Monday, March 10, 2008

Quite the character.

Before I go into my thoughts on the importance of music, I want to share some of my personal history with you all. I swear it's related.

When I was still figure skating, I took classes and lessons with an Armenian woman, Noemi Nargizian, who had danced with the Kirov Ballet during the Cold War. She immigrated to the United States after the Iron Curtain fell and moved to the San Francisco Bay Area, which is where I lived the first 18 years of my life, and where I spent 12 of those 18 years as a competitive figure skater. Although Noemi herself did not skate, she worked with several figure skaters to improve their presence on the ice, character development, musical interpretation, and emotional expression.

She was one of the sweetest and most giving people I have known, as well as humble and incredibly talented. She was always joyful and loved sharing her secrets of the Russian ballet with us, unknown figure skaters who had little experience in the world.

At the time I was working with her, I didn't realize how much her instruction would help me later on as a belly dancer. I still use her lessons today, both in my own performances but also in my classes.

One of the lessons I learned from her was creating a character that was true to your emotional perspective. She said that for every performance I should create a story, something close to my heart that would help me get into "that place" before taking my starting pose on the ice. It had to be something I could relate to personally, and no one else had to know what it was. I loved this concept, and I ran with it. I created a personal story for every skating performance from then on. I credit my doing so, and Noemi's loving training, with winning several awards for Artistic Expression in the competitions I entered.

When I started belly dance, I was so consumed with learning the new dance and learning how to move on a floor instead of slick frozen water, that I forgot about Noemi's wisdom.

It wasn't until 2005, when I took a Level I three-day workshop with Suhaila Salimpour that I started thinking about characters and emotional perspective again. She was talking about her Level III workshops, and how it's all about facing your demons and reaching deep inside to find deep-seated emotions. Then, a few weeks later I took a workshop with another dancer I admire greatly, Sera, from New York. She said that in your performances you have to "give your throat to the wolves". Basically, you can't be afraid to make yourself vulnerable.

At that point I realized that I had lost my perspective.

From then on, I started to approach all of my bellydance performances from a deeply personal level, creating a story behind each, something that would move me and help convey my feelings from the stage to the audience. I started creating characters which were aspects of my true self. I think this rediscovery of my emotional expression helped to elevate my performances to a new level, and helped me connect with my audiences.

If you create a character that you can't relate to, it's not going to work. You have to come from something deep in you, something that creates an immediate emotional reaction when you think about it. You have to feel it inside you, in your heart, in your whole body. For me, it starts with the music. I have to dance to music that invokes a strong emotional response. From there I spin my tale, whatever it might be...


Shhh said...

I love this post. Really lovely to read thank you.

the ineffable b said...

what a great post. And the picture is awesome.