The Rhythm of the World brings the world's dance cultures together for one performance 

click to enlarge Marjan Esáa dances in last year’s The Rhythm of the World | Photo Cesar Velez / provided
  • Marjan Esáa dances in last year’s The Rhythm of the World | Photo Cesar Velez / provided

The Rhythm of the World has become an annual opportunity for Central Oklahoma residents to take in dance and music culture from around the globe. This year’s event begins 7:30 p.m. Saturday in Randall University auditorium, 3701 Interstate 35 S. Frontage Road, in Moore.

The showcase is in its seventh year at the college. Most people rarely get a chance to see so many cultural dance styles in one show.

Rhythm of the World includes Hawaiian Hula from the Halau Hula ‘O Nani dancers, Mexican folkloric dances by Grupo Folklorico Norahua, Latin dances from Candela Latin Dance and Clips ’N Hips, some traditional Indian folk dancing from Nritya Arpan Dance School, belly dancing by Mystical Hips Dance Troupe, hip-hop by Men of RACE and more.

Show producer and founder Marjan Esáa said she first developed The Rhythm of the World as a way of giving dancers who weren’t in ballet or fine arts an opportunity to perform on stage.

“Doing festivals and events, you would not believe some of the places you end up dancing,” Esáa said. “Concrete, dirt or maybe a small platform the size of a chair. I’m not complaining, because we love being involved in all types of community events, but there was not a performance opportunity that I knew of onstage for dancing artists that brought variety and multiculturalism.”

The Rhythm of the World is entirely a product of Esáa’s vision.

The show is self-funded, and she works with many local dance companies and groups to book the performances.

Dance has been Esáa’s calling from a very young age, and it has guided her life in ways she could have never imagined.

“It’s always been my outlet,” she said. “It’s really been the one thing that I have to do.”

click to enlarge from left Marjan Esáa, her eldest son Victor Miguel Scott and husband Steve Scott | Photo Cesar Velez / provided
  • from left Marjan Esáa, her eldest son Victor Miguel Scott and husband Steve Scott | Photo Cesar Velez / provided

Early transition

Esáa was born in Venezuela and was 3 years old when her parents put her in her first ballet class, which eventually led to her discovering and excelling at modern dance styles. For her, dance was “love at first sight.”

Her life took an unexpected turn as a teenager when her parents moved the family to Miami, Florida. Esáa is grateful now, but at the time, she did not want to be uprooted from her home country.

When she arrived in the United States, Esáa was depressed. Everything was different and even the way she spent her time had to change.

“I couldn’t dance when we first migrated,” she said. “We didn’t even have beds, so I couldn’t go an enroll in a class.”

Her parents recognized their daughter’s sadness and scraped together enough money to enroll Esáa into a class. Dancing brought some level of familiarity into her life.

“It was like I was me again,” she said.

Life discovery

While dancing in Miami, Esáa was discovered by a choreographer for Univision who hired her as a background dancer on a number of popular shows, including Sábado Gigante. For the first time, she was a paid dancer, and she was hooked.

Professional dancing wasn’t the only new experience Esáa enjoyed in Miami. In her last years at the University of Miami — and newly engaged to her current husband Steve Scott — Esáa saw a flyer for a belly dancing class. She  tried it out of curiosity, and the art form quickly began taking over her life.

Unlike in ballet, Esáa said she did not need a specific body type to excel at belly dancing.

“It didn’t matter that my feet were flat,” she said. “It didn’t matter that my legs were not straight. You still need to have good lines, but you can hide them underneath the big skirt.”

Esáa moved to Oklahoma when Scott, now a licensed psychologist, got an internship in Tulsa. They stayed in the state because there were good job opportunities here.

Esáa finished her advertising degree at the University of Oklahoma.

In addition to putting on The Rhythm of the World each year, she teaches belly dancing for Mystical Hips Dance Troupe.

Dancing brave

One of the highlights in each year’s Rhythm of the World event features Esáa’s solo performance. Each year, she tries to outdo herself, usually dancing over one of her trademark high-energy, high-pep songs.

In 2016, however, Esáa felt far from peppy. She was at a regularly scheduled check up for her unborn second child when the doctor gave her the grave news that her baby’s heart was not beating. Esáa instantly felt sick and rushed to the restroom.

It was like missing a part of herself that she would never get to see. Esáa took some time off but eventually had to return to her students and regular life. Even more foreboding, The Rhythm of the World was right around the corner, and she still needed to choreograph her solo performance.

She tried hard to think of something but hit a creative roadblock. It affected her self-confidence.

“I was starting to get anxious and insecure,” she said. “I thought, ‘Am I any good?’”

Finally, she was hit with an epiphany. Instead of dancing against her emotional flow, she should channel the way she felt into her dance.

In her 2016 solo performance dedicated to her unborn child, Esáa chose a slower, more introspective song. Instead of looking out into the audience to make a connection, she looked inward and upward in somber contemplation.

Not everyone who watched it knew what Esáa was going through, but they were all touched by her emotive display.

As she finished, she began hyperventilating. Her students huddled around her in a warm hug of support.

Heading into this year’s performance, Esáa is more cheery. Her firstborn, Victor Miguel Scott, is now 3 years old, and she celebrates the birth of her second son, Lucas Gabriel Scott, now 4 months old. She is dedicating her solo to her thankfulness to God and for her family.

That gratitude comes from a new personal peace she might never have found if dance didn’t help her let go.

“The weight came off my shoulders because I felt like I let it out,” she said. “I didn’t know how to deal with such sadness. I had never been that sad before.”

Print headline: Globe trotters, Dancer Marjan Esáa finds healing and comfort in The Rhythm of the World

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