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.

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