July 29, 2010

Not bad for a white girl

So what would you do if someone asked you to come teach a class that was an Arabic folkloric class to a group of students in an Arabic language/culture program with the possibility of an Arabic professor either watching or participating in the class? For someone like myself who is uber-Caucasian, I had to take a deep breath and say, 'sure, I can do that'. Although I have taken my share of folkloric dance classes and have studied with some really amazing teachers, I really was worried that I would not be able to represent the culture and dance in an appropriate manner. I got the gig from another dancer who had all the confidence in the world in me…but apparently I didn't get that memo. I've taught debke to my students, have done debke in public settings…but I was still a bit worried. So I did what most people would do in this situation. I crammed!

I went on a three day Google/YouTube rampage and downloaded about twenty new songs. Each night I sat at the computer trying to really immerse myself in the dance steps and movements in a short time. The funny thing is, I wasn't learning anything particularly new. There were some nuances I had not considered, some great combinations, some really amazing dancers, but nothing really new. And somewhere in the midst of my self-imposed panic I realized that I did, indeed, know enough to teach this class. Once I allowed myself to recognize my own skills and ability I was able to think about structuring the class like any other class I teach, which is pretty simple. Start with an overview, breakdown basic movements, teach a short combination or two and then practice. *whew* HUGE sigh of relief when that clicked in.

So why all the angst? Not sure…perhaps it had more to do with my perception of my own skills in relationship to this dance style. A couple of years ago, I took a workshop from Michelle Joyce. Not only is she a great dancer, but a really wonderful teacher. Her style and teaching philosophy really resonate with me. At one point she talks about the four stages of learning. The first one she calls, unconsciously incompetent, where we basically think we're hot shit but have no clue how little we know. Then, we move into the consciously incompetent phase where that self-awareness slips in and suddenly we realize that there are a lot of people much better and more skilled than we are. With any luck we move to the unconsciously competent phase where we're hitting our stride but don't quite realize it. And then, it's off to the consciously competent phase where we understand and can appreciate our abilities.

My angst was due to living in that unconscious incompetence stage. Luckily, I realized that a couple days before I taught the class which helped me feel much more relaxed and excited. As it turns out, the class was a group of students who had very little exposure to debke and several of them were, shall we say, rhythmically challenged. What they lacked in one area, they made up for in enthusiasm and exuberance so I had a blast! My favorite part was dancing to the music and feeling completely at home with the movements and music. Score one for the white girl!

July 23, 2010

Making Faces

Last week I had an interesting conversation with a colleague who suggested that I treated her differently than others in our group. Her feeling was that I should be fair in my comments, conversations and discussions and equally share my thoughts and feelings with everyone. What kept running through my mind was the fact that I do, indeed, think of her in a different manner than others. As a rule, she is much more guarded, more self-conscious and at times more superficial in her comments and observations. There are the cursory greetings and inquiries we trade regarding each other lives, but rarely do we have what I consider an 'honest' conversation where we both let our hair down and share our thoughts and feelings. So yes, I agree…my conversations with her are different than with others because her guarded nature does not compel me to drop my guard either. It is not a matter of fairness, but rather in meeting someone where they are at. And, until she is ready to go deeper, relax and open up I have no desire to go below the surface either.

And, just like it is okay with someone to keep their feelings and emotions tucked away from the public eye, there is nothing wrong with a dancer who just moves through a performance by concentrating on technique alone. It works, it gets the job done…and often times the audience can really appreciate and enjoy the skill and expertise shown. It does however get much more interesting when instead of feeling guarded, a dancer lets go and allows the audience to share her feelings, fears, joys and emotions in her dance. Those are the juicy moments, the soul-baring, soul-searching, beautiful moments that may not be technically precise but emotionally compelling.

I like to think that when I dance, I try to let my guard down…relax…and let the audience share my experience as well. However, when I stop to look at photos of my dancing, it is rare that I find shots that seem to capture what I think that I am thinking! I would love to attribute this to some terrible childhood trauma where I was chased by some domineering photographer who scarred me emotionally for life….but…I cannot. The truth is, when I see a camera, there is a part of my mind that immediately tries to come up with what I consider a 'game face' instead of staying in the moment. I go to a much more superficial place versus letting my guard down and honestly feeling the emotion. I would love to take an acting class at some point in time, in the hope of really working on those facial expressions, but in the meantime I think I have discovered a new practice for myself.

As you may know, I just got a new computer with a built in webcam. I christened the webcam with my first video blog, which was fascinating to create because you get to watch yourself (even mirror image) the entire time. So, I decided to start channeling Tyra Banks and her advice to practice in a mirror for photo shoots and decided to play with the still shots just to see how they would come out. The hardest part was fighting the urge to go fix my hair and makeup and then practice a few times before taking some pictures to upload. Tonight's lesson plan?

Instead of trying to force the emotion or feeling for the photo, I simply allowed myself to relax, let my guard down and simply 'experience' an emotion to see what would happen. So, here's a sneak peak at my new training tool…no makeup, ready for bed, lights off (except for the screensaver which changes color)…and just me.

So, now that I have let my guard down, what do all of you do to practice and improve your ability to emote while performing? Do tell!

July 18, 2010

Crossing Boundaries and Baring it All

Here's the first of what I hope to be many guest blogs on this site. The honor of the first one goes to a newer student of mine, Krysta, who is passionate and joyful and just lots of fun to be around. Enjoy!

I've been dancing on and off since I was about 4 years old – I've dabble in ballet, contemporary, folklorico, ballroom, latin, hustle, hip hop, west African, afro-haitian, capoeira, contact improvisation, tap, jazz, swing…and I love it all. It was only last year that I built the courage to try belly dancing. Like most women, there was just something terrifying and uncomfortable about letting my soft belly be seen by anyone but me…and my doctor one a year. For years I'd admired the belly dancers I had seen who were not only comfortable, but proud of the fleshiness of their midsection. I also couldn't help but be in sheer awe of the Indian women who let their bellies be…let their bellies rest happily and peek through the crevices of the brightly colored fabric that made their saris. "Yes, this is me – here I am."

I decided it was time to cross over from "traditional" forms of dance, into belly dance – and also cross over the boundary my fears had generated, and dance with my tum tum out. In the past year, I've gained another level of kinesthetic awareness which has profoundly informed the other styles of dance that I love, and I think I'm close to being on par with the Indian women I've admired for so long...this is me. Here I am.

Belly dancing has provided me with something I wasn't fully anticipating – confidence as a performer overall…and as a woman just trying to make it in the world. There is no apologizing in belly dance – you mean for your flesh to jiggle, or not jiggle. Your veil was supposed to get tangled. You were supposed to add that extra clack with your zils. And yes, you did nail that leap into a three-step turn. In performance, you must believe that every single hip sway and snake arm has been executed to perfection. You must know that you are the most interesting creature onstage whenever you enter…up until several lifetimes after you've exited. And in life, you must believe that every sashay in your heels, hair flip, and the building of every new Ikea furniture piece has been executed to perfection. You must know that you are the most interesting creature in the conference room and on the street – with or without your hip scarf.


July 15, 2010

My first video blog!

It feels a bit like a confessional, but here is my first video blog on the topic of picking music for your very first solo.  It was quite spur of the moment, so enjoy!