Are Performance Skills Overrated?

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I knew if some of you read this, you might be wondering why I would even ask such a question, but I am asking because there is so much more to belly dance that as you get older and seasoned, you understand. Skills like anything take time to polish and shine and let’s not forget years to understand but does knowing how to extend and move with no effort come from skill? A thought can be so much more when the body takes it and expands on it. What of body language? Do we live our lives speaking verbally or do we express ourselves through a look, a feeling or a gesture? As a woman I know that I can get across a particular feeling to Daniel with one look. So I think body language is a natural evolution that comes with being human.

Performance skills are a very personal matter because everyone’s skills differ depending on what they value and deem important. And we have to remember that who we learn from in any aspect of instruction, shares their view on what skills are most important to them. We learn to train and practice according to what our teachers instruct and we take home the first component of skills that become apart of our dance. But what about natural ability and the creative license to dance an individual expression that takes the dance, say in this instance belly dance to a different direction than originally accepted? We have Goth, and Burlesque mixed in with belly dance along with jazz and tap. Performance skills can be unfair especially when a life long dancer comes in and trains with the Olympian speed of Hera and enjoys the fruits of her labor faster than the average student. It can get disconcerting studying along side this type of dancer especially when a student is putting her all into learning how to dance.  It’s hard not to compare oneself with someone who not only gets every move down but does them with a pros proficiency.

Personally as a dance teacher, I love life long professional dancers coming to class but then that is only because I have spent years learning this dance and I don’t have to compete with them. When I take workshops it’s another story, my right becomes my left and I look like a clueless zombie. I love learning new moves and combinations but as I have always stated, I don’t like learning a full choreography within a few hours. My skill level goes out the window and my ego takes a beating. I had a student who was taking a workshop class with me and she was able to get the moves instantly. I on the other hand fumbled through the choreography finally getting it at the end. She laughed at me as I gave her a cross eyed look but I have to admit I was really proud of her besides being impressed and a little envious. She came over to me and put her arms around my shoulders and told me that  because of all the drills and oppositions moves that I made her do, she was  able to catch on to choreography a lot easier. That did make me feel a little bit better and I realized something after I chewed on what she had said. I was so busy choreographing moves and combinations on a day to day basis that to move to music with someone else’s inspired ideas, felt strange to my creative process. Don’t get me wrong, I love to watch and see how dancers put together moves but I realized that because I do this day in and day out, I had isolated my learning ability. At workshops, I would do the combinations asked of me but at the same time think to myself, “But wait, you missed this beat and oh, oppositions moves would work beautifully here.” So it occurred to me that I had to turn off my internal dialogue and just enjoy being in the midst of creative expression no matter who it came from.

How much do props help out with performance skills? I watched a dancer do a beautiful veil dance years ago, one that is probably the prettiest I’ve ever seen. Her articulation was amazing and it felt at times as if she was flying or floating over the stage. Once she was done with her veil dance, she did a drum solo. The performance of one versus the other was day and night.  I couldn’t believe she was the same dancer who I had been watching previously with the veil. She missed the boat on her drum solo and as I watched her struggle with her hip work, I realized that the first prop a dancer should master is her body. If we can’t showcase the skill and training with our bodies to the audience then it doesn’t matter how well we do with a veil, sword or candelabra, what a dancer lacks in ability will be magnified ten fold on stage.

I was at the ten year mark when I saw this dancer perform and I realized that I had to get back to the basics so that my body felt like my work of art, my creativity molded from one combination to the next. I didn’t want to do an incomplete performance especially since I was working with live bands at that time. This is where studying Taheya Carioca, Naima Akef, Samia Gamall, Suhair Saki and Nagua Fouad came in handy. I thought to myself, what was it that all these women had in common that not only made them stand out but become stars? After watching them for awhile I came to this conclusion, they had this amazing ability to bring their audience in with their movements and the subtle innuendos of their body language. Even if they were only moving their hips, they made it look like what they were doing was the coolest thing anybody had ever seen. They lived in their movements, they emulated this joy on stage so that everyone focused and lived in their performance, impatiently waiting for the next move. It was within this ability to tell a story with their hips alone that made me realize movement wasn’t just a skill, it was a thought, a feeling of inspiration caught into a thrust, maya or figure 8. The movement had to come from the storyteller herself and how she emulated the move and expressed it to the audience, demonstrated what kind of storyteller she was. The mind set was, “I think therefore I am.” So it occurred to me that if I am true to my feelings on stage and I emulate how I live life in my movements, than half the battle has been won. Skill takes this thought process and magnifies the movements in a way that becomes a beacon to the audience. So I ask you, can it be so simple to think that thought felt in movement can make all the difference?

What does a professional have over a beginner dancer, confidence obviously. Isn’t confidence a thought or feeling that comes from experience and experience makes movement look skilled and flawless. So my question in the very beginning isn’t so much a cut and dry answer as it is contemplative. Performance skills don’t come from technique alone because  becoming a robot isn’t what most dancer’s have in their minds when they perform. We can follow each other to the best of our ability but eventually down the line movement has to become one with the body. When you have a technical dancer perform side by side with a storyteller, the difference is one feels her movements and lives in them while the other demonstrates verbatim a technical choreographed copy. Now I know there will be some of you who are technical dancers who won’t agree with me and I have seen technical dancers do beautiful dances on stage but the difference is in the pudding when you watch the old black and white videos of Egyptian dancers. Technique is needed and a major part of learning any dance form because it helps dancers lay down their foundation. As time goes by technique builds layer upon layer to strengthen a dancer’s foundation but at the same time it can take away from the spontaneous elements of feeling creativity.

Performance skills are in the eyes of the beholder meaning  the appreciative audience or the beginner student all the way down the line to the seasoned dancer. Let’s be frank, I’ll use myself as an example, some people think I suck at dancing while others think I’m the coolest thing since sliced bread. It all depends on their view of what performance skills represent and I am no different here. I have seen professional dancers that were lukewarm on stage while others gave me goose bumps.

So for me, I like to see technique in the background in performances and I prefer the story told by the emotional joy of a dancer up front and center. Performance skills represent the journey a dancer takes to get to her goals and aspirations. Skills take a dancer to the jump off point but eventually the dancer has to take a leap of faith knowing in the end she has always known how to fly.

Tell me your thoughts on this topic…I always enjoy different points of view!!

News

I am excited to let everyone know that I am writing exclusively for Jareeda Belly Dance Magazine and that I am focusing all my interests and abilities in order to write the best articles I can for Mezdulene the publisher of Jareeda. I feel rejuvinated and inspired this year and I’m ready to shine my diamond a little bit more!! Remember, when you subscribe to Jareeda, you are supporting the longest running belly dance magazine in existence today.  Go to www.jareeda.com

Also remember my book is out, “The Divine Unrest-My Stories and Personal Views on Belly Dance” and it’s available on Amazon. Just click on the book cover button to the right. I am getting ready to do more interviews for Belly Dance Viillage so be on the look out for them down the line. If you haven’t checked out my instructional videos go to www.bellydancevillage.com and get the best for all levels pf belly dance instruction!!

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About Leyla Najma

Lifelong professional Belly Dancer dedicated to providing “Belly Dance Instruction That Is Easy To Understand And Learn That Connects The Dots”

Comments

2 Responses to “Are Performance Skills Overrated?”
  1. Morwenna says:

    Hi Leyla,

    Loved this article. Have missed the last couple. due to being crazy, busy. Had to tell you though I loved this. here is my take on Technique and all the other abilities that go into a dance. Technique you have to learn so that the body can be free to express. Without technique you have nothing. But as you grow the creative side needs to take over so that technique is the background to fall back on if all else fails. Hope this makes sense. Like you I much prefer a spontaneous dancer. But that spontaneity is useless without being baked up by technique. Most people who do this look like they have a physical deformity. They do not know what they are doing or have any control. You do need technique. On the other hand the technical dancer who is only technically good looks like robot and her training is stunted.

    Enough said,

    Love you and keep up the great work,

    Morwenna.

    • Leyla Najma says:

      Hello Morwenna,

      It has been way too long since I talked to you…Daniels been the lucky one lately so how about a phone call so we can do our pow wow and talk about everything under the sun?

      I thought this post might get some comments…sometimes I wonder if I should post what I do but then I thought this was an interesting topic. Technique is always on the front burners for all dancers but sometimes I think the emotional drama of life get’s put on the back burners way too often. It’s the very fact we are human that makes us interesting to watch on stage because we are the storytellers of life, not just the happy side but the dark side. I think people want to see life on stage and yes, dancers need their technique but then they need to let go and become the divine unrest, the Goddess unveiled, the feminine image of reality mixed in with magic and mystery.

      Thank you for your wonderful comment…I always love to read what you have to say!!

      Hugs and love,

      Leyla