Being able to convey emotion is fundamental to expressive dance.  Within different bellydance styles the range of emotion expressed varies.  I believe that within the Egyptian styles – both modern and older – there is an especially great range. From what I’ve read and been told of the Lorna of Cairo workshop on Oum Kalthoum (by the lovely Elspeth SwishandHips) there was a great deal of emphasis placed on the ability of the dancer to emote to her music.

As Tamsyn describes it, “Here was a dance in which the magic was in truly being yourself and giving everything from your heart in a performance. All the sorrow, the joy, the pain and the beauty — all of it.”

So my thoughts have turned to the process in which the ability to express these emotions is developed.  It’s no small task.  This notion of getting in touch with your inner self and being able to express it is called ‘congruence’ or genuineness within the field of Person-Centred counselling.  Many chapters in many books are devoted to explaining the concept in full and suggesting ways in which the trainee therapist may develop their ability to be genuine.

It’s especially true that in British culture the spontaneous and expressive nature of being genuine is a difficult thing to fully integrate into normal life.  We have rules around appropriate behaviour and they tend to focus on emotional containment – many of us believe in keeping stiff upper lips and in not showing emotion particularly if that emotion is ‘negative’ (e.g. fear, anger, hurt).  How then to overcome this cultural embargo on emotions?

It takes work, and that’s for sure.  I believe that the parts during Lorna’s workshops where she encouraged her students to try touching and expressing through dance the deep emotions that run through Oum Kalthoum’s music was inspired.  In the therapy books, one of the key experiences in the development of congruence is by an individual trying to be in touch with their inner selves and expressing that publicly, in a group setting and finding that this behaviour is accepted.  By giving time and space and encouragement to her dance students to deeply emote to the music Lorna is giving the dance equivalent of a Carl Roger’s style Encounter Group.

But how to progress this outside of Lorna’s workshop?  Continuing to practice listening to your inner world, and expressing it where appropriate and when you feel able to.  Usually you’ll find that in letting things out you draw people to you, rather than pushing them away.  Many of our innermost feelings are common to the entire human race, even the feeling that our most inner self is actually unlovable or somehow shameful and must be kept hidden.

In counselling training many people have found that the process of  trying and learning to accept yourself, warts and all, is helpful in being able to hear and express your emotions.  These two thing, self-acceptance and congruence, appear to feed into each other (with self-acceptance also feeding into one’s ability to be empathic).  The journey towards accepting yourself is one with many paths.  One that has been personally helpful, and I know has been for many, many others involves having at least one adult relationship where you are accepted, warts and all, unconditionally.  Why does this help you feel better about yourself?  I believe it is because if someone else can feel that way towards you it shows you that you are loveable, and that really helps you to develop that same love and belief in yourself.

I’ll finish with a word of warning – this is not for everyone.  The ability to be genuine and in-touch with yourself is not something you can turn on when you take to the stage (or therapy room) and then turn back off again.  It seeps out from there to touch all aspects of your life.  It is a door that once opened is difficult to close again.  This is not to suggest that you’ll end up blurting out whatever is going on for you regardless of the situation, but it does mean that you are more likely to be aware of what’s going on inside you more often, and for some people that is a place they don’t want to live in.