Initially I’d been a little apprehensive, aware that part of the workshop involved performing in front of my peers (actually people I hold in high regard) and teaching them a dance technique. Having participated in a few of Maria’s gatherings in the past, I recalled the safe, non-judgemental space she creates and knew that this would be a valuable experience for me personally and as a dancer/teacher. I let go of my fear of intimidation and embraced the anticipation.
We were an intimate group of eight and with very different styles of dance and ideas (something to celebrate) and as I’d hoped, Maria’s calm, vibrant ways had us quite relaxed. Informative discussion and exchange of ideas flowed. Movement awareness increased as we studied skeletons and physically related them to our own bodies. Maria’s knowledge of anatomy and movement is enlightening. Learning about such things as Alexander Technique immediately freed areas in my body. She has the ability to take you within your dance and within your self where you can experience the internal source of each movement rather than the external outcome. Maria admits that this can be very challenging and is sometimes confronting, but to those who are open to accepting it and willing to work to integrate it, it is amazing. It changes all aspects of your dance experience.
Although this virtually means I’ll have to unlearn so much of what I’m already familiar and comfortable with, I can clearly see the truth in it when I watch Maria dance. Someone commented that her dance holds all the elements – Her feet are connected to the Earth like tree roots and fire is in her belly. Her dance flows like water and she radiates through the air. My desire has altered from “I want to look like that”, to “I want to feel like that”. If only I could wake up tomorrow and be so within my core and my breath, radiating outwards in my dance. For me this will take time, work and commitment to make it my own, although in ways it has been manifesting in me for some time.
My turn to dance came late on the first afternoon by which time we’d all become quite comfortable amongst each other and I wasn’t feeling at all concerned about dancing in front of the women sharing this journey with me. The music commenced and suddenly I experienced a severe attack of nervousness. No matter how calm my head was with the whole idea, my body certainly wasn’t and I began to shake and feel completely uncoordinated. I didn’t enjoy my performance at all. The final beat couldn’t come fast enough. Immediately after each of us danced we were asked how we felt. I felt like vomiting! (This was purely my experience. We all felt differently after performing.) Feeling this way had completely thrown me as I usually don’t have nervousness about me at all while I dance. As I began to verbalise my experience I realised that I don’t consider myself a performer. I’m completely uncomfortable with being the centre of attention. When I dance publicly I am very much of the mind that I’m dancing with people. Even though essentially they are spectators, I feel that they are sharing in the celebration of the dance. Perhaps this is why I feel connected to the Tribal, Gypsy aspects of belly dance rather than the Cabaret style. (Which I also admire.) I cherish the gathering of women in a sacred space, the experience of self discovery and growth, the sharing of a life journey which occurs when women come together to share this dance. As a teacher, to witness a woman blossom from inwardness to self acceptance, then self appreciation and beyond. It is such a catalyst. But that is a whole other story…
As we began to teach each other movements it became apparent that collectively, as a group of teachers, we had pretty well all been taught and were teaching ‘externally’. This still appeared beautiful but didn’t encompass the essence of Middle Eastern Dance. It wasn’t being expressed from within and after an education in the difference it was apparent. Maria gently coaxed us away from what we all felt comfortable with as our own personal dance and had us experimenting with different ideas and open minds. An opportunity to explore our own dance style with the aim of improving the quality of our way of being. Maria along with others is concerned that if Middle Eastern Dance continues to be taught the way it so often is these days, as a Western ‘external’ activity, it will lose the very essence of what draws us to it in the first place. It’s very much about being and not doing. Just thought I’d also mention that for days after the workshop I experienced a great sense of clarity and centredness. Lovely!
Lisa Craigen, Barwon Heads
Summer School. 2005 or 6