TEACHER PROFILE: Kira Blazek-Ziaii
Growing up dancing in Houston, Texas, Kira Blazek-Ziaii found Countertechnique early on in her career and it has been her side-kick ever since. During her career, she has performed with anoukvandijk dc, as well as Hubbard Street 2, Pilobolus and Shen Wei Dance Arts. Currently she is on faculty at the University of North Carolina's School of Dance.
How did you start dancing and when did you decide to pursue a career in contemporary dance?
I first started dancing at the Houston Ballet School. After a severe injury at the age of 18, I had a year to recover and reflect on what I was doing. I realised I was doing ballet, because that was what I was used to, but that my spirit wasn’t inspired by it anymore. The knee injury was my body telling me that something needed to change, so I decided to pursue contemporary dance in college.
Can you tell us how you first came to know Countertechnique?
After my third year at Oklahoma University, I went to the American Dance Festival and it was here that I met Anouk van Dijk for the first time and had classes in Countertechnique. I felt that this is what I had been looking for; working in a smarter way with the body and dealing with weight and space in an organised way that I could digest. It wasn’t an abstract style, it was grounded.
Do you remember what this first experience with Countertechnique was like?
Anouk was my first teacher and I remember she was this tall, fast-moving, space-eating body. She literally danced circles around us younger dancers! I wanted to learn how to move like that. During the festival I auditioned for her piece at the International Choreographers Commissioning Program (ICCP) and was thrilled to be accepted. It was definitely a big challenge, and I think even when I left I still didn’t quite comprehend what had happened, but these were the first steps to understanding the technique and how Anouk worked with it.
Tell me about your first experience with the One Body One Career Intensive (OBOC).
After graduating, I flew to Amsterdam for my first OBOC in 2006. It was an eye-opening experience and to dance with so many international dancers gave me so much inspiration. Soon after that I moved to Chicago and got my first job with Hubbard Street 2 and I believe that Countertechnique was greatly responsible for that. It gave me an awareness that enabled me to adapt quickly in audition situations. I had auditioned for Hubbard Street twice before, and it was only on this third try that I got the job.
How has Countertechnique helped you in your own performance career?
From the beginning I had a few tools that really stuck with me, for example, reducing unnecessary tension and sending my knees away from each other and widening to go down. This really helped me in Hubbard Street 2, working with very physically diverse repertoire from Christian Spuck to Robert Battle. I started to see the connections between certain European choreography and these tools, and they made perfect sense and helped me to achieve certain adjustments in my dancing. I just continued to use it, and I went to another OBOC in 2009 to add more tools to my toolbox.
Shortly after, Anouk asked me to guest with her company in New York and this spring-boarded my knowledge and brought a new understanding of incorporating Countertechnique into performance. It finally clicked that it was not about thinking beforehand and then just going on stage and doing what I needed to do, but it was about using it in the moment. This was a big turning point that enhanced many things for me after. I feel fortunate that Countertechnique has been my side-kick throughout my career, giving me a sense of consistency even when the choreographers and projects were always changing.
When did you decide to become a teacher?
In 2012, I was working as a freelance dancer with many different people and starting to think about the future. I had taught plenty of warm-up classes during my career, and I loved it, but I was always very casual about it. One day the opportunity to become a certified Countertechnique teacher came up and it seemed like the perfect fit. Learning how to teach Countertechnique and be comfortable in guiding dancers through this process was a trip. Now I had real information I needed to get across. I found a way to keep my sense of humour and ease about it, while organising the information clearly.
How were your first couple of years as a teacher and how has it grown since then?
I started by mainly teaching open classes in New York and it was good practice at first, but it was difficult to build something as the group of dancers was frequently changing. I decided to take up a position at Oklahoma University, where I had studied, and see how I found teaching in a university setting. Having a consistent group of dancers to work with quickly grew into something deeper, and my goal was soon to implement Countertechnique somewhere in a curriculum. So this is what brought me to where I am today! Teaching at the North Carolina School of the Arts, one of the first public arts schools in the States. Countertechnique feels very much appreciated here where the students train at a very rigorous level.
What do you encounter in your class as issues or frequent questions?
I often get asked by dancers in the beginning of their Countertechnique training if what they are feeling is right. I have to always tell them, “I’m not in your body so I don’t know!” I can only tell them what I see from the outside. It makes them feel that they can take ownership, when they realise they don’t have to get my approval of their feelings.
And what are your observations of students about a year after they first start with Countertechnique?
A year down the track I have beautiful moments where the dancers ask me to suggest a tool because they are struggling with something. I love when they get to that point when they ask for help and request a tool; to have them be aware of that and be so open to trying something new is great.
How do you keep your classes fresh?
If my students are preparing for a show I will go to rehearsals to see what kind of repertoire they are doing, so that I can think about what pairs nicely with that kind of work. For example, if they are doing a lot of flying through the air and rolling on the ground, then I’ll work with tools such as softening and energy going across the floor, versus downwards.
It feels natural and effective in an environment like this when the students are constantly being exposed to different things. One student said to me this year “in dance there is so much going on and it can be so complicated, but then when I come to your class I remember that it can also be simple - it can be as simple as feeling your feet on the floor and seeing something”. It is inherent within the technique to keep refreshing.
What is your advice for young dancers going into the professional world?
I tell them all the time that it is just about being open. In the moment of a performance, being open to it going very well, or that a mistake might happen. In the bigger picture, meaning that you might dance for someone you know well, or you might dance for someone you have never heard of! Just be open to the journey. Also, keep taking a read on how you feel in this moment; you can shift your attention to the things that make you feel good, excited and inspired. Don’t let your attention sit on the things that frustrate you, but rather be open and curious about solutions for those frustrations.
Find out here where Kira is teaching next.
The Countertechnique Teacher Profile Interview Series started in October 2017 and is written by Madeline Harms, an Australian dancer and writer, currently based in Mainz, Germany. Learn more about Madeline on her blog Travelling Dancers.