Sunday, March 3, 2013

Dancing Without Fear

Strange Children, State Library of New South Wales
So, I've been dancing for six years now, right? I take classes regularly, I can do ITS and look amazing doing it, I know all the basic belly dance moves and frequently take workshops in new things to add to my dance vocabulary (whirling! modern dance! poi! swing!). So why is it that when it comes time to making up something to put on a stage, I don't feel competent?

Well, the answer is right there in the question. I don't feel competent. Yeah, I can technically execute moves I've been learning for years, with my shoulders back and my chin up and my pelvis tucked, but when it comes to feel the music, to interpret it and make it my own, I freeze up. Suddenly everything feels wrong, or I'm worried about how I like and how it doesn't feel like I'm Rachel Brice (again, the comparison!), or that I look like as uncoordinated as I felt during my first color guard practice.

I recently started taking a modern dance class. Modern dance is something I've wanted to try for around two years now, but I could never find classes for adults that were within a half hour's drive. Luckily, the new studio I teach at now has a modern dance class, so I started showing up to class at 9:30 on a Sunday morning.

Let me tell you, coming from perfect belly dance isolations and jumping into "and now you're just going to let your whole body fall to the right, spin to the floor and jump back up!" is a huge shock. I had such a hard time that first half hour, and I was back to feeling that I wasn't competent. However, my foray into modern dance happened to fall into the month where I tried every kind of dance I could fine, and after reminding myself that I had once thought I couldn't belly dance, I threw myself into the move.

And you know what? I did okay! I'm not as flexible as the teacher (who has been dancing a million kinds of dances since forever) or the co-student who is also in color guard or on the dance team and can probably do the splits, but I also didn't suck. And it was fun, to throw myself around with controlled abandon and know I wasn't going to fall or run into someone or look stupid.

I know that I can learn any dance I want, without worrying about how old I am or how flexible I am or how high I can kick my legs. What I'm learning now is to dance without fear. To dance without being afraid of looking stupid or executing a move wrong. To be able to release my body and just follow the music. Maybe I still don't look like the dancers I'm trying emulate, but I'm on my way.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Dancing As Healing

Nijinksy, Library of Congress
Four months ago, my dance teacher broke up with her long-term boyfriend. She immediately threw herself into a new choreography with props and custom costumes, and planned an elaborate stage show I was lucky to be a part of.

Around the first of the year, I experienced my own heartbreak. The following night, I got on a stage with my troupe around me and danced. And then I danced on stage the next week. And the week after that.

For me, dance is a way of expressing the feelings I can't express, or that feel as though they are about to poisoning me. Though my heart was cracked that first night on stage, I still felt the love of getting my makeup done, even though my face was swollen from crying. I still felt the creativity and beauty as I put my costume together. I still experienced the excitement of getting on stage, the thrill of the music, the togetherness of dancing with my troupe, even as the one person I wanted in the audience wasn't there.

Since then, I have danced as much as possible. I've taken new dance classes, made new dance friends, and through it all, dance and music have brought me through. When I am feeling lonely, I go to class and my students or fellow dancers cheer me up. Last week after a particularly bad weekend, I settled into the slow taxeem of ITS and just felt as though I belonged. There have been mornings when I felt so low I just had to get up and out of bed and dance. In fact, some of the people who have been there for me the most, who have given me light, have been people I have danced with.

If you have been dancing long enough to feel comfortable doing it, the next time you feel low, experience heartbreak, or just need a pick-me-up, try putting on some music and dancing it out. Play a song that particularly speaks to you, a song that makes you feel happy, even something silly that just makes you laugh. Grab a friend or family member if you can, and just dance. The feeling of the music, of putting yourself back inside your body again, of slowly finding yourself again when all seems lost, they are things that can heal you. At the very least, it'll help you get your mind off your sadness for awhile.

Or go to a dance class.

To me, dance class is the nail shop for dancers. There's the camaraderie of women doing the same thing you are--learning the steps, the moves, the music, gossiping, talking about spouses and significant others, complaining about work and family. It's hard to imagine that the woman next to you in line at Starbucks ever experienced the same thing you did, but when you are doing the same choreography as that woman, or following her lead in improv, you have a better sense that she is coming from the same place--everyone has their own problems, everyone has their own heartaches.

The roots of belly dance lie in the houses of women who danced for each other because they couldn't dance in public. They danced for birth, for death, for love, for life. No matter your style of dance, take a lesson from them. Use dance to get you through life's joys and sorrows, and remember that there will always be someone to dance with.