Keon Saghari and I met at Zuma Beach in Malibu, California not long after sunrise. I had just finished my morning coffee when she pulled up in a whirlwind of positivity with a “Hi! How are you?!” before listening to my answer with genuine interest (a rare human trait). We had never met, yet our conversation felt like one between two longtime friends while she roller-skated in front of my camera effortlessly.
Saghari’s compelling Instagram profile features brilliant reels of her roller-skating around Los Angeles to upbeat tunes in fun attire surrounded by a beautiful, supportive community.
She has a way about her that is magnetic, unassuming, and luminous. You never know how real an online personality is, but when it comes to Saghari, well, it’s about as authentic as it gets.
A California girl with Iranian roots, Saghari has evolved into her identity gracefully despite her turbulent dance career. She shows up in every space she’s claimed with a mission to bring inspiration, optimism, and light, airy vibes while paying homage to the skates that healed her… all while balancing a 9 to 5.
Though we were able to cherish some sun rays together in real life, our interview took place virtually one Sunday evening with her cat Bosu, purring nearby. Her insights were incredibly thought-provoking and enthusiastic; just the sentiments I needed to hear for a fresh year. It is a delight to share them with you.
To hear the full interview visit the Woke Beauty Podcast.
How she identifies with her birthplace…
Saghari was born in the small town of Los Gatos, California. When thinking back on her childhood and the small town she inhabited, words like “protected”, “safe” and “small” come to mind. She visibly expresses a feeling of comfort and solitude in her upbringing while also highlighting what she loves about living in Los Angeles: a faster-paced lifestyle, the weather, and her community. Her love for protection comes up again as she describes the LA climate, “I am obsessed with the sun and with being warm. The physical sensation of feeling warm turns into joy for me because it feels like I’m being protected in a way—like I’m being hugged and held.”
A sense of security is also something Saghari has found in skating. Looking very much like the sun herself, she has taken her love for movement and dance and turned it into a compelling Instagram profile. Her creative, fun, dynamic videos light up our feeds as she skates in parks, down roads, and on docks, grooving to memorable tunes with a wide, genuine smile splashed across her face. I notice that skating seems to give her a sense of security and she agrees.
“Skating was an escape into a new world that was really innocent, fun, free-spirited and full of people who were loving, warm, and welcoming.”
The impact of dance on her skating career…
Saghari has been dancing since she was three years old. Her successful career took her to theaters where she worked with brilliant choreographers and even performed her own work. But, for her, the world of dance holds pain and turmoil. And thus, at the tail end of her professional dance career, she fell into skating. Despite the obvious nostalgia that surrounds the topic of dancing, Saghari smiles as she says, “I needed something that was still musical and engaging, but not dance. I escaped by skating.” It wasn’t easy and an identity crisis was unavoidable.
As she reminisced on her relationship with dancing, I couldn’t help but think about my tennis career. It is incredible how a passion can completely take over your sense of self. Saghari goes on, “The pursuit of a career through a passion can strip you of joy. You have your art, you have your passion, but when you put the stress of finances and survival on it, it really impacts your ability to just drop in and let go and feel free in your body; especially with dance, because it’s so much about your body and your physicality—your body is your instrument. It got to a point for me where the survival aspect and the love were just not able to work together anymore.
“At first, after quitting, I felt like a failure. I felt like I didn’t love dance enough. But eventually, I realized that leaving it behind actually meant that I loved to dance too much to keep putting myself in a situation that made me unhappy. Sometimes you just have to let go.”
Healing through movement…
What is so beautiful about Saghari’s relationship to dancing, is that she has been able to find it in another form. When I met her in Malibu, one of the first things she told me was that skating healed her. To heal is to infer that a wound once existed. But Saghari lights up when she says, “It was great because I was a beginner at something again. I had no idea how to find my balance. All I could think was ‘do not fall.’
“I think that is why skating healed me. It forced me to be so present.
“Every time I had a chance to escape, I couldn’t think about anything else in my life. Nothing. Because if I did, I’d be on the ground. It really was a meditation.” Things progressed quickly. Saghari found herself skating four times a week, meaning she meditated for eight hours in seven days. She noticed that the more she improved the more her life started to blossom. And then, one day she found herself jamming out, feeling her flow and incorporating, you guessed it, dance.
Balancing a 9 to 5 with skating…
I couldn’t help but wonder, as Saghari went on about her love for this newfound artistry, how she balances it all. Though we see her as a lively performer, Saghari works a 9 to 5 on the employee experience team for a tech company. It’s not all rainbows and glitter after all. I ask her how she juggles all of the various aspects of her life, “How do you thrive amongst the chaos?” The key to her sanity is compartmentalization, “I give myself fully to my 9 to 5 with one gap for skating work emails during my lunch break. And then, at the end of the day, as soon as I close my computer I flip a switch. I run out the door with my skates over my shoulder and I just skate.
“I really try to tackle things as they come. And instead of focusing on finding balance, I ask myself if I am okay with how I’m spending my time.”
@neonkeon and how she internalizes her Instagram following…
We take a moment to talk about dichotomies. Though Saghari has a beautiful outlook on managing different facets of her life, she admits that she’s surrounded by boxes as she and her partner recently moved into their new, light-filled apartment. It’s a great segway into social media because just this past January, Saghari’s following consisted of family and friends sitting around 1,000—she now has 160,000 followers. She humbly exclaims, “It’s ridiculous that I have so many people following me. Sometimes it just feels like too much attention on one person. I do feel a responsibility. It makes me more thoughtful about what I’m putting out, because plain and simple: more people will see it, hear it, read it, or share it.
“I want to make sure that I’m only posting things that are positive, inspiring, and carefree.
“But, on the other side of all that… I mean, I’ve been an entertainer my whole life, so you’re damn right, I’m excited that a lot of people are seeing me perform and that I get to have an audience that’s bigger than just, you know, the seats in the theater.”
Finding empowerment and liberation…
It’s easy to think that this all might have been easy, but Saghari reminds me that in the winter of 2019, she was still hustling, working three jobs and taking audition after audition just so she could dance. I wonder if she’s worried that history will repeat itself and so I encourage her to proliferate on joy. As she describes the difference between her dance career and her skating life, the word liberation comes to mind, “Dance came back to me in a way that allows me to feel empowered and in control of myself.
“Skating is therapeutic because there are no expectations.
“While dancing requires a specific technique to reach a higher level, skating is open to interpretation. It opens up doors for your own personal style. I can show up as I am, and that is enough. There’s nothing that I need to live up to.” It becomes clear to me that though we, as the audience, feel moved by Saghari’s skating; it is skating that moves Saghari.
Saghari’s identity beyond her online persona…
I have a few friends whose daughters follow Saghari and I can’t help but wonder what they’d want to know about her. Here is this beautiful girl creating epic content that feels almost unreal. There is something so magical and otherworldly about skating. Could Saghari be their version of a superhero? I imagine they’d want to know what she’s like. What is she into? And so I ask her, “Who is Neon Keon, anyway? Like, what’s your favorite ice cream flavor?” Her answer is nothing short of brilliant,
“Neon Keon is the manifestation of me accepting myself as I am.
“I tried to not have curly hair my whole life. I tried to be longer and taller and to have this perfect dance body. But now, those things just don’t matter.”
She chuckles, “Neon Keon, who is me obviously, is relaxed. She goes with the flow because she’s on wheels for crying out loud. Anything can happen. All you can do is drop into the moment. Even if you fall, you just get back up and you go again without holding back. I accept who and what I am.” In fact, Saghari highlights her hair these days and styles it as large as possible because she wants to enhance it. She doesn’t want to hide it anymore.
She gets a little more specific, “My favorite ice cream is cookies and cream but I’ll be honest, I cannot eat ice cream without getting incredibly gassy. And that’s just something that I’ve had to accept as I’ve grown up. I’m into clouds and bright colors. I love my Iranian heritage, my boyfriend, my family, and my cat, Bosu. I sleep on my back, watch cartoons, and listen to electronic music. Pink is my favorite color and I’m not afraid to say that.”
Her Iranian roots…
It fascinates me that we individually land on defining factors of self and that those things contribute to the way we see ourselves and thus impact how we behave in the world. Saghari’s story around her hair resonates deeply with me as I haven’t always embraced my own. It’s a common theme in the naturally curly BIPOC landscape; one where we are finally seeing a shift.
Ethnicity is a defining factor in Saghari’s identity. She is a first-generation Iranian, born here in the States. Growing up, she spent her summers in Iran where she bore witness to lifestyles completely different from her own. She saw oppression and admired the way her family navigated it. She clearly has a deep love for her family, “I learned a lot of strength through being with them and visiting Iran. I’ve always had an appreciation for the opportunities I have living in America. I would have never been able to be a professional dancer or a skater if I lived in Iran. And I’ve never taken that for granted.” On the other side of that, Saghari feels a really strong tie to her culture. She speaks Farsi and remains close to her family.
Advice to her younger self…
It is clear they raised her well. Despite her youth, Saghari is filled with timeless wisdom, a grounded perspective, and a jovial spirit. I ask her what advice she would give her younger self and she keeps it quite concise,
“Everything will be okay. Even if there’s pain, loss, and suffering, it will be okay. Because every day and every moment is an opportunity for you to make a change.
“I got really stuck in this fear that things weren’t going to work out. I was worried that I’d fail. And, you know, I did fail along the way, and things didn’t exactly work out how I had imagined. But they still worked out in their own beautiful way.”
I have always said that when it comes to creating, one of the worst things you can do is stand still. And so I love what she says next,
“If you’re doing something because it feels right to you, then do it. Maybe right then and there, it feels really hard. But motion is motion. As long as you’re not standing still, things will happen. You will evolve and things will come your way. What you put out will come back in some way, shape, or form. It hasn’t all been smooth sailing by any means, and it won’t be smooth sailing in the future. But if you’re in a sturdy boat then you will find the motion of the ocean and you’ll figure it out. You really will. You just have to trust yourself.”