Friday, 6 May 2016

Reflecting on an intense year of dance.

So I've been a bit lax with this blog, and that's because I've just come to the end of an amazing chapter of dance.

I've had a phenomenal year which has involved multiple workshops, intensive instruction from Ashley Lopez and Ava Fleming, and the opportunity to participate in Alexis Southall's Tribal Fusion Education Programme.

I've really struggled to write this post and give everything the attention it deserves without going on too long, so I've reminded myself that most of these topics will get their own post in time. Now is a quick overview!

Working in a group

It's been a long while since I have worked consistently with the same bunch of people, as I have not been part of a troupe, or attended weekly classes for several years.

There is something really special about shared experience, knowing there are others working through the same material, preparing for the same goals. Being part of a collective can be restrictive in some ways, but it also gives you space to breathe and grow with the support of your peers.

Being back in a tight, shared dance space with lovely, talented dancers has been really refreshing. So much so that I decided to apply for this year's Juniper Project. And I was accepted, so I am really excited to have a group project, with a shared performance, on my training schedule for this year.

Diversity is amazing

One thing that really struck me was how different all of the dancers in the cohort were. We all came from different backgrounds and different influences, but everyone had something brilliant to offer and to be inspired by.

There's a lot of diversity in traditional Arabic dance as it is, but when you get fusion performers bringing in influences from other styles, along with their personality and aesthetic, the possibilities are endless.

One thing I have learned from bellydance is to see and appreciate something in everyone's dance, every individual has something worth watching. Working with the TFEP group I saw this phenomenon, but massively inflated. At the final showcase I was blown away with the high calibre of all the performances, though each one was vastly different from the next.

Seeing through others' eyes

Feedback is a super important part of improving your dance, but good feedback can be hard to come by. Much of the feedback I get for my dancing isn't true feedback, it's niceties, or its accurate, but not backed up with the information that helps me understand *exactly* what it is that made that feel that way, or what I have to do to improve.

With Alexis as a mentor I have had some really useful feedback, but in the course of our studio time we also got feedback from the other participants, and that was really useful too.

Another aspect that was fun, and revelatory, was the exercises where we got to evaluate each other's dance styles. I've been told before that my style is "distinctive" or "quirky" or all kinds of things, but I've never really understood what that meant until other dancers sat down, watched me then listed all the traits they saw that made my dance "me" (and I got to do the same in return). This brings me back to the last point, understanding how two dancers, dancing the same style, even taught by the same teacher, can be quite distinctive. It also helped me understand a very important point of artistic angst, the "what am I doing that everyone else isn't doing? Why would anyone want to watch *me*". Which brings me to my next point...

Self doubt is part of the process

I've talked to a lot of dancers this year, from international master teachers to dancers preparing their first solo, and I've come to realise that every one of them has moments of wondering why they are doing this to themselves, whether they can pull it off and whether it is worth it. This isn't just normal, it's vital if you want to keep your feet on the ground. Sometimes the answer is what you need to get you to put your big girl pantaloons on and get up there. Sometimes the answer is to sit this one out because it's not right, at this moment, and that's ok too, as long as it's authentic and honest.

Vulnerability is powerful

At Majma last year, I asked Ava how she managed to bring the raw emotion in her fusion pieces (like Too Close and Roxanne), which she explained always come from real, personal experiences, to the stage. How did she present her heart on her sleeve with such vulnerability? How does she get up there and take that risk?

Her answer: You just do it.

So at first that didn't seem all that helpful, but then I decided to take it as advice. At a friendly, local hafla, I took a track that touched me, but which I hadn't choreographed or rehearsed to the point where technique starts to erase the feels. And I just did it.

And no one laughed, or criticised the technical flaws, or threw things. In fact I got a lot of very good feedback. I didn't record it, because sometimes you don't need to sit there and cringe and dissect things, some things just have to live and die in the moment.

What I took away from that performance, was a little more confidence in allowing my dance to come from the heart. And every time I do that, it gets a little easier.

Don't be afraid to be a dancer

I've always had a certain amount of self conciousness about doing "dancey" things. There's bellydance moves, and that's fine because I'm a bellydancer, but some movements, gestures, delicate turns etc. Moves which have evolved from ballet or contemporary dance. They just feel a bit silly. Well they did, until I realised that what I had to do was just commit to them and remember that I am a dancer, so I better dance like one!

I realised through rehearsal, recording rehearsal, performing and recording performing, that sometimes I hold back, and actually I dance better without the audience, because I'm not afraid of looking daft. But of course the fear of looking daft, the holding back, that's what makes you look daft.

Or to make decisions

This seems like a small thing, but it's made a tremendous difference to my dance time. Alexis made us choreograph on a very tight time limit, and I learned to make snap decisions. To just put in something that is about 80% right to get that section choreographed and move on. You can always change it or embellish it later. Recent new work has shown that this just about halves my choreography time, giving me more time to actually perfect it.

A supportive mentor is priceless

Alexis has been great this year. I can't really explain quite why, but having a teacher who is genuinely invested in your progress makes a huge difference, even when they aren't doing anything. I suppose it's a bit like a doula, it's what they are as much as what they do, and knowing they are there makes all the difference. So I have to say a massive thank you to her, because she is fantastic.

The result

So I'm pretty proud to be able to present the video of my final performance at the Vernal Equinox showcase. It represents the culmination of a great year of growth in my dance. If you would like to see the work of some of my peers on the course, they are also available on the same channel.

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