When I was a kid, there was a huge blackout in New York City. The whole region lost power, right up into Canada. Our family huddled together in the dark. But we had a secret weapon. Gas. We had a gas stove, so we could cook dinner. It was serious magic.
I’ve had gas stoves ever since; now that I live in an area with frequent power outages (and occasional -40F temperatures), I have gas heat too. And a wood stove sitting in the shed. Just in case. Yes, I have cut down trees, lugged them home, cut them up, and split the wood. I have the tools.
When our power comes from outside—like our electricity—we are at the whim of that provider.
When our power comes from inside— Well. That’s something else.
We all have that inner power. Some of us are unaware of it. Some of us run from it. Some of us abuse it. Some of us have been severely punished for even glancing at it. But it’s here. It’s still here. It’s always here.
So what do we do with it?
How do we access our power in a safe, productive, sustainable way?
Or is all that “safe” business just hedging our bets?
We have immense power, whether we use it consciously or not. But to abnegate our power (renounce, disbelieve, or reject it) is far more dangerous than to embrace it, welcome it, and learn to wield it in grace and harmony.
Here’s the problem. When we stuff things long enough, their combined mass and weight becomes just a little… alarming.
What if it gets out?
Like the Incredible Hulk?
And wreaks HAVOC?
Yeah, it’s scary.
And we may feel guilty for wanting to rip someone’s face off. Like, if we started, we wouldn’t stop. But honestly, this is just a normal reaction to chronically unresolved helplessness and freeze. It’s called “murderous rage.” Yep, that’s the technical term. 0.o.
Soooo, since we’d probably get in trouble if we actually did that, but that stored, short-circuited energy reeeaalllly wants to be expressed, so we can reset the nervous system…
So we go slowly.
This is why Slow Movement.
It is an element of this practice that resonates with Somatic Experiencing®. In a session, when a practitioner notices a client’s body movement, they often ask the client to repeat the movement—slowly. Very slowly. More slowly…
And wow, shit opens up and vibrates.
I worked in this way with a friend who had been bullied in her previous job. She is very assertive, more of a fight person than flight, but this boss… Months later she had not recovered her verve, suffering from sleeplessness, fatigue, pain, and anxiety. We agreed to try some of what I had been learning (I’m in a three-year Somatic Experiencing® training program).
During the session, she mentioned a specific incident in which she had been unable to defend herself. I asked her what her body had wanted to do at the time. Then I invited her to do it. She punched the hell out of that two-bit dictator. Slowly. Very slowly. More slowly (with all the intent and energy stored within that reaction).
When scary negative things come up, I invite you also to consider asking your body what it wants/wanted to do. To let your body move as it wishes. But slowly. Very slowly. Even more slowly. With all the intent and energy stored within that reaction. Butoh, baby. Put it all in there.
Then let it go. Relax, shake it out, run, move crazy, cough, kiyai (the martial arts vocal expression that accompanies a blow). Then give yourself some love. And have a nap.
My friend? She’s back. Yep, 100%. It took more than this, but this was the beginning.
Hugs and kisses and all my love,
Here’s some good music for that.
It’s only 11 mins, so here’s something to round it out.
Think of the most wonderful dancer you’ve ever seen. Everything they do entrances you—every action feels perfect. You notice only the energy and the love. Joy and warmth suffuse your soul. You feel loved and loving, uplifted and happy. At the end, you applaud wildly, wishing only for more. How do they do it? How do they make everything so beautiful? They must practice a lot. If only…
What is the most beautiful move?
Here’s a conundrum. When we exist in the moment, all of life is perfect—or hell—or however that moment happens to feel. Ironically, the moment itself may be neutral. It’s about how we feel. (Okay, some moments suck—but even so, our emotional experience can be at odds with the circumstances. Who hasn’t felt crappy at a happy event? Or curiously free at a sad time?)
When we dance, we can feel great, crappy, or anything in between—whether the audience loves us or not—and this largely depends upon how we feel about ourselves in that moment. So if we feel like we are are crap, the moment will be crap. But when we feel great, beautiful, enchanting—the moment will be lovely. We can literally transform the moment through our own emotional projection. It’s magic.
So the most beautiful move is the one you are doing right now.
I know, right? Sadly, the crappiest move can also be the move you are doing right now. Yes, the same move. The difference is in your mind. This is why you won’t see me suggesting specific moves, or how to use specific muscles. Movement choice and creation in the moment is intuitive. The movement doesn’t matter. What’s important is how we feel, our connection to the music, and what we give to the audience. That’s what the audience notices. That’s what they love. That’s what they remember.
I first heard this from Fahtiem, a wonderful dancer, great teacher, and super cool human being. She said, “It’s not a hip drop. It’s a hip drop! Every time!” It’s something cool and special that we share with the audience—and ourselves. And it’s up to us to make it happen. What do they know? Nothing. We create the audience’s perception through our projection of emotional texture. So we have to learn to feel great about our moves. Seriously.
How do we learn that?
Practice. But not the way you think. We’re mostly trained to practice technique—perfecting our physical ability to recreate shapes in time and space. But there is more to improvisation than making a shape. There is the intuitive connection to the music, which we practice in our 20 minutes. And there is the mindspace of joy, of beauty. Yes, that, too, deserves practice. How?
Here’s the secret: Pick a basic move. My favorite is the infinity (aka upward hip figure 8, aka snake hips). Do the move. Slowly. Enjoy the physical feeling of every moment. As you do it, use your breath. I exhale the weight change, as the hip goes down and out, and I inhale the hip up. As you do it, gaze lovingly at yourself and say, “This is the most beautiful move I have ever seen.” And mean it.
I do this after using the restroom, before I walk out the door. It’s one of my Tiny Habits. I do it 3 times, with the breath and the affirmation. It takes 30 seconds. PS, if the mirror bothers you, then don’t look. Just feel it. Here’s a tiny video to show you what I mean.* https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bT2ntWMinhU
Yeah, but what if I’m not very good?
That’s in your mind. Really. Even if you are an absolute beginner, the fastest way to hip-drop hell is to tell yourself how much you suck, to apologize on stage for existing. Look, the audience took time out of their busy lives to come and see you. Give them some honey. They don’t care about you—they care about how they feel. And that comes from what you give them: Joy. Verve. Fun.
These are things you can practice. The most beautiful move is whatever you perceive as such. So when you sashay out on stage with joy and verve, when you delight them with your love and generosity, they will respond.
Try the exercise for a week.
Put a note in the bathroom to remind you. See how you feel. Love yourself. Love your body. Love your moves. Love your guests. They will love you back.
*Adapted from Kenny Werner’s highly recommended book, Effortless Mastery (and eternal thanks to Teadora for suggesting it). Werner writes about jazz improvisation, but his observations apply to us as well.
It’s Thanksgiving Day in the USA, a holiday with some terrible colonizer overtones, but I like that it promotes gratitude and thanks.I am grateful for you, for this dance, for all it has brought to my life. Gratitude is pretty powerful stuff. Most of us have learned to focus on what is wrong, on what we lake–on that little red dot of pain.
Focusing on the good widens our attention, and there is a lot of good, even in the midst of some pretty bad things.
You, for instance.
I am grateful for you, for this dance, for all it has brought to my life.
It’s Fall here in the Northeastern USA–cold and damp abound. The heater is on, warming me and ticking quietly to itself. Thank heavens, because I do not love the cold.
I rather do love Dina, though. I am sure that she has her ruthless side–one does not get to to the top of the heap and stay there without a lot of energy. But she has. And so we find her perspective and opinions interesting.
Dina performing at the Bellydance Blossom Festival 2018. Photo by Ken Dobb
I’ve posted two articles about things she said or did at the 2018 Bellydance Blossom festival. Now Yasmina Ramzy has thoughtfully compiled a series of videos of Dina’s groundbreaking interview there. And here they are for you.
In other news, Glorious opens November 4th. Nov 4-Dec 8 Glorious: A Five-Part Series about the Five-Part Routine This is the dance I grew up with. I’m delighted to share it with you.
Each week we will: Highlight one part of the routine. Dance through an entire routine (different every time). Each class will be recorded. Each recording will be available for one week. There will also be a Q&A video/phone conference each week.
Students will learn structure, moods, and technique, as well as practice improvising through the routine. Trust the Chef Premium Earlybird Pricing (until Oct 28): $79 (full price $99). It’s going to be a LOT of fun!
I’ve been looking over the material in the Bundle, and I have to say, there is some good stuff in there.
Nadira Jamal’s Improvisation Toolkit. Keti Sharif’s beautiful Traditional Arts of Egypt video seminar. Sahra Saeeda’s complete Journey Through Egypt (JtE) Fundamentals–first time ever as an online class. A month of the Salimpour School. Makeup info, posing for pictures, making beaded appliques–There’s just a ton of stuff. It’s really quite impressive.
I’m also pleased by the class I’m making for the Bundle–Embodiment: Musicality for Belly Dance. It’s one of the best classes I’ve designed yet.
Embodiment: Musicality for Belly Dance.
To embody something is to “be an expression of or give a tangible or visible form to (an idea, quality, or feeling).” In the case of belly dance, we seek to embody the music–visually expressing our feeling from the music.
The problem comes when we don’t feel the music. How are we supposed to express something we can’t even understand? We need a way to enter the structure of the music so we can relax and enjoy our own dance, so we can share our joy with others.
But how do we do that?
Ah! That’s where this course comes in.
In this six-week course, you will learn musical structure; explore rhythm, melody, and phrasing; and practice improvisational templates so you can bask in joyous expression. . Week 1: Demystifying the Music Week 2. Understanding Rhythmic Structure Week 3. Dancing on the Melody Week 4. Interpretation and Texture Week 5. Using Combo Templates Week 6. How to Float and Land . Each week includes a conceptual breakdown, musical assignment, dance étude, video example, and song suggestions. . This course helps students feel the music. It helps teachers teach musicality. .
Best of all? It’s FREE to buyers the Bellydance Bundle 2018. Yep. A $95 course, FREE . That’s a big win-win for everyone.
And that’s just one offering.
The value of this package is through the roof.
Embodiment is $95. The Salimpour month is $80. JtE is $100. Mahin’s zil course is $125. And that’s only four things. There are 27 contributors, with a combined value over $1,300. That’s a lot of stuff. And a wide variety of stuff! Take a look–you’ll be amazed: aliathabit.com/bundle
Plus you get a nifty little guide to help you decide what to work on first, and a FaceBook group so you can find friends to work on things with you. It’s a really well-designed package.
There’s only ONE problem…
Yeah, only ONE day left. The Bundle closes at midnight on Wednesday October 10 (technically it closes 8AM Thursday Eastern time to cover all the timezones)
So now’s the time.
Take a look, see what you think. I think it’s pretty impressive. And so have a lot of us!
THANK YOU to everyone who has supported the Bellydance Bundle!
Thank you to everyone who has taken a look, followed the Instagram challenge, or taken any notice of this at all ; ). It’s not for everyone, but…
Maybe it is for you. I invite you to take a look–soon. Before it’s all gone.
Back when I was a kid, you wanted coffee, that’s what you got. There wasn’t much choice. The only decaf was Sanka, and instant coffee was pretty much undrinkable. Now you go into a nice café, or even a small grocery store, and the assortment is dizzying. Coffee from Sumatra, Brazil, Columbia, East Timor, Bali, even Hawaii. There’s Fair Trade, Shade-Grown, Organic, light, dark, and medium roast—a stunning level of diversity.
Just like belly dance, right? Egyptian, American, Russian, Tribal, Fusion and on and on.
We asked about the state of belly dance. “Is bad,” she said. “Every country takes belly dance for her own. Spanish belly dance, Russian belly dance. Is bad.”
“Is there Russian samba?” she asked. “No. Samba is samba. Why isn’t belly dance belly dance?”
“Samba is samba. Why isn’t belly dance belly dance?”
I had never really thought about this in such a way, but it makes sense. I’ve spent my time internalizing the big picture elements of belly dance—celebrating the feeling in the moment, incorporating the infinite variation of micromovement, and bringing joy. Everything else is window dressing– regional accent or personal style.
In addition, Dina’s point reminded of what Mo Geddawi had said at the same festival the previous year, when asked about a suitable name for belly dance. Egyptian dance, he said promptly. It comes from Egypt. Historically, when other Arab-speaking countries dance this dance, he explained, they call it raqs Masri—Masri being Arabic for Egyptian.
Dina (and Dr. Mo) want Egypt to get credit for this monumental addition to world culture. Even if Egypt herself is not willing to take the credit, even if, as she maintains, that raqs sharqi will never be the national dance of Egypt (Dina dismissed that hope with one word—Dream). Still, it’s from Egypt and that’s that. I can relate to that. So then we asked her,
What is the number one foreign dancers mistake?
Dina said it’s that they don’t follow belly dancing. It’s not a style to mix, for example, Russian style. She said “Dancers go to Dubai and see hair dance, or erotic steps and mix that with belly dance. They call it belly dance. It’s not. Golden age dancers never used their hair like this. I’m different–but I do the same steps [as the golden age dancers]. To be different, you have to BE different, be you,” but the steps are the same. The dance is the dance.
“To learn belly dance for real is difficult,” she said, “but
you have to do it, because you love this art and you have to do it real… Easy to
dance and get money. To love this art, is not about money. It’s about the
future of your art, where it’s going.”
What should beginners do?
Beginners should “learn technique first—torso (the hips and
upper body), then take hands. Hands important, showing the step or moving the
step. Don’t touch choreography before two
Dina’s ideas about teaching and learning really resonated for me. How many beginner classes start out with choreography? Most of them, right?
Mine don’t. When I teach beginners, we learn technique and
improv and transitions. My Community College students can dance in 15 weeks. Yes, this dance takes your whole life, but they
dance with more grace and confidence than lots of folks I see who’ve been
dancing for years.
What is our
responsibility as pro dancers?
“The new generation,” she said, “to teach them the truth of belly dance. This is Egyptian, this is the rules, 1 2 3 4, Oriental belly dance–and this–this is other thing. If you mix, it’s fusion. Call it fusion.”
And what do we call all our merging of belly dance with
ballet, hip hop, kathak, and god knows what? What do we call that?
“Fusion,” she said. “Is a good word. Fusion.”
Okay. But where does this leave Turkish belly dance?
Also Greek, Lebanese, and any other Near Eastern regional style?
When Dr. Mo suggested Egyptian dance as a name, Yasmina Ramzy said, no, we can’t have that because we have Turkish etc.
Turkish stye is a fusion. But I believe it is also authentic. Here are three reasons off the top of my head.
Turkish music is somewhat different–clarinet, influences, etc–so some of the dance differences are from representing the music, plus it’s regional accent, see below.
The dancers there have a regional “accent” related to the local folklore and culture. I think that’s authentic, as everyone has that, no matter where they dance.
The inclusion of Romani steps (and music). Here is where it’s mixing and now it’s fusion. And it is–though it is a venerable established thing. To me, it’s still belly dance.
Why? Leila Farid once told me that in Cairo, audiences expect a dancer to mix in some of the folklore from her native village. This is what the Romani dancers have done. So that’s authentic.
How is it different from us dancing the cancan to Peter Gunn in bellydance costumes? To me, that’s too many things that don’t go together. That’s clearly fusion (not to mention some hints of appropriation, depending on who what when where why).
Now, Dina or Dr. Mo might not agree with me.
They may well think that Turkish style is an abomination. The Ottomans did, after all, control Egypt for almost 300 years, and they are roundly disliked for it (which is why you don’t see much 9/8 in Egyptian music). And Egypt and Turkey have blamed each other for belly dance, neither willing to accept the blame (or credit) for being the originator of the dance.
But the Romani people are not Turkish. They are a separate ethnic group, an oppressed people who take on the styles of their oppressors to make a living from them. So they get special dispensation.
What’s the answer? Yes, you can certainly say it’s fusion, however it’s A. Very old, and B. the unique creation of an entire ethnic group. So I think we can still say Turkish style, just like we always have ; ).
And there you are.
Dina’s points make sense to me, especially having explored the differences between Eastern and Western values though writing Midnight at the Crossroads. Belly dance is a uniquely magical, healing, creative, expressive dance form–it deserves to be valued for itself.
Wikipedia says, “The native (undomesticated) origin of coffee is thought to have been Ethiopia, with several mythical accounts but no solid evidence. The earliest substantiated evidence of either coffee drinking or knowledge of the coffee tree is from the early 15th century, in the Sufi monasteries of Yemen, spreading soon to Mecca and Cairo.”
So coffee is another thing, like belly dance, that comes to us from Africa. Clearly, there are some similarities. But everyone seems to be happy to let coffee become nativised in country after country. The thing with coffee, though, is that it’s still coffee, no matter where it’s grown. The species doesn’t change. It has regional differences due to terroir, but it’s the same plant. It’s the same stuff.
Belly dance hasn’t always fared so well. When we see our dance through Western eyes instead of an Eastern perspective, we start to lose its most important attributes–feeling, improvisation, and joy. And then belly dance becomes something very different–stylized, externally focused, competitive, and performative. Yet, in its home environment it is internal, joyous, social, healing, and free. So in this way, it is unlike coffee.
Both coffee and belly dance are are delicious and addictive. But if I drink too much coffee, I get a headache and my armpits stink. Too much Western culture does this, too. Belly dance never does that to me. So there’s that ; )
Over the years, I’ve developed classes that teach technique, improvisation, musicality, and composition from a clear Eastern perspective. Some of them are coming up (details are below), but whatever classes you take, or styles you dance, these are things to think about. So let me know what you think ; )
PS I’m on Instagram!
@BellyDanceSoul, or instagram.com/BellyDanceSoul Come say hi!
Sept 23-Nov 3 Effortless Improv, a Six-week Online Improvisation Crash Course Want to improvise with joy and ease? You can! Effortless is a forum-based course with daily exercises and accountability. More at aliathabit.com/effortless
Oct 1 The Belly Dance Bundle Returns! Over $1000 worth of belly dance madness. 27 contributors. Over 80% off! I’m making a class on Musicality. See more at https://aliathabit.com/bundle
Nov 4-Dec 8 Glorious: A Five-Week Course about the Five-Part Routine Each week we will: Highlight one part of the routine. Dance through an entire routine (different every time). Each class will be recorded. Each recording will be available for one week. There will also be a Q&A video/phone conference each week. Students will learn structure, moods, and technique, as well as practice improvising through the routine. This is so fresh it doesn’t even have a sales page. Trust the Chef Premium Earlybird Pricing (until Oct 8): $69 (full price $99). Link goes straight to Paypal. Please copy and paste if the link is not clickable. https://www.paypal.com/cgi-bin/webscr?cmd=_s-xclick&hosted_button_id=WGXCTY2AW22LW
I’ve been in SoCal for the last week, visiting my godmother. She is 90, and pretty tired. I’ve been pretty tired for the last few years, so I can relate. But I’ve been resting a lot and taking good are of myself, and it’s been working! This is a good thing, as I have a lot of dancing to do this fall.
And today is the last day for super-early pricing!
Oct 1 The Belly Dance Bundle Returns! Over $1000 worth of belly dance madness. 27 contributors. Over 80% off! I’ll be making a class on Musicality. See more at https://aliathabit.com/bundle
Nov 4-Dec 8 Glorious: A Five-Week Course about the Five-Part Routine Each week we will: Highlight one part of the routine. Dance through an entire routine (different every time). Each class will be recorded. Each recording will be available for one week. There will also be a Q&A video/phone conference each week. Students will learn structure, moods, and technique, as well as practice improvising through the routine. Trust the Chef Premium Earlybird Pricing (until Oct 8): $69 (full price $99). Link goes straight to Paypal. Please copy and paste if the link is not clickable. https://www.paypal.com/cgi-bin/webscr?cmd=_s-xclick&hosted_button_id=WGXCTY2AW22LW
Bees pollinate flowers, right? So so some moths, and a few other insects. The flowers get to reproduce, and the bees get food.
Symbiosis is a process in which all parties to the arrangement benefit. Unlike its opposite, parasitism, in which one party benefits at the expense of another, symbiosis is the original win-win.
Bees have it easy. They don’t wonder about the ethical ramifications of their floral relationships. They don’t agonize at night about whether it is fair to drink the flowers’ nectar, to fly off with there pollen. They don’t have existential doubts. They have a biological mandate.
We, on the other hand, have a bit more of a puzzle to solve.
Where is our Biological Mandate?
We wonder about a lot of things–we can’t sleep for the constant questions. Is it okay for me to do X fun thing? Do my actions detract from others? Who am I to think my needs are so important? We even wonder if it’s okay to stay home and cuddle our children!
And that’s about as organic a mandate as we’re going to get. So all this dance stuff, which is, our culture tells us, selfish frivolity, may demand some soul-searching. And sometimes our discoveries aren’t pretty. For example, when our interests collide with someone else’s.
One such conflict of interest is when we give priority to doing things for other people and don’t make any time for ourselves. I don’t know if you have noticed this, but I find that all I have to do is plan something for myself (or even if I have a deadline), and the phone starts ringing, or someone needs help.
Women tend to be socialized to help everyone else first.
But you know what they say on every airplane? Please secure your own oxygen mask before helping others. It’s great that we care about our friends and family, and it can be hard to carve out a little space for ourselves without feeling guilty. But the fact is, everyone else gets better service when our own creativity is fed and cared for.
Another conflict is when a loved one has issues with our dance interests. Some of us step back at that point, often for very good reasons. Some of us go forward, for equally good reasons. For myself, I went forward. Those issues were the last straw in a difficult relationship, and I had already compromised myself nearly out of existence. Another friend stepped back. She found other creative outlets that worked for her. Both of these responses were valid, and both took courage.
And sometimes the conflict of interests is with ourselves. Our own doubts and fears can keep us from nurturing ourselves and our creative side. We wonder so hard if we are doing the right thing that we can talk ourselves out of the self-care that dance gives us. We put so much pressure on ourselves. Who are we to dance? We’re not very good. We’re not even “doing anything” with our dance. Well, so what?
Just dancing for fun is doing plenty. Fun is important! Feeling good is important to our physical and emotional well-being. If we don’t fill our own well, no one else is going to come along and do it for us, nice as that would be.
It’s on us to gather that nectar and pollen.
Yes, sometimes it’s very, very hard to give ourselves that love and care, to give ourselves time to rest, to enjoy things, to dance, whatever it is we need to thrive. Nature abhors a vacuum, they say, and our time tends to fill up fast.
Many of us have been subject to all three of the above scenarios—most of us probably have done at least two out of three. So what helps?
Put art first.
I have to learn this lesson over and over. Other things take a LOT more time than doing a little art. And they are never done. So finishing everything else first is a very bad idea. Do the fun art stuff first and you are set for the day—you get that little cookie of satisfaction that lasts all day long.
Put yourself fin a position where you have to do the work. This 90 days is a good choice for that. Marking off the days you dance on a calendar helps to establish a streak. It’s fun to keep the streak going. Having a friend do it with you, so you can check in with each other. I opened up this 90 Days mostly to help myself take care of myself.
Embrace your biological mandate.
Just say YES. Humans have made art since they figured out that charcoal marks on rocks. You have the right and the responsibility to make art. Step forward with your unique vision. Give it the nurturing it needs to blossom and grow. No one else in all the world can do what you can. Trust yourself. Let it out. It’s time.
PS Here are some Art things to nurture your creativity
Oct 4-10 The Bellydance Bundle! Over $1,000 worth of belly dance madness. Twenty-seven contributors. Over 80% off. I’m contributing a class on Musicality for Belly Dance. Sign up to get notified when the bundle goes live and get a free 21-day practice guide! aliathabit.com/bundle
Nov 4-Dec 8: Glorious: A Five-Week Course about the Five-Part Routine Each week we will highlight one part of the routine AND dance through an entire routine (different every time). Each class will be recorded. Each recording will be available for one week. There will also be a Q&A video/phone conference each week. Students will learn structure, moods, and technique, as well as practice improvising through the routine. *Trust the Chef Premium Earlybird Pricing (until Sept 8): $59 (full price $99). Please copy and paste if the link is not blue https://www.paypal.com/cgi-bin/webscr?cmd=_s-xclick&hosted_button_id=WGXCTY2AW22LW
I teach writing at a state college in Vermont. I mostly teach first-year English Composition. Students learn how to compose a college paper—how to find something to say, and how to back up their points with evidence. Students evolve fairly consistently through several stages of intellectual development as they learn these skills. That’s the point of a college education—you learn how to think. But its not all peaches and cream. Not everyone wants to do this, and people stay in various stages.
I see many belly dancers in these stages.
In the field of intellectual development (ID), the first stage is Dualism, aka Received Knowledge. Students receive information from their teachers. There is a clear Right and Wrong, and teachers are there to give the Right answers. These folks are rule followers. They like to know the difference between right and wrong so they can do the Right Thing. There are a lot of these folks in Belly Dance. We call them…
The Dance Police
The Dance Police are always right, always telling us what we did wrong, or how wrong our dance is, or how we are Not Good Enough, because it take a lifetime to be good enough and they are the gatekeepers. These are the folks who never think we are ready for whatever—the advanced class, teaching, etc.
Of course, some things are right or wrong, and sometimes we are not ready, but most things are pretty gray. There are a lot of opinions, and people do things many different ways, yet still manage to make exquisite art that is well-within the parameters of Oriental dance.
As folks get past this sense of iron-bound Right or Wrong, they start to realize that there are in fact a lot of different ideas out there. This stage is called Multiplicity, aka Subjective Knowledge. People in this stagedecide that if it is all a matter of opinion, then theirs is as good as any. They are just going to go their merry way and do what they please. We have a lot of these in belly dance, too. Introducing…
The Six-Week Wonder
These folks take some classes (or even a lot of classes), have it all figured out, and consider themselves experts who answer to no one. They often perform or teach early on. They are pleased with themselves and defend their turf adamantly. They seriously irritate the Dance Police and pretty much everyone else with their sense of entitlement.
In many cases this is a short stage as folks continue to learn and grow. But other folks just stay here. They ignore, mock, or gaslight anything that challenges their world view. Not surprisingly, their dance rarely evolves, but hey, they are satisfied. For example of both of the above, just read any Facebook conversation on Cultural Appropriation, Fusion, etc. They abound on both sides of the issues.
The folks who push on from here desire a wider perspective. They often find such a wealth of material and information that it can get overwhelming. This stage is called Relativism, or Procedural Knowledge.
These folks have done their homework. They have learned an amazing amount. The see the multiplicity of approaches—but they also see that it is all relative—some approaches are more well-informed than others. We’ll look more closely at this (and the fourth stage, Commitment in Relativism), in our next newsletter.
PS want to level up your evolutionary stage? I’ve got a local live workshop coming up and a series of live online classes. Do come join us! They will be fun, sociable, and inspiring!
Live LOCAL Classes this fall: This fall, I’ll teach some local classes at the Raq-On Dance Studio in White River Junction VT. It will be a fun class with a lot of variety–a focus topic, technique, a combination, some follow-me, free improv, and whatever comes into my head at the time.
Live ONLINE class series This new series of live online dance classes will be reasonably priced, with drop-in and session rates.
I’m thinking each class will be about an hour, delivered via Zoom.us (low bandwidth and easy to use). They will include a brief warmup, a focus topic with technique, a combination, some follow-me dance, some free improv, and whatever comes into my head at the time, lol. Each week will be something new.
Folks can join live or view the class recording. Each recording will be available for a week when it will be replaced by the next class. When I am traveling, there may be no live class; in that case, I will replace the current class with archive classes so there is something newish to enjoy (these will be free for session-level members and not count towards their sessions).
I have a few technical things to refine, so this will start in June.
When to schedule the live class? A weekday, like Tues, Weds, or Thurs, is preferable as I am more likely to be at home, where I am set up for video. For myself, afternoon is good (like 1 or 2pm Eastern time), but I’m guessing for most folks, evening is better. Still, we have a variety of time zones in the world…
For the moment, I’m curious to know who is interested—who would like join live (can ask questions and get feedback), and who would prefer a recording, so I have a better idea of when to schedule.
What would you prefer? What sorts of things would you like to see in a weekly class?
Back in 2006 I went on a long trip of several months. When I got home, nothing had changed. Nothing. My little town was exactly the same as when I left. It was terrifying. I felt like I had never left, that none of things I had done really happened. I’ve since found that, for me, travel (and being home) is like this. Wherever I am is reality. Everything else is a dream.
It is strange. But it makes me a fairly adaptable person.
Our dance is adaptable, too.
Despite traveling all over the world, it is at home. Even though all these people from all these cultures overlay their own values on top of it, it is still there and still secure in itself. It is adaptable.
Through the dance, we become adaptable as well. Improvisation is all about adaptation. We make do with what we have, and we create new things out of odds and ends. I was a judge in a dance contest once. There was a section where we got to ask each dancer questions. Because all of the judges were old school dancers, we quietly gave higher marks for improvisation.
Then one gal (whose show was wonderful), when we asked about her music, explained that the music that she danced to wasn’t her music. Someone played the wrong music. She didn’t even know the song. But she thought it would be tacky to complain, so she just danced to it. (She won the contest.)
This is what an improv practice does—it allows us to dance to anything, any time.
Lately, I’m playing with taqsim. With live music, a taqsim is the ultimate in not knowing what will come next. But it is scary because of this, especially when there is little to no rhythm to help us carry along, no symmetry of verse/chorus to help us follow the structure. So here are two ideas that might help.
1. Do less
Just turning the head can have a lot of power. Just lifting the arm. Just taking one step. When simple movements are filled with intention, with energy, they become mesmerizing.
This is where we let the body lead. Let it unfold. The more we just go with what we feel, without any interference from the thinking mind, the easier the improv is.
Love the music, the guests, the process, the moment. Become a boundless well of compassion and joy. When we enjoy the music, the company, and our own movement, everything becomes glorious. The dance is not about the dancer. It is about shared joy.