photo by York Wilson Photography

Thursday, January 08, 2009



I'm working on something relatively new for me: choreography.
I've spent the majority of my time as a bellydance student and performer (and teacher for that matter) focused on what most of us call "technique": core isolations, shimmies, foot placement patterns, posture, et cetera. I've learned how to string my movements together without weird little hiccups or stops, and I've learned how to keep dancing (and do MANY DIFFERENT moves! wowee!) on the spot, just making it all up, for performance. To some degree, I make up stuff that fits with the music, and it all seems like a good idea to me in the moment. The results, in my opinion, are variable.
Choreographing dances for myself has always been a daunting task. I have only done it twice in the six years I have been performing. Well, two and a half times- once I did a very successful (for me) mix of improv and choreography. That's it. I find that when I sit down to choreograph a song, I get anxious about making each phrase THE BEST IT CAN BE (read: pack as many cool things into it as possible), get analysis paralysis, and usually give up after the first few bars. I know this is not a good way to work- I mean, after all, it's clearly not working. So I'm trying to change my approach.
One thing that I have noticed about nearly all of my favorite dancers is that they must be aware of how their body looks at any given moment since they virtually always are in some sort of lovely position. I'm not just talking about correct posture; I'm referring to an artful placement of the limbs, head and torso that frames and amplifies each movement. This is a quality that, to put it kindly, I am just now trying to cultivate. My goal right now is to create a simple choreography (or two, or more) that takes me from pose to pose without looking forced or artificial and without looking like I'm Vogueing. I'm a big fan of multitasking, and I'd like to try to address my hangups about choreography while hopefully giving myself a better awareness of how I appear to my audience that might also bleed over into improv some time in the future. I hope.
I don't have a digital video camera as such (too poor), but I do have a still camera that takes Youtube-quality video. I set it up in my practice space yesterday (it took me a lot of futzing around to figure out how to angle the camera to capture much of anything in such a small space!) and camerataped myself doing improv and trying out different poses. I made some interesting discoveries.
I noticed some things that I had pretty much anticipated. My posture is not as good as I think it is. My hands do some very unattractive things sometimes. Some of my poses were completely lame and I hope to never do them again. Some were nice but needed work. More importantly than all of that, though, watching the video tweaked my brain in an odd way I hadn't expected.
As soon as I started watching my own sub-optimal, seat-of-the-pants interpretation of the music I was using, I immediately started getting ideas for how I might want to choreograph a dance to the same music. I think watching the video and thinking "Oh, but at this moment I could have done THIS instead!" turned a switch in my brain that made it possible for me to think like a choreographer. Suddenly I wasn't at a loss for ideas, nor was I overwrought with too many options, all excessively complicated and spastic. I came up with some good, solid, simple phrases to begin the choreography.
ALSO. My camera takes AVI "video" files, which are apparently just sequential images with an audio track attached. I can flip through them frame by frame to pick out the best and worst moments in time. It's very compelling!
I'm going to keep working with the camera for poses, but I think I might have found the solution to my choreography problem as well!

Wednesday, January 07, 2009


January Mind

At the beginning of this year I find myself in a peculiar state halfway between my Fibromyalgia brain fog and deep contemplation. I'm oscillating between clarity and haze. The last moments of 2008 gave me some space for introspection that I needed quite badly, and I feel like I'm on the verge of some sort of major change.
2008 was a weird year for me-- just as it was for many others, I'm sure. I got married; the wedding itself was fantastic, but the preparation was inexplicably hellish and exhausting. I went straight from the wedding into an intense entrepreneurship program at UNC's business school-- and I mean straight-- I was doing homework for the program over my ridiculously short honeymoon. Meanwhile, I was working full time, teaching my dance classes, participating in two (sometimes three) dance troupes, and trying to develop myself as a dancer, and I frequently felt extremely frustrated and spent.
Last Spring my cousin Sean Costello died unexpectedly. Sean was a professional blues musician, a songwriter, guitarist and singer. He had been playing pro gigs since he was 16 (or maybe even younger). I could gush mindlessly about how talented and fantastic he was, but to put it succinctly, Sean had a gift. At his funeral my uncle (not Sean's dad, but his uncle as well) got up and gave a very short eulogy. Among other things, he said he was proud of Sean for following his own path, which was sometimes terrible and painful, as the rest of us were too damn scared to do the same.
For a very long time now-- pretty much since I quit design school in 2003-- I have been telling myself that I don't have a path, that I haven't found it yet, but that some day I'll know it when I see it. After graduating for college with a degree that I value but have no idea what to do with, I've been fortunate enough to find a stable job which has gotten me through some rough patches I wouldn't have survived otherwise without begging my parents for cash (and that's totally not my style). I have been trying to keep up with bellydance as my avocation because I love it so desperately. I've been thinking about graduate programs, looking at information online. I've been thinking about what other jobs I might enjoy. I've been trying to tell myself I'll know it when I see it.
I know now I've been lying to myself. I've seen what I want out of life. I know what I want. I've known it for a while. I've been ignoring it because I'm scared to do something I haven't been given permission to do. I'm so used to having to apply for the job, for the program, for the opportunities I want to be included in, because that's what I've done my entire life up until this point.
The rest of my life isn't something I can apply for and it's not something anyone's ever going to invite me to do. No one is going to hold my hand and lead me to my path. No one is going to call my number and tell me it's my turn now. I have to do these things for myself.
I don't want to be cryptic- I hate being unclear. But I think what I'm trying to say is pretty obvious. At the moment it would probably be pretty foolish for me to write my step-by-step life attack plan on the Internet. This post itself is probably foolish, but at least it's vaguely so.
Right now what I need to do is to stop putting the blinders on and to try to critically evaluate each aspect of my life, each little habit, to see what I can jettison and to get ready for whatever changes may come. And, then, just to watch quietly and listen to the tiny part of myself that knows what it's talking about.
So that's my New Year's Resolution.


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