Monday, March 9, 2009

My SITA Chapter 4 First attempts at improv

(SITA stands for Solo Improvised dance grounded in Torso Articulations.)

On my way to a night of bellydance movies and potluck socializing, I ran into Caroleena at the health food store. Caroleena is one of the earliest bellydancers in Santa Cruz and currently teaches at the University of California. She asked me if I would like to perform at her student end-of-the-term performance, as I’d done this last year. I thought about what Shoshonna said about finding opportunities to practice improvisation, so I accepted.

I arrived in time to take her class at the large dance studio at the East Fieldhouse on UCSC campus. The space is gigantic compared to the café-sized, move-the-furniture-back living rooms I usually practice in. After a quick warm-up Caroleena turned to rehearsing a group choreography that many of the girls were performing later. She put me in the middle of the line of a dozen of her beginning students, and I just followed the girls on either side of me as I learned the choreography. Several students later asked me when I had learned the steps and were mightily impressed when I said, “just now.” I explained that the steps were in fact the basic vocabulary of bellydancing and, aside from stylistic differences, all I had to do was learn the order. I was pretty surprised myself, though. I wasn’t sure my mind was as spry as it was 30 years ago when I was their age.

The audience (friends of the student dancers) sat in a long line against the wall. I performed with the group, plus 3 short improvised solos, two with live drumming, and one to recorded music. Caroleena finished with her own solo sword dance. I can’t believe she can still do Turkish Drops. My body was never that spry, at any age.

Even tho I had familiarized myself with my music (a beautiful Cuban timba piece called Danzon Barroco), I found that I couldn’t really listen and dance at the same time. I know how odd that sounds, but I had so much to think about: that big space, the new music, making eye contact (which I didn’t do very well). What moves should I do next? Am I boring them? Have done any upper body movements? Have I held my arms up so long that I’ll aggravate my tendonitis? Am I even on the beat? Is it over yet?

Of course, Caroleena was complimentary. When a student said she loved my solo, I startled her with a surprised “You did?”, like she was crazy or something. But she thought it was graceful and relaxed and who am I to argue. It was a good beginning.

I performed it next at a rehearsal with my company sisters, Kim and Audrey (together we are Mountain Tribal). We meet weekly to practice American Tribal Style bellydancing and were preparing for a performance with Helené at La Posada, a local retirement home. This was already much better than the UCSC performance. The space helped: Audrey’s livingroom is about ¼ the size of the university dance studio. Richer textures, more specificity. Definite ballet and modern moves coming thru. Nice turns and runs; some taxeem. Could pull back even more; pause and pose more; could do more repetitions. I keep thinking it will bore them. I need to engage with the audience more. And I did a better job of listening to the music. I know that the more I can relax and respond to the music and the audience, the more creative I can be.

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