Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Dance Naked!

Photo by Becky Plexco, at the NOLA Witches Ball 2013
Recently, I had the lovely opportunity to meet with a group of high school students who are involved with the SEEDS program here in Seattle.  My task was to share with them a little bit about my experiences as a business woman in the arts (dancer, designer, artist) - and to answer any questions they may have about me, what I do, etc. It was a lot of fun!

At one point during the session, I talked about how being Goth merged rather naturally with my bellydance performance inspirations - it made perfect sense (to me) that my aesthetic and personality would influence how the dance came through me.  And I found myself, probably out of years of habit, noting that being of the Gothic subculture did not mean I was depressed, obsessed with death, hurting myself, satanic, or any of the other typical incorrect stereotypes that can pop up.  Rather, that to me, Goth is about seeing the beauty in all things, finding the balance of light and shadow, thinking outside the lines, and expanding our understanding of myth, mystery, and the unknown.  Therefore, this view of the world influences everything I do - my art, my dance, my design, and how I interact with the rest of the world.

They got it.  I dare say they even thought it was really cool. (Considering I'm old enough to be in the "mom zone,"  I'll take it!)

On the drive back home, I got to thinking about what makes a "dark" bellydance performance successful - and well, what makes it dark?  What does it mean, that considering in my earliest days of performing, when I wasn't doing anything intentional other than being myself, that others identified that there was something else going on there, indicative of silent film, film noir, and dark imagery?  What does that say about all the other elements and ephemera that people may feel are necessary to bring into it now?

If you strip away the make-up, costuming, and props - would the piece still read as dark? If there wasn't a gravemarker there to show you're in a cemetery or mourning, if there's no fangs or fake blood to show you're a vampire, if there's no daggers, whips, or other types of weaponry to look menacing with - can you still get the point (hah) across? If there's no leather or corseting, no spikes or chains, shredded or netted attire, does it still look dark?

Well, for some people, it IS all about the look, and it will always be - so all of those things are deemed necessary. It's not that different than demanding that the classic bellydancer must have a certain look - hair, costuming, body-type, etc.  Some people feel much more comfortable with markers they can easily recognize and label.  In the larger picture, those theatrical elements do count in adding to the experience - personally for the dancer (to aid in any transformation) as well as visually for the audience.

But we know the right "look" doesn't mean everything else is there.  Nor does just having the moves down do it. The dancer must be one with the music AND translate it to the audience, being in command of their body while performing.  And that is something that will be present in a successful dancer - whether they are wearing a top of the line costume, or a bathrobe.  Whether it's expressing the core emotional quality of song, or sharing in the sensation of human existence, the dancer is truly communicating content beyond a series of moves and gestures.

Gothic or  dark fusion takes that intense level of expression, and blends it with theatrical, mythical, and/or sacred content - adding another layer of storytelling. For me, it all started because I was taking my visual artist brain - already deeply focused on telling stories and exploring myth- and applying it to dance. I told myself a story to remember how I wanted to move through the dance through various parts of the music, and then subsequently discovered that the audience picked up on that.  As I grew in my dance and performance ability (and will continue to do so - until I die!), my communication skills as a dancer increased even more dramatically.

So while I love creating new costuming for my dances, I'm also fascinated with how simple I can make things - how much can I get across without needing to spell out all of the details visually through props, make-up, and costuming? And I love to challenge my students with the same task, making them stretch their skills, push their own boundaries, and find their voices within.  Essentially - if you were to dance "naked" - that is, without any additional special aids, can you still get your point across to the audience?

Regardless of what style you dance, have a go at dancing naked, and see what happens!

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