SECRETS THAT LIE HIDDEN - Mary Wigman & Expressionist Dance 2
AN EXPRESSION...A SPEAKING OUT - Mary Wigman & Expressionist Dance
...Expressionism was part of the broad Modernist Period of the late 19th to early 20th Centuries. It arose predominantly in Germany as a reaction to the country's post-WWI isolation and trauma, and the dehumanizing impact of industrialization and urban expansion. It rebelled against objective realism in favor of subjective emotions and responses, spanning poetry, literature, architecture, painting, theater, film, and dance.
Fitting that Expressionism is difficult to pin down, as it overlapped with many other Modernist styles like Cubism, Futurism, Surrealism. The Expressionist slant addressed subjects like death, metaphysics, sexuality, industrialism, technological advancement, mental illness, depression, and a host of social, economic and political issues of the age.
..it was squashed in its tracks by the Nazi regime. (5, 6, 9)
Nazis were no dummies. Art can heal people and make them stronger--and stronger people are harder to manipulate and control. Art lets people consider things they might not have through any other delivery, both within themselves and all around them. Art bypasses a myriad barriers people erect between each other: language, nationality, race, gender, religion, etc.
Divide-and-conquer is one of the most effective tactics of war. So is the censorship & propaganda cocktail. The Nazis knew exactly what they were looking at with certain forms of Modern Art, and how important it would be to bury that shit so it couldn't be spread about and muck up their tidy little plans. Only the facets of it that could be controlled and wielded for their purposes were allowed to survive. Anything else needed to be destroyed, silenced, or exiled.
To the Third Reich, Expressionists were some of those dastardly "degenerates" who needed to be silenced so that other words and ideas could infiltrate hearts and minds, plant insidious seeds of fear and hate, and then blossom into one of the greatest atrocities of the human race. (5-7, 9)
If you prefer to consume your history lessons as a spice in gripping, action-packed stories, here's a glimpse of the world we're talking about, a much lesser discussed era of Germany, the Weimar Republic (9) between the two World Wars.
"History lessons?!" you say. "Blecccchk!" 🤢🤮💩
Why was history so important to me that I dropped theater and made it my major? We'll get to that shift of life trajectory in the next series. The true importance of history is not in memorizing dates, names, and places. Those only give perspective and specificity to the ever-spinning hamster wheel of stories that play out over and over and over again.
If we ignore it, brush it aside, censor it, especially if we don't talk about it and we forget--heck, sometimes even when we do remember--we're doomed to ride that wheel to pretty much the same destination, just with different dates, character names, titles, plot order, and scene settings. These memoirs are a perfect example. Hashtag AmARodent.
I find this tale of Babylon Berlin highly relevant to today. So many extremes battling for supremacy, all with the intention of "making us (and you, and them over there) great again." RAWR.
Just one problem. Not everybody agrees with how, exactly, that should be done, and not everybody's solutions work for everyone involved.
We're on approach to the centennial of the world that created the Holocaust disaster. Talk about a "Solution." (7) Some people would even like to pretend that it didn't exist, or that involved parties were not involved. Others cannot fathom how such an atrocity could happen among decent people.
Quite easily, actually. It happens all the time, just not usually to that extent. Silence. Fear. Ignorance. Exploitation. Lies. Manipulation. Suppression of facts. Propaganda. Censorship. Desperation. Poverty. Communal pride. Disease. Idealism. White knights who really aren't. Unexpressed rage and outrage. Unaddressed traumas like...oh, gee...a three-punch combo of war, economic crises, and viral epidemics... (8)
As our host, The Hipstorian, says above in his video about watching Berlin's tale while already knowing huge swaths of how it has to end:
"No matter how well-meaning some people's good intentions may have been, they inevitably ended up enabling the rise of a regime that, later on, changed more than they bargained for...the many circumstances and systems in place were leading them all to one particular outcome... No matter the small victories the main characters gain for the time being, it's a sad truth to an otherwise intense and gripping story...
"...the series also shows us that the Nazis didn't just come out of nowhere either. They were people who responded to the state of the German society, and acted against it accordingly. Even the right-wing Nationalists that appear in the series are not inherently Nazis right away but are people who want to return Germany to its former glory...
"And yet, despite its grim depictions of morality, politics, lifestyles, and many other extremes, it never feels like Babylon Berlin forces any sort of moral or superficial messages on the viewer. Nor does it feel particularly emotionally manipulative or ironic. The viewer can make what they want of all the cultural shifts and politics with no moral judgment involved."
Which is also the point of good history, good journalism, and good storytelling. We're all a piece on the game board of this era's hamster wheel. And we enact these stories within ourselves, all the time. We are the microcosm; we're part of the macrocosm--intertwined, not nearly as important in the ways we might think we are, and inevitably crucial to the fates of everything we're connected to.
About to rise up, unveil, reveal...
Dance has always been one of the primary ways in which I truly and fully express myself. At times, it's been the only way.
During my twenty-year stint in the Writer’s Closet, it was how I shared my uncensored thoughts, feelings, and the immense amount of emotion and turbulence I was experiencing. Some things I never even told my closest friends or my significant others. I rarely shared my gobs of writing about life, love, dance, trauma, healing. I had stopped letting anyone except a few trusted souls see my fiction. I certainly never let anybody read my journaling.
Then, around 2005, I started censoring that, too. When my husband took my journal and read it against my will, I no longer felt safe to even express myself that way. I stopped writing anything that I wouldn’t have wanted broadcast to the whole world--completely counter to a diary's purpose.
I only started journaling again when I left him and moved into my own apartment, but my next husband violated the privacy of my email not long after we were married. That prompted me to not only put a password on my computer, but I started hiding my journal deep within a costume drawer.
Eventually I stopped journaling altogether. Instead, I created a separate account in my computer, also password protected, and began only writing digitally. For a handwritten Morning Pages girl, that was a cumbersome transition. But once it gained momentum, for the first time in seven years, I poured out my thoughts and feelings into words with zero censorship.
This ability to once again soul-search led to my decision to leave him as well. Unfortunately, my conscientious agreement to delay and go with him to marital counseling landed me with a fist to the face, resulting in the year of seizures that halted my already destabilized belly dance career once and for all. In fact, it halted my entire life, which brought me to Arkansas.
Silver lining: these incidents led to the rebirth of all these old dance explorations I’ve been playing with from my youngest years, for which I am thrilled. Like Mary Wigman (1-6, 9), I have retreated to the mountains to hone all my explorations of movement into a style that is uniquely my own, with a primary intention of emotional expression, characterization, and storytelling.
I would not have chosen this additional trek through the Underworld that I’m still weathering, but I could never have foreseen where it would push me.
"To live…to look back into the past, to let it emerge again as memory means to see it through the mirror of the present, and from this point of view to put the image to its frame. And as I now try to retrace and recreate with images some of the most important stages of my work, the result is not going to be a textbook. Nevertheless, it may have something to say to some of you, and help you to come closer to the meaning of the Dance...its secret that lies hidden in the living breath, which is the secret of Life."
~Mary Wigman (3)
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.
If you've never been a professional artist--especially one in the business of artistic innovation--taking flack because people don't like your way of self-expression means far more than, "Wah-wah, they're being mean to me nobody likes me eat worms blah." It means that you don't get to eat, period. It means that, if you're a parent, neither do your kids. It means that suddenly you don't have a job anymore.
"Oh, wah-wah, go get a reeeeeal job! So you don't get to play with your widdle toys and expwess your widdle heart. Well, suck it up, 'cause neither do I."
Because although this world values certain entertainers, it does not value artists and creators, and it actually likes to attack the independent, innovative ones, especially those who express things that individuals in power would prefer to keep suppressed.
That goes for governments, leaders, religions, factions, corporations, households, even the artistic communities themselves.
Why do you think I'm no longer on Facebook and Medium, and I don't often speak words on YouTube anymore? As I said, dance bypasses a great deal. You can say it all without speaking a (blacklisted) word. Yet, when it comes to artists who "deserve" to be paid for their work, dance is at the bottom of the artistic food chain.
Among my favorite memes and posts out there are the ones that challenge us to imagine this world if every single piece of art and creativity were taken away.
You get one outfit to dominate your closet--the same outfit in the same shape and un-dyed dinge-hue as every other human on the planet.
You also don't get to cover up your zits or style your hair.
You get no music.
No books, movies, TV, stage performances, memes, or underground entertainment.
You certainly don't get to TikTok or make those funny or philosophical posts on Reddit.
You get blank, dinge-white walls on every space you enter, and in the entirety of your own home.
You get cracker-box buildings. Period.
Oh. And you get to squeeze tasteless, nutrition-based glop out of a white-and-black container labeled SUSTENANCE.
You are not allowed to imagine. You are not allowed to experiment. You are not allowed to explore. You are not allowed to create, and don't you dare express yourself.
Definitely not a world I want to live in.
Heck, let's just live in a world where art is "only" as suppressed as it was under the Third Reich. No?
Or if words, rhythm and sound hit you more deeply:
During the first years after my big car wreck, my body had not healed to the point where I could resume my interest in martial arts, so the only place I could let it--carefully--explode was onstage. I did a lot of sword slicing, skirt flinging, and spinning in those days. I had been blacklisted from the local Moroccan restaurants and stage shows due to lies told by another dancer, so I moved away and began producing my own stage shows, first in small venues, then in sold-out theaters.
It didn’t take long before dancers on the Western Slope of Colorado began hiring me to come teach and perform--always with the understanding of what I am: an innovative fusion artist.
They couldn’t have been more thrilled, because they, too, yearned for something more than swimming upstream against the notion that we were hoochie-coochie girls, there to provide wank-fodder or to shock and appall the locals. But neither did they want to stick to purely traditional forms. They, like me, were American artists, and we wanted to make art in the individualistic mindset that is one of the hallmarks of our country.
For those few blissful years, we blasted through outdated myths. We shared history and culture, told tall tales, created characters, and danced out the deepest emotions of our hearts.
And it worked.
We raised money for people whose homes had been devastated by wildfire, and for charitable foundations. We introduced never-imagined layers of surprise and wonder that there was so much more to belly dancing than Bond Girls shaking their shit in 1960s spy movies or in smoky "Eastern dens of depravity." We made people re-think, ruminate, and feel deeply.
This is one of the aspects of my dancing that is commented on the most: my ability to evoke emotion in my audience. People laugh, swoon, clutch their hearts, cry--occasionally they bawl, because I’m not merely moving my body to the music. I’m definitely doing more than showing off how intricately the beading and fringe on my costume was sewn at all the right places to shake. I mean, that's part of the technique, the stagecraft, and the fun, but that's just the surface level.
Dance, for me, is one of the only ways I’ve ever found to feel heard, understood, and appreciated by other people. We all have our widely varied circumstances, expressions, perspectives, and ways of processing emotion, but dance with its abstraction and biological body-language spoken by the majority of humans on this planet has the capacity to bypass all that.
When we let it.
CHOOSE YOUR OWN ADVENTURE
--UP NEXT: LETTING THE RIVER FLOW - Mary Wigman & Expressionist Dance 3
--OR if you're interested in how I got started with daily journaling and how it transformed my dancing, you can go back in time with me to a post from my 20th Anniversary Crash Series: DECEMBER 20, 2000 - CHAKRAS & PAGES & MOST WELCOME CHANGES
--OR if you missed the start of all this "hoochie-coochie" myth & history stuff, it starts here with ORIENTALIST DREAMS. The entire dance history--mine and those who inspired me--begins with SOLID GOLD REBEL.
--THE NAVIGATION TABLE OF CONTENTS
SOME MORE LINKS FOR YOUR GEEKING PLEASURE:
1) Mary Wigman
2) Mary Wigman - A Dance Pioneer with an Awkward Past
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
6) Culture in the Third Reich: Disseminating the Nazi Worldview
--"Degenerate Art" under the Third Reich
7) Some points of my curiosity beyond the Holocaust timelines:
--A Mosaic of Holocaust Victims
--Dismantling Traumatic "Hierarchies of Suffering"
--Including LGBTQ Stories in Holocaust Survival
--Attempts to Rewrite Holocaust History
--How the Nazis Were Inspired by Jim Crow & Other Racist American Laws
--Holocaust: the Jewish Virtual Library
8) Mapping the Spanish Flu Epidemic
9) THE WIKIS TO GET YOU STARTED DOWN RABBIT HOLES:
American Tribal Style Belly Dance