Monday, May 26, 2008

Humility, New Beginnings, and Dance

Coinage Galore
I feel that cultivating a sense of humility is important. By humility, I am referring to its definition in being unpretending, unpretentious, not arrogant rather than to self-abasement, humiliation, and being deemed low in importance or status. The sense in which I am utilizing the word is perhaps closer to its etymological origins in the Latin humilis which literally means "on the ground." Humilis was in turn evidently derived from humus or "earth." There was a time when I felt this so strongly that I was blind to my own virtues and found that nothing I was capable of doing was of any worth (i.e. the negative aspects of humility as listed above). Needless to say, it was a period in my life where I was wading through a deep depression. Thankfully, those times have past and I can acknowledge some of my strengths and feel fulfilled in my work, however, I still believe that it is dangerous to become complacent. To be smug and overly self-assured is to invoke a type of blindness, a sort of sensual suicide, which I feel is antithetical to the soul of Art. If you don't realize that you are capable of improvement and are closed to the ever-unfolding world, you are likely not to improve and just stagnate in your current position.

Humility, in my own view, is highly associated with sensitivity. Being humble indicates an openness and a willingness to accept new information and reevaluate what you think you know. In a previous incarnation of this blog, I included the statement "sensitivity is a double-edged blade" in a prominent position because I believe that phrase encapsulates something significant about myself and my own understanding. It's not a coincidence that the parts of our bodies through which we receive the most sensation are also the most delicate: our eyes, ears, tongues, the soft tissues of our fingertips and erogenous zones. What allows us to experience a world of sound is a fragile membrane. It will vibrate with the low purr of a bow being drawn across a cello's string, but it is easily ruptured.
Man is not to be an intellectual porcupine, meeting his environment with a surface of spikes. Man meets the world outside with soft skin, with a delicate eyeball and eardrum, and finds communion with it through warm, melting, vaguely defined, and caressing touch whereby the world is not set at a distance like an enemy to be shot, but embraced to become one flesh, like a beloved wife. After all, the whole possibility of clear knowledge depends upon sensitive organs which, as it were, bring the outside world into our bodies, and give us knowledge in the form of our own bodily states.1
To be sensitive to beauty and pleasure is to be sensitive to ugliness and pain. "Is not the lute that soothes your spirit, the very wood that was hollowed with knifes?2" Humility and sensitivity thus inherently involve vulnerability, to understand and be aware that there is a risk involved in honestly encountering the world, including oneself and one's own skills.

In my estimation, one of the best ways to keep humility intact is to try something new, to accept the profound task of being a beginner again. Dance is such an endeavor for me. Although I've now been studying bellydance in various forms for about two years and apparently have at least some of the basics down, the nature of my personal journey in learning to dance is a constant revelation. My only previous experience in dance was about a month's worth of ballet classes in kindergarten or thereabouts, and though I attended but handful of social "dances" in middle school, I was far too self-conscious to do more than tap my feet along with the music. Bellydance has given me a sumptuous vocabulary of movement for expression, and in that way has increased my self-confidence, but at the same time it offers a humbling perspective on my whole Art practice. I have always found that you cannot truly comprehend the distance exceptional artists have traveled without setting foot on the path yourself, and I think this is why non-artists sometimes easily dismiss good (and often deceptively simple) work by claiming "even I could do that!"

I attended a Girls' Night Out Halfa with my current bellydance teacher back on May 2nd which took place at the Casablanca Moroccan restaurant in Warrington, PA. There were two bellydancers, one female and one male, providing the entertainment that night, Matika and Omar {photos of these dancers and the event can be found on my Flickr page}. At one point after standing up to tuck a tip in Matika's bejeweled belt, I actually danced for perhaps a minute or so in front of an entire room full of people, including my mom who I had brought along with me. For that brief flash of time, it was just the music and the dance and I was so totally enveloped that self-consciousness was not an issue. Of course, when I realized that I was not self-conscious I immediately became self-conscious and went to sit back down. I now have a better appreciation of what it must take to allow yourself to be one with the music and movement, engage the audience, and continue in spite of a welling of self-doubt. I am reminded of how far I have come as an artist and human being, and acutely aware of how far there is yet to go.

Footnotes and Bibliography

1) Watts, Alan. Nature, Man, and Woman. New York: Vintage Books, 1958. 81.
2) Gibran, Kahlil. The Prophet. Sydney, Australia: Phone Media. 29. ISBN 0-646-26642-X.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Tribal Bellydance in Art

I discovered the following lovely drawing on the blog of Portuguese illustrator Joao Lemos. It features a sequential art/comic book format line drawing of some tribal bellydancers (judging by the costuming and coordinated movements at least, but you never know) balancing swords in the lower panel and a dancer in the upper panel who, I think, is working with a veil. On close inspection, one of the dancers in the lower panel is also playing zils! Yay for beautiful representations of bellydance in the graphic arts!

You can see more of Joao's work by visiting his blog.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Diving into ATS Waters

Today began my official foray into the world of American Tribal Style (ATS) Belly Dance. My first introduction to belly dance was actually through a book/DVD set authored by Carolena Nericcio, the founder of Fat Chance Belly Dance, so I suppose maybe that predisposed me to seek it out. I'm still continuing with my Cabaret style classes with Shoaleh which I really enjoy, but today I started some private lessons with the lovely Vikki of Hipnosis to hopefully get me up to speed with their Level II group classes beginning in June. There wasn't a Level I group class which was going to fit into my current schedule, so the theory is to catch up with a higher level group class which will fit my schedule.

Today we basically went over virtually all of the faster moves in the Level I repertoire. It was quite a workout, to say the least. Essentially everything we covered involved basic movements with which I was already familiar, but he format, timing, associated arm positions, etc. were new to me. Tribal places so much emphasis on the arms being in very controlled, yet graceful, positions which usually means that they are held in arcs at ribcage level or above. If you're not used to holding your arms in that position, and I'm certainly not, it doesn't take too long for them to want to fall off at the shoulder joint and crash to the ground. It's comparable to continuously holding up a veil (they seem so light and diaphanous - don't be fooled, that's what they want you to think!). The different movements are also generally set to a particular count, generally 8 beats, which is a bit of an adjustment for me, especially concerning the rotations and turns. I've already started to draft my personal cheat sheet (I discovered one person's cheat sheet online a little while ago and it seemed like a great idea. I want to have my own version based on my understandings of the moves) with descriptions of the movements and arm positions, etc. and I hope to flesh it out a bit more as lessons go on.

Wish me luck!