Saturday, 19 November 2011

Dancing with Soul

Chris & Debbie
Last night we saw a wonderful performance. Our breath was taken away by the sheer beauty of a tribal duet by our teacher, Chris, and her dance partner, Debbie. They were dancing to 'The Merciful One' by Zohar and their interpretation of the music was just perfect. They moved with so much grace, elegance and synergy and the connection between them was tangible. We were transfixed. On the (rather long!) journey home we (Jan and I - Sarah couldn't make it) were both agreed; what we had experienced was dancing with true soul.

Cayte, Sarah & Jan - just so you know!


We had been across to the Todmorden hafla ---- around a forty five mile drive each way for us, but worth it. We had a great night, with lots of varied performances from dancers of all styles and experience levels. We had had a whale of a time dancing with North Wind - a veritable tribal army of 17 dancers from Chris' various Yorkshire classes. But out of everything we saw, this was the highlight for us. And no, it's not just because we're biased .... it was one of those performances that you don't just watch - you really feel it. Writing about it now takes me back to the first time I ever saw Chris and Debbie duet together, to 'Eireann' (by Afro Celt Sound system) at Helmshore Hafla a good few years ago. That was another breath-taking moment.


Paulette & Dulcinea - more dancers with soul
 That 'dancing with soul', to me, is 'my tribal'; it's what makes tribal Tribal (deliberate capitalisation there!).  Feeling inspired this morning I indulged in a bit of the old art journaling, pondering over what exactly it is that takes some dancing to that 'hold your breath' level. so much of it is fleeting, ethereal, indescribable. Yes, we can talk about that 'tribal connection', dancing 'in the moment' and so on, and they are all really powerful and important.  But sometimes something just takes a tribal performance - often improv but occasionally a tribal choreo - to the next level. With apologies beforehand for my failure to express it adequately in mere words, this is what does it for me :

    Jo - feeling that joy
Tribal with soul is all about warmth. It's sunshine, not ice. It's connection, not detachment - with the audience as well as with your fellow dancers, Now that doesn't mean it has to be done with huge grins all the time (although as you know I'm the world's biggest fan of smiley tribal!) but there's something there in the eyes, the faces, the demeanour of the dancers that draws you in to the whole thing. They're not just showcasing themselves, performing at you. They're performing with you, and you are a part of what they're doing, even though you may never leave your seat.

Chris improvising to Arcomnia
Following on from that, and with my apologies if it sounds a bit high- falluting (is that a word or did I just make it up?), tribal with soul comes to serve, not to impress. It is what it is. It comes from within the dancers, from the inside out rather than vice versa. Yes, the costumes and the make up and the jewellery and all the other fripperies are magnificent, but at the end of the day they only capture our eyes. It is the dance and the dancers that capture our hearts. And that's what makes the difference.

So what else, for me, turns good dancing into captivating dancing with soul? Put simply (well, as simply as possible, given that I'm in a philosophical mood tonight), it comes from the heart, not from the brain. It is brought to life by feelings, rather than dampened by intellect. Whether consciously or not, it never forgets that we are spirits that have bodies, rather than bodies that just happen to have spirits. And as such it lives, breathes and reaches out to us with true inner beauty.


Debbie and Clare, drawing me in with colour
 Now this next point might appear to contradict something I said earlier, but bear with me and you'll see what I mean! The tribal that speaks to me lives in colour, not in shades of black and white. It doesn't matter what that colour is - deep, rich jewel tones, earthy shades of rust and green, bright colours that leap out and tweak your mouth into a happy smile; it's the colour that does it for me. And that is about more than just the superficial thing . I'm a pretty visual person, and colour really does have a huge impact on my mood and response - whether I'm watching it or wearing it. It also speaks to me about you; to me the colours you choose say something about you, about what you're saying through your dance, about what you want to say through your dance at any given time. That doesn't mean you have to look like a rainbow of course - I can appreciate a flash of colour amidst a completely black outfit too! Sorry if that all sounded a bit 'woo woo' and off-the-wall, but for me it matters, not outside, but inside - it's all about how it draws me in and how it  makes me feel.

Les Soeurs Tribales - poetry (and fluidity) in motion!
And finally (I could warble on with far more, but I'm not going to!), dancing with soul is never mechanical. It has a real grace and fluidity that responds to the music and the place and the time. Sometimes you see really slick performances, but they're reduced to a string of movements without true feeling. Soul dancing flows, whether powerfully or softly. It soothes and inspires, makes you smile and makes you cry. And you know when you've experienced it. Gypsy Caravan, Les Soeurs Tribales, Origin, Samaya Tribal amongst others all have it for me. And Chris and Debbie.

Chris and Debbie (yep, that's me there too!)
So there you have it. Now, I have seen examples of amazing dancing with soul in other types of bellydance, but it's just that tribal is the one that speaks most to me. That's just my take on it; you may respond to totally different things. But judging by the homeward journey last night and snippets of conversation at the hafla I know I'm not alone! Huge thank yous to Jan Ibn Sina who organised a fantastic hafla and to all the fabulous dancers who made for such a great night. But the hugest thanks of all to Chris and Debbie for sharing their beautiful performance with us and for all their inspiration. If Sakura ever dance a quarter as well as you ladies, we'll be very happy bunnies!

Until next time, happy dancing!

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