The Blog

What Language Do You Speak?

Early this year I attended an out-of-state weekend workshop  to study Turkish Rom dance. After the final class, a group of us went out to restock our many burned calories. Our dinner party included the instructor and the sponsor in addition to a group of us students. Aside from being hungry, I was also there to work – specifically, to interview the instructor for Shimmy Magazine.

After the meal and interview were wrapped up, the talk continued heading in the direction of comparative styles. The sponsor was giving her opinion and said she liked Turkish style bellydance best because it is “so much more expressive than Egyptian.” My gut reaction left me speechless – probably a really good thing at that moment! ( I think my dance partner later said all the color drained from my face.) What could possibly be more expressive than Egyptian music with all its drama? I regained my powers of speech and tossed in my point of view – one long-steeped in Oum Kalthoum and Mohammed Abdel Wahab. The sponsor was unswayed  and still convinced that Turkish style was the epitome of expression in bellydance. I dropped the point and left her to her opinion, but had a long drive home to think about why we were each so shocked at the other’s fiercely held view.

In turning the world “expression” over and over in my mind, comparisons to language kept coming up. Learning a dance style is like learning another language. New movements are like new words. Combinations and gestures that convey the style are like context and idioms. As we gain mastery over these elements – be they words or movements – we gain fluency. Fluency is what allows us to truly express.

Expression happens in all languages with native speakers and diligent students; the less skilled linguist has to be satisfied with mechanically picking their way word by word through a conversation until they earn the badge of fluency. The same is true in dance. When a style truly becomes part of us, we have body fluency and the ability to express both ourselves and the music with every movement. And just as with languages, we can be fluent in one or maybe more, and quite challenged in many others.

By the time I reached home, I concluded it isn’t that one style of bellydance is inherently  “more expressive” than another, it is that each dancer has a different skill set, body-fluent in some styles more than others. We can choose to specialize and be mono-lingual dancers, work hard to be dance multi-linguists or happily reside somewhere in between. The important thing isn’t where we are on that scale, but that we realize it’s US and not the style that determine the possibilities for expression.

What language does your body speak?

September 15, 2010 5 Comments

Under the (Beladi) Influence

I love beladi music. I love the way my ears are seduced by the first strains of accordion, then my hips are playfully poked by the scattered drum beats. I am willfully led down the garden path by the growing steadiness and energy till I am whirled like a dust devil in the final bars and released. Ahhhh.

Beladi music sucks me in body, mind and soul like no other kind of Middle Eastern music – and I enjoy it all, from classical to shaabi to pop. When I’m driving, it’s either NPR or my iPod coming through the speakers. If it’s my iPod it is most likely Middle Eastern music – but not Beladi.  I can’t drive while listening to – it’s dangerous. It goes kind of like this…

Police officer: “Ma’am, do you know you were going 20 mph on this here freeway?”

Me: “Was I, really? I was just listening to this song – I guess I didn’t notice…  I looove that slow part…”

(No, that didn’t really happen – but it could and would!)

Dancing to beladi music is like being voluntarily possessed. You let the rhythm and melody inside you and carry it in your torso. I picture it trying to get out and my torso is a stretchy bag that contains it. The melody snakes to the right and takes my hip with it, then throws a beat to the side and there I go!

My personal dance credo is “in the ears, through the heart, out the hips” and this is never more true than in beladi style. Because of the immediate and reactive nature of this dance form, it’s very awkward to teach through drills, combos and choreography. It requires some switching of tactics to intense listening and developing a vocabulary of expressive punctuation, texture and flow that can be accessed instantly as the music demands.

Beladi isn’t big and flashy with layer upon layer of complicated technique. It is not over-the-top in “Superstars” style. The general public is seeing more and more of the Big & Flashy brand of bellydance these days. I worry that they are being desensitized and should they come across a beautiful, subtle, soulful and succulent beladi performance, they will fail to appreciate it.

I appreciate it. I adore it. I just can’t drive to it, so be warned if you hear Mario Kirlis’ “Little Beladi” coming from my open window…. I may be D.U. (B.) I.

August 18, 2010 0 Comments

Standing in the Beginner’s Shoes

When you’ve been doing something for a long time, it’s difficult to remember what it was like to be a newbie. Once time has woven the once-unfamiliar into the fabric of your being it’s hard to recall when it wasn’t part of you – or the struggle to get there. It is usually (hopefully) those that have been down that road who are teaching the newcomers.

As instructors, we regularly stand before an eager group of women ready to try bellydance for the first time. We demonstrate hip drops and basic Egyptian walks. We explain and count and cue, and often watch them flounder to find the beat and step on it. Do you remember when that was you?

Getting some “beginner perspective” every once in a while is a good thing for an instructor. This past weekend I was one of a group of workshop presenters at a bellydance event. I dropped in to a Bhangra/Bollywood workshop for fun. I picked up a few moves, but the most valuable thing I got was the opportunity to stand in the beginner’s shoes.

The rhythm count was unfamiliar, the hopping around was not my style – I’m not a “bouncy” type. The wide low stance felt weird and un-dancelike to me. The arm movements and hand gestures were hard to remember. I felt awkward and self-conscious. All this might make it sound like I didn’t like the style or the class but that wasn’t the case at all. I did enjoy it and it’s also a style I enjoy watching.  If I decided to learn it, it would clearly be a long time before I looked Bollywood-cute or like anything more than a spastic marionette.

I do consider myself a patient teacher and my students’ comments back that up. However, tonight as I started a new session with a large crop of total beginners I had both patience and a renewed connection to how awkward it can feel to stand in their place. I’m always excited and proud to watch new students execute their first steps, but as tonight’s students hip twisted their way across the floor it was just that much better.

August 4, 2010 4 Comments

She’s Got Hips Podcast Episode #3

LISTEN HERE : Yasmina of AZSGH Episode #3

Interview with Yasmina on her bellydance journey from cabaret to tribal fusion and her adventures in between.

April 8, 2010 0 Comments