Thursday, March 27, 2008

Going with the Flow

For many years I was a professional bellydancer and enjoyed the disctinction of being one of the better dancers in New York City and having my own following. It was my passion, my joy, and although I am no longer performing in that genre, I still wiggle around at home, reliving my glory days during the 1980's when Middle Eastern dancing was still a big draw in many NYC nightclubs.

I learned many lessons from bellydancing that, ironically enough, had nothing to do with dancing and everything to do with life, specifically that of moving with the energy, or, in other words, going with the flow. Take veil work, for example. A dancer has to flip, toss and otherwise manipulate 2 - 3 yards of diaphanous fabric around as she's dancing without tangling herself in the process. I learned that it is best to learn the properties of the veil (such as how well it moves and floats) and work with the veil to achieve your goal. If it floats like a feather, capitalize on that and keep it in the air. If it sinks like a rock, then twirl it around in various ways. If, as sometimes occurs, the veil does not behave as you want it to, change in response to its moods. The dancer sets the veil in motion but the veil dictates how it will behave. It is up to the dancer to work with it so what the audience sees is harmonious movement.

Snake work in particular requires that you move with the flow of energy, which in this case is the snake. There is no way to choreograph a boa constrictor. It moves as it will and sometimes will do unexpected things. The only way to successfully dance with a live snake is to let the snake do what it will and move with the snake, gently manipulating, nudging and moving it so it doesn't wrap itself around any limbs in such a way as to constrict blood flow. The dancer must convince the audience that she controls the snake when in fact the snake is in charge. True, she can manipulate it to a certain degree but there are those times when the snake will not do what is wanted. At those times, the dancer must be able to surrender to the snake's nature in order to achieve her goal of entertaining her audience.

All of the above requires a mastery of the dance form that does not require conscious thought. A dancer must have an extensive enough dance vocabulary so that she can react to unexpected changes instantly and organically. When an extensive vocabulary has been practiced and internalized to the point that the movements are natural and second nature, it is then that true mastery begins. I have seen all too many dancers who are obviously thinking about their steps as they do them, picking and choosing from their limited dance vocabulary. Their dancing lacks in fluidity, much like a person learning to speak in a foreign language or a person learning to drive a car, thinking about every move they make.

All matter is composed of energy, even those things considered inanimate. These days I tend to see things from a perspective of the flow of its energy and how to move with it in order to best achieve my purpose. Bellydancing has proven to be a metaphor for negotiating this energy. Who knew? It has prepared me to master the art of going with the flow.

Ballo ergo sum,
Always and All Ways,
- Gitana, the Creative Diva

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