Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Make it your own

To add on to the good post by Tempest around learning (see http://darklydramatic.blogspot.com/2010/09/may-you-forever-thirstfor-knowledge.html ), here are some of my considerations I want to add.

Learning the basics – The Blaise Pascal story

Blaise Pascal was a monk in 17th century France who was a mathematician and physicist… very brilliant guy… While at the monastery, the monks loved watching him re-discover math theorems and prove them and all that. While he went on to make great discoveries, that story makes me mad. Thing is, for a portion of the time, he rediscovered old knowledge. I’m puzzled and flabbergasted that they didn’t bother teaching him all of that instead of marveling at his intelligence as he’s rediscovering stuff. Imagine how much more he would have discovered? He didn’t have the tools for it until he discovered them… and it’s not like he was out in the middle of nowhere (well, kinda) with no one to teach him… there were people there who could have taught him what was known.

What does this have to do with dance? Well, a parallel can be drawn: if you need to discover or rediscover how things are done, you will accomplish XX… but what if you had all the tools in your possession… what lengths could you achieve? And *that* is why we learn or at least should want to learn by going to classes and workshops and all that: it’s so that you can learn technique and artistry and any other tool that you need for your art. There’s no point in re-creating the wheel if it already exists. There’s no point in you trying to figure out how to do a shimmy if someone can show you how to do it. To some extent you will have to figure out how it feels on your body but you catch my drift. The mechanics behind it can be taught. Same for artistry and all that.

Make the moves your own

While you’ll learn great moves and combos during classes and workshops, you can totally take those home and tweak them. They don’t necessarily have to be done ‘as is’ unless we’re talking about some folkloric moves done in a folkloric setting. Examples of tweaking:

  • Sometimes a combo’s timing will seem off to you… it obviously works for the instructor who taught you the combo but it may not work for you. There’s nothing that says that you can’t modify the timing to something that fits better.
  • A portion of the combo leaves you blah or doesn’t look right on your body: you can remove that portion or replace it with something that works better. Sometimes, though, just a simple tweak like changing the arms may do the trick. (We have an infamous combo that was tweaked that way.)

ATS tweaks

You would think that ATS is sacred and that no tweaks should be made… well, not necessarily. Let me put one caveat, though: if you want to play with other groups that do the same format, you don’t want to make tweaks… or at least remember what the original move is so that you can synch back with those groups. And this should be a group decision as to what you want to do. Some groups will want to strictly follow one format (FCBD, Gypsy Caravan, BlackSheep BellyDance) while others will be more flexible. It’s all good. Black Rose Caravan falls into the flexible category (our little known tag line is “We make this sh!t up”). Black Rose Caravan loves to incorporate any move or combo that we feel fits our format and aesthetics. But, in order to do that, we’ve had to tweak some combos and moves so that cues can’t be confused or to add a cue, keeping in mind that the move/combo will be done by a group in synch (hopefully, lol). We do that in a collaborating manner but we still do it. And no move is sacred… we’ve even tweaked good old Egyptian Basics because one of our members at the time had shoulder and neck issues and it also gave us an opportunity to have a cue to stop the half turns back and forth while still doing Egyptian Basics. We love the fact that we can incorporate anything that we like.

But <> does it a certain way!

Don’t be fooled by that. It’s not because so and so does a move or combo a certain way that you have to do it. It happens a lot with big names in tribal fusion (of course, most noteworthy being Rachel Brice). While, yes, it’s a nice way to do the move or combo, it may not look good on you… maybe not at all. It’s important to recognize that and either edit or tweak said move/combo to flatter your figure… or ditch it entirely. For example, while I think that pops and locks can be cool, given my fleshy body, it looks all wrong on me as there are ripple effects that don’t make the moves crisp as they should be.


So, you learned a choreography in a workshop. Bravo! But what to do with it? Generally speaking, you don’t want to perform that choreography on stage (even if the instructor said that it was fine). And the whole rationale for that is a blog post in itself so I’ll shelve that for later. But now you have spent moolah learning a choreography and what can you do with it? Surely there are some elements that you like about it. It may be an arm movement or a set of moves. It’s totally possible (and even a great idea) to excerpt those items that you find interesting and incorporate them into your own vocabulary and/or practice. If it’s an arm movement, you can layer that over some moves. If it’s a set of moves, you can turn it into a combo.

Bottom line

So the point of the whole thing here is that knowledge is important and is your foundation for (in this case dance) growth and you should seek it out as much as you can. But once you have it, it doesn’t have to become stale… quite the contrary! Borrowing back to the Blaise Pascal story, you can discover new things and further Dance. Most importantly, it will be YOUR way. Make it ALL your own. THAT is what will differentiate you from the crowd.


mariasprat said...

Good insights, Celeste. I've been told I should dance "my" style, but since I haven't danced much I don't really think I have a style, so it's tempting to try to imitate dancers I admire.
It's pretty scary to step out there and just dance as me, even though everyone is so supportive. What if "my" style isn't so great?
Hopefully, someday I'll give it a try. : )

Shuvani said...

Great article Celeste. I'd agree with most everything except the not performing a choreo you learn at a workshop -- and even that I agree with to a degree. If you learned a choreo at Third Coast for instance, I don't suppose you'd want to perform it at Tribal Quest or either of the Rakasaah events. You might not even want to peform it at the next big workshop show you attend. However, when you're performing at the Fishers Ren Faire or Penrod, I doubt your audience either (1) has seen the choreo before or (2) cares if it was choreographed by someone other than you. As long as you give choreographic credit in your intro, you should feel free to use the choreo if you've been given permission to do so. You paid for it didn't you? :-) Oasis currently has two choreos that were choreographed by other than someone in our troupe: our finale number (choreographed by Dahlena) and the number we call "circle skirt" (choreographed by Karen Custer Thurston). We've tweaked both a bit and added a little "oasis flavor", but they are still recognizable if you've seen the original. Not only does the troupe love doing something a bit different from what I would choreograph, but as I didn't have to teach it, the choreos can be a handy plug in when we need a quick addition to one of our festival shows. So maybe use of the choreo depends on who you will perform it for and where it will be performed.

Celeste said...

While I agree that the choreographies that you have learned in the past are easy fillers for situations with the broad public, I still think that one may see a difference between a choreography that was created by the performer(s) vs. taught to the performer(s). Also, in the case that you are describing, you did end up modify/tweak it for your own style. ;)

And I meant to put this in the original blog but, essentially, in a group setting, it will be extremely rare that the choreography will be written by the group (though it certainly has happened within Black Rose Caravan before we went improvisational all the time)... so in that case, the choreography will be taught to the group... so to group would essentially be doing something that was created by someone else but it's a slightly different situation than what I was explaining in the blog since the choreography creator will generally be very aware of what the group would be better at executing and all that.