Today we’d like to introduce you to Dawn Xiana Moon.
Thanks for sharing your story with us Dawn. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
Most artists work in a single discipline. But I’ve never been able to confine myself to a single area.
I was born in Singapore, but moved to Michigan when I was five; my family settled just outside of Detroit. Growing up, I studied piano, voice, and flute, training in classical music. But when I started school at the University of Michigan, I found anarchy in the guitar – for the first time in my life, I wasn’t reading music, I was improvising. I was teaching myself rather than training in a particular technique.
For someone with my background, it was freeing – I started writing songs, and eventually became a touring singer-songwriter. I’ve performed original music in 10 states and released two albums – my last album combines folk and pop with jazz and traditional Chinese music, and I sing in French, English, and Mandarin Chinese. In some ways, my music is an exploration of my roots, roots that you don’t feel much connection to when you’re part of a diaspora. In other ways, my music is an acknowledgment of our joint brokenness, but a hope that we can hold on to each other.
And then there’s dance. Here you often get the more lighthearted side of my personality: I’m the founder and director of Raks Geek, a geek-themed belly dance and fire performance company that has garnered notice nationally and internationally through our commitment to blend a high degree of artistic and technical mastery with fun, creativity, and themes from nerd culture.
Back in 2012, Raks Geek achieved internet notoriety with a video of a Wookiee belly dancing to a Klingon band playing an original song in Shyriiwook, which earned us a spot on UK Channel 4 TV’s “50 Funniest Moments of 2012” and a proclamation from The Daily Mail that hailed us as “Sci-fi seduction.” We also were voted runner-up for “Best Dance Troupe 2017” by the Chicago Reader and have been featured everywhere from WGN-TV to MSN.
I’ve been a professional bellydancer for eight years; I used to teach swing dancing (lindy hop, blues, and East Coast Swing), so transitioning to a dance with more body isolations and fine muscle control was a fun challenge. I perform around 100 shows a year around the US and in Canada. I’ve also been a geek my entire life – I was raised on a steady diet of Asimov, Star Trek, and Tolkien – so combining my love for nerd culture with my art was a way to introduce people to a dance form that doesn’t get much recognition, have fun with stories I love, and bring visibility to Asian-Americans in the performing arts. (Raks Geek is majority Asian-American.)
In addition to dance and music, I’ve written personal essays and cultural commentary on film, TV, and music for publications like RELEVANT Magazine and Uncanny Magazine; acted in theatre and independent films; designed graphics for Anheuser-Busch; and coded websites for places like the University of Chicago Booth School of Business and Georgia Tech.
Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
Unless you’re independently wealthy, being an artist is never easy! There are, of course, frustrations on a creative level, but what’s hardest are the struggles on a business level. No one becomes an artist because they want to be a marketer. But in order to be a successful artist, you’re required to learn how to market and promote yourself – you wear hats ranging from bookkeeper to social media manager to publicist. About 90% of my art time is spent doing things like negotiating contracts, designing posters for upcoming shows, and managing advertising on Facebook. That leaves only 10% for the things I really want to be doing, like writing songs, recording, creating new choreography, and practice.
The reality of being a working artist is that it’s not glamorous. It takes a certain level of madness and a willingness to endure. But for those of us who aren’t fully ourselves unless we’re making art, it’s important regardless. I’ve tried to walk away from art – and sometimes I’ll take a break from a particular discipline for a little while – but it won’t leave me. And I’m glad.
Alright – so let’s talk business. Tell us about Raks Geek – what should we know?
Raks Geek is known for engaging performances that serve both deeply knowledgeable nerds and the general public – we have the spectacle, but also artistry, fun, and a genuine love for people. I’m proud that we create inclusive, welcoming spaces – it’s unusual for performing arts groups, but our company is majority Asian-American and majority LGBTQ+ – and that openness extends a community feeling to our audiences. There’s at least one text adventure group now that meets on a regular basis because they met at one of our performances and became friends. This year we’ve also been donating a portion of proceeds from our shows to groups ranging from Lane Tech Computer Science to Puerto Rico hurricane relief, and I’ve been floored by how supportive our audiences have been of this.
Also, each of our bellydancers and object manipulators are stars in their own right: They’ve performed everywhere from Germany to Argentina and dance for hundreds of people every week. They’ve taught at the largest tribal belly dance festival in the world, won dance competitions, and even won Hugo Awards (one of the biggest awards in science fiction). It’s an amazing group of truly wonderful human beings, and I’m proud to work with them.
As far as the music, Wikipedia says I’m the first songwriter to fuse traditional Chinese music with folk, pop, and jazz. But the combination of world cultures and influences is ultimately less important to me than the fact that art gives us the freedom to wrestle with ourselves from a place of honesty – I want us to deal with the brokenness, the mess, but also to realize that there’s always hope. And it’s worth fighting for. One of my favorite songwriters put it this way: “Orphaned believers, skeptical dreamers / Step forward / You can stay right here / You don’t have to go.”
You can stay right here. You don’t have to go.
Is there a characteristic or quality that you feel is essential to success?
A huge capacity for work and an ability to survive a few days at a time on little sleep? I’m only half-joking. But dedication and passion are probably why I still do what I do.
- Raks Geek’s next performance is Friday, December 29th at Uptown Underground at 8pm. Tickets are $19-39.
- Autographed CDs are available at DawnXianaMoon.com for $12.97
- Website: http://raksgeek.com and http://dawnxianamoon.com
- Instagram: http://instagram.com/dawnxianamoon
- Facebook: http://facebook.com/raksgeek http://facebook.com/dawnxianamoon
- Twitter: http://twitter.com/dawnxianamoon
Stage Photographic, Braden Nesin, Kat Fitzgerald, Michael Rush, AK Portraits, Dancer’s Eye, Nancy Behall