I was born into a theater family whose lives and passions were poured through the backs of theaters and onto stages…
My grandmother received her first professional job at the age of 14 in London, England and would go on to dance in more than 90 shows, making theater her life’s work. As a child I took her stories of dancing in Balanchine’s company, being remembered by Noel Coward decades after the war, and faithfully working as Agnes de Mille’s assistant, for granted. They were simply stories of my grandmother’s life! However, as I grew up and noticed the reverence with which others talked about these same strangers from her memories, an awareness developed … she wasn’t just my grandmother. She was Mavis Ray.
My father, her son, would grow up to become a lighting designer, understanding the stage, the art of theater, and the needs of performers more intimately than most stagehands ever could, thanks to his exposure to her world. He would meet my mother, a performer, working together on Bubbling Brown Sugar.
“It was my first touring show, Caitlin! And if I hadn’t gotten that show, I never would have met your father!”
When I was born many years later, she devoted herself to motherhood, though she would occasionally work “wardrobe” on shows passing through town.
So as a child, I grew up surrounded by theater. I would dance around the house to Disney cassettes one moment, then switch to interpreting Sondheim‘s show-tunes the next! I took dance classes, acting classes, piano lessons. I performed in community theater productions, appeared in a few commercials, and modeled. When my mom or dad worked on theater productions I was often allowed to watch the shows from the lighting booth where I’d have to keep verrrrry verrrrrry silent and see the show through two points of view, as an audience member, and as a lighting/sound technician, hearing hushed cues and communication throughout the show.
Around the age of eight or nine the luster of dance wore off, so I decided to stop dancing and pursue other interests. From Junior Olympic Diving, to running track, to playing soccer, to composing music, I diligently searched for my passion. There was a frustrating, nagging desire to find something that made my heart come alive and I felt like I kept getting close while never quite finding… it.
My life changed in 11th grade when I stumbled into my first Belly Dance class…
It was all over.
I loved it!
I loved the music. I loved the movements. Practicing didn’t feel like work, but play! I was obsessed. So much so that upon Rachel Brice‘s recommendation (whose workshops radically changed my view of Belly Dance), I traveled to California at the end of my senior year to study with Suhaila Salimpour and chose to attend the University of Miami where I knew I could pursue both my academic and dance studies side-by-side.
I took my coursework seriously while attending Belly Dance classes at Belly Motions, performing in theater productions, and teaching to help pay my way through college. When I studied abroad in England, I took classes and performed with a tribal belly dance troupe under the direction of Hilde Canoodt in Brighton.
After graduating from UM with honors, I traveled to Egypt where I discovered a deep love for Egyptian dance.
Fueled by my experiences with the people and community behind it, I returned to the U.S. inspired to study its roots while comparing and analyzing it in light of my western training. I developed a deep appreciation for authentic, Middle Eastern dancing, while still embracing all of my western, theatrical influences.
Now, I’m filled with immense pride when I perform for Arabs and they congratulate me on my performance, asking if I have Arab blood. I blush and apologetically confess my deception. 😉
However, there is yet another part of me that gets a thrill from inventing costumes and choreographies to unexpected, western music choices, blending oriental dance with techniques from other dance forms, and applying abstract approaches to performance.
I become a little girl dancing around my living room all over again except now, my movement vocabulary is grounded in belly dance, and my audience is real, not imagined.
I am Caitlin Ray.
I am Mavis Ray’s granddaughter.
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