So, dancing. I mentioned in my last post that I’ve actually made it to a dance class this week. I think the time between having shingles (July ’05) and now is the longest time I have gone without dance classes since the age of about 8. Dance and me go back a long, *long* way.
Some of my earliest memories are of begging for dance lessons. (Mind you, I used to beg for a pony, too.) I had a tape of the RAD ballet grade 3 (or 4?) syllabus music from the time, and I used to make up barre exercises based on the teacher’s descriptions on tape. I’m sure there are people who would pay good money to see my imaginative thoughts on what a développé might be.
I did get dance lessons (though not the pony), and learned tap and ballet with several teachers over many years. I have a knack for tap (innate fine motor control and an ability to perform silly co-ordination tricks will do that for you), but ballet was the one that bit deep. Which is pretty sad for me, because I’ve never been tiny, and have ended up at 6 ft tall. For those that think ballerinas are tall folk, Darcey Bussell, Principal Ballerina with the English Royal Ballet is considered exceptionally tall – at 5 ft 7. Most female dancers would fit in your pocket (and probably weigh less than your jacket, too, bless ’em).
Ballet took me right the way through my undergraduate career – and part of my post graduate one – until I somehow injured my hip and couldn’t even walk properly for most of a year. That injury’s never healed fully, and despite a few flirtations with ballet since, I can’t get into it unless I can train *properly*, and that’s just risking too much pain with the hip.
Enter raqs sharqi – which is a posh word for bellydance. I won’t even start to go into the politics of raqs sharqi/bellydance and so on (not in this post, anyway), but learning raqs with a local teacher taught me to relate to my body and movement in a very different way. All Western dance forms teach an ‘up’ and ‘forwards’ posture; you are always on your toes, or your weight is forwards as if it might be. It’s not only ballet; it covers our whole Western aesthetic, from jazz to ballet to ballroom. It gives a feeling of weightlessness, and constant movement, as if the dancer is in an infinitely prolonged fall. By contrast, Middle Eastern dance has a feeling of the weight being pushed down into the earth through the feet, through the whole sole of the foot, which to me feels more like an emphasis on the heel than anything else. A dancer who is not firmly connected to the ground will appear to ‘bobble’ around like a pea on a drum, and will probably have difficulty mastering the isolations that enable the hips to move without affecting the rib cage, or vice versa. There is far less emphasis on the body’s movement through space; there is far more emphasis on the body’s movement within its own personal space. You could perform a dance that takes up a space not much larger than the dancer themself, and it would not be dull. It is rare to extend an arm or leg straight. The dance is often improvised – as is the music – and the expressive power can be amazing.
I studied raqs sharqi and the music of the Middle East for about two years, until I became ill. By that time, my teacher was effectively unable to teach me more: she always had beginners coming in, and no ‘intermediate’ class. Now, by luck rather than judgement, I have moved to a village with a bellydance class within walking distance of my house. And a teacher – a good one – that does ‘intermediate’ lessons. And is concentrating on technique this term.
I feel incredibly lucky.