Monday, April 6, 2009

My SITA Chapter 7: Solo Improvised Dance at Bellydance Showcase

I finally did my SITA performance at Cypress Raks, a bellydance showcase for local dancers. I'd done my work. I’d studied, watched, listened, practiced. I performed for my friends, at a local senior center, and at the open floor opportunities at festivals and showcases. Each performance improved my ability to improvise a balanced and entertaining solo. And even though there were a few moments leading up to this performance when I hoped I'd accidentally drop a cast-iron skillet on my foot, mostly I was excited about it. I knew what I had to do. I had to make sure I was listening and responding to the music, take time to feel my space, remember that I have some technique that I can rely on, and interact with the audience.

I spent the day primping, reviewing the DVD Secrets of the Stage Volume 3, and watching NCAAW basketball (where you can see many fantastic athletic improvisations). Once again I found Secrets of the Stage very inspiring and helpful. Amira’s performance is just simple and graceful and beautiful. Nanna performs a wonderful style that I've ever seen before; it may be something of her own. Its flat-footed and bouncy and I have become completely charmed by its folky style. And Shoshanna, with that curvy, hourglass figure just feeling thru her space ecstatically. I felt ready.

I headed down to the Cypress Lounge, located in downtown Santa Cruz. The place was formerly and more famously known as the Javah House, which was, at least during my time at graduate school, the place to drink coffee, meet TAs, or study. The current owners have maintained the locale’s very friendly, open atmosphere. Its somewhat cavernous architecture helps this as well. For this event they pushed the dinner tables back into several long rows opening up a good size space. There was also space along the front of the counter facing several luxurious lounging couches arranged for good viewing. There was no shortage of space in any direction so it was also a good stage for dancing with veil or Isis wings. Next to a small passage that leads to the restrooms, they set up a wooden screen where the dancers could change and have a place to wait before or after their performance.

I was third in a very diverse lineup. Tatseena and Zurah Malika, cabaret-style soloists, opened. I was followed by the amazing Raks Araby, a modern, urban style with Crystal, Amber, and Jessica. Then came Rebecca and Julia who performed with veils, Tribal Moon (American Tribal Style), and finally our hostess, Aruba, who finished the evening. As I sat on a barstool watching the other soloists, I scoped out the space. My eye caught the corner of one of the couches and I thought, Well that's just a prop waiting to be leaned on. It called for something luxurious and sultry. I saw too, that the wooden screen by the performer’s area had potential for something playful.

For my music I decided to use Bela Fleck’s Flight of the Cosmic Hippo, a light and very playful jazz piece with banjo and harmonica. I had been bellydancing for about a year when I first heard this music and knew instantly that I wanted to dance to it; I just had to figure out how. At that time I didn't have enough technique or confidence to attempt it, but my time had come. And even after so many years, the music is still so much fun. It appeals to the ham in me and expresses humor, a characteristic that is very important to me and my heritage.

I'm not sure I could describe what I did. I was dancing so I wasn't really trying to remember anything, plus I enjoyed a little 420 and a glass of wine before I went on. One of my strengths is my musicality. I like to respond to the music, mimicking it in my body in some way. It feels right to me to parallel the sounds that the musicians are making. This audience seemed to appreciate my ability to hit a percussive moment with a hip pop or to undulate to the melody.

The moment I put my hand on the couch I heard people making complimentary oohs and ahhs. So I knew I could play with that as much as I wanted and I did. I stretched out along the curved arm, reclined, threw in a little hand floreo in the air. As the music wound down I headed for the wooden screen, executed some flirtatious looks, and exited with a vaudeville-like disappearance behind the screen.

Afterwards, I sat behind the wooden screen with my performance left out on the floor and the audience applauding and the next group getting ready to go on, and I felt overwhelmed with joy and pleasure and satisfaction. I'd really, really let myself go; I went for it and I did it and tears came to my eyes.

Later I told Aruba (and everyone else I spoke to) that it was one of the best performance experiences of my life and that I was totally hooked. I can't wait to try it again and I promise that I will out there at every opportunity. I feel like I am only at the beginning, that I have so much to develop, so much more that I can learn to do. And it's a really a wonderful thing to be in my late 50s looking forward to developing myself as a dancer instead of back at what I once did. It was all quite liberating.

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