Saturday, February 26, 2011

Brain, Heart, Liver - where is your dance from?

I was originally going to title this one "Technician vs Artist", but that really doesn't explain what I want to discuss here.  But I'm getting way ahead of myself...

Ever wonder why dancers from "over there" often grab or gesture to their lower right side during a song about love?  It's because of a cultural belief/idea that if you truly love someone and you want them to know you mean it, you show that you love them from your liver - not your heart.  The heart is considered a fickle being, not worthy of true, long-lasting love, only lust and quick passion.

Being a weird person in my own culture/existence, I am rather enthralled by this concept; that someone long ago gave it this much thought and made this symbolic connection, associating certain behaviors and thought patterns with very specific organs.  Then it became ingrained into the society.  And that those associations are much different then standard Western thoughts.  Anyway, I got to thinking not only about the gesture in dance as a symbolic movement, but how it also can signify where we actually dance FROM. 

I think there are some people who dance solely from the brain.  Now, I'm all for use of the brain, especially right-brain creative thinking, but the left hemisphere should get some credit in there too from time to time.  Really, a good dancer makes fair use of both.  But when the left brain overshadows the right, a dancer tends to get bogged down in the details: drilling endlessly in search of what they perceive as physical perfection, analyzing every smallest moment in the music, choreographing everything down to the second.  Technical perfection is something to be appreciated (particularly in engineering), but it doesn't automatically make for an amazing performance that captures your imagination.  Frankly, if I'm watching someone and my thoughts go to "wow, this is really technically very precise," that says to me it's hitting my brain, but not my imagination.  Often, it feels very clinical, cold, ego-based, and/or lacking in something else less tangible.

Then there are the dancers who dance solely from the heart.  They are all about the momentum, the passion, the excitement - emotion just pours off of them!  But that intense outpouring often gets overshadowed by a lack of skill, craftsmanship, and/or focus.  It often doesn't seem consistent and sustaining, leveled and focused. It makes me say, "the idea is there, but not exactly the right language to express it coherently." The heart dancers have that something else the brain dancers are missing, and vice versa.

And then, there are the dancers who dance from their livers. If we take that Arabic concept of true love coming from the liver, and then consider what true love means: devotion, dedication, faith, spirit, sustained passion, and the desire to work hard to make that love successful.  Really, it's like the best parts of the heart and the brain meet - and instead being in your thyroid (cause that would be the middle ground technically, and let's face it, those little guys go haywire very easily), it rests in this massive organ in the middle of our bodies: the liver, right between the two areas where we give and take energy from.  The liver dancers capture both the technical complexity and the emotional rawness that the best performances embody.  At no point in their performances are you breaking it down into the details and analyzing it - rather, you experience it as a whole and become immersed in it. 

So what I strive to do as a dancer, is not to dance from my brain, or from my heart, but my liver.  I just hope it doesn't mind the occasional glass of wine.

Artwork from the "Griffin & Sabine" series by Nick Bantock

Monday, February 21, 2011

And now for the big news...

Here and there, I have been asking folks about feedback on what they wanted to see next from me, and after considering it all, I am very excited to announce that I am working on my next instructional/performance DVD "Bellydance Artistry".  I am self-producing this project - so to help make it happen on schedule, I am doing some very special fund-raising to manifest this as quickly as possible!  Find out all about what will be on the DVD, and what amazing things you can get as rewards for donating to the project!

Assuming Makes...

When I think about the drama that occurs in the dance community (or probably any kind of niche community), at the root of most of it is failed communication: either miss-communication, lack of communication, or unfortunate gatherings of information that construe something other than the actual.  And if the people involved had just gotten the right information, actually asked some questions, clarified the details, or said something about a situation before it got out of hand, a lot of stress on a multitude of levels could have been avoided. 

You know that quirky little phrase, "When you assume, you make an ass out of you and me"? It's true.  How does one make an ass out of both parties?  Well, obviously the person doing the assuming is failing to get the correct information, and is often making poor choices that reflect that failing.  And in that process, they are creating a untrue persona about the person they are making the assumption about, and often spreading it, so other people will believe that assumption.  And when the truth is revealed (because it generally does work it's way out of the damage), there is much embarrassment to go around.

Now you could say, this is just going to happen when you get groups of women together, or creative/dramatic/theatrical people together - and there's nothing you can do about it -  that's just an excuse, it happens whenever you have humans interacting.  And if we can learn to cook food and use the toilet (and FLUSH it right?), then we can learn to interact more respectfully.  Yes? Yes.

Let's consider some things we can also do to help prevent assume-based drama:

Make Your Own Informed Decisions
It's easy to listen to gossip and the word on the street, it takes more effort to do some research, and even a touch of bravery to go against the grain and be objective until you can form your own opinion firsthand.  I've had people tell me that so-and-so is a mental nut-job, only to discover that the opposite is true - and vice versa.  And in some situations where I was warned, I did find some truth in it, but at least also exercised caution and usually uncovered more than what the grapevine said.  Everyone has their own personality quirks, preferences, and flow - what works for you, may not work for someone else. You could miss out on someone great and wonderful, just because that person didn't gel with your teacher or your friend.  Also, people do change over time.  It's best to leave the final judgment in your own hands, eyes, ears, brain, and be fair and objective until your own experience has happened.

Random Assorted Facts Do Not Make a Truth
"The two times I saw Barbetty dance, she only wore blue and did cabaret.  Therefore she hates the color red and tribal." Sound silly? Of course it is, but all the time I hear dancers stringing together random facts and coming to unfair conclusions that are equally as silly.  It happens ALL THE TIME. Think before you come to an assumed conclusion, and then spread it around as the Truth.  If you're unsure about something that is upsetting to you, take the time to first breathe, then PRIVATELY contact the person directly and get their side of the story.

Speak Up Before It Rots (or Everyone Knows But No One Does Anything About It)
In considering this blog topic, I have thought back on several situations where I didn't say something, and I should have.  One example is several years ago where another dancer had taken a bunch of my workshop descriptions, changed around the adjectives, and posted them as her own offerings on her website.  It was pretty obvious if you put them next to each other, not just a coincidence.  I flipped out, I raged, I vented to my friends, but I didn't address the person who did it.  Why? I would guess because I don't like confrontation via email and would have rather discussed it in person.  But by the time I finally saw her in person, I racked up such a long list of aggressions against her (undercutting a friend, inappropriate behavior, bad/unsafe instruction), that I just couldn't approach her without bristling with hostility.  She was a non-entity to me.  But looking back, maybe if I had said something (after I cooled down), I could have helped her out, directed her subsequent behavior within more professional constraints, and perhaps, the dance in general would have been better for it.  Or she could have told me to f'off.  Either way, I could have handled it better by addressing it, and could have prevented a lot of stress for myself.  So I now have a commitment to myself that I will speak up, as calmly as possible, and try to address problems before they get out of hand.

Consider this when dealing with students or inexperienced dancers who wander out of the standard protocol, or anyone actually.   You don't have to scold them like children, but you can address them like adults, and point out what may have gone wrong and how to fix it in the future.  Some people don't realize they're doing something wrong (and think they're doing it right), others think they can just get away with it and no one will call them on it.  Yes, some people are going to only pay lip service or be defensive, but I guarantee that most sane people really do hear it on a deeper level, and it will help in the long run.

And sooner is better than later.  Hearing "you ran over my toe in 1996 and didn't say sorry" doesn't do much good right now.

An Apology Is An Apology
"She said she was sorry, but I don't buy it."  Ever made a sincere apology to someone, and find out 5 years later they're still pissy about it, and spreading rumors?  I grew up in a Judeo-Christian household, went to Parochial school for 10 years, so I've heard all there is to hear about the concepts of sin and forgiveness.  For the last half of my life, I have followed a different spiritual path that focuses on intention and personal responsibility.  And I've come to the following conclusion: if someone says they're sorry, then it's your job to accept that, forgive them and move on.  It does NOT mean you have to be best buddies with them again, or even deal with them again in any sort of way, nor does it make it OK now what they did - but forgiveness is not just about them, it's about YOU too.  Yes, there's the part where someone does something bad to you, and you're mad at them for it, but there's also a part of you that is angry at yourself for letting them do it you.  By holding on to that anger for them, you're also holding on to that anger for yourself - therefore you're not healing, you're not growing, you're not getting the F over it. Be responsible, accept it, let go, and move on.  Learn and live.

Snark is Stress Relief, But You Gotta Do It Right
I'm not going to play saint here and pretend I'm godlike, pure, and wholesome always (just sometimes).  I believe snark is a healthy thing in the right setting, and I don't have an issue with sharing my opinion as tactfully as possible when asked.  I'm a Gemini - there is pretty much a running commentary going on in my head at all times.  The important thing is making smart choices about when and where to make that commentary vocal.  The privacy of your own home, car, private journal are generally good spots to relieve stress.  In class, at shows, in the dressing room, in a public bathroom, on youtube, in public forums are generally NOT good places. 

Remember, nobody's perfect, we all do and say stupid things at times, that we usually later regret.  But if we keep these things in mind, we really can make things better for ourselves and others - and spend more time dancing!

Friday, February 18, 2011

Museum Quality!

Well, I suppose I am on a shameless promo roll (cause there's more to come, there's always more..), but if I didn't do it, people would say "but I didn't knooowwww..."

So I'm very pleased to announce that you can now register for the first ever Museum Quality: Art School for Bellydancers Intensive which will be held July 29th-31st, 2011 in Indianapolis, IN!  Details and online registration can be found here: 

If you're ready and looking to add quality artistry to your dance, are seeking to find your own personal style, gain new perspective on creativity and dance, or want to know how to fully develop each performance to the best you can deliver, then Museum Quality will be a profound and defining experience for you. Registration is limited to only 15 participants and they're going fast!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Tapestry Dance Retreat!

And now, some shameless promo :)

I've been working on Tapestry for nearly a year  - I wanted to produce an event that happened in my own local community that fostered a multitude of things: dance identity, root education in history, music, dance, and practice, personal spirituality - all in a relatively intimate environment with my favorite dance mentors and friends. Somehow, it all came together with all of these people, in the right location, and we are all very very excited about it!  Tapestry Dance Retreat will take place September 29th-October 2nd, 2011, in Providence, RI - with Amel Tafsout, Artemis Mourat, Alessandra Belloni, Lee Ali, Anaar, and Tempest. And now registration is officially open!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Talking Your Dance

I've heard people say you can't teach stage presence (or learn it).  I'm inclined to disagree.  Not only because I teach it, and have seen and heard about the successful results firsthand on hundreds of students, but I believe it to be something different than an "it" factor*.  Stage presence, in my opinion, is about being able to not only own the stage, but to be able to also successfully engage your audience and hold their attention.  Essentially it is a technique, a skill that needs to be developed and practiced. 

I believe that learning and performing dance is like learning and speaking a language.  The individual movements are the words, the posture and attitude the grammar and punctuation, and the music dictates how the sentences are put together and form paragraphs.  You put it all together with something to say, and you have dance.  Some folks get hung up on just doing the moves, so their dance becomes a string all nouns or verbs. Others are just able to do the expression, so it's like screaming but without any real content to it. Others haven't heard the music fully, so it's like a poor translation. No one starts out speaking the dance fluently, but with focus, it becomes clearer and stronger, more comfortable - going from basic complete sentences to vivid poetry. And with fusion, you're mixing languages, so you have to be mindful of how they come together - some words can be appropriated smoothly, and others lose meaning. 

When it comes to putting all of this on stage, you're essentially having a conversation with the audience - and the best performances are not one-sided, but dynamically engage the audience.  As we all know, good conversation is not one-sided, it involves both speaking and listening, and there must be a desire to share something interesting.  It's this ability to speak clearly to your audience, and acknowledge them, that makes for great stage presence.  If you're just up there to talk to yourself, then you're missing the point.

So, once again (because I say this in nearly every workshop), I ask you, what are you saying with your dance? What do you want to say?

*(The "it" factor being the phenomenon where someone just seems to have everything together, no matter what they do - it's a combination of elements that just seem to make a magic mix of goodness seemingly without effort... )

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Excellence, Experimenting, Excrement.

Woohoo! Things that begin with "ex!"

Let's face it, besides regular bellydance done poorly/lewdly/wrongly (and usually in insufficient costuming, but not always), the other bane of bellydance existence is badly done "fusion."  Of course, "badly done" is subject to opinion and personal interpretation, but I'd like to look into the most common causes of these performances and how they can be addressed, so here they are in no particular order:

1. Desire to Perform Overrides Sense
What it is:
This is the dancer who will perform anywhere at the drop of hat, regardless of whether it fits their style, level, genre. 
How to fix it: Ask yourself, is this an event that you really should be performing at?  What do you get out of performing at it?  If it's a lack of performance opportunities in your area, consider how you can help create more by hosting a hafla, restaurant night, party, etc. Don't crash someone else's event if you're not a good fit for it, because it will reflect badly on you.

2. Half-Arse Syndrome
What it is:
Usually a part-two of the above - ok, so you're performing at something that's not up your alley and perhaps you are mildly aware of it, but instead of making a real commitment to try and fit in with the theme, you make a half-hearted, half-arsed effort to make it right.  Doing ATS moves in a bedlah doesn't make for oriental, nor does donning tassels and doing Hakim make for Tribal, nor does a visit to the Spirit Halloween store make it Goth. 
How to fix it: Ok, so you've committed to doing something that's not really your thing, and let's say you can't gracefully bow out of it.  Take the time to make some serious effort, do real research on the costuming, music, movements, and philosophy - don't just go on what you THINK it is.

3. Delusion
What it is: This is a rare one, thankfully. Usually it involves some sort of actual mental unbalance and warped sense of reality.  Basically this is someone who gets up on stage and takes the dance somewhere it shouldn't go, poorly executed, and thinks everyone is a hater because they don't get their "art."  When you push boundaries, it's not uncommon for to get a negative response, but this isn't that time.  This person doesn't see a need for more education, nor will they listen to any advice because they staunchly believe they can do no wrong.
How to fix it: Seek professional help, both in the studio and in the head.

4. Ignorance is Bliss (and then Bruising)
What it is: This is really the most common oops, and I think nearly every dancer has a moment of this (I can count several of my own).  The dancer sincerely wants to make a good effort in their presentation - they're SO enthusiastic about the dance, but they haven't had enough education or experience to pull it off well - and basically, taking it to the stage way too early. 
How to fix it: Unlike the Delusional Dancer, this dancer figures out there's a problem fairly quickly, or if not right away, at least in retrospect, as they continue their education and gain more experience. When the dancer realizes the problem, this is where the bruising comes in, but it will heal and make for better performances in the future.

5.Working It Before You've Worked It:
What it is: This is what happens when the dancer wants to experiment, but really hasn't taken it far enough yet to present it in stage format.  It needs a lot more work in the studio.  This dancer tends to be ahead of the game compared to Ignorance Is Bliss, because they tend to consider themselves more developed and educated, but are in that dangerous zone where they're afraid to ask for help because it may make them look bad.  .
How to fix it: Videotape your work and get critical.  If you're unsure or can't be objective, ask some trusted/respected friends to look at it, and ask them what they think is going on, before you tell them what you were trying to accomplish.  Sometimes things can seem totally right in our own heads, but it doesn't translate it to anyone else that way when you get on stage. Don't be afraid to ask for feedback or help.  The best dancers keep growing and aren't afraid to be humble in order to keep getting better.  If anyone thinks lesser of you for it, they can kiss their own arse.

In Conclusion:
I don't mean to frighten anyone away from performing fusion by bringing this up, but I would like folks to exercise their brains as much as their hips.  And by exercising your brain and experimenting with consideration, you can confidently move from giving an excremental performance to an excellent one!