Gilded Serpent presents...
New Age Adage
for Performing Dancers
June 10, 2003
If you have nothing to say through your dance, do
The byword above refers to performance
dance only. Dance in performance is quite different from dance that
is done for the purpose of aerobics, exercise, and ritual. A performance
dancer usually fears that she is stepping out on quicksand when she
takes her first steps toward individualizing her dance style. Yet,
individualize it she must-if she is to have any credibility as a
performance dancer. In order to make a dance be creditable and worthwhile,
it must carry a meaning or message beyond whatever simple body of
information that the dancer has gleaned from instructors, videos,
workshops, festivals, and concerts by other dancers. A performer
is not charismatic without something special to say through the language
of body movement that is called dance.
if you don't got nothin' ta say,
Then you don't got any dance.
If you don't got any dance, Honey,
Then you don't git ta dance!
Dancing used to have a specific purpose
and was used ritualistically for mystical celebrations and worship.
It was often used to celebrate joyful or important events. Temple
dancers were highly honored. All the folks who could stand on two
feet did folk dancing. Village folk commonly used dance and music
as a way of speaking to their gods. However, somewhere along the
way, dance (and therefore, dancers) became dishonored; perhaps because
the message no longer was lofty enough to be considered a prayer
or, perhaps because its artistry literally disappeared when attempted
by tired, drunken revelers as in the orgies and bacchanals of ancient
Rome. Perhaps the fall from grace so long ago is why it is such
a touchy subject even today to admit that one is a dancer. Even though
all of that is conjecture, I believe that if performers will once
again consider the message that they convey through their dance as
if it were precious, the dance itself will begin to become a more
compelling and meaningful endeavor.
If the dancer and her dance are to
become anything special for an audience these days, it is imperative
that we dancers move beyond the staid and true "steps and movements" that
we have been taught. We will need to venture into the murky waters
of experimentation with our technique and our stagecraft. The territory
of experimentation beckons and is tempting precisely because it is
risky and an unknown entity. Risking the unknown, though, is chancy
and it is the very same reason that many of us dancers have resorted
to reliance upon fixed and rigid choreographies. Apparently many
dancers believe that perfectly executed movements and limited spontaneity
will ensure their ultimate success as performers. However, choreographed
perfection comes with a price that is sometimes simply too high to
be paid. Perfection, when defined by a set choreography, is purchased
with loss of spontaneity.
emotional energy that is a result of performance adrenalin,
heightened by risk and "dancing on the edge" is entirely too
precious to pay for insurance. You might consider that a lack
of spontaneity is a good indicator that the performer has nothing
much to say beyond "Look what I can do!"
have become convinced that the reason many dancers nearly always
choose to dance with live music (rather than strong, beautifully
arranged orchestral or authentic ethnic music on a great sound system)
is that it represents the infusion of the unknown into their
dancing that renders it somewhat out of their control and completely
out of their responsibility. They fear the rush of adrenalin that
dancing on the edge gives one. By this statement, I mean that they
can dance while utilizing and toying with the unexpected without
taking the least responsibility for any wrong choices they make on
the strength of their one-ness with the music, since they can place
the blame for a poor performance at the feet of the musicians or
at least share it with them. Many dancers who prefer performing
with live music love it because it relieves them of the burden of
rehearsing a set choreography. Many are stuck with it, whether good
or bad. Nevertheless, they prepare to dance instead with a perfectly
executed and preplanned set of movements to which we dancers refer
are a set of movements that are dropped into a phrase of music
without much regard for the instrumentations of the arrangement
or the intent of the lyrics and lyrical quality of the tunes.
They relieve the dancer from having to think on her feet.)
most long-time performers, I have danced with (sometimes in spite
of) my share of inept and sincerely well-meaning musicians during
my on-stage dance career. Never once did I feel that dancing to unfamiliar
arrangements of well known tunes, played by unfamiliar musicians,
made my dance more artistic or meaningful beyond expressing the joy
and challenge of merely being able to do it well (or at all). Dancing
with live music can be an enthralling, engaging, and very perplexing
skill as well as a thrilling challenge-especially when it is bad live
music! It is another story if it is good live music and dancer
has enough personality and spirit to bring more meaning to the presentation
than "a beautiful girl hopping around".
live musicians can create for you an environment that can carry you
joyfully along like water over pebbles in a stream even if you have
only a limited repertoire. Good music, like a good dance partner,
can push and pummel the most resistant body to respond to the playfulness
of its themes in spite of almost any other considerations-like rehearsal,
lousy technique, stage and costuming problems, etc.
what about dancing to recorded music?" you may ask. My answer
is that dancing with "canned" music is an even more demanding skill.
music is not flexible. It does not change. The musicians never
grow tired and they never develop personal baggage with the
there is an element that inevitably does change and that
element is the dancer her self. Each
dancer changes from moment to moment, and year to year, depending
upon her state of health, her personal mood, and conditions in
her personal life. Though most performers, myself included, can
be somewhat egotistically involved-still we are among a special
group of people who are known for being sensitive and who often
express the desire to "make a difference" in the atmosphere of
our world with whatever we consider our message. The method through
which we present it is almost-almost irrelevant. If we do not
say "it" through dance, then it could have been, poetry, song,
painting or some other public
presentation just as well.
performers become, for some fleeting moments, little quasi-goddesses
who seem to empower themselves through the act of performing
dance, hoping to create a mood within others which is infectious
and captivating. At least, for those exquisite moments,
it works and makes us feel wonderfully powerful in the universe!
struggle to create a perfect role for ourselves that has the ability
to touch the mood of others, positively affecting it. Along with
that role, dancers have also the burning hope that they can bring
an audience to its feet (or at least to the edge of their seats)
with the power of the dance's message. So, ask yourself: does
your dance have any inner message? What is the goal of your dance? What
do you imagine that it will bring to your audience? This is not
merely idealism! Without a reason for dancing beyond showing off
your six-pack abs and your store-bought hair, why are you going
through this entire preparation hubbub? You have spent thousands
of dollars on lessons, workshops, costumes, and recordings; yet
many belly dancers have never stopped shimmying long enough to
question their motives any further than justification through claims
that it dancing can be great for one's health, fitness, and general
well being. If all that were The Honest Truth, you would have
quit dancing the first time you developed spurs on you metatarsals,
and pain in your sacroiliac. the first time you cut your foot open
on stage or dropped your sword on your big toe.
you didn't believe that you had something special to offer
to an audience beyond a prolonged ogle at your bouncing décolletage
and your quivering thighs, you would have quit dancing long
ago. Maybe you wouldn't have started at all.
long-time dancers will tell you that they "just love the
music, make-up, and costuming associated with dancing". However,
I can tell you that I know, from my many years of coaching performers,
that music and dressing up as a glamour queen are not the
real motivators for the dancers who are star-quality charismatic. I
have heard the constant grousing and excuses about how the musicians
were dunderheads who could not seem to get it right. I have heard
the endless excuses concerning costuming and sound systems. I
know these are only excuses because dancers will perform on terrible
stages in terribly demeaning circumstances in costumes that are
on the verge of disintegration from sweat salts and body oils.
Yecch! Some men have told me that dancers are merely exhibitionists
who are "looking for a good roll in the hay". (Well, perhaps,
in some cases, this has had some elements of truth and has contributed
to the dethronement of dance.) However, if that were the absolute
and full truth, how could happily married dancers then have any
valid "reason" to get up and perform? If sex and dressing up as
glamour queen were the whole truth, how would unattractive women
ever have the nerve to dance? Something stronger compels them to
perform. The compelling truth is: we do not dance just because we
are exhibitionists (even though we may be.) and not just because we
like the music and the dress up glamour of being on stage.
dance because we believe that we have something to say that
can only be expressed through the silent language of movement.
lovely girls take dancing lessons. Many
of them even make it through a few special performances.
very few dancers continue to dance year after year unless they
feel that they give to it as much or more than they receive in
return. So, one of the most important things that you can do for
yourself and your dance is determine whether of not you have something
within yourself that needs dance language. Next you will need to
choose music that will help you say it. Not all musical arrangements
or instruments are appropriate for all dancers. Individual tastes
in music are as varied as are the dancers. When dancers have performed
at local live music event and have come away disappointed in their
music, I think that much of their disappointment is, in reality,
due to over-sized expectations left unfulfilled by the instrumentation,
the arrangement, or in short, that the band is not the 35 piece
orchestra that they heard on the CD. Add a lack of focus upon
and an understanding that the performer herself ought to have something
worthwhile to say, and you have a recipe for a real yawner.
dancers must only go into performance because we understand
that some deep part of our spirit has a message to convey
that is at least a little bit profound.
are the only one who will ever be empowered to deliver your personal
message because you are the one who can determine its nature. Therefore,
you need to give it some real meditation long before you are called
upon to perform. After all, you believe that it is your gift to
the world! Your costume is your ball gown and your music is the
carriage in which you ride. Like a modern day Cinderella, what
you say and do when you arrive is solely up to you. If you have
no message, kindly sit down.
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more by Najia
5-23-03 The “It
Between the two men, my dance teacher and my artistic lover, how could I not
learn to bring the movements from the core (heart) to the outside?
I'd like dancers to understand how the ideas of color, texture, tone, shading,
etc. can also apply to the art of speaking through movement.
Nights Oslo Belly Dance Festival, The Show May 2 - 4, 2003 by
festival began with a show at Oslo Concert Hall, and this year's guest
star was Lulu Sabongi from Brazil, who opened this
Greek Transformation A Conservative Engineer meets the “Instigator
of Revolutions” by Barbara Grant
displayed boundless energy, far beyond my own at the best of times.
How would I be able to keep up with her?