Sunday, May 25, 2008

More words of wisdom from Mr. Peart

My favorite rock drummer, Neil Peart, says this on one of his instructional DVDs:

"Be inspired by your accomplishments and not threatened by your limitations."

I like that!

Hearing that made me think about my own accomplishments and limitations as a dancer and artist. I feel like I have a few accomplishments, achievements that I'm proud of and that I worked really hard to attain. And then I thought of my limitations. My main limitation is time. There's never enough time in the day for me to accomplish all that I want with my art. Sometimes I do feel threatened by my limitations, but I have to look at them as not hindrances but a framework: How much can I do within these boundaries? How much can I push myself within the box of my own schedule and my own limits?

I think as artists it's really easy to be discouraged by those elements of our lives that appear to hold us back from really flourishing.

What do you feel limits you? What are your accomplishments as an artist and as a human? Take a moment to reflect and maybe your limitations are guidelines in disguise.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Returning from my fourth Tribal Fest

Tribal Fest. It's like the (pardon the analogy) Mecca of tribal and fusion bellydance. It's where we go to learn from and watch the "stars", and it's where new stars are born and discovered.

And for a little less than a week, you can immerse yourself in this world of fantasy and individuality, if you go in with the right attitude.

It's easy to get wrapped up in the glitz and glitter and infinite searches for "fame." Frankly, there's a whole lot of ass-kissing and schmoozing that goes on at a festival like this one. So many people wanting to talk to the more famous dancers, to have their troupe noticed by the big names, and to get that latest hip (haha... punny!) pair of Melodia pants.

I've inadvertently been sucked into the materialism and external focus that is so prevalent at large gatherings such as this one. It's easy for me to feel like the odd one out, the outsider who isn't cool enough to hang with the popular kids... it's a complex I've had since elementary school... This sense of not being able to relate and feeling like I need to keep up with the Joneses of tribal belly dance leaves me feeling inadequate, inexperienced, and disconnected... not only from the "scene" but myself. It also doesn't help that I'm introverted and have a hard time feeling comfortable around large groups of people, particularly when I don't know most of them.

This year I made a conscious decision to make the most of my time at the fest, regardless of what happened. I think it worked!

I took time away from the fest when I needed to be isolated, and I spent a a leisurely amount of time getting ready for my performance on Friday night. When I got to the festival venue after finishing my hair and make up, I spent at least an hour and a half walking around with my earphones on, listening to Rush (of course!) and just centering myself. I had a few one-on-one conversations with vendors about music and dance and integrity, which also helped to boost my confidence a little bit more. I think that this time alone, in my own little world of music, helped me deliver (what I thought was) a solid performance that night.

I spent the remainder of the festival with my friends, spending time with people who I hadn't seen in months, sometimes years, and enjoying the warmth of the northern California sun. I spent money on things that I knew I would use, not just because they were the "cool new things".

If you look past all the shiny things on the vendors' tables and find a sense of peace within yourself and your abilities as a dancer and as a human being, chances are you'll be less likely to be sucked into the vortex of activity at such a large festival as Tribal Fest. Everyone has a different festival experience, and it's up to you to choose how you approach and spend your time. This year, I feel like I chose very wisely.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Fly by night away from here.

The Paladin will be away for about a week... I'm sure that after I return from Tribal Fest, I'll have more thoughts to share with you all.

Thanks for reading. :)

Sunday, May 4, 2008

On being a performer.

A stream of consciousness post for a Sunday morning...

I think the hardest part of being a dancer for me is also being a performer. I get a little self-absorbed, and not in a "I'm so awesome" kind of way, but in that I forget that there are others watching me perform. If I'm not in the right headspace, I don't project as much emotion to the audience as I should or could. And then the audience doesn't follow me on my journey on stage.

I am an introvert. I have a hard time connecting with people in general, and when I'm putting myself on stage, expressing very personal elements of myself as a dancer and artist, I feel very vulnerable.

What really helped open my eyes was taking a workshop with Sera, formerly of Washington DC and now in New York. She said that when we're on stage we must "give our throat to the wolves" - basically we have to forget our fears and open ourselves up to the audience, no matter how cruel or aloof they might be.

I've always been a technical dancer - the skill of dancing has come rather easily to me, but connecting with the audience has always been a challenge. I think it's a challenge for most dancers who aspire to also be performers. It's much easier to go out there, do some tricks, and then walk off stage... but to really connect with the audience, to give them a piece of yourself, your soul, is so much different... and it's scary!

What I see in a lot of newer dancers is that they have not yet learned how to project, to give themselves to the audience. Being able to project means being confident in your technical abilities that they become second nature... it's like an actor knowing her lines so well that she doesn't have to think about them anymore and she can become the character that she's portraying.

Recently I've been focusing more on getting into that emotional place than on drilling technique, so that I can just dance "in the moment" and yet still give myself to the audience.

What has really helped me is eye contact. I used to be so afraid of looking people in the eyes, even when not on stage. Honestly, sometimes I fake eye contact when on stage. I'll look between people, and not really at anyone, but it looks like I'm staring someone down. I'm trying to get better at this and really look right at people in the audience. It makes them smile, and it makes me smile. Both good things when on stage!

I also try to spend some time alone before the performance, getting into an emotional place. If I don't have that time before a performance to settle into my "character", the piece isn't going to be as successful, and I have a harder time controlling my emotional projection on stage. When creating a piece, I try to have a particular mood or character that I'm portraying, and these are always a part of myself. I never portray a character that isn't inherent in my own personality.

And while I'm on stage, I have to believe and know that I am in control: of my movements, my expression, and the audience. They are my captives... otherwise they wouldn't be there. It's a delicate balance... because if you try too hard for their attention, it will slip away. The audience will know that you're trying to hard and then they won't take you seriously. But if it's obvious that you're enjoying yourself and loving what you do up on stage, they'll go along with you for the journey. It's very zen. It's trying without effort.

The most useful way to become a performer is, of course, getting performance experience. Nothing will teach you most about being on stage than actually being on stage. You can read all about emotional expression all you want, but if you don't actually perform, none of that intellectual knowledge will do you any good.

Where are you in this process? Is connecting with the audience something that comes naturally for you or not? What do you do to help you with this aspect of performance?