important thing has been to find out that to be happy, I have to be doing something creative.  There’s like, this fire in me that has to come out in some form or another.

Kita:       Are there more things you still want to try?

Mike:    If I had the time, I would like to learn to play the guitar, and I’d like to drum, and learn different styles.  I’m working on some ideas on how to bring all these things together, actually.

Kita:       Would you say that your art and other business have harmonized well?

Mike:  It’s felt more clashing.  Although, my training as a psychologist and my experience as a psychologist has influenced my writing, for sure.  Because I write a lot about inner landscapes.  I studied a lot about that, and that’s what drew me to psychology.  And that’s what’s really compelling, I think.  What I’ve been doing for the past ten years is psychological testing.  It’s a dry, boring kind of writing.  So I’ve really felt this strong clash the last several years.  But it has also given me the opportunity to live the kind of life that I want.  You have to value all those things.  And maybe that tension is really important.  Somebody said, I think it was Tennessee Williams, “The worst thing that can happen to an artist is success.”

Kita:       Do you prefer to work alone or is collaboration more your thing?

Mike:    I’ve done both.  It’s been interesting to try and collaborate with other people.  I think it’s great to encounter other ways of doing things.  But I still have had more enjoyment from doing my own thing.

Kita:       What or who would you say are your biggest influences?

Mike:    In poetry, it’s been Rilke and Mary Oliver.  William Stafford.  Musically, I grew up playing a lot of Billy Joel.  And the blues, I love the blues.  I think that musically, I’ve been influenced by a lot of different people so much that it’s probably hard to name any of them.  I tried to force myself to write in different styles so I didn’t get stuck in one thing.  I even tried to write country songs, which I was never very good at.

Kita:       Where would you say you feel most inspired?

Mike:    I love to write outdoors, actually.  Nature is my biggest inspiration, by far.  Especially with the poetry, but even before that with the music.  It is just part of who I am, as an artist, and as a person, and I feel this deep connection with the earth.  Travel is often very helpful.  When I go on a trip and then come back, a song would just pop out.  I love the way that Darell Scott, a great songwriter, described it.  He just waited until a song came knocking, and then he tried to honor it by letting it out.

Kita:       What have been your biggest growth points or epiphanies?

Mike:    When I was a senior in high school, there was this guy who came to town.  I grew up Mormon, so this was this Mormon guy who was traveling around and doing his show that he had put together.  My dad volunteered to drive him around when he came to town, and he brought him over to dinner at our house.  My dad never said this, but I’m pretty sure that he did that in order for me to meet this guy.  His name was Lynn Bryson.  He [my dad] started talking about how I was a songwriter.  So we finish dinner and go into the living room, and I play a couple of songs.  Lynn said, “Well, I travel all over the country.  I’ve heard lots of musicians and writers in the church, and if I had to bet, I would say you are the one who’s going to write the next great church musical.”   I laugh about it now, because that’s so far from what I would do at this point in my life, but at that point, it was just, “Wow, he sees that in me!”  It was like a bolt of electricity went through me.  I just knew that I would do something important in music one day.  That was one.  I was in a bodywork session with a good friend of mine.  I had the sensation of paralysis that started in my head and went down through my body, and it was terrifying.  Pretty soon, I just started unwinding, and all these bizarre sounds were coming out of me.  I don’t even understand what it was.  In the midst of that, it was similar to hearing a voice.  It was this sense in my belly.  And that feeling took shape into words that were, “You need to sing.”  And I was completely against it.  I mean anything but that.  But I couldn’t deny that.  And I knew I needed to sing.  That’s why I started taking voice lessons.  For some reason that was where my anxiety and fear about that was the strongest.  So I had to do the scariest thing.  That was a lot of growth.

I want to be bird and flower
drinker and drunk
the opening and opened.
If I cannot be you
I will be my longing.

To contact Mike, call at 8015121352, or email

Have anyone else you'd like us to chat with? Suggestions are taken in the comments below.