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Earlier, when I wrote about Why Dance Matters, I said “…as I see it we are far more than minds in jars. We are comprised of flesh and our fleshy body carries us through the world. When it can’t function any more, neither can we. We – mind and body – are indivisible.” I thought I was just writing ‘The Truth’ <TM>, turns out what I was saying is an part of an existential philosophical idea about the world!

A guy called Maurice Merleau-Ponty (a contemporary of Sartre and Simone De Beauvoir) wrote about it. He put forward the idea that that nature of human existence is fundamentally ‘embodied’, that we have bodily experiences that cannot be entirely separated from our ‘mental’ experiences. This is in direct opposition to René Descartes’ idea that the mind and body are distinct and that for the most part the body is in some way inferior to the mind.

Another existential philosopher, Martin Heidegger, also wrote about ‘embodied’ existence. He suggested that our bodily sensations can be an immediate and direct understanding of the world (like that sinking sensation in your stomach that tells you you’re scared). Nietzsche (also an existentialist philosopher) said “There is more wisdom in the body than in thy deepest learnings.” I’m still wrapping my head around these ideas, so hopefully I’ve not mangled them in the way I’ve presented them here. Do forgive me (and correct me!) if I have.

I started learning about this through a wonderful set of random circumstances – I arrived at university early, so decided to go to the library to fill my time. Since I was there I had a look for a book I’d been wanting to read for a while but that wasn’t available. It still wasn’t available. However there was another book by the same author (Mick Cooper) with an intriguing title (Existential Therapies). Not knowing what ‘existential’ meant I thought I’d pick it up and learn something new. And so I have.

I’m now pondering about ‘existentialism’ with regards to dance. It’s great when my passions can contribute something to one another!

PS – Happy International Day of Dance!

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I’ve been quite busy this last little while with all the usual stuff (work, teaching, etc) AND getting my final assessments for uni finished AND applying to get onto the next part of the course BUT… I have also been wrapping my head around my first commercial (private) tribal fusion performance, and have ended up with two of them, in two weeks!  Which is totally awesome 🙂

So I thought I’d share something that I’ve been enjoying recently – a duet with Rachel Brice and Mardi Love – with finger cymbals!

I’ve just finished making up an edited piece of music for a private performance I’ve got coming up.  I’m not, nor ever have been, a DJ, but I got pushed into figuring out how to make little edits to songs due to one I wanted to dance to a while ago that started just too abruptly, with a set of drum beats that I really wanted to ‘hit’.  There was no way I could ever manage that because I’d never know exactly when they would start – there was no lead in at all on the track and the thought of trying to figure out exactly when the DJ pressed ‘play’ was plainly ludicrous!

So I had a hunt around the internet and found Audacity, a free piece of software that you can use to edit music.  It had excellent reviews on CNET (always a good port of call to check out any software you’re thinking of getting!).  It took a bit of fiddling about with before I could do what I wanted to (which was copy a few introductory drum beats from another piece of music and paste them into the start of the track I wanted) but once I figured out what to do it was not that much harder than copying & pasting in something like Word – select the bits of the music you want, press ‘copy’, select where you want them to go and them press ‘paste’.  The hard bit (for me) was getting exactly the bit I wanted to copy, finding the exactly right start and end point of the selection.  The other thing that took an age for me to figure out is that the program won’t do anything useful like copy or paste while the pause button is clicked – you have to press stop (STOP!) for it to behave.

The bit, however that nearly made my brain explode was that I couldn’t save it as an MP3 file (or any other easily played digital music file).  I just about freaked having spent all that time learning the package and tweaking my intro to be just the way I wanted it.

Internet to the rescue!  I had to do a bit of fiddling about with another package but once that was done I could save the edited piece of music as an MP3 (well, they call it ‘exporting to MP3’ but it’s the same thing).

It’s not something I do a lot, but it’s so handy to be able to do it when I need/want to; I thoroughly recommend teaching yourself if you have the time.  I know Laura Monteith of Sarasvati Tribal recommends this sort of thing (for the very same reasons that I taught myself to do it!) too.  So that makes two of us – it must be a good idea 🙂

My weekly public and private classes started back last week and it felt goooood.  I love being around my students, “my ladies”.  In among the hard work and concentration is always a fair amount of chat and laughter.  This term some of my familiar faces aren’t there, for a variety of reasons – uni & work pressures, moving city, having babies!  You guys are missed!  But we also have new faces (who will soon becoming familiar faces), all bringing their own personality and energy to class.  The diversity is fabulous!

It’s a nice, positive experience of community for me, and (I hope) others – even though it might only be a fleeting community of people brought together for one hour a week.  Hafla’s can offer more opportunity for socialising in a bellydance context outside of class, and I’m hoping to have more of an idea of when the next Edinburgh hafla is after this coming weekend.

Watch this space!

Last month I had the great privilege of being photographed by Kelly Archibald of Kaleidoscope Studios. I would highly recommend this lady – she made the effort to understand the sort of look I was going for, did a lot of prep work prior to the session and played my favourite tunes while we were shooting. She is a goddess behind the lens, producing some fantastic images of me documenting my ‘fusion’ look as it is at the moment. I’ve included some of my favourites below for your viewing pleasure.

This was me, mid dance. I love the ‘film noir’ quality of it.

Floorwork, wearing SteampunkCouture custom-made trousers. I loooove the dramatic shadows in this one.

My beautiful Scottish fusion skirt and self-made top.

This is also mid-dance. I’m thinking of making this the new front-page to my website… Your thoughts on this are very welcome!

Meow!

Kaleidoscope Studios have made me a very happy bunny :). If facebook is your thing, they also have a page on there.

An dance blog website called Dance Advantage has created a virtual event called “Why Dance Matters“.  The event is running from April 12th to May 3rd, which spans the time when International Dance Day (April 29th) and (American) National Dance Week (April 23rd to May 2nd) are held.  This particular event asks members of the online dance communities to talk about why dance matters, and so this is what I’m gonna do.

I’ve decided to think about this in two parts – there’s why dance matters to me specifically and there’s also why I think dance matters in general.

Speaking personally, the first response I had to the question of why dance matters is that dance makes me feel good – physically and emotionally.  Bellydance in particular has had a profoundly positive effect on my self-esteem and how I view myself in relation to my body.

But that’s not the whole story.  It also challenges me, and gives me the opportunity to learn on an ongoing basis and at my own pace.  I like learning new things, I like ‘exploring’ – I always have. I’ve found that I particularly enjoy learning to do new things with my body, it’s like learning to have super-powers – the absolute delight when I finally get my body and mind to work together to do a movement that had evaded me until then.  I do enjoy ‘book learning’ and challenging my mind – but (for me) that’s something far more common – school and work have almost always focused far more on the mind than the body; dance touches a completely different realm.

Why do I think dance matters in general?  Well, as I see it we are far more than minds in jars.  We are comprised of flesh and our fleshy body carries us through the world. When it can’t function any more, neither can we.  We – mind and body – are indivisible, but despite this innate truth it can be hard for our mind to actually live within our body.  I mean this both in the sense of being ‘bodily aware’ and also in the sense of loving, respecting and being happy within the skin we wear.

When we dance and when we learn to dance our mind and body have to learn to work together.  Dance, in this sense, can unite.  I believe the desire for this unity runs deep. Dr Oliver Sacks tells, in his book Musicophilia of how hard-wired we are to appreciate rhythm.  More parts of our brain are occupied by music than language, and dancing is how we, humanity, like best to appreciate music.

Dancing persists over time (despite being frowned upon, and even banned by the authorities) and, as best as I can tell exists in all culture – the forms may be different and they change over time, but the desire to move to some sort of music seems to be primal.  And as much as it is primal, it is also innately human  (animals do not have a sense of rhythm, or to be more technical they do not possess an “auditory/motor correlation”).

Why does dance matter?  The desire to dance in some way, be it tapping your toes to the rhythm or tango, is a fundamental part of being human.

My next term starts sooooon!  Both levels start back again this coming Wednesday (the 14th) at the Yoga Room with a sold-out beginners workshop on this Saturday to kick things off and get me back into the spirit of things 🙂

If you’re wanting to book the classes you can do so with a cheque (made payable to me, Shelley Skipper, sent to “Shelley Dance, C/O The Yoga Room, 5 Forth Street, Edinburgh, EH1 3JX”) or via paypal on my website (http://www.shelleydance.co.uk/classes.html). There are still a few spaces left (and don’t worry – I’ll remove the paypal functionality when I’m full).  You can always fire me a quick email or text if you want to double-check before booking.

I’ve tweaked and, I believe, improved the curriculum for both sets of classes and I’m looking forward to starting a new term with this new-and-improved set of lesson plans!  I’ve tried to take on board the desire I’ve felt coming through, particularly in the Improvers/Intermediate classes, to include more technique that is common to tribal-fusion styles of bellydance, whilst keeping it still interesting to those with more Egyptian leanings.  And as always I’m interested in hearing what my students want out of the classes – we’ll have a chat about this in the first lesson to make sure I take into account the things that my students want to do.

===== EDIT: THIS EVENT HAS BEEN CANCELLED =====

Howdy all! Fereshteh asked me to help promote an event that she’ll be co-running in June and I thought that would be something of interest to local readers.

She’s invited an organisation which runs bellydance events in Nottingham, England called Pink Bellydancing.  They raise money specifically for the ‘Breakthrough Breast Cancer‘ charity and as of November 2009 they have raised over £2000.  Here’s the certificate to prove it 🙂

The ‘Twisted Sisters’ referenced in the certificate above are Tatiana (Tati) Hafsa and Pauline Qu who, along with Asif Qu and David Woolley, run the Pink Bellydance events. Read the rest of this entry »

Zafira dance company are a Pittsburgh (Pennsylvania) based bellydance troupe, comprised of three members (Christine Andrews, Maria Hamer, and Olivia Kissel) who have been performing together since 1996.

Read the rest of this entry »

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