Gilded Serpent presents...
"What will be
the title of your workshop this year? asked the sponsor of the
festival. "I'd like to put it on the flyer advertising our festival."
"Ummm. Call it Restoring
Sensuality to Oriental Dance," I proposed confidently. It
wasn't until a few weeks later, when I began to make up my lesson
plan, that I realized the size of the impossible task I had laid
out for my little workshop.
The state of
Oriental Dance in America, as it is most often seen today in festivals
and restaurants, is at a crossroads of change from which there
will be no way to return.
the base of my mourning for the loss of sensual dancing is
the absolute futility of trying to glean any enjoyment out
of the slightly gymnastic, oddly disquieting incessant jiggling,
and unpleasant over-sized accenting of already obviously accented
I am additionally
alarmed by the lack of coherent imagery produced by the Oriental
dancers who are undeniably beautiful, yet frenetically driven.
It is so sad
to work with students who, before all else, "admire a good workout". Do
you want a challenging workout? Go to Sweats or Curves gym! Swim
the English Channel. Enter your dog team in the Iditarod!
all our sakes, try not to impose your need for sweat-laden
bodywork upon the softly impassioned quartertones of Arabic
Music (or Greek and Turkish music either, for that matter).
The types of
movements to which I refer are most often shown as the longest,
strongest, weirdest shimmies West of the Pecos River, irrelevant
muscle twitching, and non-stop running about the stage or the room
as if your dance were too small to fill the space in any other
way. If audiences wanted to see feats of body strength, they would
be much happier attending the beautiful Cirque de Soleil than to
endure the after hours gyrations of the checker at their local
Wal-Mart, their dental hygienist, or the executive from the front
office at XXX Inc.
Yes! What I am
trying to tell you is that nobody really wants to see you spin
55 times without upchucking your Spanakopita or Babaganoosh.
come to see dance most often as music translated by
movement, not just made visual by it, and to enjoy the character
the dancer creates in her little drama set into the music by
much old-style Middle Eastern music is sensual violins, shimmering
kanoon, and the mellow lilt of the fretless Oud! Yet, as Westerners,
we sometimes think that bigger is better, and louder is more effective,
and that more jewelry, beads, and sequins enhance the dance. Sometimes
I wonder if it isn't the belt and bra the audience is supposed
to watch, rather than the dancer, just because the costume and
store-bought hair is so heavy and over-blown. Don't pretend you
haven't noticed a few "costumes that dance by themselves" at some
local festivals lately!
While I am whining
about over-blown, and bigger is not better, I would also
like to call your attention to the damage being perpetrated upon
Middle Eastern music by shoddy and insensitive re-mix jobs that
bloat the drum and percussion section beyond my tolerance. I started
to demonstrate what was wrong with the disco type remixes of music
recently at a workshop I was teaching but had to back away from
my theme because my students had "fallen in love with the music" and
demanded to know what was the CD title so they could buy it! Old
Rule Number One: You cannot teach those who are not yet ready to
hear. First, I would have to set up a longer, slower, better teaching
path for my students.
One way to begin
is by attempting to define: What is "sensual" and what is "sensuality" as
it relates to dance? At first, I thought I could look at MTV and
some recent rock concerts for some clues to what is wrong. Though
I did not find the easy fodder that I expected, I did come to the
realization that these performers are sensual in their presentations
and that the concerts are full to the brim with modern sensuality. If
you define sensual as something that fills and explores the five
human senses of hearing, seeing, touching, tasting and smelling,
you can see that the sheer showmanship of suggestive sexual movement,
colorful surroundings filled with smokers, foggers, lights, objects
de explosives, and such can cause one to imagine while watching
that one is actually experiencing something of importance.
thought back to my early career employment in places that emanated
loud, loud, music (usually Greek). The decibels were enough to
rattle your ribcage and render you deaf! Did that make it more
sensual? "No, no," I hoped. I watched as dancers spun and their
sweat (yes, drops of sweat not dewy moisture) flew onto people's
plates of food. Surely that was not the "sensuality" that I was
hoping to "restore" in my workshop lesson! I have not recently
smelled the pungent reek of Marijuana, Patchouli, and Jasmine oil
nor heard the rustle of heavy brocades and silks that used to accompany
many dancers onto stage. No, I decided, I am not longing for the
sixties to return in order that sensuality be restored.
is some quality missing today that made all the Patchouli, and
the loud music worth my attention back then. Not all the dancers
had "It" but those that did were magical! I believe that the missing
factor lies within the soft subtle movements of the upper torso
as it powers and gives heartfelt emotion to the more obvious and
pervasively harsh hip movements most often featured by dancers
Rather than placing
emphasis on the torturously precise hip movements taught by so
many western Oriental dance teachers, we need to look once more
at the soft and graceful movements of Samia Gamal and
even her counterpart, the more clunky, yet boisterous and beautiful
young Tahia Karioca as they danced in the numerous
black and white movies made for Egyptian audiences. (I would suggest
that you invest in the Hossam Ramzy series of
movie dances called "The Stars of Egypt".)
By watching carefully,
you can see that:
- The dancer
enhances and highlights the music; she does not actually attempt
to portray it or mime the lyrics.
- The dancer's
role is most often second banana to the singer or lead musician.
- The dancers
do not run about the stage hither and thither, but stay near
the singer, the musician or the person for whom they are performing.
- The dancers' upper
torsos are not frozen while their hips, in some unbelievable
feat of isolation, dance alone.
- The dancers' faces
are expressively mobile and not grimaced into a stage
- (.and number
one of my top six favorite dance observations) The dancer dances
from the inside out, with the movements beginning in her solar
plexus and moving upward downward then outward through her extremities,
her eyes, and her fingertips. Movements do not begin below the
waist and remain in isolation, as some dancers have been led
to believe. Dancing from the inside outward is what gives the
dance emotion, and emotion is what leads one into sensuous movement.
So that is
what I finally taught at my most recent workshop: Dancing from
the Inside Out.
this page were taken August 30th, 2003 at the San Leandro festival.
For more photos from this event see
Leandro Festival produced by Tatseena,
photos by GS staff
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