LETTING THE RIVER FLOW - Mary Wigman & Expressionist Dance 3
Updated: Jul 11
Continued from Mary Wigman & Expressionist Dance:
Part 1 - AN EXPRESSION...A SPEAKING OUT
Part 2 - SECRETS THAT LIE HIDDEN
...This blog is the counter-direction to decades of silence. While entangled with toxic relationships within and without my dance communities, while disabled and living with abusive men I had become financially dependent upon, there were a great many things that never made it past the choke chain to be be spoken or even privately scribbled.
Instead, I danced them.
But Belly Dance is not Modern Dance, and I took an overwhelming load of flack for attempting to fuse my movement forms into an emotional expression and theatrical art on the one hand, and to branch out beyond the stages of mere entertainment or titillation on the other hand...
For a time, amidst those eras that gave birth to the wide variety of Tribal and Fusion Belly Dance movements (9), I thought we were all going to be able to break free the way Modern had broken free from Ballet.
It was happening. We rowed upstream, got swept back out to sea, reclaimed our capcized boats, paddled furiously, portaged in the toolie bushes with machetes when necessary. Some of us had far more success than others and eventually made their liberation official and lasting. Some, like me, booted down a few doors and took the brunt of the blast in the face and chest. Others used the career-corpses of the fallen as bridges and springboards to storm the castles of "You Can't" and "Don't You Dare."
When I peek into what the Tribal and Fusion Belly Dance scenes have become today, I have to beam and raise my fists in RAWR. I also have to shake my head, throw my hands in the air, and laugh. So do those who have watched the arc of my dance career from its start, because so much of what fusion belly dancers are hailed for doing now--the amount of movement forms they combine, the character and story they bring to their stages, the fact that some wear ornate sparkle and satiny fabrics instead of sticking to earthy textiles, metal, and shells, the way they mix-and-match influences from all sorts of traditional--or heaven help them, sacred!--styles and spiritual expressions...
Doing all of that got me blacklisted, boycotted, badmouthed and burnt to the ground. There are many reasons why other fusion dancers weathered these same adversities better than I did. We'll get to them. A bunch of it is pure coincidental (synchronistic?) timing between the rhythms of the dance world, the global economy and sociopolitical conditions, and the rest of my life.
One of the largest straw heaps fell when I wanted to move further away from codification, authentication, and specificity. I yearned to go back to "dancing what I felt." In other words, I yearned to move deeper into expressionism vs. realism at a time when everyone kept demanding that I label and quantify every tiny thing I was doing. Completely contrary to the point of my dancing.
So what now?
I have no clue. Now I just dance. 🎶 Dancing' for my own enjoyment-- 🎶
That has to be it, kid. That has to be it, kid. (If you don't know that reference, go to YouTube and search for "tits ass chorus line." Trust me on this. If you're like me, it will bring a smile to your face every time you hear it.)
Actually, you know what? Let's put it on right now. Just because. Smiling, laughing, and snarking are necessary when writing about rowing against the current. Also, it's my closing tip of the tophat in honor of all the rebellious, independent, boobie-baring, booty-shaking she-roes of this latest bloggy series.
I give you...drumroll please...the audacious, curvaceous Val who contributed greatly to the size of my middle finger foamies during my impressionable college years:
Well, I might not have much more than a nicknack rack upstairs, but I definitely have ass.
Or...is it that I AM an ass? I always forget which it is. Both?
Ultimately I’m a thousand times happier where I am today. It's been good for me to shed the last shackles, labels, and official stamps of dis/approval from any particular movement genre. It's been like gulping in air after drowning to go back to moving my body and adorning it however I darn well feel.
Do some people still hate me for it? Sure.
Oh well. Don't like it? Don't watch. Don't like what I write? Don't read. Don't like what I say? Don't listen. Or do. Tell me and the world how much you hate it. Or don't. Express what you wish.
Because that has always been the point. While suffocating in that choke-chain I kept having to cinch down tighter and tighter with every passing year, with every episode of domestic violence, worsening injuries, emotional abuse, sexual assault, blacklisting, income obliteration, propagandist smear campaigning, and the adult versions of artistic and social bullying that were so familiar to me from my youth…I had to find some way to get it out.
For a long time, dance was my only way.
"Tempest" was my first overt exploration of fusing storytelling, expressionism, martial arts, trance dance, and belly dance. It was the opening of a series called "IsiStory" I performed in Durango, CO, in 2009. Having to choreograph this in a space about 7x4 feet because the back half of my apartment had been destroyed by black mold was troublesome to translate onto a huge stage, but you get the point of where I was wanting to take my dancing.
When we get to the tales that created this piece, we'll break down the gazillion layers of symbolism in it. For now...you can interpret it at will, as it was originally designed. 😈🤓😈
The martial-fusion dance sequences use heavy influence from Kenpo Long Form 5 & Boxing Form. The lyrics of the song were composed by Janet S. Emmons for me (and for herself) about this dance that we'd done too many times in our lives.
"I look in the mirror. It shows me the face of my age, scored with wrinkles and wrinklets. Furrowed and familiar like a landscape in which one has found one’s self and no longer asks whether one likes it or not. Every experience has left a trace behind it. Again and again, the present has covered the previous imprint, layer upon layer, putting everything in its right place.
~Mary Wigman, from the film When the Fire Dances Between the Two Poles by Allegra Fuller Snyder, narration taken from her books The Language of Dance and The Mary Wigman Book translated by Walter Sorell (3)
Alas, just like Mary Wigman’s dances had to contend with the politics of her day, so do mine. (1, 2, 5-7)
I'll take mine over the Nazi regime stranglehold for sure, but time and time again I've been lambasted by Arab club owners and American stage producers alike with one of the same sentiments she was boxed into: that dance “must be cheerful and show beautiful female bodies and have nothing to do with philosophy.” (2)
Our dances simply had the extra adjective of “sexy (but never too sexy)" tacked onto “cheerful.”
That's why I stopped dancing in the nightclub venues that hired belly dancers, even the ones who claimed to desire innovative acts of artistry and creativity. My ideas of what that meant must have been something else entirely.
Naturally. I’m an eccentric, experimental American female who's also studied classical Western stage dances, theater, martial arts--and yes, philosophy. Those are way different mindsets with vastly different intentions, and as many times as I tried to ensure before taking a job that these men knew what they were hiring, it never mattered. Ohhhh, I’m just so talented and gorgeous and my costumes and the hair and the eyes…
I have all that. And that's not the primary reason why I dance. I am far more of an artist than I am an entertainer; I am a much better Muse or spirit-guide than I am a school owner or artistic figurehead.
Like many Expressionists, I would rather go into exile and make art in nothing but my own studio than keep smiling and sitting pretty when people try to silence me or box me into what I don't do. I have no comment on Mary Wigman's decisions, because she's never told me personally why she chose capitulation over exile. I can only comment on MY decisions, why I've capitulated at times, and what's behind it whenever I stop doing so.
For me, art is not a manmade, chemical-choked swimming pool. Art is more like a river, and if you want to thrive around a river, healthy balance is crucial. If you have too much restriction in the banks, the flow becomes choked, backed up. Eventually it will dwindle or explode. In contrast, if a river has no containment, if it constantly floods over its banks, everything in its path is destroyed. Then the stagnant water left over creates rot and disease.
In a healthy system, the river flows within the structure of its banks. It is vibrant, beautiful, life-carrying, and navigable. It floods occasionally to foment new life like the Nile, but not in such a way that it obliterates everything around it. The flood is manageable and is put to use, rather than something to fear and try to prevent.
Huh. Guess we did touch on Cleopatra to close this series after all. Hahahah!
So, no shit, here I am. After being dammed up and having my course plugged, I once again went underground, trickled here and dribbled there until I could find a way to resurface. Now I'm alone out here in the Ozark toolie bushes, building a home around a very beautiful system of converging streams. Each have their own well-defined banks and their own rich sources. Here, within the confluence of me, they become One.
And that, too, is a mark of my Expressionist Dance inheritance.
I danced "Gafsa" in my beloved Poland, where the effects of WWII are still palpable in the very stones of the streets and buildings, in the water and on the air, in the hearts of its people, and in the earth itself.
This piece is from the show we did in 2013, not long after I left my second husband and martial arts dojo, on the eve of leaving Colorado after living there for almost two decades. It expresses seven years of emotion never-spoken, never-confessed, not even to my journal until I finally made that hard drive partition. At long last, I could safely start pouring it out so I could stand a chance at remembering my own life and understanding myself.
This is the first way I spoke about it.
GAFSA - by Natacha Atlas
The breeze of romance started blowing in my mind
Present me with the peace of my sweetheart.
You will say ‘Return my precious,
Forget the separation and the strangeness.’
My imagination will say ‘I wander aimlessly,
And my ambition will be happy.'
And she appeared from the high towers,
And said strange words…
Return my love,
I don’t have luck (destiny) in this world.
You are my love then,
But it is impossible that you will be mine.
Oh my eye, oh... (Arabic term of endearment.)
Enough. (It is finished.)
CHOOSE YOUR OWN ADVENTURE
--UP NEXT: DRAMA QUEEN - How I Bombed as a Theater Major, Yet Acquired the Key to Great Acting
--OR if you missed how a coin belt and fringe bra literally saved my life at the start of my sophomore year of college, you'll need to read DYE JOB to truly understand our next segment.
SOME MORE LINKS FOR YOUR GEEKING PLEASURE:
1) Mary Wigman
3) When the Fire Dances Between the Two Poles, a film by Allegra Fuller Snyder, narration taken from her books The Language of Dance and The Mary Wigman Book translated by Walter Sorell
4) Mary Wigman's Books, uploaded by the Weslayan University:
5) German Expressionism: The Legacy of the Horror Dance Killed by the Nazis
7) THE WIKIS TO GET YOU STARTED DOWN RABBIT HOLES: