Tuesday, March 29, 2011

DVD News! Extra Perks before the 1st....(oh shiny!)

A break from my normal pontification for some shameless promotion and great news - the fundraiser for my DVD project is going awesomely!  We're at 70% of our goal, and on schedule for filming and music!  We will continue collecting funds until we have reached our goal BUT if you donate by April 1st, you will be entered into a drawing for 3 gift certificates towards Owl*Key*Me Arts - that is, any of my ready-made OR custom designs, or weekly classes, private lessons, etc - $50, $100, and $200.  DVD info and donation buttons at http://darklydramatic.com/artistry.html

Monday, March 28, 2011

Why do we dance?

I'm currently basking in the afterglow of a wonderful weekend where I performed to the live music of Nathaniel Johnstone and his band (who were "The Able Seamen" on Friday night, and "the Goddamn Industrial Revolution" on Saturday night - the name of the band changes every performance more or less, which is pretty freaking hilarious and awesome.)  I've performed with Nathaniel one-on-one twice before (Gothla US 2010 and Spring Caravan 2010), so when he said he and the whole band were coming to New Hampshire for Steampunk Industrial Revolution and would I like to dance with them, it was a no-brainer.  He asked me how many songs did I think I could dance to, and I said, well, we'll see how it goes.  Both nights I ended up dancing to the whole set (40-50 mins each) on top of my recorded performances.  My average recorded performance set is between 6-8 minutes, and I had had a really rough long week at work and little sleep, but I could not NOT dance to the live music.  I love Nathaniel's music, and being able to feel it live caused my spirit to overtake my body and just kept it going.  The performing wasn't about anything except being there in the moment and being the music.

Which got me thinking about what dance means for me, and how my understanding of it has changed over the years.  I often pose the question of "why do you dance?" to my students, because I want them to think about what they're bringing to the stage, to give it more meaning than playing dress up or getting a performance high - to consider what the dance means to them.  But it's even deeper than that.

Human beings have been drawn to dance since the beginning of time (or more specifically, when time met some form of percussion - whether our heart beating or objects colliding in audio space repeatedly) - and we have done everything to Dance - develop it, codify it, break it down, ornament it, give it purpose, meaning, plot, raise it to a fine art, ban it, break it out, and repeat.  We have created classes, schools, and communities with it.  But really, all of this is complicated architecture built upon the concept or idea of dance.  Temples, churches, homes, warehouses, institutions, tabernacles housing the essence of dance - but these things are not DANCE itself.  Dance is the voice of the soul, expressed in movement, unleashed through the medium of music.  Through dance, we celebrate, we grieve, we explore, we offer, we collect, we communicate, we exist.

There have been times when it felt that the architecture housing the dance - and those also living with in it have seemed to close down on me, crowded me in or left me feeling exposed and pushed out.  It made me question why I dance at all.  I didn't need those issues, and I could just express myself in other ways, through my visual art and my writing, right? Dance seemed tainted by those experiences.  But I kept on dancing.  And it made me realize, dancing is MY choice, and no one else carries that responsibility for whether or not I dance, only ME.  Blaming the architecture or the other inhabitants is only an excuse for what essentially is an exercise in masochism.  If your spirit calls you to dance, then you DO it.  If you see dance as a vehicle for popularity, fame, fortune, dating, or anything else superficial, it will never satisfy you.  Actually, this is true for any art - you must be driven to do it, it needs to be something you cannot live without doing.  That no matter what difficulties and barriers you face, you find ways to get past them to keep doing it.

The answer is simple, we dance because we must.

Photo by Karen Lippincott

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Be More In the Moment By Being Prepared

That title sounds self-contradictory doesn't it? Being "in the moment" is often considered to be an impulsive, suddenly-inspired happening, while "being prepared" is about taking time to painstakingly put something together.  But they actually do go hand-in-hand.

When I first started dancing, it seemed imperative to have a new set and a new costume to go with it for nearly every performance.  I had a lot of ideas, and in my mind, a lot of people to impress. I probably created 2-3 times as many sets in a single year back then, then I have in the last 3 years put together.  It's not that I have gotten lazy or less industrious in my dance pursuits, but rather I've had a different frame of mind and approach to performing.  This is what I've learned:

-No matter how much I practice a piece and knew the music, there's something else in play when I actually perform it for an audience, and it really doesn't come alive until that moment, for better or for worse.  I used to premiere new pieces at really big events, and they never went according to plan, leaving me disappointed and upset.  I noticed it was the 2nd or 3rd time the piece was performed that things seemed to come together, and I realized the issue wasn't so much the pressure of the big event, it was not having that first-time out to really figure things out in a comfortable setting.  So I changed my game-plan and present pieces at small events before it gets to a "big stage" whenever possible. 

-There's a balance between performing a piece too many times, and just enough.  Even with a small area (the Bay Area or New England), not everyone makes it out to the same event - and even with youtube, seeing a performance live is such a different experience than seeing it videotaped.  I've also had people say, they love being able to see multiple performances of the same piece, because there's always something new for them to discover about it, something they didn't notice or realize the first time.  As long as you're not doing the same piece in the same costume at every single event, people will rarely get bored with it.

-Reducing the amount of different pieces you're performing actively makes for better performances.  The more familiar you get with a piece, the more comfortable you are, the more angles you can work it.  The more you can relax and be "in the moment."

-Having 2-3 pieces that you are comfortable with means you can reliably pull out that set and that costume at a moment's notice, and "be prepared" to perform it, versus going through the stress of trying to find a new song, new costume, rehearse a new dance.

So don't fall into the trap of "everything must be new" - and don't be afraid to take time to get to know your pieces better.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Ted & Ruth

This past weekend I flew to St. Louis to teach and perform in Angels & Absinthe hosted by Exotic Rhythms Bellydance.  One of the added perks about traveling to teach is that it gives me an opportunity to read.  I've always been addicted to reading, but I rarely have time to read nowadays. So a plane ride often gives me focused time to just get absorbed in a book and enjoy - and I often finish a few books in a single trip.

This trip, I selected Ted Shawn's "One Thousand And One Night Stands", which I had come across a little while ago at a used book store.  I have a fair-size assortment of books on Ruth St. Denis, Shawn's partner and wife (and a huge long-time personal inspiration to me), but this was the first book I came across on him, by him.  I had totally forgotten I bought it, so I grabbed it when I spotted it, and selected some fiction as well, in case I needed a change of pace.  I didn't, I read half on my way out, and completed it shortly before I landed back in Providence.  It was a very enjoyable and fascinating read on Shawn's life and views, while also documenting the birth of American dance in the early 20th century.

It never ceases to amaze me how I seem to pick up books just when they're extremely relevant to what's going on in my own life.  From stories about locations where the Denishawn company toured (several of which students in my workshops had traveled from), to Ted's journey through Algeria and Tunisia in search of the Ouled Nail dancers, and thoughts on spirituality reflected in dance, teaching, performing, and dealing with critics and society - it all resonated throughout my trip.  It lit something within my heart and mind as I headed into the weekend.

Ruth and Ted were really America's first fusion artists/traveling dance company, and they traveled all over the world to study folkloric, regional, spiritual dances and incorporate them into their own inspired dances.  They experienced much success, but also ran into more than their fair share of setbacks, difficulties, and controversy.  Bellydancers often complain about how hard we have it with people's misconceptions - that really is nothing compared to what these pioneers went through.  Actually, all American dancers have a lot to be thankful for, courtesy of Ruth & Ted's hard work. 

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Take This Cog And....


I'm not inclined to participate in the repetitive flagellation of deceased equines.  Even steam-powered ones. So with that in mind, if you'd like to read some really well-researched and articulate articles discussing the topic of Steampunk Bellydance in sufficient depth, I offer you these two articles:

#21 Shimmies and Sprockets: Analyzing the Use of Belly Dance in Steampunk



This concludes your Tempest PSA of the day. Have a beautiful day!