The body expresses what the mind cannot see.

This weekend, at the TribOriginal music and dance camp, someone asked me about my “old dance style.”

The question struck me as odd… I didn’t know I had a “new” dance style as opposed to what I had been doing, but my dancing has changed quite a bit over the past year.

Dance is a physical manifestation of Self. I believe that the way someone dances is a complete and honest reflection of her unconscious, her shadow, her inner demons. If I have a student in my classes who lacks control over her movements, chances are that she’s feeling that her life is out of control as well. If another student has difficulty with fluid movements and is stiff, chances are that she’s feeling stiff or stuck in some other realm of her life outside of the dance studio.

Starting in 2004, I started to use a lot of electronica in my dance performances. For years I had been drawn to IDM (Intelligent Dance Music) and its related electronic music genres, even before I had started belly dancing. I didn’t think to truly combine my love of electronic music with belly dance until 2004. The robotic ticking, locking, and strobing that I used in my performances to (I think) best express the artificial and synthetic sounds of electronic music characterized the essence of my dance. As my visibility in the dance scene grew over the years, the music and accompanying robotic movements I used were (and still are) a hallmark of my own personal style.

Last year, my dance began to soften and return to its Middle Eastern roots. I’ve even been accused of becoming “too cabaret” by some. Not that a few distant voices are going to prevent me from dancing to music I love, from a region of the world that I have been drawn to since birth, and growing as an artist. But why have I changed?

Without getting into details, everything in my life shifted. I quit my job, which had been weighing on my shoulders for several years, making me feel incompetent and inadequate, and most of all, making me feel stuck in a machine in which I was merely a cog. Shortly after I quit my day job, my marriage disintegrated. When I found myself single again, I felt free. I had felt stuck in that situation as well. Both my job and my marriage made me feel like I was living an artificial life: one where I feigned happiness because I should have been happy, not because I truly was happy. I had a secure and well-paying career in a field that most people only dream of; I was married and owned a house. I should have been happy, but I wasn’t. I was not living authentically for my own Self.

In living an artificial life, it makes sense that I would dance like an artificial being, a robot, because that is how my essential Self felt. It felt stuck, inorganic, forced into a situation that wasn’t authentic.

I still love electronica; that isn’t changing any time soon. In fact, I’m listening to Lusine ICL’s beautiful album Condensed right now. But, I’m using less and less electronica in my performances. You’ll still see my “signature” ticking and precise technique, but it will have a different feel. I am not sorry if this disappoints you.

Art changes because we, the artists, change. My dance changes as I change. I am living a life in which I am much more true to myself, therefore, I believe my dancing has become less artificial-looking. I am no longer feeling artificial. I feel organic, alive, passionate, and real.

Life is too short to feel stuck in your art… and it’s too short to expect others to be stuck in their art as well.

 

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“If another student has difficulty with fluid movements and is stiff, chances are that she’s feeling stiff or stuck in some other realm of her life outside of the dance studio.”

I think you’re the first non-yoga person I’ve heard say something like this! I completely agree, and I think this is one of the greatest challenges as a teacher to get students to move through these blocks. In yoga sometimes it works from in the inside out, and sometimes from the outside in. I see this in my own practice too, if I’m holding on to tension somewhere or am struggling with something, I try to focus and ask myself, “OK, what is REALLY going on here?” and most of the time, it is not just my body that is holding me back!

 

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Thank you for this post and you insights. Authenticity is something I’ve been trying to convey to youth for years now, but it is difficult, even for adults, to understand that compartmentalization is counter-productive to an artist. Brava! Your personalizing it has made concept clearest.

 

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“If I have a student in my classes who lacks control over her movements, chances are that she’s feeling that her life is out of control as well. If another student has difficulty with fluid movements and is stiff, chances are that she’s feeling stiff or stuck in some other realm of her life outside of the dance studio.”

That’d be nice, wouldn’t it, if we could ‘read’ our mental states from our bodies? Sadly this is not entirely the case-our mental states are way too complicated and layered to show accurately in our movements. As a human motor learning and psychophysics researcher, this is what we’ve come to think of as the age-old conundrum of top down vs. bottom up processing; only so much can come from top down when it comes to motor skills, as the ‘body has a mind of its own’, meaning that much of what we do physically is dictated by our physical states and experiences rather than mental. As for the students described here, it’s really important not to confuse correlation with causation. We don’t move a lot during the day, and many people in our classes don’t have extensive movement backgrounds, so an out-of-control student may be experiencing difficulty related to that rather than manifesting a psychological state. And the stiff student – we all experience stress in our everyday lives and sure we stiffen up as a result. To assume that she is feeling “stuck” is a leap of astronomical proportions. Additionally, your ‘robotic’ movements fit the music you liked at the time-it may be more accurate to look to the music you like to diagnose your psychological state.

There are things a body can tell us and there are things it can’t. The dependable evidence we can gather from it are our physical experiences; it’s callous to assume we can deduce anything more.

 

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    Eugenia – I’m totally not saying that we can completely read a person by her physical state. But there’s absolutely some truth in the idea that our physical states reflect our emotions. Sure, I’m not studying these phenomena in a laboratory setting, but having watched students in the classroom for many years, I’ve seen people open up physically as they gain more confidence and control over their bodies. With my weekly students, I also know them personally, so I feel that I can deduce a bit more about their emotional states than I could if they were a student in one of my one-off workshops that i teach while traveling. I’m not going to assume I can read someone after having only taught them in a 2- or 3-hour workshop. I hardly have the experience or, dare I say, intuition to do such a thing. I think, however, that it’s limiting to say that we can’t read our mental or emotional states at all from our physical being. I’m surprised at how much my own physical expression has changed in the past year; the direction I am going artistically and emotionally is not something I could have predicted at all. I think, also, my affinity for dancing to electronica when I did was is also partly attributable to the fact that I was not ready or willing to admit certain emotional aspects about my life. I danced to music that lacked organic emotion, because I didn’t want to dive into my own organic emotions. When you realize that you’ve basically been living a lie, a lot of things change.

     

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I loooove this entry more than you will ever know. As someone who entered bellydance as the “big girl” I felt compelled to hide who I really wanted to be and play into who everyone assumed I was. It’s hard accepting that you’ve been living a fake life (or dancing one)….but accepting it means you can change it! I’m currently in the process of dancing to make myself happy – and learning things I never felt “good enough” for, like ATS. I’m glad I’m not alone in changing….and be thrilled about the change! <3

 

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