Opening Doors with Dance

By Cindy Bellinger In The New Mexican July, 2007

Fifteen years ago, Myra Krien was living in her car. Today, she is the founder and director of Pomegranate Studios.

“When I finally made the decision to devote my life to dance, I went through some rough times,” Krien, whose Middle Eastern dance performances have drawn local crowds for years. Now she’s attracting dance instructors from around the country for specialized training at her studio.

Most people would call her style belly dancing. But Krien, pointing to influences from India, Egypt and many other countries around the Mediterranean, prefers the term “tribal.”

“The movements of this type of dance are sensual and fluid. My students are women of all ages, and tribal dance is very empowering for them,” said Krien 45. Her own story is heartening to many of the young women she teaches.

Krien comes from a family of pioneers that helped forge many of American’s cultural changes. Her great-grandmother was Ruth Fuller Sasaki, who helped bring Zen Buddhism to the United States and who eventually mentored poet Gary Snyder in the early 1950s. Her maternal grandfather was Alan Watts, the Beat philosopher and interpreter of Zen Buddhism. Her paternal grandparents bought a large tract of land in Santa Barbara and started a Bohemian community, the first in California, she said.

“I grew up in a wild and free atmosphere,” Krien said. “My grandparents started the Renaissance Fairs in California, and that’s where I first saw belly dancing. My mother started belly dancing and started teaching me when I was three. My father was a harpist with various symphonies.”

After her parents moved to North Carolina, they divorced; Krien was 6 and belly dancing even then began sustaining her. She first performed at age 11 and began teaching at 14. Her family suggested she take up singing, another of her talents. Krien said: “They said I’d never be a dancer because I was overweight. But I loved dance and every door I pushed toward singing never opened. The doors opened for dance.”

Now Krien opens the door of dance for others. Oakley Blasdel, a student of four years, is now a member of the apprentice company. “I also take lessons four days a week,” she said. “Myra is a wonderful teacher and an incredible person. I can’t get enough.”

Betty Jean Shinas, 60, began belly dancing at Pomegranate Studios a year ago.

“I’d studied and taught belly dancing in the 1970s, then stopped. I started again because I felt the need, and it’s a wonderful way for older women to stay in shape. Myra is a marvelous teacher. She’s always taking dance to a new level.”

Pomegranate Studios started small and moved to the current 2,000-square-foot space five years ago. As word gets around – locally and internationally – Krien says the time will come for a bigger space.

After completing a degree at St. John’s College, Krien said, she decided to focus on dance as her profession. She waitressed, worked in retail stores and lived in her car trying to make that dream come true. Today, she teaches six classes a day, six days a week at Pomegranate Studios and is in the process of making Santa Fe the destination point for international belly dance students and instructors.

“I believe in the Power of One. Take that first step, then every day add another brick toward your goal and eventually it’ll happen,” she said.

Because her own teenage years were tumultuous – she was living on her own by age 15 – Krien began a program in 2001 for girls ages 15 through 18. Called SEEDS® (Self-Esteem, Empowerment and Education through Dance), the program is intended to inspire confidence in young women. It’s also intended to help them learn about being independent, handling finances, generating goals and achieving them. Some of the girls go on to become apprentices in Krien’s performing dance company.

Starting a business wasn’t easy for Krien, but she now sees that being a businesswoman is a way to reflect her values and ethics.

“Small business is the way of the future in America. It brings diversity into the marketplace,” said Krien, who recently won Santa Fe’s Business of Excellence award in contest sponsored by Century Bank and the Santa Fe Chamber of Commerce.

Like many entrepreneurs, she doesn’t like the paperwork, but says, “owning a business is infinitely creative. I’ve made mistakes and learned from them and feel that this business is also a kind of spiritual practice.”