November 17, 2021

Community Artist Series: Delsie Khadem-Ghaeini

Art and culture are integral to the Iranian-American experience. We at NIAC are so grateful to the artists that performed at our virtual events since the pandemic began to help us virtually build community and celebrate our heritage. To show our appreciation, we’ve launching the NIAC Community Artist Series to spotlight singers, dancers, musicians, and other artists honoring our culture. Today, we are highlighting Delsie Khadem-Ghaeini!

Delsie Khadem-Ghaeini is a Persian Classical and Contemporary Dancer based in Denver, Colorado. You can learn more about Delsie by checking out her website and following her on Instagram and Facebook. You can also watch Delsie and her students’ performances at NIAC Colorado’s Evening of Iranian & Middle Eastern Music and Dance here.

Delsie grew up listening to Persian music–her father is a lover of music so there was always something on at home. And while she grew up with the mehmooni-style dancing many of us are familiar with, she didn’t get a real glimpse of Persian dance until she got her hands on VHS tapes of Jamileh and Khordadian. While the style of dance in these tapes were not traditional, she became obsessed with anything that looked like Persian dance. The internet, however, gave her some true exposure to traditional dance, particularly when she came across Shahrzad Khorsandi, a California-based pioneer in Persian dance. When Shahrzad eventually made her way to Colorado, Delsie took the opportunity to enroll in a week-long intensive dance course. After Shahrzad returned to California, Delsie continued to learn from her through private lessons, eventually becoming certified in Shahrzad’s dance style and then as a teacher in that style. 

To Delsie, dance is an expression. And while we have a right to do what we want with our expression, she believes that when you have a platform you have a responsibility to authenticity and to respect and honor the history and heritage behind your art. So Delsie is always thinking about her Iranian heritage because so much of our community’s legacy and history is documented through music. When Delsie is crafting choreography, she spends a lot of time studying the structure of the music. Where are the repetitions and the peaks? Why are they there? What is being expressed in the lyrics and poetry? Each piece is a story and the challenge for Delsie is to connect with that piece and tell the story through her movement. Even when she is improvising, she wants to make sure that the style she chooses matches the intention of the music. Ultimately, Delsie puts care and intention behind her art to ensure that she does the music justice. If she performed in front of the musicians that composed the piece, she would want them to think “yes, that was it!”

Delsie gravitates towards a couple of different styles of Persian Classical dance. She enjoys traditional Persian-style dancing, a more radif repertoire, because she likes the complexity of the music–it has structure but is also very complex and intentional. She loves listening to what the artist is trying to achieve and how she can express that. Delsie also enjoys the ruhowzi style because it’s playful and fun, which speaks to her personality. She also enjoys the samah, pulse-like flavor to more contemporary music. 

Delsie now teaches her own dance classes in Denver. She emphasizes that she is not just teaching a movement class, but she is teaching her students how to identify what the music means to them. She believes that if she is going to teach her students correctly, they have to understand and feel the music–to not be told how to feel, but rather wait for their own inspiration from the music. So while Delsie does do formal instruction and choreography, she explains why she choreographed certain movements in certain places to show the intention of the placement. She also builds in opportunities for improvisation in many of her classes because she wants to build opportunities for her students to truly connect to a piece on a deeper level, with their heart and soul. 

We’re extremely excited for Delsie’s upcoming projects! For those living in Denver, she has just started teaching classes for kids. Kids’ classes perform at the spring and fall showcases and typically run 8 weeks leading up to a showcase. Additionally, Delsie is currently working on creating a new platform to make it easier for people around the world to have access to learning Persian dance. Make sure to continue following her work on her website or by following her on Instagram and Facebook to stay up-to-date on these upcoming projects.

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