THE HUMAN HAND CAN ACTUALLY BLOOM - Mary Wigman & Expressionist Dance 4
Updated: Apr 21
MAYA: DANCE, DRUMS, DREAMS - My First Time Dancing Around the Fire
And from: Mary Wigman & Expressionist Dance
Part 1 - AN EXPRESSING...A SPEAKING OUT
Part 2 - SECRETS THAT LIE HIDDEN
Part 3 - LETTING THE RIVER FLOW
"For the first time, I saw that the hands—the human hand—can actually bloom. It can become a bud and bloom, and when that happens, then hands have also to be able to say something else. They must be able to be angry…greedy…threatening…dangerous…sad…tender…even more tender. They must be able to speak of love and flutter like a butterfly.
"You know that the human hand in dance can never be alone for itself, but it always must be carried by the entire body. I personally love the human hand. I think it is wonderful. The hands make natural movements that become more the essence of the expression in the dance. The whole hand has to breathe. The sensations of the hands go into the whole body."
~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 (1-4)
If you're just joining us and haven't ventured back to read the first three installments of my Mary Wigman series from my college dance days, let me introduce you to one of the birth-mothers of Modern Dance, a German artist from the Expressionist Movement that came to life between the two World Wars.
This piece is from her 1929 suite, "Shifting Landscapes," which she apparently created while she was falling in love. This one is called "Pastorale."
Do you see it? Do you see why I've never been able to "do it right" in belly dance? Because there is too much of this in me!
🥰 And I wouldn't have it any other way. 🥰
22 years old
I haven't seen my first belly dance teacher since the day when Diana and I slammed the door as we stormed out of her classroom. Since that day, I've only spoken to Hala once, on the phone when she told me that she understood that everything had been a horrible misunderstanding, and all was forgiven.
When she lied to me.
Everything was definitely not all forgiven, which she proved on the day of the Iron Will Incident when she ditched me. She brought Diana to dance in the movie shoot. She kept teaching Diana and performing with her. She forgave Diana.
Of course, I've often wondering what exactly my former best friend and dance partner told Hala in order to get back into her good graces. I've wondered how badly Diana threw me under the bus, considering the fact that she sided with the guys who threatened my life last year--she had started dating one of their buddies. She's actually the one who delivered their death threat, and she said that she "didn't really blame them."
Since then, I haven't spoken to her either. I'm so glad she'd stopped dancing with me at the Greek restaurant months before.
Tonight, when I spy Hala making her way over to me on the sidelines of the stage, my heart gives a start. I hadn't known she was in the audience, watching me at this outdoor benefit show. She might not have forgiven me, but I had thought I'd forgiven her. Now I'm suddenly uncertain. It was almost three years ago. Today her eyes are bright. So is her smile as she threads her way between people in a beeline toward me. Yes, I've pretty much forgiven her.
I have not, however, forgotten.
"Oh, my dear!" she says, reaching out her hands to me. "You were so lovely!'
My heart can't help but melt a little. I mean, come on, this is my first teacher. This woman helped save my life when she took me by the hand and led me into one of the greatest gifts I've ever received, so I meet her embrace and sink into the hug. "Thank you," I purr. "That means so much coming from you."
The damn perfume in her hair makes me all misty-eyed with memory. Her thick, coffee-toned waves still flow past her shoulders, but the shocks of blond have given way to more subtle highlights. Either way, she's as stunning and elegant as ever.
Dang it, I'd never wanted it to go so badly between us. Quite the opposite. But I can't regret where it led me. Last spring, I discovered this amazing group called the Society for Creative Anachronism. It's a medieval reenactment group, and they even have belly dancers there--excuse me, Middle Eastern Dancers.
One of the guys from our local Shire introduced me to another teacher--now that was a surprise to learn that there were two belly dance teachers up here! But once Barbara learned that I am a restaurant dancer (read: a hoochie who shakes it for body tips), she no longer wanted me in her class.
So now I'm back to sponging information wherever I can get it. I've been learning so much about Middle Eastern history and culture from my new SCA mentors down in Minneapolis.
I also still get together sometimes with Gina and Deborah. They arranged this benefit show to raise money for the American Cancer Society, and invited me and a few other people to perform.
Hala wasn't one of them. She and her troupe would have been a wonderful addition, but after everything that happened at the Iron Will shoot, I'm not surprised they didn't ask her. To find her here in the audience is a surprise to me--well, sort of. We were bound to cross paths again someday if I kept belly dancing.
She grasps my fingertips and squeezes them. "You must tell me. Where did you learn these hands? So beautiful. So..." She moves hers in the fluid circles and fiery fingers that she just watched me perform.
I blink hard. "Oh..."
I know what she's talking about. But the truth is, I don't know how to answer her. The SCA ladies have been teaching me how to play finger cymbals, and Maya studies Persian Dance, so she gave me specific names for all the rippling gestures I've been playing with since watching Madame Lucy's hand cascades on that National Geographic special. Maya showed me other ways to use them for framing, and also for telling stories.
But the ones Hala wants to know about...all these circles and fanning fingers and these sparking, flickering, bristling... I don't know what they are. I just call them "dragon hands" or "flicker fingers." The softer ones are butterflies. Faeries. Did I see them in a movie when I was a kid? I have no idea.
Whatever they are, I didn't learn them from any teacher. I don't really know why I do them. It started happening at the SCA campfires. Sometimes I love to stand in front of the flames and mimic them. The gestures Maya and I play with are all water. The "rippling river" and "ocean waves" and "swimming salmon".
Mimicking fire is different. It doesn't come from the tension and release of my hands and wrists. Water is like...holding it all in reserve. Like harnessing the river's power and channeling it where I want it to go. It's like directing every little current and curve. Air is like that, just softer.
When I stand in front of the bonfire with my bare feet on the carpet, I can feel the earth beneath it, and I can feel the roar of the fire's center. Its heart. All that heat and light shoots into my legs and hips--not the hip bones. It goes deeper into me. Into my pelvis and guts. It lights my own heart on fire and then surges out my arms. Sometimes it's an explosion, when the music tells me to. Otherwise, I harness it too, but it's so different from ripples and snakes.
It's almost like it glows inside my palms and then I paint light on everything. I play with it, like tossing tiny suns back and forth, swirling them around, rubbing the light all over myself. Up my body or down my arms or around my head. And the fingers...the dragons...it's like the sparks that shoot up from the bonfire to dance with the stars. It's like curling licks of fire inside my hands and sending them up into the night sky, then plucking a star to bring it back down.
But I don't actually have words to explain all that. It's just...a bunch of sensations and images and I don't know how to describe it without sounding crazy.
Hala is still staring at me, expectantly awaiting my answer, so I shrug up a shoulder. My face is burning as hot as the bonfire because my tongue has failed me. All I can say is, "I...I don't really know where it came from. Nobody taught it to me. I just..."
Her brows tic. "Oh."
I turn my palms up and give a helpless shrug. "I love the new colors of your hair," I blurt out, desperate to change the subject.
Because I've never told anybody about the conversations I have with those bonfires, or the moon or the stars or the breezes or what happens when I get my shoes off and the drums start to pound into me. I haven't told anybody what the rain whispers when I go out walking in it alone in the dark, or what the sunlight on the lake giggles when I swim.
I certainly haven't told anybody about how I go about learning to dance when I'm not in the rare, cherished class. Maya came up from Minneapolis and did that workshop on drum solos and veils a few months ago, and sometimes one of the older ladies will hold a class at an event. Leila and Khadizha taught me how to play finger cymbals and a bunch of other amazing stuff. I've gotten to see Laurie a few times down there, and she's shown me some new moves, too.
But mostly, the way I'm learning to dance now is by osmosis around the fires or under somebody's sunshade in the afternoon after the battles and tournaments are done when somebody pulls out a drum and we all just frolic together. Then...
I don't know how to explain that either. It's more than just watching their moves. It's deeper and bigger than watching their body parts. It's like I watch the energy traveling through the other dancers' bodies and then make mine go the same color, in the same pattern. I make it come from the same place and draw the same shapes. It's kind of like what Marlene talks about when she has me paint a rainbow up my spine.
It's even better when somebody knows how to explain what the muscular contractions and weight changes are doing, because then I can come at it from both directions. Muscular and...whatever it is that I'm doing. Because in the middle of the drum circle, we don't often speak.
Instead, I let the other dancers' bodies and their energy speak to me, just like I listen to the fire and the wind. I listen with my eyes. Or...something. Sometimes it's not even eyes.
It's the same way I used to know that kids were making fun of me behind my back, and how I knew they didn't mean a single nice thing they said, even though they were smiling. I could see the fanged snakes coiled up behind their eyes and I could see the jagged daggers of lightning they shot straight into my guts and my heart. I could feel it when they hurled them at my back.
People still do that, and I can still feel it.
I've never told anybody about that either. Not since I was very, very young. "Oh, they are not being mean," adults would chastise when I sulked off by myself. "She paid you that nice compliment about your outfit so go back outside and play. You need to make friends."
I did need to make friends. And the mean kids were anything but friendly. I would try to explain what I was seeing behind their smiles. I would say that I just knew, and that was never a good enough reason. There's no concrete proof in "feeling" or "sensing" what others missed, and whenever I tried to describe it, people looked at me like I was nuts so I just started shutting up.
I don't want anybody to think I'm nuts, especially not Hala, so I chirp about surface things and I leave the magic of what's happening with my hand movements to the silent conversations with whatever is teaching me.
I didn't lie. No-BODY is teaching me these things. Well...except maybe my own.
Many years later, I would learn that some dance styles call these hands "flora or floreo" and "lotus." I would learn that some of my "flicker fingers" and "dragon hands" were called "mudras," and that there were a myriad of these ancient hand positions, each with specific meaning. Some are religious, some are used in healing and meditation, and others are aesthetic, used in dance and theater.
Back when my hands first started moving in these strange ways, I didn't even have the elemental language I've just used to describe what I was doing, but I don't know how to write that scene any other way than, "Um...it was this...thing. It just...happened out there by the fire. I wasn't even fully THERE. I was...like...in the music. In the fire. In the stars. I was GONE. And when I sorta... 'woke up' I was dancing and everybody's jaws were on the ground. But I have no idea what I did."
That's how it always is when I'm truly in the Zone. But when I first started playing with these things... something was happening and I had no language to talk about it.
The work I do with my hands has long been hailed as one of the things my fans like best about my dancing. My hands are also one of the first things that people rip apart when they dislike the fact that I'm a fusion artist. It got so bad toward the end of my belly dance career that I never wanted to dance unless my hands were busy holding a prop or finger cymbals.
In some of my old dance videos, I can see it in the tension and the reflexive, almost twitchy way I kept crossing my hands over my heart. It's all instinctual self-protection as I kept stopping my fingers from doing what they wanted to do.
The reclamation projects I've had to do on my hand work in the past years has been one of the most difficult of them all. To stop hearing the nasty comments and the snickers, to stop seeing the hissy eyes and shaking heads, or the "helpful for your own good" chastising down the nose as though I had no clue that I was bungling everything with these "oh-so-expressive but WRONG" hands.
Um...thanks. I never said I was going to dance in that style you just mentioned. I've never studied that style because I wasn't interested in it. I WAS expressing. I was dancing. Period.
YOU are the one who has no clue--either because you ignored the description of the type of innovative fusion style I perform, or because my MC decided to get happy with himself and made up a bunch of stuff he thought would sound soooo much better than what I wrote. Or because they bypassed reading the intros altogether. Or because the person who sent me to this show lied when she said that she informed you that I'm a fusion artist, not any sort of traditional dancer.
I get really tired of people lying about me. It happens a lot. Clarifying some of these things is one of the many reasons I publish this blog out here where other people can read it.
Because rest assured, the way I dance with my hands is 100% intentional. I like the way it feels and I like the way it flows with the music. I especially like the way it allows me to tell stories.
MY stories in MY way.
Sometimes they're full characters with backstories and a plot from start to finish over multiple pieces of music. At the most basic level, it's the tale of how the music makes me feel. As we covered in our other Expressionism posts, storytelling is one of the most intrinsic reasons why I dance.
Now that I have a much deeper understanding of where all that stuff was coming from--and of just how little I understand about where it comes from--I've gone even deeper into letting the natural world and the depths of my subconscious teach me new hand movements, no matter who calls it "wrong, awful, mortifying" or even "disrespectful." I know it's not. I will not be silenced anymore, and for anybody determined to muzzle my mouth or my hands ever again, I've got a plethora of gestures for those self-expressive moments.
One of them is waving "buh-bye."
I trust the Muse. I trust the Elements and the Alchemy they make in combination. I trust whatever it is that I'm creating by listening to them and letting them dance my body.
If we travel a little further down the rabbit hole of where the Muse took these hand moves - here's a peek at the Metal Track of my Level 2 Weekly Workout course where we discuss the communicative, storytelling aspect of my intricate hand gestures:
A workout track for differentiating the energy between Air & Water in the flowy, rippling hands and arms (with a few examples of Fire & Earth):
CHOOSE YOUR OWN ADVENTURE
--UP NEXT: DAMSEL TO DANGEROUS - Journey of a Warrior Princess
--OR: There's more about the magic of hands in this post I made about the healing power of dance: DRAWING ROOM and the hand-heavy dance I made for it, "Circles & Infinities."
OR: if you missed my posts about being an HSP Neurodivergent, there's an entire category for that.
OR: The rest of my dance tales are HERE.
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:
9) THE WIKIS TO GET YOU STARTED DOWN RABBIT HOLES: