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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.

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So as I mentioned previously, last week I became a bit of a Lorna Gow fangirl… I like non tribal-fusion bellydance well enough, but I don’t tend to have as strong a reaction to it, as to (for example) watching Zafira or Rachel Brice.  But perched in the DJ booth in my role as DJ Shadow (helping our DJ, Peter, spot false endings and such like) I saw Lorna perform live for the first time. 

Peter and I had puzzled over the CD – the track listed as being over 9 minutes long.  Surely not?  I had to (quickly) double check with one of the other organisers before Lorna was due on that it was right.  It was. 

And then it started, and we waited for Lorna to appear. 

And we waited. 

A minute passed, the music was rising coming to what I thought was the end of the intro bit.

And then we waited some more. 

And then, when the tension was becoming unbearable, she appeared.  Garbed in a beautiful black and blue costume hand-made specifically for her she emerged, her black veil flowing behind as she made her entrance. She greeted the audience, making a tour of the crowd gathered around the dance space in front of the stage before beginning to dance.  She was the first performer of the night to utilise the stage, and the only performer to use both that and the dance area.  Her presence filled the room. 

The below video doesn’t capture even half of what it was like to have been there, but sadly it will have to do.

There’s lots of little details in this that I like, for example the way she discards her veil without interrupting the flow of the dance – seamless integration.

And that was how I became a Lorna Gow fangirl.

What an experience!

I’ve never helped organise or run a hafla before so this was really new and exciting (and nerve wracking!). But it all came together, the three of us (Caroline Rose, Elspeth and myself) worked beforehand and on the night, each doing our different bits and pieces which wove into something that, I think, worked rather well.

The performers were varied yet all lovely, talented with no “diva-ness” in sight. The audience were plentiful and noisy. And special mention needs to go to the lovely Elysse and Laurie of the Edinburgh Uni African and Arabic Dance Society, who worked on the door. They were complete stars!

Below are some gorgeous pictures of Lorna and us (the organisers) that Vi Anne took on the night. They really capture a lot of the atmosphere.

Lorna in her first outfit of the night.

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Yup, I am one. Lorna Gow aka “Lorna of Cairo” ROCKED tonight.  I’ve never met her before tonight and not seen her dance except on YouTube before now.  And, as some of you may know, I have a more tribal preference.

But this lady was fantastic.

Like for realz.  If you get the chance, go see her perform.

I’m gonna decompress now from the hafla.  I’ll write more about it later.  Night, night folks.

So, this is the first time I’ve been involved in running a hafla.  It’s scary and exciting all at once.  I went along to the venue today with Caroline and had a look. The venue, ‘The Underground’ at Teviot Place, is a place that I’ve been to in the past for club nights and must admit I’d been having trouble wrapping my head around the thought of it being used for a hafla, but having gone today and had a look around (without a club night’s paraphernalia in the way) it all became clear.  This …is gonna be awesome.

Teviot, the oldest purpose-built student’s union in the world!

There’s a space off to the side of the stage that we can cordon off and use as a performers area, the stage is a good size and there’s enough floor space infront of the stage to accommodate large groups of dancers (which there will be at least one of).  There is seating on the same floor as the stage and there’s also a balcony that runs half way around the space (so you can feel like you’re at the ballet or opera!).

And… did I mention I’ll be performing at this?  This will be my first ever hafla performance (despite performing professionally for over a year now)!

And, the fabulous Elspeth ‘Swishandhips’ has set up paypal so you can buy your tickets in advance – I’ve got a button for it on the front page of my website as does Caroline.  Tickets cost £8 advance/£10 on the door, the hafla will run from 7-10pm on Thursday the 18th of March – that’s two weeks today!  I better sort my choreo out…

Oh – if you enjoy reading my blog you can click on the “Email subscription” button on the top left hand side of the page (it says “sign me up!”) and it will automatically email you any new blog posts that I make.  I’ve found it quite a handy tool for keeping up with the other blogs I like to read.

The Hafla for Haiti was a lot of fun and best of all has raised, so far, £845 for Children in Need’s work in Haiti! Well done to Irene Hogg for organising it, Revolution Bar for hosting it and all the performers and audience members for coming along!

There was bellydance of all different types – Raqs Sharqi, Modern Egyptian, Classic Egyptian, Tribal and Tribal Fusion. There was also burlesque (two strip-tease artists), a poledancer, a flamenco dancer, a salsa couple and a couple of comedy bellydance/burlesque acts. It was really great to have such variety.

Here’s a clip from the night of Elspeth’s stick dance (very sassy!)

Also, it seems we’re not the only place to have this idea. Chattanooga – my home away from home – had a benefit night called ‘To Haiti With Love’ on Saturday. Like the Edinburgh event this had a broad variety of performers including musicians, poets and bellydancers with the lovely Mirabai troupe performing. Go bellydancers!

In other news… We’re having a hafla for Lorna of Cairo! Put the date in your diary – Thursday 18th March, 7-10pm, Teviot Underground at Bristo Square. Tickets are £8 in advance or £10 on the door. You can buy tickets in advance from myself, Elspeth or Caroline (of Bellydancingdivas).

In addition to the more local talent, Lorna will be dancing for us. Lorna is a local girl who moved to Cairo several years ago and now makes her living as a bellydancer over there. Here’s a short clip of one of her recent performances:

I’m looking forward to seeing loads of you at this, and if you’re interested in performing give me (or Elspeth or Caroline) a shout.

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