Tying it all together: soft addictions

by Tuesday, June 30, 2009
Jonathan Fields from Awake at the Wheel posts again about social media replacing actual living, which ties nicely into both my recent post on that very topic AND the soft addictions post from less than a day ago:

"People keep talking about what a huge time sink social media can become…

But, I’ve noticed something else happening with increasing frequency. It seems like more and more bloggers and social media regulars are actually living their lives through social media, rather than living extraordinary lives outside of social media and blogging, then tapping it as a means to share their experiences with a like-minded community online."

Read more at http://www.jonathanfields.com/blog/into-the-social-media-abyss/

Soft Addictions

by Monday, June 29, 2009
Thanks to Andrea Wagnon for linking me up to this over on Facebook!

Do mindless activity and bad habits have a hold on you? Get the tow truck, you're in a rut.

By Jeanie Lerche Davis
WebMD Feature
Published Feb. 18, 2004

Downtime is America's favorite pastime. We zone out via television, the Internet, shopping, parties, movies, hanging out, and working out. Sure, some are bad habits; some are "therapy." Most are escapes from a gerbil-wheel life.

That's when it hits you: Is this all there is?

For Judith Wright, author of Soft Addictions: There Must Be More Than This, this philosophical crisis occurred when life was a flurry of activity -- and as her first marriage was ending.

"Something was missing," writes Wright. The crux of the problem: Her life had become exceedingly superficial, because of what she calls 'soft addictions.'

"Soft addictions are those seemingly harmless habits like watching too much television, over-shopping, surfing the Internet, gossiping -- the things we overdo but we don't realize it," Wright tells WebMD. "It seems like normal behavior, but that's simply because everyone is doing it, too."

Soft addictions can be a problem, Wright says, because life is to be lived and not escaped from.

It's true, anything in excess can be problematic, says Nadine Kaslow, PhD, professor of psychology and behavioral sciences at Emory University in Atlanta. "You need to ask yourself, 'How excessive is it? How much does it interfere with my life?'"

Not that all mindless indulgences are bad habits, says Kaslow. There's a place in our lives for pointless conversations, all those Seinfeld reruns, and mocha- almond fudge. "We do these things to cope with stress in our lives," she tells WebMD.

"It's legitimate after you have a stressful day, you need to chill out some," says Kaslow. "But if that's all you do, and you do it every night, all weekend, that's another matter and it's not good for your mental health.

Wright agrees. "It's when they become habitual and we're just going through the motions that they become a problem," she says. "These bad habits keep us from living a greater life of meaning and satisfaction that we really deserve."

Superficial Just Doesn't Satisfy
Upwards of 90% of Americans admit they have soft addictions, one survey showed. "I actually think it's 100%," says Wright. "I have not met anyone who doesn't have them. No matter how well off or how educated they are, everyone has them."

In relationships -- whether you're married or otherwise -- you think you're relating to each other, but often you're just sharing soft addictions, Wright tells WebMD. "You think you had a great evening at home, but you weren't really connecting. That's why relationships don't go anywhere, why they burn out."

Friendships and social occasions can be stimulating and nurturing. But they can also be very superficial. "They can be mindless, gossipy, not-making-real-contact, nonnourishing events -- if there's no depth to conversations, if you're not genuine, if you're just saying expected lines, if you're talking about other people. You're not enriching your life."

She uses herself as an example: When she let go of one bad habit -- endlessly reading magazines and newspapers -- she substituted great literature, which was more rewarding. After that change, she found herself weeding out other soft addictions. She discovered that she related differently to people in her life.

"I began speaking more deeply from my heart about my feelings," Wright tells WebMD. "I took more walks in the park, listened to great music, meditated, started bringing in flowers. The other things [her soft addictions] weren't attractive to me any more."

"Soft addictions are webs, the fabric of your lifestyle," she explains. "When you're overworking, you're addicted to gourmet coffee, then you're all jittery, biting nails, stressful, calming down in front of the tube, then you're surfing the Internet, staying up too late, and you're tired the next day. But people don't always realize the connection."

Designing New Fabric
Breaking a bad habit or soft addiction isn't easy, Wright admits. Here are some suggestions:

* Start by identifying one bad habit. Maybe you head out shopping every Saturday morning. Next time, stop at a used bookstore on your way home, and find something worth reading. This way, "you've broken the routine, and added something more nourishing to your life," Wright says.
* Find other things that you enjoy. Add more things to your new routine. Soon, you'll be cutting back on shopping sprees -- but you won't feel deprived, she says. It's what she calls, "The Math of More." "You learn to add more nourishing things to your life, so you can subtract your soft addictions. Eventually, you come to enjoy these new things so much, they crowd out your soft addictions."
* Take time to write down a bigger vision for your life. This way your new choices have a context, so they make sense in terms of your priorities.
* Don't worry if breaking bad habits seem difficult. "It's not like it's a quick fix. It's not going to happen overnight," says Wright. "It's really about learning to live the journey of life. It's cumulative. You're discovering who you really are."

Losing your balance...

by Saturday, June 27, 2009
If I'm losing balance in a pose, I stretch higher and God reaches down to steady me. It works every time, and not just in yoga.
~T. Guillemets

Social media supplants living?

by Wednesday, June 24, 2009
Renee's Tweet this week about how much time people spend online reading and talking about dance versus actually dancing is keenly close to some thoughts I have been having about social media in general. I really love the way social media connects us, and opens our world to new ideas and people the world over. It really is a miracle. On the other hand, sometimes I feel a little gross in the pit of my stomach when I see a sea of people pulling out their phones or cameras at every event, holding it in front of them trying to capture the moment to look at later--a true barrier between them and what they are experiencing. What about seeing it NOW instead of seeing it in digital form later? What drives us to want to record our experiences rather than BE in them?

Case in point: When Chris presented me with my new beautiful anniversary ring in Vegas just a little over a week ago, I couldn't stop looking at it. And at him. And at the Bellagio fountains. Taking it all in. But then my very next instinct was "I can't wait to share this!" and my phone came out... Chris rolled his eyes. "You're going to Facebook this aren't you?" Guilty as charged, I put the phone away until a more opportune time--when we weren't in the middle of this amazing atmosphere, sharing in it together without a piece of tech between us. But it makes me wonder: when and how and why did this instinct embed itself so readily into my psyche? And how much are we seeing this come so naturally to all of us these days...?

Naturally it is fun to share our experiences with our friends, and social networking makes it faster and easier than ever! I liken it to the tree in the forest--there is a part of us that believes that if no one is there to witness what is going on, it didn't fully happen. In my opinion, even part of the human instinct to partner is to choose someone to be a witness to our lives--a person you can turn to anytime and say "Remember that time we...?" But there I was, with my best friend in the world, sharing in a beautiful moment right there of our own making! Why did I feel such a strong pull to widen the circle of witnesses right then and there?

There is an old proverb that when we share our blessings they are doubled, when we share our struggles they are halved. I think that social media has created a way of instantaneously expanding and diminishing our personal experiences and emotional states. Something about being able to post a pic of that ring and capture that image for "all time" made it feel bigger, more important, more joyful...because I had people around me who cared and would appreciate it, and my blessings would thus be doubled. And when something bad or frustrating happens, the same instincts drive us to post it somewhere to share and be reminded that we are cherished and supported, and we feel our difficulties shrink a little bit with every sympathetic comment we receive. And this immediate gratification is addictive!

But not all social networking is about what WE are doing. In fact, a vast majority isn't about our lives at all, but instead looking around the great fishbowl created by living in the public eye of der interwebs, and discussing, debating, and appraising what *others* are doing. And while I think there is tremendous value in these discussions and explorations, how much is too much? Where do we draw the line? When has it ceased to become an exercise in growth and greater understanding, and more about trying to impose our feelings or agenda on the world around us?

Jonathan Fields writes a bit about it in his blog, Awake at the Wheel:

"There’s a classic John Lennon line that goes…

Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans

I sometimes wonder if that applies equally to the brave new world of social media, twitter, facebook and beyond. Comes a point where talking about what’s going on in the world, even with great people, supplants participating in what’s going on in the world.

And, no doubt, while I love the connection that certain technologies like twitter, Facebook and social media afford me, I’m also increasingly aware of it’s ability to become not only a time-sink…but a life sink."

Dont’ get me wrong, I acknowledge the value of great conversation.

But, I don’t want to spend all my time writing, tweeting and updating about what other people are doing, discovering, achieving and even failing at. Some of my time, sure. Learning from others and sharing what they’ve uncovered has it’s place.

But, as Theodore Roosevelt shared:

Far better is it to dare mighty things, to win glorius triumphs, even though checkered by failure… than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much, because they live in a gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat.

In the end, I sometimes wonder whether social media tends too much towards Roosevelt’s “gray twilight” and not enough toward his “glorious triumphs…checkered by failure.”

So, maybe, from time to time, it’s healthy to step away from talking, tweeting, IMing, updating and writing a bit more.

Long enough, at least, to become less of a value added conduit…and more of a source of creation.

Something to think about that next time we sidle up to our computers for an evening of running commentary and witty banter…about how someone else is living his life or running her business.

Curious, what do you think?"

Teaching dancers ethics and responsibility...

by Monday, June 22, 2009
This topic has come out of a discussion that is being bandied about on one of our local discussion groups here in Washington. One of the many micro-topics within it had to do with the idea that dance need not be specifically a performance art. That it is in fact many things to many people, and not all of these people are interested in performing. I agree with that, and elaborated...


I remember from when I first started teaching, it was really really important to me to make sure my students understood that this dance could be just for them if they wanted, and that no one was pushed or expected to perform it. I know for me, while I have always been a performer (lifetime background in theater, music, gymnastics, and Western dance forms), there were non-performance facets to this dance that were so important to me! Particularly being a tribal group improvisational dancer, this dance is so fun as a modern folk dance, which can be a social group dance at any gathering where the other dancers know the movements and cues. I have always loved dancing by the fire among fellow dancers, just jamming, not putting on a show for anyone! When I host open dance parties, I am trying to foster that free spirit of joy and sharing among other dancers, which has nothing to do with performance in the least.

I would add this food for thought, and would love to hear other teachers' take on it:

While I am always telling my students that they need not have a goal to perform this dance, as I myself grew as a teacher I learned that I must teach them AS IF THEY WERE. Why? Because you don't know where a student is going to take what you teach them and what they will want to do with it. By teaching them the skills of performance, they can take that *anywhere*--they can choose to perform, or they can choose use their dance skills as a ritual or meditation, or they can use it just for exercise, or they can do it in their living room for their pets.

The fact is, as a teacher, I have no true control over where they choose to go with their dance--I can advise and encourage, but beyond that, they will do what they will. So if I teach them nothing of performance skills and strong technique, about ethics and their responsibility to the community at large; and then later some of them start to perform at haflas and then later want to go pro, with my having taught them none of the appropriate skills or passed on the vital knowledge, I have done them and this community a disservice. Once the box is opened, you can't put the djinn back in! You can't say "Wait wait! I didn't teach you how to *perform*. I was just teaching you how to *dance*!" That will never work.

The classroom is the place for the highest of standards--it is why we should encourage articulate and thoughtful teachers with a wide swath of knowledge on not only "just dancing", but also deeper technique and physiology of movement, choice of appropriate venues, assembling flattering and appropriate costuming, musical choice and interpretation, staging and presentation, etc. To me, in a classroom , there is no such thing as "just dance".(<---note I am saying in the classroom, not at the party, around the fire, at the party, etc) Dance as a skill is a much larger entity which includes all of the above and more. What a student chooses to do with it may or may not rely on each of these elements in the end--if they dance in their living room, they can do it naked to Quiet Riot and nobody need worry a whit about what that will do to the perception of bellydance/bellydancers in the eye of the GP. ;) But as soon as you take it to the stage and name it, and other eyes are on it, your responsibility to how it is presented is much greater, and encompasses these elements and more. And if your teacher never passed on all this valuable information, and more than that never encouraged it and required it of you in ongoing practice in anticipation that you *might* one day want to perform, then what happens...? Discussions like these happen, that's what!

So I strongly feel that the dance need not and should not ONLY be for performing/entertaining. It is so many things to so many people, and all are equally valuable and beautiful! But as a teacher, just like my Algebra teacher kept droning "You need to learn this because some day you will want to use it..." (dammit she was right!!), I will continue to teach strong performance skills and ethics to my students "just in case"...:)

If you are a teacher, what is your philosophy behind teaching performance ethics and skills? If you are a student, what have you run into in your classes with regard to learning about the responsibilities of taking your dance to the stage?

Fusion as dessert

by Monday, June 15, 2009

I was musing to my husband recently about musical choices, and how our troupe went from a good mix of folkloric and funky, to straight up funky, and is now trying to bring back in some of that folkloric. I compared funky music to dessert--you would have this really great yummy sweet unexpected thing to cap off the "meat" of the performance. He agreed and said that with the use of primarily funky music in recent years, our sets had maybe become a little one-dimensional. "It's like all you're giving them (the audience) any more is dessert!" And we all know what happens when we eat too much dessert. We get sick of it!

I know when Chris agrees, I am onto something. Heh He has a keen eye, and is not critical without constructive feedback.

This is definitely what I have been feeling in watching bellydance performances these days, as well. From haflas to festivals, it seems everyone wants to jump right to dessert, and is skipping out on the equally delicious, but far more hearty, main course. All night we are fed sweets after sweets after sweets, and it gets artistically nauseating before too long. And one starts to crave a nice juicy steak, hold the whip cream please!!

And there is something else to the dessert analogy: "additives and preservatives". So many of these sweet desserts are made up of artificial sweeteners and coloring. So little organic, natural expression is coming through. Everyone wants to clown it up so much, hoping to bury the chemical taste of contrived art under a heavy scoop of confetti and laughter. Why are we all so eager to jump to the easy sell, instead of getting to the root of the dance and just sharing it from our hearts? I think a lot of artists are truly afraid of being "boring"--and jaded audiences sure can be dismissive if they see anything that looks even remotely like something they have seen before. Blame it on television, blips and boops, the daily one-upmanship of the media.

I know I am victim of this mentality at times. Just the other day I was talking with some fellow dancers about how we often hesitate to adopt "yet another FatChance move" into our vocabulary, because we don't want to look too much like them or be compared to them constantly. Of course we want to speak with our own voice, and not appear to be banking on the work of another artist. Yet I have always felt that choosing NOT to do something because someone else is doing it can be just as limiting as choosing to DO something because someone else is doing it. In either case, we are allowing someone else's choices affect our own. We are locking ourselves off from artistic possibilities that are open to us, out of what? Fear? Jealousy? What is really at the base of these choices? Why can't we be humble in the face of others' great art, and if it is offered to us and we love it, why not embrace it? Conversely, if we are given something and it doesn't feel quite right, we should just as enthusiastically change that which needs changing to suit our true expression. And ultimately these questions should be asked! Is this new idea really "me" (or "us")? Am I doing this for attention/fame, or because it resonates with some integral part of my being? Why am I itching for change so much, when what I am doing and creating now is still beautiful and relevant and entertaining? Were the changes I have made in the past god choices, or do they need reevaluation?

Developing your dance...

by Sunday, June 14, 2009
I was tracking linkbacks and blog followers this morning and through a series of clicks I ran across a post by dancer Heather Sara from Newfoundland. She was writing about solo'ing, but more generally about how to bring her dance to a new level of polish and professionalism. I really appreciated her thoughts on it from the perspective of one doing solos or choreography, and have included a cut of a portion of this detailed blog post herein. The full post is at the link.

By Heather Sara:
"I read a snippet from an interview with Zoe Jakes recently and all of the things she said really stuck with me:

'Develop yourself as a soloist. Find your own creative voice and practice, practice, practice. Also, Find ways to get comfortable onstage, do haflas and renaissance faires. Make your own costumes, or at least have a heavy creative hand in the process. And try your hardest to not lose sight of why you are dancing, getting too wrapped up in a goal can sometimes make you forget to enjoy the process.'

I guess there are three things here that I liked. One, I have been realizing lately that to develop myself as a dancer in any context (group or solo) I need to be a better soloist. A group of dancers all dancing together without emphasis on their personalities has a time and a place and we do that sometimes in more serious pieces. But given that belly dance already looks different on every individual body, most of the time we wear totally different costumes that emphasize our personalities, and we barely even bother to body match, I think it would be weird on OhMaya if we tried to be the same in every way. We look our best when we're out there, totally nailing the choreography but also blatantly being ourselves.

Two, I'm trying to be more conscious of what I wear and how. I am realizing that not only does it seriously impact how people perceive me, it has a huge influence on how I perceive my own dancing. Not just wearing black and silver and my sad face to dance a piece with a tsiftitelli-vibe, but it's also a big part of getting into character. Am I a vaudeville vixen tonight? Or a mysterious snake charmer? Am I going with coins, chains, kuchi and tarnished metals? Or fringe, feathers, velvet and lace? When I'm feeling strong and powerful I go for the former, and when I'm feeling girly and flirty, the latter. It's not everything, and I should be able to dance technically the same way no matter what, but it's part of a mindset.

Finally, I love the idea of not getting lost in search of the elusive "success". Maybe I'll be one of the big five or ten, or however many tribal fusion dancers everybody's heard of someday. Or maybe I won't. But a teacher who I harass for advice regularly told me that a path would open up in front of me as long as I wanted (to dance) and that all I'd need to do was be open for opportunities, and that I needed to be present on that journey. I need to enjoy this part of my dance career. I'm young, healthy, learning, happy. This is great!

The technique related items I am working on in terms of solo-ing are (in no particular order and many inspired by teachers):

* learning to stay still from time to time and let everyone breathe
* hand management
* occasionally repeating myself (to make the audience feel smart)
* incorporating combos I'm comfortable with into improvised numbers
* not getting my picture taken mid-shoulder roll, chest drop or pelvic tilt
* enhancing my costumes so that they suit my music more specifically (I must be the world's only belly dancer who finds the costume thing utterly overwhelming, which is totally baffling considering my general love of clothes and accessories; I am working on it)
* mastering the entrance (first impressions count!)
* portraying what I'm actually feeling instead of filtering it through what I think I should be feeling, or what I feel like showing the audience (although sometimes that's ok) or what I'm comfortable showing the audience
* using my "power moves" to my advantage and making the most out of the things I do well"

Thanks, Heather, for sharing your list on your blog! So, dear readers, do you have a list of your own? What would you put on it?

What are you moving toward?

by Wednesday, June 10, 2009
"The truth is that our finest moments are most likely to occur when we are feeling deeply uncomfortable, unhappy, or unfulfilled. For it is only in such moments, propelled by our discomfort, that we are likely to step out of our ruts and start searching for different ways or truer answers."
~M. Scott Peck, author, The Road Less Traveled

I often get e-mails from friends and colleagues who seek advice on various dance-life situations. Some have issues with their teachers or classroom environment that isn't feeling right--from lacking support to lacking information, from difficult fellow students and classroom relationships to downright abrasive teachers. Some have troupe issues where the dynamics seem to be running contrary to what they had hoped. Some are teachers in their own right and have issues with trouble students or disrespectful troupe members. Ultimately, they all have one thing in common: they all feel stuck in the middle of something they want to get out of or move past, and they are seeking a nudge to find a better path.

Is there some part of your dance life you feel stuck on or trapped in? Is there a situation or environment you feel powerless to move beyond? Or do you simply feel in a creative rut and find yourself asking, "How am I ever going to be *that good*/do *that skill*?"

What do you think you could or should be doing to move on to a happier place?

Whenever I get to feeling stuck, in any part of life, I ask myself, "If I were my own best friend, and I was hearing me tell me this issue, what would I advise her to do?" By stepping outside myself and passing on a little loving guidance, it is amazing how clear the solution can sometimes become. Then it is just a matter of going out and doing it!

Remember, “If you do what you've always done, you'll get what you've always gotten.”

Art Is A Verb, Not A Noun

by Monday, June 08, 2009

"Most people don't realize how much courage it takes for an artist to show their work to people. Courage, as defined by Mark Twain, is not the lack of fear, but rather being able to move forward in spite of it. In my previous article, If You Are Addicted, I introduce the notion that there is a difference between making art and making a painting (sculpture, photography, or whatever your medium is)...

As I define it, art is the activity that occurs in the space that exists between my eyeballs and that object you have created. It is the interaction between the collective experiences in my brain, as I process the way you have chosen to express the collective experiences in your brain. It is only when this exchange takes place, that your work becomes art. It is when you share your creation with the outside world that you truly become an artist. "

Reflections on Breitenbush 2009

by Friday, June 05, 2009
This planet spins faster every year, doesn't it? My Reflections on Breitenbush 2003 doesn't seem so long ago, yet it is really worlds away, in time and in space.

My dance experience has grown. My dance family has grown. My dance world has grown. And every year at Breitenbush is a time to look back and see where I have come from and see where I am going to. But if I am being honest (and what else would I bother with?), with each year at Breitenbush I feel less and less of a need to be there. What do I mean? Read on...

Michelle, Sharon, and Rochelle
Breitenbush 2001
When I first started attending Breitenbush, around the turn of the century (that makes me giggle to say), tribal bellydance was sparse. Most dancers I knew didn't know much about it, and there certainly wasn't any to be had in my neck of the woods. I remember taking workshops with Paulette each month that I could, learning more about this dance of which I knew so little and yet felt such a strong pull to be a part of. And I got to know Paulette more, and basked in the atmosphere she created around her--at the time, the word "community" didn't come to my lips as quickly as it does today, so I hadn't really identified it as that yet. I loved the feeling of connection found in the dance (and was sometimes overwhelmed by it, too), and I remember wishing so much that it didn't have to come and go in a single day each month when Paulette was in town.

Dance Intensive Participants
Breitenbush 2001
When I went to Breitenbush, it was a kind of tribal bellydance nirvana. I was constantly surrounded by not only this magical forest, river, and mountains, but all that amazing energy and creativity of tribal bellydancers flowed through it all. I met dancers from other cities, saw different styles, talked about dance, moved through the dance, thought about dance...I was seeped in it. Add hot springs and chocolate and you have the makings of a very heady concoction. Each year was a family reunion, where I would be reunited with friends old and new who shared this love of tribal bellydance--I could completely immerse myself in a community that "got me" and what I wanted to explore in my dance. I would carry home an emotional and technical goodie-bag filled with all this new inspiration and uplifting energy that I simply could not find anyplace else.

As I began to expand my own classes and workshops, having been trained by Paulette personally, it meant a lot to me to be able to take home "source material" from my own mentor to carry into classroom and share with my students. I wanted to share with them even a small piece of the unique experiences I had soaked up in my days away, and try to find a way to keep that momentum pushing forward for myself and for them. Every year was a new chance to fill the creative and energetic wellspring, and then bring that back to dip into at will to slake my artistic thirst, for my students and my troupe.

And something wonderful happened. I won't say unexpected, because truly, this is exactly what I was trying to do. Somehow, I took all those bits and pieces of Breitenbush--the community, the positive energy, the creative forces, the connection--and I started to seed my own dance family with it. I tended my own p-patch of tribal bellydance, and it flowered more than I could have imagined. Pretty soon, I had my own community right here under my nose! Weekly class had become a "family gathering", and events I put together drew our collective even tighter together. Our shared joys and sorrows over months and years bonded us, and our shared love of the dance was the foundation of it all.

I remember back to my first phone call to Paulette where I shyly asked if she might teach me how to teach this dance, I told her it was because I wanted to build a community in Seattle like she had in Portland. I suspect that very phrase probably endeared me to Paulette--hearing that my motivation was rooted in the community of the dance, and not necessarily making money, or chasing fame. Knowing Paulette as I do, I like to think that this motivation mirrors a lot of what makes the dance important to her, and at that moment she saw the chance to nurture that in me...I was so grateful she said yes!

One of my student dance performance/parties
And here I am. I have arrived at my goal...inasmuch as one can arrive at a constantly shifting destination. :) I have built the community I dreamed of those years ago, and continue to water and til and nurture this garden of dance. And around me has also grown up more tribal dancers and their classes and troupes, and the delicious overlap and interplay within our greater Seattle bellydance community has been such a joy and an honor to be a part of. And in the national and international bellydance community, tribal has exploded such that "tribal" is a household word--there are entire websites, businesses, festivals and more built completely around this branch of the bellydance family tree--it even has sprung its own sub-branches!

Whenever I want to talk dance, I can log on to any number of dozens of online websites and communicate with like-minded artists the world over. Whenever I want to see dance, there are thousands of videos on YouTube, performance and practice videos for sale on Amazon.com, and the art is being performed on stages and in clubs and restaurants in every major city in every part of the world at any given time. If I want to meet other dancers, there are workshops and festivals and meetups happening nearly every weekend most of the year. And of course, I have my students and my troupe-mates--amazing women who come to classes every week and sweat and laugh with me, or are cheering enthusiastically in the audience when I perform. I literally can get overwhelmed sometimes with all the ways in which I can get my daily dose of dance.

Partying in Santa Rosa
2008 Tribal Fest
inFusion Tribal and their sisters of Gypsy Fire
who we met at Breitenbush in 2004
So that grasping need for "someplace I can dig into my dance" that pulled at my gut all those years ago is gone. I don't feel the same desperate fervor to go somewhere (anywhere!) to seek information, inspiration, community and connection. Because I have it, right here in my back yard. And more than that, with each passing year, more and more of my students have joined me in my trek to Breitenbush. And even students of students, and friends of students...the Seattle(ish!) contingent grows every year. Sometimes it almost feels like walking into a class or workshop back home with the sea of familiar faces--albeit one far more scenic and relaxing!

In the past few years, I have found a lack of enthusiasm for this event which once got me so excited I would be babbling about it months in advance. I have spent a lot of time meditating on why I have found my fervor for this annual pilgrimage waning; and I can see a glimpse of the root of my ennui.

At first I thought it was the result of the event getting shorter each year. In the early years I attended, there would sometimes even be a pre- AND post- extension, where we would arrive on Thursday and not have to leave until Monday. This gave us plenty of time to really sink into the energies and experiences the weekend had to offer. With us driving 6 hours from Seattle to attend, every moment counts, whether you fill it with dance or soaking or hikes or naps. And when you only have one full day without being in a car for 6 hours, as has been the case the past couple years at least, it can be hard to feel like you ever even arrived before you are back in the real world again. With limited time, you have to make hard choices on how to spend it. If you choose to hike or soak, you miss out on the meaty workshops which were the focus of the retreat in the first place. But if you only attend the workshops, then really the event could be held in a conference room at the Hilton and it wouldn't matter--half the point of going all that way is to be in that place, so the pull to skip workshops and do other things around the area is strong.

But no...that isn't quite it. When I would go to Breitenbush, it was a chance to step out of my usual life--my patterns, my thought processes, my expectations, even my relationship dynamics. I didn't have to be a teacher or a mentor or a director. And I could just be a pure lump of clay, molded by whatever Paulette brought. And that was what I needed and wanted at that time in my dance: someone to mold me. But as I grow more into my own unique dance-self, and develop my own approach and philosophy around the dance, I don't have the same need to be molded so firmly by stronger hands. And as more and more of my dance life has become my life, and as more of the relationships and dynamics of my daily dance life follow me to Breitenbush, the result is, sadly, that I don't get to "switch off" as much as I used to when I first went.

My inFusion Dance Family
With each passing year, a combination of a stronger sense of my dance self having asserted itself, plus the abundance of dance community and connection to be found back home on a daily basis, plus those roles and responsibilities of director and teacher following more closely on my heels into this "other realm", I have felt more and more detached from what once drew me to this magical place. I find myself spending more time in my room, more time on my own, more time journaling quietly and avoiding the workshops and discussions--something which lays a heavy layer of guilt on my heart for coming all that way, and then appearing disrespectful of, or disinterested in, Paulette and the other teachers for not showing up, which is simply not the case. I find myself more distracted and pulled in other directions by the forces around me, rather than the pure focus I had in the earlier years (is this a common stage of development for full-time dancers, I wonder?). With the shifts in my personal style and development of my own teaching methods, what I often learn is not quite as compatible with my direction as it once was. It doesn't directly translate as effortlessly as it did in years past, and I find myself further distracted by my critical thinking processes as I dance--turning over how to alter or approach it differently to make it work back home--rather than just being able to sink into the new ideas and modes of movement with a pure mind and body.

This change in attitude and mindset are entirely in my hands, and a result of my personal perspective and how my dance world has evolved over the 10 years I have been dancing. Breitenbush is beautiful as always. The workshops and themes presented throughout the weekend are just as important and inspiring. My Dance Momma just as dear to my heart and linked to my soul as ever she was. I will still and for ever more sing the praises of this retreat to all who will listen, and continue to encourage my students to make that trip and soak up all the joys and inspirations it surely has to offer them. But this retreat does not fulfill the same need for me as it once did. That space that was empty, which Breitenbush used to fill, is overflowing with regularity for me right here at home. All the preparation and long drive feel more like running a gauntlet, without the same prize waiting for me at the far end. Today, the most compelling motivation to make this trip is an amazing circle of women that I am lucky to know, but this is no longer the only, or even the most significant, link between us as it once was.

Sharon and Paulette, 2001
I will not say something so flip as "I am not going back." Because I know that to say "never" is a very short-sighted and silly way to compartmentalize things in your life, which I am not interested in doing--I want to stay open to possibility in every way I can, in heart and mind. And I know I would miss the chance to see my dance Momma in this most special if all meeting places we have shared so many years. But right now, I can't be sure that what I bring to this event through my participation and energies, and what I carry away, is of a great enough measure to warrant taking a spot away from someone else who would like to go. In years past I have been so certain of my intention, I would put down deposits for the following year the day the current retreat ended. But for right now, I will be grateful for the many blessings I have been privileged to receive through the friendships and knowledge that this retreat has offered up to me each year. I embrace the understanding of myself enough to recognize the change within me, and honor it however I can. As for the future, I will wait and see...

Amy Sigil video from Gilded Serpent

by Thursday, June 04, 2009
I was linked up to this via Facebook--a video clip that was taken of Amy Sigil chatting up some more traditional bellydancers and folk dancers at a show in Toronto. The video and my thoughts after the jump:

My thoughts:
I love Amy's fearlessness and raw energy. It's inspiring, and I adore that girl. And I gotta say, I am glad to hear her talking frankly about not being bellydance, because as much as I love her and admire Unmata's style of entertainment, it can be frustrating to see non-bellydance performers dominating the bellydance stages and workshops. A lot of bellydancers work really hard at their craft, specifically the delicate and sometimes frustrating task of trying to make one's style unique and different while maintaining a strong balance with and connection to bellydance. And honestly, it's hard to see so much OMG!-Bellydance Glory being devoted to performers who are not actually *performing bellydance* or doing the difficult work of striking that balance.

And believe me, I am well aware of the seeming irony that this is a similar argument that more traditional bellydancers had to say about ATS when it came on the scene, but I would argue that tribal (as I define it and primarily perform it) is still bellydance, even if it treats music, staging, and costuming dramatically differently from what had come before. Not so with so many modern fusions which no longer maintain any significant thread of bellydance in their work. It is these latter fusions that leave me scratching my head and feeling disheartened with regard to my own struggles to keep the art of bellydance alive and thriving--recognizably an expression of bellydance, and not whatever new thing came down the pike.

I just keep plugging away at what I believe in, and the "boundaries" I understand to exist which define the art in time and space, and try to keep it fresh without loosing that connective tissue that is so important, I think, to the true evolution of bellydance in the new millennium. I don't mean to sound like some kind of downtrodden martyr--on the contrary, I feel it is an honor and a privilege to get to perform this dance as I do! But sometimes, some days, it does get a little exhausting and frustrating...like a two steps forward, one step back kind of struggle to keep bellydance...ya know...bellydance!

(BTW, some more interview with Amy and some more video clips as well at http://www.gildedserpent.com/art44/amyinterview.htm Check 'em out!)

Harlan Ellison tells it straight up!!!

by Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Several folks on my Twitter feed linked to this, and I adore adore adore it. It is SO true for all aspects of art and work. We deserve to be be paid, people! And if we don't all stand up and say "I deserve money for my hard work," we won't get it!

Know Your Venue:

by Tuesday, June 02, 2009
Know Your Venue
A fantastic article by Seattle's own Laura Rose on considerations one must take into account when planning a performance.

Dance vs. Movement?

by Monday, June 01, 2009

What would you consider the difference between dance and movement...even synchronized movement?

One might say expressing with music, but one can certainly dance without any music, right?

What do you think?


On this blog I share my personal posts about cooking and knitting, travel and other musings; while I will blog about dance-specific topics over on the Deep Roots Dance blog:

I hope you will enjoy both my sites. Thanks for visiting!
Powered by Blogger.