Musings


This break I’ve taken the opportunity to finally get my apartment organized. Really organized, not the quick, sort of but really organized thing I usually do. I have plenty of reasons for doing this, but namely, I’m tired of not being able to find things or even better, not finding things, purchasing them, and then discovering that the item was buried underneath other items. Also, because of not having an office at school and my late night writing tendencies, I generally work from home, so I prefer having some physical organization amidst the mental chaos of doing schoolwork. Although I am not the kind of person who does these huge cleaning projects frequently, I do find it somewhat relaxing to get rid of things, organize better, etc.

One would think with the amount of moving that I have done in the past 8 or so years that I would’ve really cleared out all the excessive, but I have not. Well, each move has involved getting rid of items, but there were still plenty of things that were just here without any purpose. I had gotten into the habit of archiving old schoolwork, thinking “What if I need to remember these things?” Occasionally, they have been very handy but now that I’m on a different career path, I’m questioning whether I need a lot of what I have. I did some major discarding as a result.

I feel like it’s much more pleasant to work in my space now that there isn’t so much clutter. The massive cleaning/organization project isn’t complete; I’m in the midst of hunting for nice but affordable drawer organizing accessories. But even with what I’ve done so far, working at home has gone better than before.

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Next week will be my last lesson with Najmat for about 4 months, save maybe spring break. My school schedule does not permit me to continue on with her classes; a required course is held basically at the same time, and there is no way to get around that. Believe me, I’ve looked and talked to people. School is ultimately my priority and my “job”, so that will have to take priority.

At first, I was sad by not continuing one with Najmat’s class, at least for the time being. I’ve gotten to know some of the ladies in that class pretty well, and I will miss the community. However, I decided to use this time to try new teachers, explore new topics through private lessons. I picked private lessons again because of the time factor; I have class Monday through Thursday during the hours where people teach and the few who don’t, well, a girl’s gotta eat sometime in the day.

Private lessons are not only ideal because of the time flexibility but also because they’re really tailored to the student. The Boston-area is rich with quality dance instructors; I plan on taking classes from Shadia and maybe some others to learn some specialized skills. I already have enough ideas of what needs improvement and plan on working through those topics, so the focus will be more on specialized skills over technique although I’m sure technique will come into play.

To defray costs and to keep up with the community feeling, I’ve asked some friends if they’re interested in making the private lessons semi-private. The topics that I’ve brought up are zills, Lebanese-style cane, tray, melaya leff, and shamadan/zeffa. I’ve also asked for their suggestions, because I may have forgotten something. However, I’m looking for even more topics to learn; I figure it would be better to have too many than too few, since I’ll be in the area for at least another 1-3 years. If you were taking private lessons in Middle Eastern dance, what topics would you chose to learn?

I’ve been tossing this question around in my mind since it was brought up maybe 2 weeks ago. By big names, I’m not talking just famous dancers but dancers who have huge cult followings. The kind of dancers people gush over incessantly in forums and will make the extra effort to learn from. The heroes people try to emulate.

When this question was brought up, I couldn’t think of anyone I feel has that kind of pull. When I began dancing, the Bellydance Superstars were just really beginning. I feel like they, particularly members of The Indigo, had that kind of draw I’m talking about. Maybe it’s my memory or that I’m not so green anymore, but even though there are plenty of great dancers and instructors around who are popular, including the original members of the Bellydance Superstars, I honestly cannot think of someone I feel has that draw, that star power.

Are there any dancers you feel are starting to have the huge cult following? Or still do?

This past weekend was filled with one things: Raks Nativity (well, that and a paper due Wednesday). Raks Nativity is Nepenthe’s interesting idea to tell the story of Jesus’ birth through Middle Eastern dance. The experience was interesting, because most of the people acting and dancing are not religious people, and I don’t think any of us ever did a Christmas play.

My role was the “village girl/kind innkeeper.” I enjoyed my bit role, even though I would’ve liked some extra practice with the people I’d share the stage with. Mainly because it is difficult to figure out how to navigate showing off a small marketplace by oneself, but also because I really liked everyone who was in the play. Perhaps this is a me thing, but I don’t feel like we often come together to work on something as community. People will throw haflas or invite others to perform in their shows, but I cannot think of a time a group of dancers who are not in the same class come together to work on a project together. There is something nice about that. I imagine that it is logistically difficult, but it something I’d like to see continue.

The audience was nice collection of non-dancers and dancers; I must say that it was touching to see how many people came out to support the show, because it was quite far from Boston (about an hour or so drive). The play I believe went well; I hope I did well. I didn’t see most of it that night, but at rehearsal, it looked good. The concept seems odd, but when you see it, it really was a solidly good show. I like that the show had a mix of comedy, acting, and dancing; even for someone who loves watching dance, a show can seem long if there is no variety. The show felt like it went by quickly to me; it was inherently a short show, but also I think the pacing was good that left you satisfied but wanting more.

It was a lot of fun, and even though I’m sure Nepenthe and co. are tired, it would be awesome if we could do this again during the summer or spring.

One of my goals this year was to make myself more active in the Middle Eastern dance community. It meant not only perform but also pitch in. I can’t think of a single dancer I personally know who couldn’t use the free help. The Middle Eastern dance community, at least the ones I’ve been a part of, isn’t at a point where we can have hired help. Even if someone can afford to pay people for the actual event, there are a lot of tasks a long the way; a former teacher of mine told me that you never truly break even for events, because they involve so much planning, advertising, organizing, etc. They’re labors of love, and although it is not required to help out, I think it’s nice because I benefit on some level from their work.

Helping out has taught me a bit about how dance events are run and given me the chance to meet new people; being in a position where I am not establishing a core group of people to hang out with, extra opportunities to meet and connect with people are more than welcome. Things do get stressful at times with volunteering, but so far, things have overall worked out well. We can’t all dance at everything, but you know what? I don’t know if that’s such a bad thing. At Raks Spooki, a Gothic belly dance event, this past Sunday, I felt an immense joy from seeing the scared performers enter the stage and leave feeling accomplished. The feeling isn’t the same as performing, but it is just as good and worthwhile. I highly recommend volunteering to help out, even in a small way, at a dance event in your community.

At my Bharatanatyam class yesterday, our teacher mentioned that some dancers from another class would join as at the beginning of our dance. The reason was that, although there are 11 of us, we simply cannot fill one gigantic stage.

What intrigued me on this is that I’ve heard the same thing about Middle Eastern dance, that a performance should include many dancers and that few dancers can do solos that are captivating enough to “fill” the stage. If you’re sitting in the back part of a huge auditorium, I imagine it would be difficult to see someone executing most moves. I never considered that the same idea could conceivably be applied to classical Indian dance. The facial expressions, eye movements, even the visual of the footwork could easily be lost in a huge performance venue.

I wonder how much has been adapted to make the dance more dynamic on stage, what really went into going from a temple dance to a stage performance. I remember watching a documentary about this, in regards to Odissi, but I think the documentary was more about secular vs. religious, rather than a close up setting vs. a large stage.

Does anyone have any books, documentaries, papers, etc. on this one?

Tempest, who is a member of the New England Dance community, wrote this article that was republished on Belly Dance New England about community. Although the audience is the Middle Eastern dance community, the values she promotes are generally good community values.

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