A trick to making art.

Are you doing tricks or are you making art?

In this age of YouTube, Facebook, “on demand” television programming, and short sound bites (bytes?), many of us are conditioned, whether we are conscious of it or not, to expect a “Wow” factor when we watch a performance.  We can fast forward someone’s YouTube video to look for a cool trick or cute combination that impresses us.  Often, we’re watching each performance, even live ones, or even especially live ones, with a “Show me what you got” attitude.  And because of this, many belly dancers go on stage with a “Let me show you what I got” attitude in return.

I think that the short performance time slots we are allotted contributes to this approach.  How on earth can I get your attention in a hall full of vendors, friends, and other distractions in 5 minutes?  First I must have ear-catching music to get your attention in the first place. Then, once I have your attention, I must have a cool costume to keep you visually interested.  Then I must perform “cool” and “impressive” tricks to keep your attention.  These tricks don’t even have to be particularly difficult.  A belly flutter is not really difficult at all, but I can tell you that it’s a surefire way to get applause and cheers.  The same goes for sustained shimmies, Choo-Choos, and backbends.

Are tricks art?  Does that kind of performance take the audience on an emotional journey?  Is getting people’s attention why you want to dance?  Honestly, I’m not sure that the dancers who take this approach to performing even know that they are doing it.  It’s easy to get addicted to the cheers, the “Oohs” and “Ahhs” of the audience without reflecting on the nature of it.  The “show me what you got” attitude is so pervasive, in the United States particularly, that it’s difficult to know that we’re buying into it.

Would you go to the opera with this attitude?  Probably not.  Most operas are 3 or more hours long.  Last week I went to the San Francisco Opera’s production of Tosca, and it was three hours long.  I was entranced the entire time.  The story, the singing, the acting, the orchestra, the arias swept me away and when Tosca herself leapt to her death out of despair, I cried.

However, because of the festival culture, even at local haflas and recitals, we belly dancers are forced to present ourselves as artists, dancers, and people in the span of 5-7 minutes.  Tosca had three hours.

Even though we must often compress our performances to fit festival and hafla time limits, I believe it is still possible to take the audience on an emotional ride, even if it’s a short one.  To do so means eschewing the temptation to impress or be cool or edgy, or even to play the “role” of the belly dancer.  By choosing music that truly moves us emotionally, beyond, “This song is so awesome!”, and costuming ourselves in ways that reflect the intent of our performance (Urban Tribal Dance Company’s performance to Murcof’s “Memoria” is still one of my favorites, and they were wearing simple tops and Melodia pants), we can move away from, “Let me show you what I’ve got.”

And, as audience members, we have to shift our focus.  We have to watch a performance not for cool tricks or for movements that we want to learn from the dancer on stage.  We have to sit back, detach ourselves from our egos, and let the performance wash over us.  Some performances aren’t successful in this way, but many are, and I think that we miss a lot of the more subtle and artistic presentations because we constantly want to be impressed.  If we just sit and let the performer take us on a journey, we can have a collective artistic and emotional experience, and both performer and audience can walk away fulfilled.

 

Bookshelf! And mini book review-ish.

My online bookshelf needed a make-over.  Bad.  So, I’ve added a few articles and books on belly dance, and I reorganized a bit.  You’ll find quite a few more resources on belly dance history and practice, as well as a few more books on creativity.

I also recently read Imagining Arab Womanhood: The Cultural Mythology of Veils, Harems, and Belly Dancers in the U.S. by Amira Jarmakani.  Jarmakani looks at images and films that use the imagery of veils, harems, and belly dancers and explores their meaning and the messages that the viewer (or consumer) sees in them and how that affects how we in the United States perceive not only women in the Middle East, but Middle Eastern society in general.  This book is all about semiotics: examining and analyzing the meaning inherent in images and signs.  Beginning with the importation of the French style of Orientalist painting to the United States, she examines images of dancers from the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893, Orientalist 1920s cigarette ads, and how we have perceived oppression of women in the Middle East and South Asia in the past 10 years. She also examines how the women (and men, such as sultans) in these images reflect changing American expansionist and imperial tensions, which I found fascinating.  Basically, the institutional racism and commodification of the Middle East exhibits at the Chicago World’s Fair, which were adapted from the realistic fantasy paintings of French Orientalism, continue to affect and prejudice how we view the Middle East and the women from there today.  Her material is certainly groundbreaking and incredibly relevant for us belly dancers, even if it is not specifically a book about belly dance history or practice.  It does elucidate how and why we continue to fight and encounter the perception that we dance the “hootchy kootchy”, that we do an over-sexualized dance for men, or that we’ll give someone a private show.  Keeping in mind that it’s not a book about belly dance per se, and the author is not a practitioner, she does not offer advice or insight on how we as a community can fight this perception; that topic is beyond the scope of her book, and discussing that is not her goal.  Just putting that out there.

For anyone who wishes to gain greater insight on how the consumerist culture of the United States perceives Middle Eastern women, I recommend this book.  Be warned, though: it reads like a doctoral dissertation (therefore it’s quite dense in parts) and could have used an editor to better organize it before going to print. (Which, honestly, I found distracting; for example, don’t paraphrase a quote right underneath the quote.  And if you need to say “in other words” more than 5 times in your book to explain an entire paragraph worth of analysis and interpretation, maybe you didn’t say it clearly enough the first time.)

 

Revisiting “Vintage Fusion”

In 2009, I wrote a post about the “Vintage Fusion” trend in Tribal Fusion.  In the 3 years (holy crap, has it been 3 years?!) since I wrote that post, Tribal Fusion as a stylization has calmed down a bit and solidified.  The Vintage Fusion trend has quieted a bit also, but remnants of the costuming and musical markers that define it still influence dancers today.  The fake (real?) wine and whiskey drinking on stage has pretty much disappeared, and costuming is less likely to look like Victorian underthings.  Dancers continue to wear beaded and feathered headdresses reminiscent of flappers and showgirls, musical choices sometimes still have late 19th Century and early 20th Century sounds, and some dancers continue to integrate elements of the Charleston and burlesque; however, these elements are not as obvious and most of the time are elegantly integrated into the performer’s presentations.  I’m of the opinion that the vintage elements that first appeared on the global stage 3-4 years ago are here to stay and are mostly an aesthetic variation of the Tribal Fusion genre in general.  Tribal Fusion as a definition, I think, is much wider and broader than it was six years ago, including Classical Indian fusion (a la Colleena Shakti), the electronic/acoustic musical influence of Zoe Jakes and Beats Antique, classic Tribal Fusion presentations such as Datura/Rachel Brice’s performance at Tribal Fest 12, and performances to electronica (which have become a standard approach to Tribal Fusion).

And what about tribal fusion vs. Tribal Fusion with a capital “T” “F”?  Six years ago, the style was still in great flux, with dancers experimenting with costuming, music, and movement vocabulary.  Since then, I think the style has found its footing, becoming a capital Tribal Fusion.  That said, I would still consider stylizations that blend American Tribal Style with other dance stylizations and genres tribal fusion with a lowercase.

And what will happen in the next three years?  I predict a return to 1960s and 1970s belly dance stylizations, renewed interest in the nighclub era of North Beach in San Francisco and 8th Avenue in Manhattan.  More rhinestones, leggy skirts, and hair worn down.  “Tribaret” is making a come-back in the Tribal Fusion communities.  Will this mark a return to more traditional dancing and music choices, or will it throw the style into an existential crisis?  Are we cabaret? Are we tribal? How much does it matter as long as the practitioners understand their stage presentations?

 

Suhaila Salimpour’s Post on Sanford Meisner

The feels!  Part 2.

Suhaila just recently blogged about her experiences with acting coach Sanford Meisner and how it shaped her certification program. For anyone who thinks that her format is only about glute squeezes and physical technique…. And anyone else interested in the intersection of acting and belly dance.

The Sanford Meisner Method and Belly Dance

 

The feels!

As we say on Tumblr whenever a fandom is emotional: “The feels!!!”  What this means is, “This [scene, character, plot development, fandom news] is so moving, I can’t even put it into words.”

When I was younger, I didn’t pay must attention to film or actors.  I never wanted to be an actor, so the whole acting thing never captured my full attention.  Sometimes I would watch the Academy Awards shows, but I didn’t really understand what made a great actor.  Little did I know that acting, honest, true, and visceral acting would impact my life as a dancer as an adult.

Suhaila Salimpour’s belly dance format receives a lot of attention for its physical dance drills and technique, and rightfully so.  Glute squeezes, muscular execution of movement, proper alignment, stamina, sweat: all very important elements for any belly dancer’s training.  What doesn’t get attention is the equal importance, if not emphasized importance, the format places on acting in Level 3 and beyond.  We don’t explore acting deeply until Level 3, because at that level, we’re expected to have such strong muscle memory and physical training that the emotional work can glide along on top of it.

When I say “acting”, I don’t mean “pretending”.  Nor do I mean that we only do theater games such as “Machine” (although we do those with outstanding acting coach Sandey Grinn but with an added layer of emotional depth).  When I say “acting”, what I really mean is what the great acting instructor Sanford Meisner called “liv[ing] truthfully under imaginary circumstances.”  Suhaila and Sandey guide us through sometimes gut-wrenching exercises to get us in touch with our true feelings. These exercises are exhausting, and we go through a lot of Kleenex.  It’s a bit like finding your inner 5-year-old.  Young children aren’t aware of their emotions, they just feel them.

When you watch a truly great actor, you aren’t seeing him or her pretend to be a character; you see them become the character.  There is no barrier between them and the person they are portraying.  Sometimes this is referred to as “Method Acting”, although the term refers to several different approaches, including those created and explored by Constantin StanislavskyStella Adler and Lee Strasburg.

I’ve started to pay more attention to actors in the shows and movies that I watch.  The actors who really capture my attention are the ones that live in the moment.  It’s clear that they haven’t thought about what they’re going to do, or how they’ll say a line. The director yells, “Action!” and the actor is there, in character, just being, not thinking.  They have completely stepped out of their own way to be the character.

One actress who has really caught my attention is Jennifer Lawrence.  Now, I admit, I was a fan of The Hunger Games book series before the movie was released, but it is Lawrence who really makes the movie.  Of course, she is in nearly every shot, as she plays the main character, Katniss Everdeen, who volunteers in place of her younger sister to be in the annual fight-to-the-death in a future, totalitarian North America. Lawrence approaches her character without fear, without forethought.  She has researched her character, but she hasn’t said to herself, “OK, first I’m going to make this face, and then I’m going to do this with my hands.” She just does it.  Her colleagues say that she would be goofing around on set, being herself, and then be completely in character when filming a scene… and then she would return to being herself right after the director yelled, “Cut!”  When her character is about to be sent into the arena, she’s visibly shaking out of fear.  Later in the film, when pouring water over a severe burn on her leg, it looks as though she’s actually in pain.  Lawrence isn’t playing at being in pain; she is in pain, but the burn on her leg is just prosthetics and makeup. One fan said she’s brilliant because she isn’t afraid of doing the “ugly cry”, and I think that assessment, as simple as it is, is spot on correct.

I’ve also recently discovered BBC’s series Sherlock, a modern update of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories. The writing and direction is fantastic, but the acting is impeccable.  Martin Freeman’s John Watson is subtle and emotional.  You forget that you’re watching an actor;  you truly believe his limp, his confusion, and eventually his pain. (No spoilers here.) Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock Holmes is equally brilliant, but for completely different reasons.  As a Sherlock with probable Asperger’s Syndrome, he is incisive, analytical, and emotionally detached, until someone close to him is either hurt or in danger.  His eyes shift from cold to warm, instantly.  Cumberbatch himself probably isn’t emotionally detached and analytical; but he lives it in the series.  The acting on this show isn’t obvious; real acting must be honest, and sometimes honesty isn’t in your face.

Where am I going with all of this?  As dancers, we must be real on stage, and having an understanding of acting helps us in finding that truth under “imaginary circumstances”.  We must have an instant emotional reaction to the music to which we are dancing.  I know that if I think about the piece I’m about to perform too much, if I try to shoehorn a story into it, the piece falls flat.  I’ve thought about it too much, and my head gets in the way.  In order to be real, we must get out of our own way and just be.  I’ve seen plenty of performances where the dancer has little-to-no emotion on her face; I have also seen the opposite where the emotions were Vaudevillian and over-acted.  It’s rare when either of these approaches are emotionally successful.  Both can be entertaining in their own way, but emotionally they often fall flat.

A dancer or an actress can train herself to feel and express her emotions when she is performing.  It takes a dash of fearlessness, and she must trust herself to “go there”.  Some of us fear that once we “go there”, we will never come back.  So rarely is this true.   Dancer Sera Solstice said in on of her workshops, a long while back, that you must be willing to “give your throat to the wolves”.  When we dance without fear of judgement, of negative feedback, of rejection, that is when we are most powerful.

Although it can be scary, we have to trust our instincts, no matter how emotional, livid, sorrowful, or exuberant they might be. And sometimes when we perform so in the moment, our movements might not be pretty.  Sometimes we must do the “ugly cry”.  When we experience real emotions on stage, our audience will feel them too.  Humans are intrinsically connected through feeling.  In the end, dance isn’t about tricks or gimmicks; dance is about conveying emotion on top of polished and solid technique. Great art is about connecting with our viewers, audiences, and souls.  I’ve started to judge art by how much it makes me cry. If a movie or piece of music or dance performance makes me cry, either out of sadness or joy or even overwhelming emotion that I can’t even identify at the time, then I know it has succeeded. I really want to feel something visceral and real.  And what moves me might not move you.  What moves you, and what about it grabs your heart?

 

 

The Big “O”: Orientalism and Belly Dance

Disclaimer: This blog post is certainly not meant to stifle anyone’s creative process.  It is means to bring awareness to a complicated and difficult history, and to increase my readership’s knowledge and appreciation of the Middle East and the many lenses through which the West has viewed it.  I also apologize in advance for its rambling as well as the fact that there is no way one can explore the complexity of this topic in one blog entry.

This morning I searched Pinterest for “Vintage Belly Dance”, hoping to find images of dancers from the 1940s-1970s.  What I mostly found, however, was late 19th-century photographs of women in fantasy Middle Eastern costumes, such as Mata Hari and her contemporaries.  These images were labeled “Vintage Belly Dance”, but while they are indeed vintage, these women weren’t belly dancers.  They were playing dress-up for a camera, or, like Mata Hari, they might have been courtesans (a fancy term for a high-class sex worker).  Then I started thinking about the influences from which contemporary belly dancers, particularly those who associate with the tribal fusion stylization, pull for costuming and performance, and how to be informed practitioners of our art, that we could consider the context of these influences.

‘Berber Woman’ by Emile Vernet-Lecomte, French. Oil, 1870. A probably mostly accurate depiction.

There are two ways to interpret the term “Orientalism”.  The first is that of the art movement by European, mostly French, painters of the late 19th century, who specialized in “Oriental” (Eastern, mostly Ottoman, Middle Eastern, and North African) subjects.  European men painted the majority of these works, and while some painted mostly accurate scenes of what they observed on their travels, they also superimposed their idea of what the Middle East should or could be.  Sometimes they painted what they imagined to be true, such as the interiors of harems and female bath houses, which were and are realms from which men are forbidden.

The second, and more politically-charged interpretation is how the late scholar Edward Said used it in his seminal work Orientalism (1978).  He described orientalism as a “fundamentally… political doctrine willed over the Orient because the Orient was weaker than the West, which elided the Orient’s difference with its weakness.” (Orientalism, p. 204).  His argument is that by simplifying the Orient (for him, this meant mostly the Arab world), the imperialist western nations were able to exert political influence and label Arabs as “other”, uncivilized, and immoral.  We see vestiges of this sentiment in stereotypes about the Arab world in how male Arabs (and Muslims) are labelled either as violent terrorists and/or “backwards” and technically-challenged religious extremists, and female Arabs are depicted as nubile slaves and harem girls who lounge around in waiting for their sultan or as sultry femme fatales who use their exotic wiles to tempt unsuspecting Western men (such as in several James Bond movies). (Parenthetical aside: reference to Said’s book does not mean I agree wholeheartedly with the entirety of it.)

So what does this have to do with us?

“The Great Bath at Bursa, Turkey” Jean-Leon Gerome. 1885. Painted by a man, a man would not have been allowed into a harem or the women’s side of a bath house, so this image is partially the painter’s idea and fantasy.

Many belly dancers want to learn how to dance, perform in a beautiful costume, and feel good about their selves and their bodies, goals which I believe are positive and innocuous, at least on the surface.  However, belly dance is not just a movement vocabulary or a path to greater self-esteem.  It is a dance from a region with a gnarled and complicated history with Western Europe and the United States, and part of our education in this dance must include an awareness and, at the very least, basic knowledge about those relations. As non-Middle Eastern people performing a Middle Eastern dance, we have cultural responsibilities.

Here’s a very brief (and terribly simplified) snippet of history:  Many Westerners (the “West” for the sake of this blog post being Great Britain, France, most of western Europe, and the United States) at the turn of the 20th century from which orientalist paintings come and the many vintage photos I found on Pinterest viewed the Middle East as a culture that was technologically behind, inferior, and unable to rule itself.  This notion was not entirely unfounded, albeit exaggerated, as it was around this time that the Ottoman Empire was gasping its last breath and was known as the “Sick Old Man of Europe”. The Arab- and Muslim-ruled world had also gradually lost political, philosophical, military, and scientific influence beginning in the late 15th century as Western Europe ushered in the periods of the Renaissance and later the Enlightenment.  In the early 20th century, as the Ottoman Empire was increasingly unable to rule its vast territory, both Great Britain and France colonized the Middle East, taking control of North Africa, the Levant, and the Arabian Peninsula.  They arbitrarily divided the land between them (and Russia) under the Sykes-Picot Agreement, which lead to the current borders and countries.  (I highly recommend David Fromkin’s book A Peace to End All Peace for an accessible, yet in-depth, history of the creation of the modern Middle East.)

1900 or 2010? “Les Coquelicots” Leon Francois Comerre. Late 19th or early 20th century.

 Back to the photographs on Pinterest…

Now, personally, I don’t find anything wrong with finding inspiration in these paintings and photographs.  Many of them are beautiful, otherworldly, overflowing with costume and fabric ideas for our performances.  I mean, who wouldn’t want the belt medallions or headdress in Comerre’s “Les Coquelicots” (see painting on the right)?  What I wish for dancers to avoid, however, is taking inspiration from this era blindly, without giving thought or consideration to the political climate at that time, the growing tensions between the imperialist states and the Middle East, or the current tensions between the “West” and the Arab world.   We should strive to avoid cultural appropriation, educating ourselvses on the origins of these works of art and the world from which the painters and photographers came.

So, how do we avoid orientalism in belly dance?  I’m not sure we can, nor do I feel like I’m the one with an answer.  Belly dance, whether in its “cabaret” (or “oriental”) or tribal styles are inherently a melange of influences from both East and West, in different degrees.  Some scholars have accused Arab belly dancers themselves of self-orientalism.  The two-piece beaded costume so essential to oriental/cabaret belly dance is a Western invention that dancers and producers in the Middle East adopted and transformed as their own.  Tribal and fusion styles pick and choose what they like out of Middle Eastern and South Asian dance and costuming to create something inherently new, while, I think, leaving out the aspects of the dance and culture that could be inconvenient or troubling (like, say, dancing to and understanding Arabic music).  Practioners of belly dance both in the West and the Middle East have imposed their own fantasies and interpretations of the “orient” on this dance; we have been borrowing back and forth for so long now that it’s impossible to discern from whence each influence derives.  They have been imitating us imitating them for decades. These are traditions and aspects of our dance that are, to some extent, unavoidable.  What we can avoid is ignorance and insensitivity.

 

Credit where credit is due.

If it weren’t for our teachers, the ones who give themselves and their wisdom to us, where would we be?  It’s absolutely essential that we honor and thank our teachers (even the not-so great ones, which I’m lucky to have avoided, for we can certainly learn from them, too).  It pains me to see dancers blatantly use movements and techniques from master instructors and never even give credit or a tip of the proverbial hat.

On one hand, we strive to be unique, to be individual.  If we hide our sources, we implicitly claim that, somehow, we created movements and techniques out of thin air.  Such an approach to dance feeds the beast of the Ego.  The Ego wants to impress others, make us feel important, and it loves external praise and attention.  It is a great feeling for the Ego to say, “I came up with this idea all by myself,” even if it isn’t entirely true.  But really, when we conceal our inspirations and the knowledge that our teachers have imparted upon us, we do them a great disservice.  We also do ourselves a great disservice.  By feeding the Ego in this way, not only are we lying to those around us about how creative and awesome we are, but also we are lying to ourselves.  It is, in a sense, artistic plagiarism.  Academic writers are required to cite their sources, so, when we teach, why shouldn’t we do the same?  I don’t mean that we have to explain every little thing that we do, but a little mention of who inspired a movement or combination is, at the very least, good Karma and starves the Ego of self-aggrandizing nutrients.

Another way to think about it is that at the end of the day, we are individuals (how twee, yes? It makes me think of this scene from Monty Python’s Life of Brian).  We are the product of our own distinct experiences in this dance and in our own lives.  Even if we study with the same instructors day-in and day-out, how we dance and how we teach that information will be different.  My interpretation of a movement or combination will likely be different from yours, but that doesn’t meant that we came up with that movement in some sort of creative vacuum.

It is true what Issac Newton said: If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.

Give the giants (and the non-giants) some credit.  They’re holding up the rest of us.

 

Popping, Locking, and Belly Dance

Here’s a good one! Suhaila Salimpour’s recent blog post features her exploration of 70s popping and locking, and how she integrated these funk styles into her own belly dance.

This article is so important! Why? I think there’s a common misunderstanding that popping, locking, and hard isolations are what define “tribal” style belly dance. But these elements actually contribute to the “fusion” part of “tribal fusion”.

Either way, though, if you’re performing Tribal Fusion, you are a dancing part of the Salimpour legacy, even if you’ve never taken a class with Suhaila or Jamila. Without Jamila Salimpour, we wouldn’t have the seeds for American Tribal Style, and without Suhaila, we wouldn’t have the sharp, clean isolations that are so prevalent in Tribal Fusion.

So… here it is! Suhaila Salimpour on Popping, Locking, and Belly Dance.

 

Remember: This is FUN.

This weekend I had the honor to be a part of Tempest’s Waking Persephone event in Providence, Rhode Island.  Many of the workshops focused on personal exploration of the dance, as well as creative, and unusual topics in belly dance.  My own workshop focused on structured creative activities that dancers can use when choreographing dances.

Throughout the weekend, one theme that kept popping into my head: the importance of play in the creative process.  As adults, we sometimes lose touch with our childlike selves, giving in to pressures of being “mature” and “responsible”. (Those aren’t unnecessary quotation marks.) But, if we are to be consistently creative beings, we must remember this is supposed to be FUN goddamnit!

On one side of the creative process is the refinement of technique.  Of dedication to our craft from a methodical, habitual, and dedicated practice.  That would be attending drills and technique classes; learning about rhythm and meter; looking up lyrics to songs; and building strength, flexibility, and stamina.  Without this hard work, we have no platform on which to present our creativity.

On the other side, which is equally as important, is the development of the creative self.  Allowing ourselves to have fun, to be whimsical, to let go and just dance in the privacy of our living room or home studio, of going on small adventures, of going out with friends and being silly.  The Artist’s Way emphasizes the development of diversion as a positive and nourishing activity through the weekly Artist Dates, where you take yourself out, alone, on a date somewhere: a garden, a walk, a movie, a museum, an art store, or anywhere else that might be outside your regular routine.  Observing children can also be a huge inspiration.  I love watching and talking to children between the ages of 5 and 12 because they still have that sense of uninhibited whimsy, yet they’re developing their own distinct personality.  They are instinctual beings, and aren’t yet terribly self-conscious or likely to feel embarrassed about what they like or say.  They inspire me to do the same.  I also love the activities in Twyla Tharp’s book The Creative Habit and the fun and freeing movement explorations in Blom and Chaplin’s The Intimate Act of Choreography.

I’ve realized that I’ve been serious for much too long where I didn’t need to be so.  I am still very serious about my dance practice and attending classes, but the veil of self-consciousness that I have worn for years is worn and tired.

It’s time to shed the facade of seriousness and go have a good time…. and not care what people think about you.  If you follow what brings you joy, you will find more joy, and you’ll find plenty of people with whom to share it.  I certainly did this weekend in Providence.

 

The dance is enough.

Do you ever get that feeling that you’re trying to hard?  Whether it’s trying to make a movement bigger or express more on your face or try more complicated or faster movement, you might be.  I know I feel that way sometimes.

There’s strange line between actively trying to perform a movement or a choreography and just letting it happen.

Here’s the difference: When a dancer actively tries to perform something, she goes in with a sense of “I have something to show you,” or “I have something to prove”.  Or it could be that the active, conscious, thinking brain just won’t be quiet.  “Am I doing this move too much?”  Or, “Ugh, I was so off the beat there!”   I think we’ve all gone through this at one point or another in our development as dancers.

But when we go up on stage and just dance because we love a the song to which we’ve chosen to perform, or we’re caught up in the moment and the feeling takes us on a journey, or when we have one of those shows when we can’t remember what we did because we were carried away… those performances are often the most successful, ironically, because we weren’t trying to perform.  We were just dancing. We let the feelings, the movements, and the dance spring forth from the well of our being, and we weren’t trying to do or be anything other than ourselves.

And of course we must train and refine our technique.  Of course we must build our stamina and polish our musicality.  But another skill we must learn is to stop back and let the dance happen. When we start actively performing instead of just letting the dance flow from within, something shifts.  The audience can see it, and we can feel it.  Our performances aren’t as satisfying, and they certainly aren’t as authentic or true to our own selves.  The Spanish call it “Duende” in the case of Flamenco, Arab musicians call it “Tarab”.  It feels like magic, and it is available to and attainable by all of us.

…as my instructor Andrea said in class one night:  “The dance is enough”.