Back in the Groove

Sunday was a red-letter day for me — I went to my first dance classes in almost a year. The North Texas Middle Eastern Dance Association held a nifty fundraiser: seven local teachers volunteered their time to teach a series of “Cheap Thrills” workshops, at ten bucks a pop for non-members. I thought that this would be a perfect way to get back in the groove of dancing, so I hauled myself to Grapevine despite a sleepless night and rather a good deal of laziness.

My abs are still feeling a bit sore from the surgery, so I decided to pick two workshops that seemed like they wouldn’t be core intensive: “Dancing With Emotion” with Rivkah, and “Arms, Frames & Transitions” with Heather Wayman. The workshops may have been inexpensive and brief, but each was packed with material.

Rivkah had us do exercises to express sadness, anger, and joy. I found the first two, but especially sadness, incredibly difficult. I’ve never taken an acting class, and all the stagework I’ve done was in rather silly college theatricals in pretty absurd roles. At the same time, despite how vulnerable this kind of work left me feeling, I also think it is one of the most important things to work on in dance. I really can’t stand busy, overly-athletic dancing with no emotion behind it. It’s boring, it gives me no pleasure to watch. But when a performer can really embody an emotion — Zari’s dance in Secrets of the Stage Volume One comes to mind — the result is entrancing.

When we practiced dancing to a fun song and conveying the sense of delight in the music, I couldn’t help but remember a scene in Wim Wenders’ documentary Pina in which one of the dancers has the same task. I found myself emulating his moves, albeit with a bellydance vocabulary. Focusing on emotion made me dance in a completely different way, looser, less worried about variation, less hung up altogether. I’m not sure it looked good, but it certainly felt good.

Heather gave us a full program of arm poses, ways to move from one frame to another, and exercises for structuring and experimenting with dance. She introduced us to some of the tricks she’d picked up while doing Nadira Jamal‘s Mastery Mentoring Program. My favourite exercise of the class was picking three poses and then improvising the movements between them. This seemed like an excellent way to introduce more dramatic punctuation into a dance that would otherwise have rather boring arm work.

Doing these workshops, I remembered one of the things I love so much about dance class, proper dance class instead of videos. The whole world outside the studio disappears. There’s nothing like focusing on the tiniest detail — the pointing of a foot, the precise way of lifting a hand — for wiping all the tedious everyday worries from my mind.

Advertisements

4 thoughts on “Back in the Groove

  1. “Doing these workshops, I remembered one of the things I love so much about dance class, proper dance class instead of videos. The whole world outside the studio disappears. There's nothing like focusing on the tiniest detail — the pointing of a foot, the precise way of lifting a hand — for wiping all the tedious everyday worries from my mind.”

    OH YES. I really miss class when I'm laid up.

    One of the things I missed most was the guidance. When you're working with a video or in front of the mirror, you're your only source of correction. In that situation, I sometimes put too much pressure on myself and get too self-critical. In a live class, you can just do the work, and trust that the teacher will help you get back on track if you need it.

    It feels great to be the student, especially since I became a teacher.

  2. I second what you (Nadira) said about how nice it is to be a student after you've become a teacher. I use my summers to study and it breathes new life into my dance and instruction.

  3. i says:

    Thank you both for your comments. My day job is in teaching, and it has, indeed, massively increased the fun of being a student. I never realised how passive being a student, even an active student, is! How easy! But then there are also the pleasures of breakthroughs, of discoveries, which are frequent for the student.

    Generally when people complain about learning dance from videos, they worry about students not being critical enough. But I think you're right. We were in small groups in these workshops, and while both teachers gave gentle guidance and pointers, they were also encouraging. A video instructor can never really convincingly encourage me, because s/he can't see me!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s