Building Sisterhood Through Movement

By Heather Desaulniers

women stand around teepee holding hands

Nava Dance Collective, photo by Laura Soriano

A cooperative with multiple contributors. An array of artistic perspectives and voices. A desire for an alternative, more egalitarian structure. A common passion for sharing the transformative potential of dance and performance. A spirit of togetherness and kinship. Any idea what I am trying to describe?

The ‘dance collective.’

Now, the thoughts offered above are by no means meant to be a complete definition. Actually, trying to define a term like ‘dance collective’ is challenging. The dance collective isn’t a static or fixed entity. There is no one model for what a dance collective should look like nor one formula determining how it should function. Every new iteration constructs its own vision and carves its own path. Just look to a few past and present examples of dance collectives and notice the range and breadth among them.

In the 1960s, collectivity met with post-modernism at Judson Dance Theater, and, in the 1970s with improvisation at Grand Union. In that same decade at Dartmouth College, innovators forged a new project with collective collaboration as a central tenet—that spirit, that impulse, continues to drive Pilobolus today. In New York, Troy Schumacher’s BalletCollective and Columbia Ballet Collaborative (out of Columbia University) are present day examples of collectivity in ballet. Numerous contemporary dance collectives call the San Francisco Bay Area home—from the longstanding and established, like ODC, to newer, emerging endeavors like LV Dance Collective, SALTA, Mid to West Dance Collective and Stranger Lover Dreamer. And then, there is a sisterhood of creative souls exploring international world dance in performance, empowering women through movement and unlocking dance as a healing art. This is Nava Dance Collective.

A relatively new presence, Nava Dance Collective came onto the scene three years ago under the guidance and direction of lifelong dancer and choreographer Miriam Peretz. Specializing in a number of different movement genres including contemporary dance and dances of the Silk Road (Central Asian dance), Peretz has had and continues to enjoy a rich and varied professional career. Previously, she was a member of notable world dance companies like Ballet Afsaneh, Wan-Chao Dance Company and Inbal Ethnic Dance Theater. Today, Peretz tours nationally and internationally as a solo dance artist. Her newest collaboration Madre – The Ladino Project just had its world premiere in January at the Freight & Salvage in the East Bay and later this year she will be touring to Spain, Portugal, Germany, Russia, Greece, and Israel.

Alongside performing, Peretz is a much sought after teacher and dance practitioner, instructing in numerous cities around the world. Here in Berkeley, she has been active at the 8th Street Studio and is currently on the faculty of Mahea Uchiyama Center for International Dance, which coincidentally, is the studio where she began her dance studies as a teenager. It was in these classes at the Center for International Dance where the idea for Nava Dance Collective began percolating. “During our dance sessions, deep levels of connection and sisterhood were organically growing and blossoming between all of the women,” Peretz recalls, “a community of support and care was forming both on and off the dance floor–it was turning into something bigger for all of us, something beyond technique, rehearsal and performance.” And so Peretz took the next step and began the process of founding Nava Dance Collective.Which, of course, led to important and penetrating questions. What kind of dance collective would this new group be? What values and principles would it embody? How best to honor and foster the specialness that they were encountering together in the studio and in performance?

Women in white dance in tree grove
Nava Dance Collective, photo by Robert Bengston

First and foremost was and is a holistic approach to dance. “So often, there is a gap between the performative aspect of dance and the healing, therapeutic nature of dance; with Nava, as with any of my dance sessions, I strive to always offer something for the body, the heart and the mind,” says Peretz. To that end, Nava Dance Collective places an emphasis on dance’s duality. Certainly as a technical performance art but equally as a means to facilitate healing, be it physical healing, emotional healing or spiritual healing. A safe place for women where the whole being can be nurtured. “Our hope was and is to create something impactful with dance as an all-encompassing practice,” Peretz shares, “an intentional space to hone our craft, refine our character, experience personal healing through movement and work on soul traits like compassion, humility and generosity.”In addition, Nava seeks layers of diversity. The collective is multi-generational, multi- cultural and international, with members in Spain, Italy, Israel and California. While Peretz acknowledges that having a dance collective spread across the globe can be challenging, it also affords a unique opportunity to “connect a larger community web for dance and promote cross-cultural exchange.” In terms of physical vocabulary, Nava’s scope is similarly vast, ranging from traditional Central Asian dance to devotional, ritual dance theater to what Peretz calls ethno- contemporary movement, “contemporary language and approaches infused with world dance forms.” Even the collective’s name reflects their commitment to diversity, “I wanted a name that would mirror inclusivity, bridging cultures and traditions – in Farsi/Turkish, Nava means melody or tune; in Hindi, new and innovative; in Hebrew, it is a common name for girls, meaning pleasant; and it is one of the traditional Persian music modes,” relays Peretz.

With this foundation in hand, Nava Dance Collective was ready to get going. And these first few years have been busy for the group with several different endeavors, including The Bustan Project – Garden of Roses. Peretz describes this piece as “a weaving of classical, contemporary and devotional interpretations of Persian Dance, with live music and poetry; it is an ode to motherhood, a call for women to remember their strength, and is dedicated to the beautiful and strong women of Iran.” After presenting the work throughout Israel, Spain and Italy, Nava recently brought The Bustan Project to the Brava Theater Center in San Francisco for its Bay Area debut and will be taking it to various California locations later this spring.

At the same time, Nava is actively expanding their repertoire, prepping and building additional choreographic material. One of these works, Transcendence-Charkh e Falak (turning of the cosmos) will be premiering as part of the Rotunda Dance Series, presented by Dancers’ Group and World Arts West. On Friday, March 24th at noon in San Francisco City Hall (admission is free), audiences will have the opportunity to see the first showing of Nava Dance Collective’s newest ensemble dance. “Transcendence honors Nowruz, a celebration of the Spring equinox observed across the Middle East and Central Asia,” explains Peretz. “It also honors the ancient Zoroastrian sun deity, Mithra, and marks the sun’s passage across the celestial equator, equalizing night and day, the alignment of the cosmos and the constant turning towards center.” For this premiere performance, Nava is also thrilled to welcome some special guests – Abbos Kosimov (master Doira player from Uzbekistan), Amir Etemadzadeh (Persian percussion) and dance artist Aliah Najmabadi.

Nava Dance Collective, photo by Shulamit Bushinsky

If 2017 is any indication, Nava Dance Collective is on a fast moving trajectory, full speed ahead. They are excited to see what the future holds, what may come next and what legacy they might help to establish. With an eye towards profound narrative themes like the power of sisterhood and healing from trauma, continuing to create new performance projects is definitely part of the picture, as is making space for others to choreograph and construct dances. But the longer-term, high level goal for Peretz with the collective is outreach: “we hope that Nava dancers will be able to go into communities that maybe don’t have the resources to attend dance classes or performances, because the larger vision of Nava Dance Collective is to be able to offer the healing power of dance to a greater population of women.”To learn more about Nava Dance Collective, visit

Heather Desaulniers is a freelance dance writer based in Oakland. She is the Editorial Associate and SF/Bay Area columnist for CriticalDance, the dance curator for SF Arts Monthly, and contributes to several other dance-focused publications, including formerly to DanceTabs.