Dance - Deeper than the Moves
by Keti Sharif
15 June 2008
language of dance and movement is called "Somatics".
It is the totality of the dance that encompasses the intention
behind the movement and the authenticity of the overall expression
of the move, uniting mind, heart and soul. The term "somatic" is
derived from the Greek "soma", meaning "living
body", the human being expressed from the inside. The
focus is on subjective experience, rather than the observable
dances of many cultures place a higher value on the "feeling" the
dance rouses, which includes celebrational or connective aspects
of the dance rather than a focus on the technicalities of movement.
In the west, it seems there has been a "rule" for some
time that the movement must be completely technically sound in
order to "present" the dance we know as Oriental, folkloric,
Raqs Sharqi or bellydance. Whatever the name of the dance – its
mechanism or technique has too often become a focus and measure
of a dancer’s skill in many areas of Middle Eastern Dance.
a developer of dance systems that use technique to learn about
timing, transition, flow and rhythm – I certainly value the importance
of the technical element. Yet I use it as a tool for harnessing
something deeper – the soul of the dance. Technique, in my view,
is the dancer’s tool to give her dance language syntax and structure.
What is “the
soul of the dance”? For me it is the nuance of a deep non-verbal
of the human body and mind that communicates something of a rich,
personal, authentic nature – either to the dancer herself/himself
- or to others
in a shared environment. There is both vulnerability and strength
in dance when its essential ingredient is “communication from the
heart”. Firstly, feeling takes precedence and technique becomes secondary,
rather than the focus. In my systems, I teach balance, rhythm and
the importance of footwork and floor plan, to create awareness of
the perfection of geometry, shape and fractal timing that lies within
the rhythm – so that the dancer can later “simply dance” and “forget
The body has a
remarkable memory, and especially in terms of fractal timing and
regularity in rhythm, the body can actually remember and recall steps
once learnt – as a natural, rhythmic flow with little concentration
required. But as the rhythm and footwork are so interconnected, learning
technique provides a safe base – especially for the “western mind”
or anyone schooled in the technical western system as a child. So
rhythm, well…it translates to a synchronized style of movement that
is comfortable, flowing and reflects the musical backbone.
who feels “safe” in the rhythm, footwork, technical movement
and secure as she dances. A grounded dancer will be less "in
her head” and allow the authenticity of feeling to come through
her body as a flowing, emotive movement that expresses the music
how she “feels” the music.
who close their eyes whilst listening and dancing to an Om Koltshoum composition
are often dancing with incredible subtlety, with the tiniest yet
undulation and light hand gesture – almost felt rather than seen
– but the articulation is extremely powerful. Yet the Egyptian
dancer has had years of “absorbing” the music and rhythms throughout
lifetime, so the structural essence is ingrained in her body memory.
Feeling and sensing is vital to the real communication of dance,
whether it be for an audience, a class or for one’s self. Farida
Fahmy says “Exploring core qualities of Egyptian movement
is subtle, yet unlocks dynamics and aesthetics within the framework
The love of Middle
Eastern music and the feeling it creates is usually the starting
point for a dancer’s passion and enthusiasm. We don’t engage with
a certain piece of music because we find it technically exciting!
So the music creates an initial emotive response, seconded by an
underlying structure that when respected, allows the dance to fully
emerge. Melodies resonate with various moods (psycho-acoustics) and
hence drive an emotive response that can be danced as a mood, inflection
Character in Middle
Eastern dance is important too, where the dancer shapes her persona
according to the lyrical or instrumental conversation. In Egyptian
Baladi – the solo dancer may be dancing to a Saiidi folk song, where
the story depicts a maiden, a mother-in-law and a strong warrior.
Through the progressive movement of the song, through lyrics and
music, she will dance the “persona” of each character. So the core
technical movement may be the same – for example let’s choose a baladi
style hip drop (wahda we noss) but with nuance. The core technique
will remain constant as the rhythm does, yet the overall nuance -
gesture of hands, the turning of the body, the expression on the
face, the confidence of the move – will all contribute to the essence
of the character, and therefore each move will look and “feel” very
So in a nutshell,
technique, timing and flow form a core essential to structural authenticity
of the dance. But the essence of the dance shares emotion, story,
and nuance and often carries cultural or geographic content. The
dance is dynamically realized as a true mode of authentic communication
when it is personalized and enriched by the dancer’s inner artist.
The expressive possibilities are endless, the same song may rouse
different, even conflicting feelings in different dancers, depending
on the association. A thick, heavy maqsoum rhythm may take a dancer
back to her first experience at a live downtown Cairo cabaret, which
evokes everything she felt at that event. For another, she may have
met her love while the rhythm or song was playing on a radio. There
are associated memories that filter through with the dancer’s choice
of music – that in turn affect her dance expression.
dance requires grounding in technical skills. The mastery makes the
dancer safe and confident. Yet the abandonment of counting, concentration
on muscles or foot placement gives the body permission to do something
very special – support your dance through body memory.
Allowing your body
to take over and trusting it to remember to move and flow flawlessly
through a beautiful dance will give you permission to play. This
kind of confidence supports the dancer and allows the real artist
– the star of the dance – to shine.
Somatics and the
above topics are explored in Egypt at the Sphinx Festival themed “Essential
with Farida Fahmy, Mahmoud Reda, Laiza Laziza and Keti Sharif
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