Susan's Blog

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Extreme Dancing

You would think that taking both Turkish-Greco style bellydance and Egyptian style Raks would be confusing and at cross purposes. Where the former is a bit more wild, Egyptian is straight up and down. Where Turkish-Greco is leaning back more, Raks is more upright. (You have to imagine the hieroglyphics, the tomb paintings from ancient Egypt, where all the figures are highly stylized and crisply vertical. The outfits they wear, too, are high-waisted straight skirts with gems on them.) Where Greek and Turkish style are more rounded in movements and larger steps, Egyptian is more tightly controlled, smaller movements, tiny steps, legs completely together. The costumes differ as well. Turkish-Greco is usually a bedlah (bra top and belt) over a flowing skirt; Egyptian is, as I have said, the straighter skirt with the fringe and frew-frew sewn in, and often less fringe on the top.

You would be very astute to notice all those differences, but in the end, you would be wrong to believe that they are so different that you can’t do them both simultaneously. If the teachers are skilled — and mine truly are — what you get out of it is the places where the styles meet up and even complement each other. And when you find such an accord in your dancing, it is a blissful feeling. The underlying similarites are that you have to be able to control and release parts of yourself at will, and to still feel the magic of the music.

Last night my teacher did a lot of talking while we danced, explaining her emotional state and illustrating it with hand and arm movements. She often talks about things that are important to her — the mindset of the dancer, her childhood, dancing with her Greek mother who is an incredible, legendary dancer and quite a personality — but it is never heavy. She can be serious, but she also knows how to break a mood with a smile. She jokes a lot. You can tell that she thinks a great deal, too. But she leaves you feeling as if you are moving to a different plane of consciousness somehow. It is never heavy; she simply drops these nuggets of insight and they create their ripples inside of you the more you are with her.

She showed us a movement last night that was simply the hand sweeping outward from the heart. She said how this is an example of when bellydance is not tightly controlled, the way we all learn it. In this instance, you should be getting in touch with your emotions and bringing that energy out, through your hand. Teachers often talk of “energy,” but with this teacher, I really feel what she means. I think this is because she means it. I copied what she was doing, in a repetitive motion, and just as she said, “You will start to actually feel this energy radiating outwards,” I did feel the smallest bit of resistance in the air between my heart and my hand.

Last night I danced better than I ever have. It was also the hardest I have ever worked. From holding my head up — to shoulders down, chest up, arms out, fingers curved delicately, midsection lifted, pelvis tucked, hip up, knee bent, foot perched on its ball, other knee back and bent, foot flat — to thinking about the beat and the position of my arms and how it was all going to change after a certain number of beats, I was in this zone of absolute control. And then, to have to suddenly move my hand outwards and feel the energy from my heart! I could do all that and feel a warm happiness, even as the beads of sweat rolled down my face.

Probably the combination of intense hold with light relaxation does wondrous things to your mind and body. In the end, it doesn’t matter at all that one form has you leaning more, stepping wider, or wearing a different type of cossie. What matters is the ability to exert a fierce control over your entire body, so much so that you can let go of one part and let in a feeling of peace and contentment. Now I am eager for my Sunday (Egyptian style) class, to see how much of this I can bring there.

Even more than it being about physical prowess, good dancing is like good parenting. It is about thinking with your heart but studying and understanding first with your head and body. In the most literal sense, first you are pregnant, and you are actually getting to know this being from within your body. Later you come to know him as a person in his own right, his own space. As you improve, and become accustomed to the strain, you do more through your heart and spirit. And that’s where you become really good at it.


Funny, I came here because I have an Autistic son and you are a belly dancing enthusiast! I love it! I’ve been wanting to try it (but wouldn’t feel comfortable until I have less belly)My sister and I took a Bangrha class and it was less than I’d hoped for. I think hobbies and interests and even obsessions are necessary especially for mothers affected by autism.
Anyway, it’s time to wake up my boy. We have a new behaviorist coming to the house today. This is after a year and a half long wait. I’ve learned not to get excited. I plan on getting your book but meanwhile thanks for opening up your life and KEEP DANCING!

— added by Susan on Thursday, January 31, 2008 at 10:04 am

Oooooh . . . I just love hearing about your finding the groove in your dancing. Thank you for the meditation, Susan.

— added by Gloriana Beausoleil on Thursday, January 31, 2008 at 10:13 am

This blog gave me delicious chills, Susan. Last night you danced freely and gorgeously from your heart AND balanced all that with technique. What a beautiful and thoughtful meditation on class, thank you for your post. I felt a powerful positive radiation in class last night too, it doesn’t always emanate quite so strongly but when it does I am grateful, and even more grateful that it transmitted to you and hopefully other dancers there. This dance gives us so many gifts on so many levels and keeps on giving. As a teacher it is so, so hard to strike the perfect balance of heart/emotion and emphasis on technique time after time, class after class, but I find that the more I am myself and in touch with my heart, the more everyone responds in kind, and there is joy and community and smiling sweaty faces and we could all dance forever. KISSES TO YOU!

— added by Melina on Thursday, January 31, 2008 at 3:01 pm

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