Monday, May 30, 2016

Dance surprises in China (Blog 3 from teaching in China, May 2016)

Here are few of my China inspired dance related thoughts as promised!

- Tarab. In many places around the world dancers might describe a dance style or music style as Tarab, however, Tarab is a feeling, an emotion, rather than a category. Certain music might be more likely to inspire Tarab in the listener however it shouldn't be classed as 'Tarab music'. On trying to explain this in my Beijing workshop, I was attempting to describe what athletes know as 'the zone' and dancer might think of a 'flow'. When the end result is greater than the sum of all the parts involved. When you are lost in emotion brought on by the music. My surprise came when one of my students, and keep in mind China is a hyper conservative country, piped up with, " yes, I know what you mean, it's just like an orgasm". The breath intake from everyone in the room, myself included, was audible! So there you have it. In my mind Tarab will always now be thought of as a 'spiritual orgasm'!!!!

- Music over technique. To some extents this is not purely a chinese issue, however they are on the whole obsessed by rules and technique. The majority think that all they must do to improve their dancing is to learn new techniques and steps and drill harder the stuff they already have. They always ask me for 'rules' for linking the moves. When I encourage them to get rid of the idea that there are rules and to relax into the music, they visibly tense up! I knew this however before I came to China this time. What I hadn't realised was how little they actually listen to and are inspired by the music. The art form which itself inspires dance! Being able to hear the music and everything in it, emotions included and then reflect this to your audience, is in my mind crucial to being a dancer. Less about the move and more about what moves you!

- Food. I cannot eat before dancing. I need 3-4 hrs digestion time, otherwise I am in horrible pain. It's always been that way for me so imagine how surprised I am by the Chinese dancers idea of a 'light lunch' in between dance classes. Noodles, dumpling, rice, you name it, they eat it and in great quantities too. I cannot understand where they put it since most of them are tiny wee skinny things too! It doesn't seem to effect the effort they put into the dance though. Oh, and seemingly the way to look your best for a photoshoot the next day is not too drink too much water the night before as this can make you look puffy. Also, women should avoid all iced drinks, especially around their period as it is seemingly 'very dangerous'.

- Private classes. This trip I taught some private classes in addition to my workshops and was surprised how many girls will go to the expense of a one to one class without having given it any prior though as to what they want to learn. It seems that private classes in China also generally follow the fashion for technique and choreography, so the dancer is waiting for the teacher to decide what she should be taught. One girl however wanted me to trouble shoot her performance for the show that evening. Tweeking a dance  for someone is something I really love doing. Helping them be the best they can be is my reason to teach. In this instance it was a little politically difficult for me because although the choreography was exceptional, it was not her own, and the creator of said choreography was my translator. This meant that I had to really be careful not to offend the teacher in front of her student if there were things in the choreography I didn't like!! Private classes are an amazing way to really work on your dancing in depth, but do give it some thought what you want from a specific teacher before taking a class. If students come to me without knowing what they want, I usually ask them to dance for me,  then I pick out the things that I feel need work. This works well, but can be a little scary for less experienced dancers.

- Changes. I have seen a huge improvement in the level of dance all across China in the past 4 years of teaching workshops here. I have always maintained that the best cities/areas/countries for Bellydance are those who have enough teachers with direct links to Cairo. Ok, so as a dancer in Cairo for the past 10 years I am perhaps biased, however I really believe that to perform Egyptian dance well, you need to immerse yourself in the culture of the country it comes from. I am happy to see more and more Chinese dancers coming to Egypt to learn and also organizing holidays for their students to travel and experience it for themselves too. Long may it continue.

I love traveling and working in different countries. There is always something new to understand and learn. It makes me feel so alive! 

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