The 90 Day Dance Party starts on Sunday!
We’re counting down with Love Notes every week. This one is from 2015.
One of the main movement practices of the 90 Days (and Sufi-based Dancemeditation, on which the 90 days is based), is the idea of allowing the body to lead, to move as it wishes. This can be a pretty scary concept. But if we want to improvise, to move intuitively with confidence and joy, it is an essential skill. So we have ways of mediating the fear….
Day 7: Why it doesn’t matter what you do
Let the body move as she wishes. This can be pretty scary. Because what if the way she moves isn’t acceptable? What if it isn’t pretty? Or perfect? What if it’s embarrassing or dirty or, or, or it smashes open that big chain-bound casket of everything dark and ugly that we have worked so hard to keep stuffed down at the bottom of our souls?
Well, it might.
So we use Slow Movement to stay safe.
When bad or scary things happen to us (often as children), our unexpressed defensive impulses (such as flight or fight) get stuck—like electrical short circuits. This is trauma. It is entirely subjective—what freezes one person with fear may not bother another. Slow Movement lets us come closer to these stored short circuits and lets us move away again. So we don’t have to engage them. And we can begin to feel safe because of this. There is a lot about this in the Quickstart—it’s good to read it again.
Doing this work is like a cleanse for the soul.
Emotions and impulses do come up. This can feel scary and dangerous. When they do, go back to those long exhales, open your eyes, and focus on soothing sights. You might enjoy running in place or drumming your feet on the floor. (If you have a history of medication and/or hospitalization for mental health, proceed with caution, and check in with your doc.)
The body wants to heal—it’s a hard-wired organic process that we have largely lost, as our dangers have morphed from lions and tigers to car wrecks, surgeries, abuse, and chronic stress. Through DancemeditationTM, we release this stress by letting the body move as she wishes. The body is thus able to express these short-circuited responses. The breath, the slow movement, all of these are tools to give us space and grounding.
So yes, some if it may not be pretty or fun. Cleaning out an old, stuffed toilet rarely is. It’s a process. But having a consistent outlet for the new layers of stress helps keep things clean and shiny. And that is kinda cool. Since I started working on trauma resolution, my general mood has improved, my breathing has slowed and become deeper, and those cruel inner voices have chilled out. Yes, I still get angry, desperate, depressed—but much less so, and it’s not hopeless like it used to be. My dance is better, too.
But how does this help our dance? You can’t go flail around on stage!
Generally, no. But here’s what happens. As we develop our intuitive expression by letting the body drive the bus, we also develop our intuitive expression of the music. And, in Oriental dance, the music is everything. Through this practice, we learn to let the body respond to the music without our controlling intervention. And it will respond differently to different genres of music.
How you interpret the music organically, that is a huge part of your personal style. Funk. Blues. Tango. Maori. Haitian. Mauritanian. And so on. Maybe not with the established vocabulary of the genre. But with the deepest, richest part of you. With your soul. And people see that. This is why we use such a varied assortment of music for the 90 Days.
If you put on Turkish Roman music, you will feel the rhythms, emotions, and melodies and dance them. You might not cram in all the gestures and fixed steps you ever learned, but your feeling will be stronger and your dance richer than if you self-consciously click through your repertoire. After one show during which I chose to refrain from any specific Roman technique, a gal told me, “Your 9/8 was good. Usually I don’t like it when they do 9/8, but yours was good. And I’m Turkish, so I know.” Turns out it was Suzy Tekbilek, Omar Faruk Tekbilek’s wife, the gal who taught Dalia Carella (Faruk Tekbilek was playing for us that night). So, it works.
Likewise, try some Egyptian orchestral music. Let your body enjoy the oozy yumminess of the melodies. Yes, enjoy. Like, Mmmmm, delicious! Every move your body makes will be rich and juicy—for real, not because you try to look juicy. I mean, this dance is a pleasure! It is a pleasure for the body to move with the music, to let go and just respond.
We make it so much about hard work and being perfect, but it’s not.
It never has been. It’s play.
When I went to Egypt in 2011, I danced in the opening night show at Camp Negum. The orchestra played for me one of my favorite songs, Hayart Elbi Ma’ak. Azza Sherif was in the audience. I wore a plain red dress and danced with a veil. I knew I wasn’t going to be able to dance “Egyptian.” I would have to dance just plain old me. With the veil. Not Egyptian at all.
So I did.
Afterwards, the old Sai’di gentleman from the folklore troupe came all the way to the back of the room to touch his heart and bow. The waiters (all of them) insisted I was Egyptian. The Russian costume designer told me she loved my dance because I was not afraid to not be pretty. And the next day, Madame Azza called me out in front of the whole group to tell me she loved my dance.
So it works.
Sure, you need technique, skills, vocabulary. But we already get a lot of that. What we don’t get is the opportunity to discover how our own bodies respond to the music. How to play.
Here’s some Mercan Dede. See what comes out.
The 90 Day Dance Party starts on Sunday. Come play with us!
PS In other news, LOCAL VT FOLKS: I’m teaching live classes at the Grindstone Cafe in Lyndonville VT. Come dance!