(for Part I, click HERE)
dance grew from "dance center" in the solar plexus
radiating up and down through the spinal column. It was transferred,
or projected into space by use of the extremities--the arms and
hands, and the legs and feet. It became "dancing from the
inside outward". I added into this mix the windows of the
soul, the eyes and head, as yet another extremity. I re-invented
that which probably had already been invented by others; namely,
a way of thinking about projected space specifically for belly
dancers. Energy of the dance movement had to be projected into
two kinds of space by the antennae of the body--all of its extremities.
The first kind of space, as I saw it, was a soft, amorphic
the body or "personal" space of the dancer. Its nature
utilized the "Fascinators" (as I thought of them), the hands
and arms in spare air-kneading motions led by a focus, a gaze
the space where the hands were to travel next. This would telegraph
the intention of the dancer and direct the audience where to
look for the content. This was the basis of the scheme I concocted
for setting up the scenario much as the clowns in the circus
learn in Clown College to set up their visual jokes.
in class on a number of occasions back in the early 1970's,
that one could do well learning from circus performers,
were masters of visual audience communication.
second type of projected space was not the finite space that
one could touch, but the infinite space into
which one could gesture and gaze. I saw this as stronger and more purposeful
when one practiced as if projected space were geometrical and in a "box" shape
utilizing straight up and down, forward and back, as well as all diagonals.
The energy was to flow from dance center outward into this distant direction
with a quick and subtle releasing gesture of the fingertips or toes,
focus, or secondarily, by a gesture of the elbows, knees, shoulders,
or any manipulatable
part of the torso. It wasn't hard to do, and it wasn't difficult to state
in imagery for the dance student. Best of all, it seemed to work.
Taking heart from this technique's success, I thought further
about emotion. I meditated upon the way in which passions
to us from others.
Watching the breath, life-motion, is so elemental, nevertheless it is
over-looked by many Oriental dancers. I studied musical structure
times in my youth, and those studies left me with a subliminal
understanding of the
ebb and flow of music that is emotional in content. The listener becomes
aware of loudness and quietude, busyness and sustained notes,
and other musical contrasts.
When I taught veil dancing, I spoke constantly of the surges and suspensions
in the music as "the breath" of the music. I suggested that the dancer
could use her veil to enhance its affect by surging and sustaining with it
rather than concentrating on the incessant rhythms of the percussion section
of the orchestra.
the veil as an extension of the hands and arms and
tried to keep
the cute "tricks" of veil movement to a minimum.
Because Bert Balladine
was teaching veil dance at that time as a series of tableaux,
I began to see it as moving sculpture, relating it to my studies
field of art and art history. In the hands of an amateur performer,
the veil can
be a tiresome repetition of deadly cute tricks that never, please
believe me, saw the light of day in any part of the Middle
East. Veil manipulation,
has to relate to some perceptible meaning.
My most profound
discovery in the pursuit of emotional content in dance
has been what I think of as "the re-integration
of the Dance Center".
This means training the
dancer not only to move from the upper torso, but also, to
refer to the Dance Center with the hands frequently, but not
invariably, when weight changes are made or when some change
has occurred in the music. Back in the days when I was first
teaching dance, I attended many dance lessons by teachers other
than Bert Balladine so that I would have some idea what and
how others were being taught belly dance. Over and over again
I would hear one instructor after another claim that belly
dance was a dance of "body part isolation" or "muscle
group isolation". Though that may be true on one level
of thought, what generally happened was as follows.The instructor,
in her earnest attempt to help the student "break-down
and isolate" the movement, never really took the opportunity
to re-activate the upper torso into the layered movement, giving
emotional depth to the dance. She probably never realized or
felt any need to reintegrate the upper torso!
Many of the new dance teachers began their teaching still frozen in the upper
torso--just as their teachers before them had taught in Beginning and Intermediate
levels in order to reign-in the extraneous movements that yet unaccomplished
dance students frequently make.
An extreme example
of this phenomenon is the hands and arms constantly waving
in the space above the dancers
head, useless to expression, framing, gesture, line, projection, release,
or balance--all the things hands and arms must do to complete an idea
of emotional content.
long ago those hands and arms were "put
in park" position and never re-integrated, never reclaimed!
Like a bad rumor, the arms and hands were sent forever
skyward, menacing the air,
lost as powerful, expressive parts of the human form.
It does not take keen observation to note that the feet and
hips are less expressive of emotions than they are carriers
beat and rhythms contained in the
music. Since mobility through space is part of our own folkdance culture,
it is more easily accessible and accepted by our dance students
than are the exotic
torso movements accompanying the strange quarter tones of Arabic and
other Middle Eastern music.
We tend to want
to make it into a highly motile dance-form, progression
from here to there by the weaving together of complex
and simple dance steps with the feet, rather than standing
in a relatively small space and dancing the music with
the entire torso.
Danse Orientale is not
learned by collecting steps and step combinations. Yet steps
and combinations are overwhelmingly what is taught in whirly-gig
dance workshops as round-and-round we go, picking up transitional
tricks from this step to that. This is not figure skating,
friends. The audience is not going to care, or even notice,
that a dancer did a high-stepping Fandango Walking Step with
an over-lay of a Soheir Zaki Head Tilt and a really fine cock-of-the-walk
Feather Shimmy, followed by a nearly impossible One-foot Leftward
dance uses swirling, stationary movements and forms rather
than glides across wide spaces..."
--Roman "Bert" Balladine
The dancer's mission should be choosing what to enhance for the audience in
the way that graphic artists choose the essence of color, line, texture,
and use of space to bring meaning to the viewer. The instrument is her
body and her message is contained in her perception of the music.
Body parts have their own distinctive, sometimes subliminal, use in the portrayal
of meaning. The lower torso, legs and feet are used for percussive movement
through space, while the upper torso is free to express the emotion of the
music through breath-like motion. All upper torso motions are possible and
are similar to the hips movements, such as circles, slides, and percussive
accents. The hands and arms, may complete line, making gesture, frame, fascinate,
and act as antennae to release energy.
This is the basis of the western thought-process I have devised to communicate
to western dancers how to extricate their bodies from culturally inculcated
lack of mobility of the torso.
This is movement
which, in Middle Eastern cultures, has not been denied
to their women--perhaps preferring to control them by
keeping them hidden under heavy, shapeless, material,
covering their faces, sometimes eyes (remember the window
to the soul?), behind screened windows, cloistered, covered,
and fettered while claiming to honor them.
How then, can it be that Middle Eastern women also dance this sensuous dance?
The "honorable, mature women" (Arabic noun: sitt) dance for each
other for amusement, while the Raks Sharqui dancers are generally not considered
worthy of any more respect than a village whore. That fact is the major
obstacle westerners have to face when trying to turn belly dance into an
academic, respectable pursuit. Western Oriental dancers need to remember
that an Arab will usually go out of his way to tell you, the dancer, what
you want to hear as that is his understanding of common courtesy. He will
tell you that belly dance is a beautiful art form. However, out of earshot
he will say your husband doesn't care about you because your husband allows
you to dance, that nobody would want to marry a dancer if he had any self-respect,
and that all dancers and westerners are morally corrupt. Now, go, and be
spiritual with our dance discovery of this century--Raks Orientale!
Raphael Patai, Charles Scribner's Sons, New York, 1976,
- "The Secrets of Belly Dancing", Roman "Bert" Balladine
and Sula, Celestial Arts Publishing, Millbrae, California,
1962, 96 p.
- "Martha, The Life and Work of Martha Graham",
Agnes de Mille, Vintage Books--a Division of Random House,
Ind., New York, 1992, 567 p.
- "The Dance Notebook, an illustrated Journal with Quotes",
Running Press, 1984.
- "How to be a
Belly Dancer," Troy Garrison, PAGEANT Magazine, Vol.
29, No. 4, Oct. 1973, pages 66-73.
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9-18-00 Dancing to the
She was always there dancing at my shoulder and up-staging
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