Epiphany moments cannot always be found in chiffon and coin belts!

I love debate and discussion. I suppose I am thinker. So more than just turning up every week engaging in the practicalities of teaching dance I also like to ponder its different components.

This last week brought me into a wonderful discussion generated by Anne White’s article on  

What draws British women to learn Arabic belly dance?  The link is 😦http://libertymagblog.wordpress.com/2014/01/12/contemporary-art-what-draws-british-women-to-learn-arabic-belly-dance/)

 Please go read as  Anne’s involvement in the UK dance scene is much longer and greater  than mine. A key dance mover and shaker both as a dancer ,teacher and events’ organiser  in London I can always rely on her for interesting and insightful views on our own dance scene. What  I have recently confirmed though is that the  London inner city dance scene Anne is part of and the dance scene of the  rural community I live, teach and perform in are different experiences. At some point we shall endeavour to capture our late night discussions,  long phone calls with cups of tea and  wild creative  women Facebook posts in messages into some coherent thought!  

  As I move into my tenth year of teaching it is time for me to reflect on where I have come from to make some decisions in 2014 of where I am going in my next decade.  As a belly dance teacher  culturally I have always felt a bit of fraud. I have never been quite sure how a girl from Devon who ended up in Shropshire via London with a background of ballet and contemporary dance ended up teaching a Middle Eastern dance form?  Anne asked  a similar  question to this recently on social media and I was fascinated by the answers. For some it was a slow drift into a dance form from a culture they were already familiar with and for others it was an epiphany!    So this blog is considering whether I indeed ever had any epiphany moments in last ten years and if so what impact has this had on me as a performer and teacher?

 

I look back at my first belly dance and an epiphany it was not. The teacher had little or no cultural reference to what she was teaching nor understanding or knowledge of music she was dancing to. She was just sharing what she had experienced elsewhere and the few moves and dressing up opportunity she had experienced. To be honest I cringe slightly at my early days of belly dance. It was the nineties and  I had left London and become a small town girl. Whilst wafting chiffon and jingling coin belts was getting back into dancing and performing  deep down my conscience was nagging me to seek  more knowledge and  cultural references about this dance form.

 

 Flick flacking my veil and dancing with chiffon scarves  made me feel uncomfortable and to be honest fake. In London I had danced as my alter ego “judeetee” who was a parody of all dances ( think judeetee does high art Pans People)and here I was in the hills becoming her! It was however not all bad.  I was new to Shrewsbury and I was struggling to find any dance class that would challenge and this one was fun. I can remember laughter and sisterhood and friendship many of which have stayed with me over the years. The dressing up and performance opportunities for one who is such a show off as judeetee was also a bonus!

 

 Moving onto another teacher I realised she had more than just the one music tape and had travelled to both Egypt and Turkey . She had seen other dancers and also referenced dancers she had watched on video. It is hard to imagine a dance scene without internet , iTunes, YouTube and the belly chitter chatter on social networks but that was how it was back then. We were at first dancing in a belly bubble beginning to create the Shropshire belly dance scene. Happily dancing away to Arabic and Turkish pop we believed we were presenting and delivering something culturally unique to the UK. We are so joined up now as you read this on the net you will laugh at this thought; I wonder on the beginning of the noughties how many UK dancers ( including you!) were considering their unique creative outputs regarding an exploration of Tarkan’s greatest hits? No? Not for you? How about Shakira then?

 

Anyway I am rambling! Back to big epiphany moments. If one is looking for cultural context for Middle Eastern dance then it was not to be found in Shropshire. Attending the  Jewel of Yorkshire festival was like a door opening to a new world. A sudden realisation that there were like minded souls dancing across the UK may possibly be an epiphany dance moment. Looking back though excited about classes and teachers  it was where I could find music, buy CDs and videos and watch other dancers dance.

The other realisation of a great truth was watching ( on my newly bought video ) the likes of Samia Gamel and Fifi Abdou . It was the simplicity of their dance. Just being with the music and dancing with their heart and soul.  This was intensified when I saw Yasmina and Randa dance on a Farida UK tour.  There is no cultural connection from chiffon scarves in a cold hall in Shropshire to the hot powerful emotion of Randa’s dancing. It blew my mind! This dance maybe about technique , standards and posture but also it is about a dance deep from your soul, an expression from your heart.  Randa connected with me like no other dancer had done before.

 

The first time I visited Cairo I touched the pyramids, shopped   in the Khan and visited the museum.

But the very being there, sitting drinking tea was a quiet moment of epiphany. Sitting in the  hustle and bustle of Cairo life , listening and watching gave me  the cultural context of  this dance.  A tired dancer in a cheap Lycra costume also revealed another truth . Belly dance was not some high “Isadora orientalist fantasy” here. It was a sleazy and disrespected way of making a living. Also there would always be a challenge of cultural context from this world of Cairo and my land of small town on a river and church hall haflas. Epiphany indeed!

 

Music brings with its own epiphany. The connection and emotional experience as Middle Eastern music for me has been deeply personal  and not something I can put into words. The musical journey I have been on means that this epiphany has been a slow realisation of music that was so very alien to me that now touches my soul. The realisation that I was able to then dance my story was the most exciting and wonderful realisation and something that came slowly rather than in one dramatic moment.     

     

  

“Mistakes are the portals of discovery” so says James Joyce. Perhaps the inappropriate stick dance to simply wrong music and skidding on nylon veils had to be done. So without internet perhaps my  dancing road  had to include (and dancers of my generation had to dance with chiffon and coin belts) to reach our own epiphany.  So I suppose perhaps it is time to step out of the closet dodgy CD ( or indeed tape) of Arabic pop in hand, coin belt, harem pants and chiffon skirt all on and dance like nutters remembering the good old days when you didn’t know what you didn’t know!

 

Also with no internet or fb to record those big epiphany moments over time in a brain such as mine they become hazy and blurred …. Just saying!

 

 

Mother and daughter and unconditional love

I suppose I could say I have not had the best of a couple of months and hence have not written in my blog. I only write my blog when I am driving to write something on a topic but I am also conscious that like any creative activity it also takes discipline, energy a bit of oomph! With so much going  on oomph has been in short supply!

I am indeed a very fortunate woman to have grown up with caring loving parents . My father has been dead many years but he remains close in my heart with lovely happy memories. My Mum now in my eighties is my supporter and protector  in life particularly when the children were young and I was a single parent doing it alone. My Mum just does unconditional  love full stop. No more no less. She helps, she listens , she gives gifts, and her time and all and always unconditionally. She is indeed a wise, kind and wonderful woman.

As Mum gets increasingly older and frail with various ailments including Parkinson’s there has been a gentle shift in our relationship. I realise that I now do not share as much with Mum these days or only share the good bits. More time is spent listening to Mum’s challenges and tricky bits whilst I take on the role of carer/protector  all be it from a physical distance and Mum the protected.

I believed up until a couple of months ago  that I was  a strong woman who despite all that life has thrown at her remains invincible in adversity!  Oh but how this mighty woman has fallen! A couple of months ago I had a phone call saying my lovely Mum had been admitted to hospital . I am not going to go into all the ins and outs of Mums month of hospital treatment  as I have written that in a letter to the hospital. It is the mother daughter stuff I want to take note.

As I write this I weep. Dealing with a situation that I had no control over seeing my Mum confused and vulnerable in hospital really tipped me over the edge. I was running back and forth to Plymouth my home town over 200 ,miles away from here to be with Mum but then feeling guilty  as was not here caring for my boys. I felt guilty wherever I was and became exhausted with all the running around. I work in social services  as a social worker in adult services so know all so well the situation I now found myself in. Yet I still struggled to come to terms with accepting that I indeed need help, support and I  was indeed much stressed. Weirdly so work which may have been a source of support was the least sympathetic  apart from a couple of work colleagues who had the good sense to push me home. One wonders that due to us dealing so much with distressful life events we have indeed become de-sensitised it is certainly something I will remember when I see colleagues in distress.

Stress brought on by life events is a weird one to be “off sick “ with. I still in between weeping not sleeping and being generally out of sorts had to carry on being Mum, daughter and general carer. A friend noted that in our society there is neither plan nor support for working women who live away from elder parents. Yet from Mum’s friends and relatives there was a huge expectation that I would just come and sort Mum out.

I am her daughter she has cared for me so it is now my turn to do the same. I don’t dispute this and have spent the last ten years mulling over options and offering these options to my lovely Mum.  I live in a small terraced house when Mum comes I sleep in the conservatory . I have suggested she moves nearby, we move together , tomorrow next year or year after. I have always stated that I will care for my Mum. However my life and children’s life is here over two hundred miles away. She is out of hospital now and recovering with a care package. I phone daily and am that long distance daughter burdened with guilt that rings social services  to sort out care and makes letters of complaint to the hospital. It is funny. All the systems processes and expectations are that you will be there to care. I am also expected to be a good mother and indeed go to work. Whichever way I have looked in the last six weeks it has always felt the long way. Whilst sitting at hospital bed side holding my  confused Mum’s hand large boy struggles with UCAS/ university applications and small boy with showering, homework and stuff. They are bigger and have coped with the lovely support of my partner H but I always got “when are you coming home Mum?” on the phone.

After the afternoon rush of hospital visitors ( my Mum has lovely friends and relatives who love my Mum) Mum and I would sit quietly together. I have a brother with learning disabilities so you see for many years it is just her and me. We have done birthdays, Christmas , high days and low days together. The love and intimacy I share with my Mum is indeed special  even on a hospital ward.

So we have got through this episode. Mum is a little bit frailer but home determined to remain independent in her own home. I am back in my world feeling fragile, still a bit stressed but about to return to work and hold down a sense of normality. I have also realised how important H is in my life and what a lovely support he has been these past weeks. A plus has been we have become closer and he has developed closer relationships with boys including showing large boy how to use a washing machine and small boy how to polish shoes!

Christmas looms and the regular plan of us all being here is topsy turvy. Mum can’t come here and we can’t go there as I am her “working daughter” who must work Christmas Eve. I bet I am not the only one as we live in a society where the expectations of work and earning money so often over shadow the needs of family life.  So  we shall head down south Boxing Day. I dreaded telling the boys;  a week without internet might kill them! However this is where that lovely unconditional love reaps what it sows. The boy’s attitude is of course we must go see Gran at Christmas and we will cope without internet if we can do activities and of course take the Xbox and spare telly!

Christmas for me has always been about family and this year it will be the same with lots of love  but with a sea view!

The need for 101 hip drops!

Okay I am going to say it. I no longer feel passionately about belly dance teaching standards. There I have said it. Goodness knows whether I shall post it and seek the wrath of the belly community!

Standards are different from quality in dance and different to knowledge and skills and passion for dancing.  All these I still aspire to.

It was the rule breaking in belly dance that made me like it. Years of regulated ballet and structured contemporary I loved the way belly dance gave you opportunity to explore your own creativity in dance. Okay so I need to wind back ten years. I have actually been dancing for about fifteen years but I started teaching ten years ago and it is this decade I wish to reflect on.  Having been dancing for five years I had little belly dance experience but had indeed been dancing all my life. I was asked to teach as folk had seen me dance. Unlike others I did not leap at the chance. I was aware how little experience I had and knew there was more to learn beyond Shropshire. In the end I agreed to start a small class as I knew if I didn’t someone else would and felt at least my baseline was honesty and sense of knowing what I didn’t know!

 Some of you may scoff at this starting point but I must say having a sense of “knowing what you don’t know” has held me in good stead over the years and I believe holds my integrity tight. I have never and do not do “fusion” without understanding of what I am “fusing”. I have never professed to be “authentic” and I only ever teach what I believe I know or have a reasonable grasp of. This philosophy has also supported by responsible attitude to teaching folk safely and going to seek information and indeed help when needed.

 Numbers in my class have fluctuated but my classes remain steady and I have reasonably large class these days compared to some. I also have dancers with me who joined that first year. So few years in and I had classes three nights a week with beginners, improvers classes and all sorts. If you remember this period mid noughties when everyone wanted to be Shakira! By then I was whizzing about UK taking workshops with many folks and decided to undertake a safety dance course.

 Although challenging bizarrely in an emotional sense looking back this course reaffirmed what I knew as a teacher in a different field; lesson planning etc. and enabled me to order and apply my skills to give my classes support and structure. All well and good but looking back it was all so over emotional for a couple of weekends about basic dance safety. On reflection I think folk confused the quality and standards with the personal. Individuals became so obsessed and indeed distressed by a tick list in half an hour assessment to see if they could go on to undertake the full dance course. Not enough ticks and you were a bad dancer? A bad dancer because you couldn’t join the gang and become a friend? All very odd and not ever what the course organisers ever intended.  The dance assessment gave me a big reality check regarding some of my physical barriers to developing my dance and for me changed the direction I needed to go on to seek more knowledge.

 Having no teacher nearby to direct me I knew this would always be a challenge. I did for a while consider giving up. Good grief the shame of the tick list made me believe for a short while I was a fraud that I was offering students something I could not provide. So I took my self out of the dance scene and talked to wise friends.  This took me back to “knowing what you don’t know”. For me tick lists were not about joining the gang being given a shiny badge of dance club but about a “who does she think she is moment” which actually had nothing to do with teachers, standards but more about me.Once I stopped those internal thoughts and looked externally I realised that I had a circle of women who wanted to dance with me and I was more than capable of seeking the dance instruction I needed to develop my dance.

 My on-going dance journey has been a pick and mix affair of weekends, workshops and private lessons. I set personal goals and projects sometimes to develop knowledge and skill and other times to pursue an obsession.  I have developed as a dancer and as teacher. I teach differently to how I did ten years ago but still within the framework of “knowing what you don’t know”.   I am astonished when I look back how small “my what I do know” was when I first started teaching and how much more “I do know” in terms of sharing with students. The more I “do know” about the world of belly dance makes me realise that there is so much more that “I don’t know”. It is a dance filed as broad in its creativity as it is in terms of its geography.

 Right wind back to standards. My previous life is as a trainer, adult teacher, workshop leader and assessor.  I have worked with standards, competencies and assessed and marked work in another field. With the arts there is always debate.  So many factors involved in what makes something err good or indeed great. Often the person who has created the “great piece of art” has broken rules.   So here is the thing can you standardise something as organic and fluid as belly dance?  I am struggling here to express my thoughts so here is an example: Can you tell me what you believe is the definitive hip drop? I bet many of you reading this have completely different views and opinions  based on your dance experience. Indeed Randa’s view of a hip drop will be different to Rachel Brice’s both equally amazing but diverse and different.

Hmmm that doesn’t quite hit what I am trying to say. So everyone pays their money to learn the “one way hip drop” and we all hip drop together. So here you have a row of great hip drops. Still with me? But here is the thing? Where is the stunning slightly different and bit crazy but beautiful hip drop from the dancer who just pushes and breaks the rules?  The development of dance programmes that are accredited and structured will improve dance to a certain level. I for one do understand that standardisation in teaching as a need to develop quality and indeed safe teaching and  for some is a journey that they need to take. But it is not the only way and I  for one am getting a bit cross with folk telling me that unless I pay x amount of £s for this or that course I cannot have validation as a dancer. When it comes to competency driven courses it  will improve everyone to one level but also I think it reduces everyone to that level too. One hip drop. One way. The rules.

 With regard to teaching there are so many ways to teach a hip drop; some you may love, others you may consider wrong. Indeed some ways may hurt and we may consider not safe. There are many teachers that have come and gone in my area. I could indeed critique them all  and have had many a rant with fellow teachers over the years! Recently I have had a few students from a teacher I probably wouldn’t consider to be that great. To be honest I would probably suggest unsafe but definitely teaches differently  to me. I look at their faces and can tell they are astonished at my class and the dance style we have developed as a group. Some stay some go. But you know what ? This is their choice. There is no need for me to get hung up about her teaching. If grownups want to go to her class learn to dance in a frankly bizarre and painful way who I am to interfere? I am not the belly dance police to set teaching standards in this area. If they do weird hip drops so be it. Surely it is far better for me to spend the energy on developing my own skills knowledge in the dance and indeed learning 101 ways to do a hip drop to share with my students?

  My son tells me he loves the beauty of Mathematics as by exploring problems you find answers and there is little or no debate . In dance and the arts I love the debate. I want to debate and discuss 101 hip drops not  be told copy me or there is only one way. I, like other dancers and teachers need  the opportunity  to create. If the  dance world gets so  hung up on standards and competencies  it pushes out opportunities for  diversity and inspiration. What we seem to see these days is a lot of clones of other dancers all with the supposed competent hip drop but oh so dull.  I would rather be  watching and enjoying  dancers pursuing their own journey, a bit rough around the edges but unique, passionate and honest.  The best dance events are those haflas where folk do not know the best hip drop but actually love to dance have passion and want to share. You know what ? I sneakily feel envy. She dances with complete abandonment having not reached that point of “knowing what she does not know” hip dropping all the way  and breaking all the hip drop rules!  

 Ahhh lovely I am off to flick flack my skirt now …