For just a few brief moments, I felt like I was really dancing.
Weeks three and four of my belly dancing class proved to be challenging as well as rewarding. We learned how to make horizontal and vertical figure eights with our hips (I’d demonstrate, but — perhaps at a later date when I’m more confident), and we practiced various hip movements while moving forward and backward to music. We also learned how to make “snake arms” (just like it sounds), and to isolate various parts/muscles including our rib cage, to make our abdomens appear to undulate.
All these movements were completely foreign to me, and I suspect to most of the other students as well. Some of them came more easily than others, and as our teacher Kathy warned us, we often found one side or one direction much easier to maneuver than the other. That was to be expected, Kathy said.
Fortunately, she’s introducing and demonstrating each movement slowly, and building on what we’ve learned each week to go just a little further the next time. She also provides a lot of stretches for when we feel our muscles protesting against these new demands.
Happily, I did find in each class those rare moments when I felt like, “Aha! I’m doing it!” Granted, there were plenty of times when I did not feel that way, but those times when I felt successful in learning something new were well worth the effort. Success came in the moments when I let myself completely inhabit my body and stopped thinking so hard. I had to focus on what the teacher was showing us and just let myself DO.
It was only through allowing myself to be fully present in that moment and feeling my way through the movements that my body was able to do I wanted it to do.
This kind of dancing, as I observed in my last blog, appears to be all about control. A lot of dancing is like that. Ballet certainly is, and high level ballroom dancing appears to be as well. While we watch dancers who are experts at what they do, it looks like total freedom. We think, “Wow, what must it feel like to fly across the floor like that?!” But I’m pretty sure it doesn’t feel like pure flight to them.
The only times in my life I felt like I was moving “freely” while dancing are few and far between. I remember whirling around our wooden living room floor to recordings of Chopin Waltzes when I was a little girl. I loved the movement to the frenetic music. Who knows what I must have looked like. I also have memories as a teen or young adult, dancing to pop music during those moments when I could let go of self-consciousness and lose myself in the music. That was a great feeling. And once, learning the authentic polka in a folk dance class in college, I danced the male part (there weren’t enough women in the class) with a slightly built and very able female student as my partner – we spun around the room beautifully, almost to the point of dizziness. That felt free, and really fun!
Learning to be really good at a skilled dance like this is a very different art, or so it seems. Those who have practiced for years and have the talent certainly make it look easy; I know it is not. In order to gain that visual impression of fluidity, a great deal of control is required. It’s not a Bacchanalian free-for-all, this kind of dancing. A lot of what our teacher describes to us is that the control of what muscle groups you’re moving, and how, and when, directs the viewer’s eye to a certain part of the body. You keep the upper body and the head still when you want attention drawn to the hips. If you’re letting your head bob and swivel around, the audience’s eye will be drawn there. A lot of the movements are about creating a sort of optical illusion, which makes it a real art form.
When you watch someone who’s really good at belly dancing, you are really not sure how they’re making all those motions happen. They seem to defy the laws of physics at times (or at least biology). It’s like the dancer has a magical skill that others couldn’t dream of possessing. And yet, it can be taught.
If you’re in the Twin Cities and interested in seeing some professional Middle Eastern dancing, the Jawaahir Dance Company is having a performance next month, November 9-12.
I imagine it takes years to really master all of the control that I’ve only been introduced to for a month. Because the movements so far have been good for my sometimes aching hips, and I feel better after the classes than I even expected, I plan to continue at least through the end of the Level 1 class, if not beyond.
One aspect of class we’ve just started which I really enjoy is the use of finger cymbals. Because I’m a drummer, the rhythms and coordination of two hands is fun and relatively easy for me (a little harder when you throw in the hips at the same time, but still fun). I like the sound they make, and look forward to learning more complicated combinations in the future.
What I really enjoyed, however, were those few little moments when I looked in the mirror and saw that I was (for the most part, anyway!) managing the movements that we were trying to learn, and it felt good! I liked what I saw, and I enjoyed the feeling of accomplishing something new.