I grew up on President Street in Brooklyn, NY in the 1970s. You grew up somewhere else, somewhen else. Each of us has been marked by our micro-culture: our family, our location, our environment, as well as by the larger culture of our respective countries. We are each as different as leaves, as clouds, as trees. None of these are exactly the same. Neither are we. We each have our own special sauce…
To me, having one’s own style brings all of our self and our influences into our dance. We may not be (and probably won’t be even if we want to) “pure” anything, and why should we? Every dancer of the culture is a product of her culture and influences–so are we. We synthesize all our aspects into our dance–and that is how it becomes us, our personal style.
We dance how we dance—the mitigating factor is the music. The music to which we dance influences our choices. So we will dance differently to Turkish music than to Egyptian music, or fusion clank-n-crank, and so on. Sure, we want to have the specific vocabulary and cultural understanding of whatever genres interest us, but even within those genres, we need to be our own dancer. Everyone from the culture is, so why not us?
So you grew up Cajun or Greek or Spanish or Nebraskan. You bring that with you, because that’s who you are. You don’t have to leave everything behind. I mean, you can if you want. But you can bring it with you, too—whatever you want, because it’s part of you.
We want to understand the deeper nuances of the dance. I’ve been watching folks two-step for the last few days (and done a little myself). It’s a deceptively simple dance—there is a lot of nuance. It takes time to get it. Just like in bellydance. The cultures have all this precious stuff that you can’t see at first glance.
And you can’t get all of it by reading or listening.
You have to feel it—like the warmth of the people of Soileau, LA, you can’t see it in a video or read about it in an article—you have to feel it. You feel the subtleties by doing it and being open to it.
I hope this makes sense. It’s almost contradictory.
On the one hand, it’s steal like an artist. You see a step, a song, a costume element and it resonates for you, steal it. Everyone does this. You copy what you like, and through experimenting with a lot of stuff you gain the confidence of your own style.
On the other hand, explore, learn, understand, and grow as an artist. Feel the character and the humanity behind the surface. That takes time and effort. When I went to Beirut, I only planned on staying a few days, I soon realized I would have to stay longer. That city doesn’t just give itself to you on the first date. You have to stick around and develop a relationship.
Even though “steal what you like” sounds like cherry-picking cultural whatever, it’s not the same thing as ignoring all the context. None of the sparkles will feed you unless you also take the time and make the effort to experience the richness underneath.
Take your time. Dance yourself. This is how you find your style, find how you respond to the music. It’s worth the effort.
I wrote the above for the 90 Day Dance Challenge of 2015. I was in Louisiana with Tamalyn Dallal at the time, experiencing rural Mardi Gras traditions.
Just like each dancer, each 90 Days is different. Each Love Note is written fresh, that day, an improvisation to go with all the dance improvisation.
We’re doing the 90 Days again. It starts March 11th. Still time to join us. Will you please take a look? I’d love to see you there. aliathabit.com/90days
In honor of this, I’ll send you an email a day from now to the 11th, each one a Love Note from one of the previous 90 Days.
All my love,