Scarcity begets Creativity

Last week I returned from 10 days in Europe, specifically in Switzerland and Italy.

My first Saturday on the continent included teaching two workshops in the small town of Lotzwill, Switzerland, where a very dedicated and hard-working group of participants took four hours of workshops with me in both technique and choreography. The Swiss take their extra-curriculars very seriously.  Every single student put in their all, and not once did they complain about their arms, their thighs, or anything else for that matter.  They were clearly there to learn, take it all in, and practice once they got home.

When I got to Italy the week after, I found a lot of the same work ethic in the students not only from Italy, but also in those who came in from Spain, France, and the United Kingdom.  On Friday night, I performed in the professional gala, and although I didn’t get to see the performances, I did see the amazing and creative costuming of my fellow dancers.  On Saturday night, I attended the “open stage” show, where students and semi-professionals showed off their recent routines and performance pieces.

Something struck me as I taught these European dancers and watched them perform.  These dancers have fewer resources, teachers, costumers, and venues, and yet their drive and creativity was off the chart amazing.

I think in the United States, we’re a little bit spoiled, particularly those of us who live in large metropolitan areas.  In Washington, DC, there are two studios dedicated to teaching only belly dance and its related art forms.  There are several annual festivals within reasonable driving distance.  We bring in multitudes of instructors every month to the area. The European dancers don’t have nearly as many events and resources, and yet many of them are beautifully costumed, creative, unique, and driven… dare I say, more so than many of the American dancers I’ve observed.

I think there’s a connection here.

When you have less to work with: fewer materials, classes, costumers, and instructors, you’re forced to make due with what you have.  You can’t just go out to the latest festival and buy the hottest new kind of Melodia pants.  You can’t just go on eBay and buy the hottest accessories because it’s very expensive to ship it to your home country.  You can’t attend weekly classes with a well-known instructor because the train ticket to get there is too pricey.  You have to make it up as you go along with the materials, money, and ideas that you have.  And you gobble up any resource or material you can get in order to learn and grow.  You don’t take anything for granted because it’s a lot harder to get your hands on the knowledge you need to become a better dancer.

There’s a book out now called The Toilet Paper Entrepreneur, based on the idea that if you use the restroom and there are only three squares of toilet paper left on the roll, what do you do?  You use those three squares to their fullest and you don’t waste anything!  You need all you can get!  It’s a strange analogy, but that’s what I think is happening in Europe.  They aren’t blessed with a whole roll of tribal fusion toilet paper, so to speak.  They’re working with a lot less, and yet, they are creating beautiful dancers; I didn’t see one performer at the open stage night who was trying to dress or dance like a more famous performer.

The experience made me think of how I can make more art with less… How can I use what I already have to make a new costume or create a new performance piece?  How can you do the same?

 

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That’s pretty much how I live and I think there are a lot of individuals that live like that all over the world; Europe, America or otherwise. I don’t have a lot of money nor do I have a teacher. Classes offered here are about and hour or more drive away from where I live, so they are just not economical. So I study videos and improvise to the best of my ability. That also includes costumes, which I completely make from scratch. Some times you do what you have to do, and make the best of what you have. But it also forces you to be more creative and allows something to be more your own, more of a representation of your self and who you are.

 

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