“Let’s Dance While Colour Lights Up Your Face”
An Interview with Semir Alkadi
A few months ago, I had to go to a special occasion and I put on those horrid high-heeled shoes. The dress code required it. I ended up going home in the rain shoes in hand, cursing myself for not putting a pair of sneakers in my bag. My most controversial relationship in my entire life had been with high-heeled shoes. That is till my talk with Semir Alkadi. I don’t know if that talk has changed my mind about shoes, but surely it made me believe over and over again in what I had known forever – we are who we are and we can’t be better or more successful by copy-pasting other people’s mechanisms for achieving.
Q: What do you want our readers to know about you?
A: I would say I am a dancer, a choreographer and a dance instructor.
Q: What about your dancing theatre?
A: I have some experience with dancing theatre and have my own troop – Akadamus Dance Theatre which is quite a new thing for Bulgaria because we made the first erotic dance theatre, and I am proud to say that I’m the first one to introduce pole dancing into dance theatre.
Q: After an interview with a pole dancer, I was wondering if I was not too old to do it.
A: You are never too old for pole dancing, for any dancing, in fact.
Q: Would you say that anybody can become a dancer?
A: That’s definitely true, as long as you are determined and you have free time and you want to succeed. The thing is that the older we get, the more patient we have to be with our bodies.
Q: I’ll get straight to the point – High Heels Workshops. I am a woman who almost never wears high heels. I put them on only if I really have to – I am comfortable in my Doc Martens. Can you try to convince me that high heels are really a lifestyle and that I should give it a try?
A: Long story short, women like you don’t wear high heels because they find them extremely uncomfortable and I agree with that because there is no such thing as comfortable high heels, but there is a big but here: If you find the perfect shoe for you and the correct size, if you learn how to walk and attend a workshop, it will definitely stop being challenging and painful. It will go the other way round. You will take joy in it, and you will feel more powerful. Many women don’t know that if the stiletto is directly under the heel, it will be much more comfortable than if the heel is more to the back of the foot. Women need to learn how to choose their shoes. There are silicone pads you can use and I know other hacks which I don’t share outside my workshop. I offer a High Heels Workshop every two months, but because of the pandemic we have not been able to tour around Europe. Such a tour was organised right before the onset of the pandemic, and we were supposed to go to Italy, Finland, Romania and Greece. It was all cancelled. Now I do the workshops only in Bulgaria. What I actually do at these workshops is: I start with a warm-up, then basic instructions and then an intense dance workout in the duration of 2-3 hours. During this time, there is also a professional cameraman who films the workshop and the people, who I decide have done well, get to have a take. Afterwards, if they do a good job, they are featured in the final cut of the video clip. So, I am not exactly teaching how to walk in high heels; it’s more an intense dance routine combo, and the choreography that I do. That being said, in between the two months I have a lot of workshops which are high heel dance classes. At the moment I am doing a class on how to be feminine on high heels and how to express yourself through your walk and dance. It’s a pretty new class for Bulgaria and, to top that off, I am the only guy in the country offering it. In fact, I’m quite sure that I’m the only guy in the Balkans giving high-heel classes
Q: Is dancing more a means of self-expression or acting?
A: Actually, it’s both, but it depends on the person; for me, it’s self-expression. A male dancer in high heels is more of a fashion statement than a sex statement. For me and for my friends, dancing is a way of saying: “Fuck you all, this is who I am!” This is a way of screaming at the people that this is art. And what are we without art?
Q: In your job you must be facing many challenges and roadblocks.A: Yes, definitely. I’ve been doing high heels for about seven years now. There’s a lot of homophobia compared to the US and France where my idol and main inspiration, Yannis Marshall, comes from. This kind of dancing is not a new thing there, but it’s largely unknown in Bulgaria. So, yes, it’s a struggle. You can probably understand that most women don’t come because they think: “Oh, it’s a high heel class. It’s something really cool.” And no matter how good I am, and how professional I am, their next thought is: “Oh, but the instructor is a guy”. Actually, 60%-70% of the people don’t come to my classes to learn, but to see a circus. In the first fifteen minutes I see people wondering: “Is he gay, is he not gay?”; “Is he going to do some gay movements?” The next fifteen minutes they go like: “Hold on, this is actually really cool and challenging! I thought I could do this, but can I really?” The third stage is: “This is great! And if I put my mind to it, I may be able to do it.” And in the last fifteen minutes, I definitely get them. I’ve heard this so many times: “We are coming again. We thought it was going to be something funny and easy; we just came to see a guy in high heels” and then they get hooked. In every new class I have people like these, and I’m used to it, but I really enjoy the process of seeing people’s attitude change. Most women come with the thought that wearing high heels is something only a woman can do, and they leave impressed by what they can’t do. They hadn’t even known that they could move differently and they are thankful. Such thinking is pretty normal for people in Bulgaria. We’ve been caught in the stigma for way too long. We don’t know how to express ourselves and when somebody does it loud and clear, like I do, they tend to go for the kill. About ten years ago, I was thinking how we always admire dancers from all over the world and we recognize their talent… as long as they are not from the Balkans. However, I’ve come to the conclusion that we are as talented as they are and at times even more so, but we don’t show our talent because we choose to stay in the bubble. Not thinking out of the box, we don’t trust ourselves, we don’t challenge ourselves. On the Balkans, especially in Bulgaria, people don’t step out of the box, and they want to be good by imitating and copying somebody else. You can’t be good by being somebody else. It has to be you. One person’s style does not work for another. Newsflash – you are unique, and you can succeed by being you only. If you feel comfortable and take joy in what you do, then you have found yourself. I have found myself. So far, I’m the best version of me.
Q: Would you say you are a happy person, then?
A: Definitely, both in my professional and personal life. With most people professional happiness and personal happiness don’t go hand in hand – one pushes the other away. But for me that’s not the case. It’s hard to believe, but the fact is that I’m becoming more successful in Bulgaria and what drives me further is the thought that I’m the first person to do it here and I should keep on reaching higher.
Q: What do you strive for that you haven’t achieved yet?
A: To do my European tour for High Heels Workshops. It would be lovely if it goes global. However, most of all I want to do a dance theatre piece and since I believe that a person is as big as their dreams are, it could go to Broadway one day. Who knows?
Q: How do people change after attending your courses?
A: Male or female, it doesn’t really matter; the change is the same – they are fulfilled and fresh, they redefine themselves. They are stronger and they like the new “me” they discover during the classes. It’s important for the trust in the Self to grow.
Q: Do you try to build up or restore people’s self-confidence?
A: In a way, yes. Wearing high heels requires self-confidence.
Q: Can you share more about the other courses you offer?
A: I teach belly dancing, commercial dancing…I do it all.
Q: You work with quite a lot of celebrities. What kind of dances do they usually go for?
A: It depends on the theme of the video and on whether I am going on a tour with the singer, but they mostly go for street dance. I am actually very happy that many of the celebrities, who have called me recently, go for high heels. It’s a very big step up.
Q: Do you face many problems when working with celebrities? Are they fussy?
A: They’re very fussy, but when you’re good at what you do, and when you explain that something has to be this way, not their way, if they’re not new to the industry, they definitely trust you. But when they’re new, it’s really bad. They think they’re on top of the world and that they know everything better than you do. They’re just as important as us, the dancers. What are they without us? Through the years, I’ve learned how to be heard, without being too bossy. It’s not about manipulation; it’s about explaining in a way they can understand.
Q: When did you know that dancing was your calling?
A: I started dancing around the age of 14-15. My mum took me to the disco and I loved it. My dad wanted me to be a businessman. He is from Iraq, and allegedly I had to become either a doctor or a businessman. But my parents were never pushy, nor did they ever impose their decisions on me. I was free to make my own decisions. At that disco, I met the choreographer of the only modern ballet in Bulgaria at the time – Diva. She offered me to go to dancing classes. When I went to the first class the next day… Oh, was I surprised! Fifteen minutes into the class I knew that it was something I could relate to and wanted to do for the rest of my life. It wasn’t just a teenage whim. I also made a promise to myself that whatever happened, I would never make a compromise with dancing for the sake of something else. I decided that whatever I did in the future, dancing would be my number one priority. And it is. Within two months I was the best student in the class and when I turned sixteen, I was admitted into the dance company. I started having gigs and participating in shows all over Bulgaria. I am extremely lucky because I found myself quite early.
Q: Do you have any other hobbies and a favourite music genre?
A: All my hobbies I combine with dancing: make-up, designing clothes and editing audio and video. When it’s our gig, I do all these on my own. Hip hop and R’n’B are my favourite music genres.
Q: How would you compare life in Bulgaria to life in Finland? You’ve lived there for quite a while, right?
A: I wasn’t looking to emigrate, I was just offered a contract, and in 2006 and 2007 I was the number one Finnish dancer in disco and show dance. In 2007, I got second place in hip hop dance while representing Finland. I lived there for eleven years, and I have to say that art and artists are much more appreciated than here, in Bulgaria.
Q: Would you say that Finland gave your career a push forward?
A: I left at the age of 20, and for Bulgaria I was a great dancer. For Finland and Europe in general, however, my qualities were not so stellar. On top of everything, I was offered a job as a choreographer and I was a complete beginner, I knew nothing about it. But they wanted a fresh face. It was a disaster. I would never hire the twenty-year-old me. But they did, and I put a lot of pressure of myself, I pushed myself to the limit and beyond. At that time, I started going to different classes and workshops which changed my perspective and widened my horizons. Without Finland I would not be the choreographer I am today.
Q: Are you interested in living in another country again?
A: As long as I frequently come to Bulgaria, yes. I would live in London, LA, New York, or Tokyo, but I must come back to Bulgaria often.
Q: Do you think humanity is developing for the better or for the worse?
A: I think we are going in the right direction, very slowly, but we are. Yet, there are people who are going backwards, downwards even. In the end, I think everything will be better, but not at the pace we are hoping for. Some of us are passionately moving upwards. Despite the shocking months we’ve been through and the isolation, people need connection and communication and even with the new normal, they will go back to seeking closeness.
Q: What would you say to people who you think might improve their quality of life through dancing?
A: Dancing will make your life better and it will boost your self-confidence. It’s also a great way of doing fitness without going to the gym. It doesn’t matter what kind of body you have, carry that body with confidence. When you feel sexy and good about yourself, you pass that on to the people around you. For those who think that it will take them a long time to master a move, I would say: Be patient with yourself!
“Let’s Dance While Colour Lights Up Your Face”
An Interview with Semir Alkadi