Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Personal style

Well, I was going to answer Maria’s comment on my previous post but realized that it was going to be a long reply so it may as well be its own post. I’ve definitely felt that fear of ‘What if “my” style is lame/boring/uninteresting/yaddyaddya’. And I’ve definitely been on a quest for my own personal style for quite some time with a lot of question marks and wondering how to do it and generally a lot of overthinking.

Negative voice
Most of us have a negative voice inside of us… it’s the one that makes you think that your own thing may be <> (for example, lame, boring, uninteresting). Thou shalt not listen to that voice! It’s the thing that holds you back all the time. It’s why you haven’t done XX thing even though you’ve been itching to for like forever. You need to shut that voice down. I went with some creative and crazy ways of dealing with it: I wrote a poem to it and I did also a Q&A blog post about it (both are on tribe somewhere in my blog posts). Again, that’s my silly and crazy way of handling it. But it eventually worked. Whatever works for you, use it. You may want to write a letter about it and then burn it. Whatever. If all else fails, use the Stuart Smalley daily affirmations: I’m good enough! I’m smart enough! And doggone it! People like me! And believe it too!

Starting point
So, at first, you will follow in someone’s footsteps or imitate the way that they do moves. It’s normal. It’s akin to when we all started learning how to write and we would mimic the letters… nearly all letters from those first graders workbooks look the same. It’s because they’re copying those shapes that they were told make the letters. As comprehension of how to write those letters increases (and with regular practice), you start seeing some handwriting differences. It’s the same principle with dancing.

And then…
At last year’s Belly Boo Bash workshop, Leila Gamal was instructing us while dancing in diagonal lines across the floor to find our groove, find the way that a certain move fits on your body. After that workshop, I realized that that’s an important step: finding how a move really is on your body. To accommodate for your body proportions, strengths and weaknesses, moves will end up being slightly different on each bodies while the outlook will remain the same. It’s a subtle thing. But it’s an important one. And note that it doesn’t mean that technique goes out the window… it just means that you’re keeping your good isolations and your technique but with your body quirks in mind. ;)

Also, you will branch out from what your mommy (or daddy) in dance has taught you and may take some workshops and/or start being influenced by other dancers. And you’ll incorporate those items into your own dance and practice, therefore modifying (by default) the original style that you were taught. My whole blog post from yesterday around tweaking moves was getting at that too. ;)

The copycat pitfall
While learning from your teachers and from your mentors or whoever you admire is exactly what you should be doing, you should be wary of the copycat pitfall. It happens if you take something exactly as is and don’t modify anything. It also happens when you copy someone’s aesthetics down to the minute details… and, you know, not even to the minute details… If it’s too close to the original, it’s dance plagiarism (okay, I know that dance plagiarism doesn’t exactly exist… but you get the point). We’ve seen countless Rachel Brice clones and while it’s not a bad idea to learn things from Rachel Brice, you don’t want to be renown as a clone, do you? When you leave the stage, do you want folks to remember you as Rachel Brice copycat or as that dancer who had her own style? And, of course, you can insert any name instead of Rachel Brice… it’s just that it happens a lot with her.

While on the topic of copycat, even if a teacher taught you a choreography in class or in a workshop, you don’t really want to perform it on stage. Why? Because, again, you’re copying what the teacher has done… of course, it’s so much easier if the choreography has been made for you… you don’t have to come up with something and all that… you just have to execute the choreography. And therein lies a big problem. A choreography made by someone else is someone else’s point of view on that piece of music using belly dance as the tool for expression. And while you can learn the moves by heart, they will have been put in a logical order that is logical to the creator of the piece… not necessarily logical for you (hence why we sometimes struggle remembering the choreography). Moreover, as I already stated, it’s someone else’s point of view and not yours and, believe me, I’ve seen enough dancers doing someone else’s choreography to see how there is always something off. You can’t really replicate what the creator had in mind. Ever heard some bad cover songs? Usually, they’re bad because it’s just the song as is and not much extra. (And if you want to see a great example of a bad rendition of a song, look for this year’s America’s Got Talent where the father and son are singing All By Myself… yes… a duet singing All By Myself) A good cover song will be one where the artist who covers the song has made it his or her own. And that is usually done by tweaking the song to fit the cover artist’s aesthetics. One great case in point is Marilyn Manson’s version of Sweet Dreams. That song took on a whole different twist.

The “Quest” aka overthinking
At some point, you may end up on a quest for your own personal style. While it sounds noble and something that you should do, it’s a pitfall. You can read a great number of my blog posts from tribe (and I’ve carried them over on blogger too under a different address) of me being on that quest… which was really overthinking. Don’t let yourself be bogged down by this… it will come.

A lot like love…
Turns out that finding your personal style is a lot like love. Ever heard the saying “If you’re looking for love, you won’t find it but if you stop looking, you will?” It’s exactly like that with the personal style. The less you’re looking for it, the more it will come. Yes, I can vouch for that from personal experience. Eventually, Ariellah and Tempest, my mentors, each told me to stop thinking and start doing. Well, they were obviously right. The day that I stopped fussing over what my style was and started just dancing, I was much happier with my dancing in general and it just blossomed from there. So don’t worry about your personal style and just dance!

Doing your own thing
So “doing your own thing” really means simply doing whatever your heart desires. It’s as simple as that… and it’s as complicated as that. You still want to keep in mind Tempest’s sound advice: “Sure you can. Should you?” But, generally speaking, we all have filters that take care of the funky stuff… and even if something funky comes out… is it the end of the world? Heck, no. Bottom line, go with what attracts you, what makes you smile (internally or externally ;) ), what you find aesthetically pleasing, etc. The rest are details. So when I encourage folks to do their own thing, what I mean is dance however YOU want to dance. Have fun with it. Discover new stuff.

The gem inside (aka being genuine)
If you dance from the heart and from something that is genuine, your dance style WILL be interesting enough. We all have beauty inside of us and we all have something to say. We’re all unique and different and that’s what makes the world interesting. So take it as your twist on dancing. Or, drawing a parallel to a different art form, it’s your way of telling a story. You know how if one person tells a story, it sounds a certain way but someone else tells the same story and it sounds different? It’s really like that.


Gnomebody said...

Very insightful. That's one thing I'm struggling with is personal style. While I like certain moves or dancers, I do not have the body type to be able to carry off what they do.

I am finding more and more when I choreograph my own dance, that I 'think' I'm developing a style, whether it be through dance interpretation, costume, or song choice. Maybe all three. Is it good? Of course not, but that's the journey one must take to grow to find that little itty bitty niche one can perch on and call it one's own.

Thanks for sharing!

Celeste said...

"While I like certain moves or dancers, I do not have the body type to be able to carry off what they do."
Yes, this ties back to my blog from yesterday around this. The key is finding what you like about the way the dancer dances and whether something can be incorporated into your practice. For example: I like watching Asharah dance but I can't pull off the pops and locks like she does, as I mentioned in the blog. However, after some pondering (and this is when thinking is advantageous), I realized that, really, more than the pops and locks, it's her ability to control her body at will that impresses me and that I'd like to add to my practice. So I've worked on that.

And, yes, what you are describing about the dance interpretation, costume and song choice is your way of expressing your voice. It's all part of your style. And 'style' is a loaded word. Think of it more as your voice. In art, they call it artistic voice, not necessarily style.

But there is one thing that I'll ding you for your comment: "it good? Of course not," Well, first off, I could go the Zen way and ask what 'good' really is... :p But, really, if it comes from your heart, from what you feel like doing, it IS good... because it IS you. It's really exactly what you needed to do at that point. but, yes, I will grant you that it's a journey... and you'll never really reach a destination... you're just on a long trip with lots of sightseeing along the way. ;)