Tuesday, 18 December 2007

Healing the Belly

About a year ago my boyfriend said at dinner: "I have two things to tell you. One, I love you. And two, I want you to lose weight! Is it just that you don't know, you don't care? Is it just that you can't stop eating? Do you binge eat? Do you KNOW how you look?"

You'd think at 46 I would have developed enough self-esteem to get up and leave. I had put on, in 5 years, around 15 pounds. Not 60 pounds or 30 pounds, but 15 pounds.

I stayed around for another miserable year of locking horns, of his sly comments about how much butter I was allowed to eat and if I "got outside" that day. Finally, I bailed. The night I broke up with him I was going through a closet and found my zills. I held them and wept, remembering a time when I didn't obsess over every calorie and every mile.

I took off all my clothes, put on my silver belt and tightened the zills on my fingers and thumbs. I stuck my belly out. WAY out.

I danced through the house and felt it all come back, felt all the pain releasing, ebbing from my belly in an invisible wave. I felt the joy in my body, the pure innocent joy of being alive, returning.

Margaret Cho remarked in her latest DVD that belly dancing is a perfect way to heal from food disorders and body dysmorphia.

I agree with her. I believe the physical act of celebrating the belly and hips is incredibly affirming, and to free the belly frees the pain and the joy. We hold pain in the belly, especially when our bellies are disrespected. In the act of a simple hip circle, the belly opens and pain moves out. When the pain moves out, the memory of pure joy returns and the dance animates us with our birthright of self-celebration.

Thank you to everyone who dances, who talks about dance, who teaches dance, who loves dance.

You light the way for my journey back to ME.


Source: The Hip Circle

Thursday, 6 December 2007

The Belly of the Beast: Belly Dancing as a new form of Orientalism

by Fatemeh Fakhraie
Published: November 6, 2007

It’s time to set the record straight, everyone. So here it is: belly dancing is not a significant facet of Middle Eastern culture. It’s a dance, not a lifestyle (not according to most Middle Eastern people, anyway).

I’ve had one too many people ask me if I belly dance when they hear about my religion or ethnicity. Belly dancing is something that is present in some form of another in most Middle Eastern cultures, but is not really a part of our identity. And I assure you, nowhere in the Holy Qur’an does it say, “Thou shalt belly dance.” But because of Hollywood’s old Orientalist glamour, images of belly dancing have become almost synonymous with the Middle East.

I can’t help but get irritated when someone assumes that s/he and I automatically have something in common because s/he belly dances. The truth of a real-live Middle Eastern woman belly dancing seems to validate all those silly images that come into one’s head about spangly costumes and the Dance of the Seven Veils. Belly dancing has a host of sexualized and savage images attached to it, and if Middle Eastern/Muslim women confess to belly dancing (for exercise, as a career, for fun, or whatever), those images get attached to us, and we no longer have individual thoughts or lifestyles. We don’t take care of our parents or our children, we don’t have jobs or have opinions about health care reform, we just belly dance. Like it’s all we do, all day. This is why it’s insulting when someone thinks s/he knows what it’s like to be a Middle Eastern/Muslim woman because s/he’s taken a belly dancing class or read a book about it. The image of a Middle Eastern woman belly dancing seems to take away from our identity: it erases who we really are, our different nationalities and ethnicities, our emotions, our day-to-day existence.

Now, let me assure you: my problem isn’t with the dance itself. Belly dancing is a great way to connect with one’s sensuality, to exercise, and to appreciate the body that God gave you. Nor is my problem with non-Middle Eastern women (or men) belly dancing (or with Middle Eastern people dancing).

What bothers me is the adoption of a caricatured Middle Eastern identity through coin-bedazzled bras and Middle Eastern stage names like “Amina” or “Vashti.” If you’re a non-Middle Eastern performer, why give yourself a Middle Eastern stage name? What’s wrong with a name that reflects your own ethnicity or interests? Is it not “ethnic” or “exotic” enough? Besides, how would you feel if someone else used the name your parents gave you (that perhaps also belonged to your grandmother or aunt) as a stage name for an act that most people in your culture consider shameful if done publicly? (Cultural lesson: in most parts of the Middle East, belly dancing is often a cover for illicit activities.)

Similarly, dance troupe names like “Desert Queens” or “Daughters of Scheherazade” serve the same exoticizing purpose when these troupes are full of non-Middle Eastern women set in a non-Middle Eastern setting (like Austin, Texas, for example, which hosted a Belly Dancing Convention last July).

I take offense at the presentation of Middle Eastern “culture” through things like transparent veils, coin necklaces, and henna tattoos because reducing the Middle Eastern experience to some jingly coins and a scimitar takes the humanity right out of us. Elements of Middle Eastern/Muslim stereotypes are irreparably attached to the use of swords, snakes, and veils. These props serve to reinforce the idea of Muslim/Middle Eastern women as dangerous, sexually arousing, sexually submissive, and just plain different from women in the West.

Performers (Middle Eastern or non-Middle Eastern) highlight these images when they (Middle Eastern or non-Middle Eastern) balance swords on their heads and give themselves henna tattoos. The inclusion of these props is often used to authenticate a Middle Eastern experience, making the performance or venue more like the “Mysterious Orient,” in which Middle Eastern women are acquiescing sexual props and Middle Eastern men are brutal and dangerous.

Why is this acceptable? These practices (other than henna for holidays and weddings) aren’t even Middle Eastern: Egyptian performers borrowed the ideas for these spangly suits from Hollywood in the early twentieth century. And no Middle Easterner just walks around all day with a sword perched atop her head. Belly dancing doesn’t even traditionally show off the stomach: a scarf is tied around one’s hips (over regular, concealing clothing) to emphasize the movements. So how did we get to sparkly bras and coin jewelry?!

Because sex sells! Early colonial performers knew what their (often Western or male) audiences wanted to see: sexuality. A pretty girl dancing sensually for the male gaze. Using veils in performances reiterates this: sashaying a veil under one’s heavily-painted eyes is done to entice and enchant, and is associated with the traditional face veils that upper-class (and thus inaccessible) Turkish, Egyptian, and Iranian women used to wear before (or during) colonization.

The problem is that belly dancing is permeated with all of these negative Orientalist dancing harem girl images. Can one belly dance without the coins, the henna, and/or swords? I think so. A long time ago, it was all about the scarf tied around the hips. It’s not flashy, but it’s sincere.

Source: Muslimah Media Watch

Thursday, 9 August 2007

Capturing Dance, Recording History

Published: August 1, 2007

When filmmakers make movies about dance on stage — be it ballet or modern — the results are usually a bit of a let down: The backstage drama winds up with more (and better) stage time than the performances.

But when it comes to social dance, Hollywood deserves a fair measure of praise. Movies that incorporate or revolve around social dance are distinctly of their own time. And without movies to show how people danced at a given moment in history, the style of that era would exist only in photography and memory.

Imagine the extreme frustration that would befall today's grandparents if they could only show their grandchildren photographs of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. A still image of those two slim figures tapping out a duet or waltzing together across the room would show the style of the day and the surroundings, but none of the quality of the movement.

Of course, the average couple going out for a spin on a Friday night in 1949, the year that "The Barkleys of Broadway" opened, couldn't possibly dance as well as this professional pair. But Fred and Ginger represented a standard of elegance and — given the cornball plots to fill the time between the dancing — enough romance to send the audience into flights of fancy.

In the modern era, perhaps the greatest film to capture social dance is "Saturday Night Fever" (1977). The scenes in the Brooklyn nightclub give us glimpses of lively group dances, some of which are interrupted by the flashy stylings of the local hotshot, Tony Manero, played by the exceptionally gifted John Travolta. Though his home-grown style looks spontaneous on the dance floor, the rehearsal scenes let the viewer in on the trick: Tony and his partners practice quite a lot. What he creates in the studio pushes the form forward when he takes it public.

But "Saturday Night Fever" is also brutally realistic about life, love, and sex. These young women and men don't know where they're going, and only the boy who can dance — the artist — can see a way out of the borough. The film uses the vehicle of dance to show how modern society was changing and expectations were expanding, which makes it much more than a film about dance.

The plot of "Flashdance" (1983) brings high and low dance into a culture clash. Exotic dancer Alex Owens (Jennifer Beals) wants to get into the local ballet company. Lacking ballet technique and a rule-abiding temperament, she breaks in by way of attitude. The dance that is captured here is more about strip dancing than fox trotting, but her workouts and the culminating audition scene are examples of a jazzbased style that was popular at the time. And whereas in "Striptease" (1996), Demi Moore also had some creative, moody stripper acts set to popular Annie Lennox songs, nothing beats "Flashdance" for that infamous gush of water.

By contrast, social dance is at the center of the plot of "Footloose" (1984). A sleepy small town, in which the most important church pastor has forbidden dance, is disrupted when the sexy, daring Ren McCormack (Kevin Bacon) arrives from the big city. He leads the high school students in a reasoned protest in favor of a prom with dancing.

Ren gets the girl and the prom, but the fun part is watching his buddy Willard (Chris Penn) learn how to dance. The teaching starts from the need to understand rhythm and then to have the confidence to create something personal. At the prom, the exuberant dance moves suggest that the rest of the teens — who have previously not been allowed to dance — have been secretly practicing, too. There is partnering, individual showing off, and even a littlebreak-dancing, which considering that the Midwestern town depicted was almost lily-white, was probably not entirely accurate.

But the '80s were the era of breakdancing — and any film about dance needed it. The film "Breakin'" (1984) brought jazz and breakdancing together. "Beat Street" (1984) emphasized the role of the DJ. Neither film may live large in the annals of cinema, but their purpose was to capitalize on the interest in a new urban dance form. By putting breakdancing at the center of the action, the filmmakers gave a national audience to something that was only emerging in cities. And they gave modern films about street dance, such as "You Got Served" (2004), a jumping off point to incorporate the explosion of gang culture.

Though films such as "Grease" (1978) and "Dirty Dancing" (1987) became hits within the musicalfilm genre, both look back to other eras rather than explore the contemporary. "Grease" opened only one year after "Saturday Night Fever," but how different the happy version of the '50s looks in comparison to the grittiness and reality of Brooklyn in the late 1970s. "Dirty Dancing" took a retrospective look at 1963 in the Catskills, but launched the new (and supremely annoying) song "(I've Had) the Time of My Life" onto the radio.

As different as all these films are, the one element connecting films about social dancing — be they retrospective or of their time — is the idealistic message that dancing is a sort of healing activity. It can bring families together, elevate one's social standing, and open minds. And if that's true, we could use a little more of it — in film and in real life, too.

Source: NY Sun

Leaps to Freedom

Photo: Sampath Kumar G.P.
Published: Aug 07

Jaap Van Manen - My class is all about opening up the self with movementFor Jaap Van Manen, dance is not only a way of life, but also something that helps you break free from hangups

Jaap Van Manen from Netherlands, turns on the music and tells the five dancers to move. Move, they do, with each one following not the music but their own body rhythm. Neither is conscious of the other, and all moves are independent and at their own pace.

Jaap is watching; his face cradled in his palms. He watches every move intensely. The music stops, he calls the dancers and tells them: “You stayed in your own space till now, but now if you make eye contact with the others around you, what will happen?”

“We start to interact with the others through movement,” comes the response, which pleases Jaap so much that he claps his hand and turns on the music again. Suddenly you notice that there is a smile on each dancers’ face as they make eye contact with the others and they seem to be aware of what the other is doing and try to choreograph their own body movement to blend with the other’s. Now they all move as one unit.

“You see dance is such a beautiful tool. You just have to open the window and let the person find his own way using it,” says this man who is a theologian, dance teacher and “life coach”.

For him, dance is not only a way of life, but also something that helps you “break free and overcome all your inhibitions. I do not dance with them but only act as a facilitator who gives them ideas and help them discover their own space. You have to become a child with your movement and not an inhibited adult ,” explains Jaap.

With a true blue Christian upbringing, he took to theology to discover spirituality and according to him “spirituality is broader than a religion. Religion specifies god and the ways to him. It is like breaking that one source into pieces. Spirituality is important for me as it is the source of any work. Dance is also a way to find that spirituality. It is more about the self. But when you go deep into that self you are bound to discover your connection to the supernatural because the self in you is connected to that large source of life,” he says.

Jaap started a dance company called Mobile in Netherlands in 1998 with the aim to “develop a person’s potential and dance with a flow. Our goal is for people (in companies) to move and develop themselves, so that they behave authentically and act naturally.” He uses themes as an impulse for movement. For instance, “I can use an element like water and ask the dancer to move smoothly like a river or like a roaring ocean. The dancer thereby moves with an image in her mind. This way you can express the theme water in its different moods”.

He feels bad about the current lifestyle that has taken people away from movement.

“Dance and movement are innate. Our body is designed for movement — walk, run, jump, but because of our education and the lifestyle we have restricted our movement.” So Jaap is very happy when he has a person with no dance background walking into his class.

“If it is a workshop for adults then I take them back to their childhood. My class is all about opening up the self with movement. If I find the person a bit too rigid only then will I dance along, yet as an example and not as a model for that person to imitate me. If he does copy me then how can he evolve from within?”

If this principle is applied then Indian classical dance is all about fixed movement and expressions and hand gestures. So does it mean that Indian dance is not evolved?

“If dance is used as a tool to make someone free and aware of themselves, then its duty is fulfilled. Coaching should not be like setting yourself some goals, like business or for success. But as a true teacher I will forget myself and the development of the other person becomes important,” explains Jaap, who has worked with children, adults and elderly people in “different settings” for more than 20 years. At Stichting de Santenkraam — a workshop for biblical spirituality and creativity, he combined theology and dance and worked as a choreographer.

Jaap now looks forward to work in India, and his focus is not just the dancers “but for anyone who has a passion for movement. Even people who want to learn it for therapeutic values or for those who want to discover themselves can walk into my class,” he says. Jaap can be contacted on jaapmobile@hetnet.nl or info@dancecoaching.nl. Jaap’s workshop in the city was organised by Rainbow Inc.

This column features those who choose to veer off the beaten track.

Source: The Hindu

Friday, 3 August 2007

The DNA of Dance

AVPR1a and SLC6A4 Gene Polymorphisms Are Associated with Creative Dance Performance (research article)
By: Rachel Bachner-Melman, Christian Dina, Ada H. Zohar, Naama Constantini, Elad Lerer, Sarah Hoch, Sarah Sella, Lubov Nemanov, Inga Gritsenko, Pesach Lichtenberg, Roni Granot, Richard P. Ebstein
Published: September 30, 2005
“With the creation of the universe, the dance too came into being, which signifies the union of the elements. The round dance of the stars, the constellation of planets in relation to the fixed stars, the beautiful order and harmony in all its movements, is a mirror of the original dance at the time of creation.” - Lucian of Samosata (~125 to 180 A.D.), On Dance (De Saltatione)

Dancing, integrally related to music, likely has its origins close to the birth of Homo sapiens. The authors hypothesized that there are differences in aptitude, propensity, and need for dancing that may be based on differences in common genetic polymorphisms. Identifying such differences may lead to an understanding of the neurobiological basis of dancing.

Variants of the serotonin transporter and the arginine vasopressin receptor 1a genes were examined in performing dancers, elite athletes, and nonathletes/nondancers. The serotonin transporter regulates the level of serotonin, a brain transmitter that contributes to spiritual experience. The vasopressin receptor has been shown in many animal studies to modulate social communication and affiliative behaviors. Notably, dancers scored high on the Tellegen Absorption Scale, a correlate of spirituality, and the Reward Dependence factor in Cloninger's Tridimensional Personality Questionnaire, a measure of empathy, social communication, and need for social contact. Significant differences were observed in allele frequencies for both genes when dancers were compared to athletes as well as to nondancers/nonathletes. These two genes were also associated with scores on the Tellegen Absorption Scale and Tridimensional Personality Questionnaire Reward Dependence, suggesting that the association between these genes and dance is mediated by personality factors reflecting the social communication, courtship, and spiritual facets of the dancing phenotype.

Dance, an art form closely allied to music, has been little studied from the neuroscience or genetic perspective, despite its significance in all cultures throughout the ages. Dance, like music, is an activity dating to prehistoric times that is sometimes a sacred ritual, sometimes a form of communication, and sometimes an important social and courtship activity; finally, dance is an art form that exists in every culture and manifests diverse paths [1]. Dance, as an expressive art form, is often considered inherently creative, especially when compared with a “nonartistic” domain. It is also a cultural form that results from creative processes that manipulate human bodies in space and time (“embodiment”). In many ways, dance is also a part of music, to which it is integrally related. Finally, professional dancers possess an exceptional talent, and as noted by Kalbfleisch [2], “Exceptional talent is the result of interactions between goal-directed behavior and nonvolitional perceptual processes in the brain that have yet to be fully characterized and understood by the fields of psychology and cognitive neuroscience.”

Dance may appear to be an unusual phenotype for human molecular genetics studies, but it is no more so than two closely related phenotypes, music [3] and athletic performance [4−6], that have both become subjects of molecular research. There is accumulating contemporary interest in the neuroscience of music [3,7−11] providing “proof of principle” that a widespread pursuit historically considered as part the human art and cultural heritage also has a solid basis in neuroscience, evolution, and genetics. Both music and athletic performance are complex phenotypes, the presentation of which is molded by environment and genes (and their interaction), especially in elite performers. A good example is absolute pitch, a relatively “clean” musical phenotype, of which the occurrence in approximately 20% of professional musicians is dependent not only on intrinsic ability but also on age of onset and intensity of musical training [11]. Similarly for athletic performance, evidence has accumulated over the past three decades for a strong genetic influence on human physical performance, with an emphasis on two sets of physical traits, cardiorespiratory and skeletal muscle function, that are particularly important for performance in a variety of sports [4]. A number of individual genetic variants associated with elite athletes have been provisionally identified, but there is little argument that elite athletes as well as elite musicians likely possess other characteristics related to personality and emotion that also contribute to their performance.

We suggest the notion that the “dance” phenotype is no more difficult to define than other complex human behavioral phenotypes (schizophrenia, attention deficit, personality, violence, and others) that have been shown to be both heritable and amenable to genetic analysis. Dancers fulfill a set of criteria with considerable face validity (similar in principle to the usual Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders–style “symptom checklist” [12]) that both identifies and distinguishes one disorder from another. For example, the US Department of Labor suggests that the following qualities, inter alia, are required to be a professional dancer: flexibility, agility, coordination, grace, a sense of rhythm, a feeling for music, and a creative ability to express oneself through movement [13].

In our ongoing studies of the genetic basis of human personality [14−16], we have recruited currently performing dancers (n = 85) who train for at least 10 h per week, because we thought that a study of this group would help us understand why some individuals are endowed with creative and artistic abilities or inclinations. Toward this end, dancers were characterized using both psychosocial instruments and common genetic polymorphisms. Of particular interest are the Tridimensional Personality Questionnaire (TPQ) [17] and the Tellegen Absorption Scale (TAS) [18], which, respectively, measure aspects of social communication (TPQ Reward Dependence) and spirituality (TAS), personality facets important in the dance phenotype.

We investigated two polymorphic genes that we hypothesized to add to artistic creativity: the arginine vasopressin 1a receptor (AVPR1a) and the serotonin transporter (SLC6A4). The SLC6A4 long promoter allele is more efficient at the level of transcript, producing more transporter protein that presumably more effectively removes serotonin from the synapse [19]. Both common intron 2 VNTR repeats (10 and 12) enhance transcription [20], although individual repeat elements differ in their activity in embryonic stem cell models [21]. In lower vertebrates, the promoter region repeat elements of the AVPR1a receptor determine brain-specific expression patterns and are responsible for differences in patterns of social communication across species [22]. In humans, the functional significance of the promoter repeats remains to be elucidated, although association between these repeats and social communication in humans was recently suggested [14,23,24].

We considered that AVPR1a might contribute to the dance phenotype, reflecting this gene's role in affiliative, social, and courtship behaviors [25], activities that are vital in many kinds of human dancing. Dancing also taps into human spiritual resources as evidenced by the role of dancing in sacred rituals [1]; it has been shown that serotonin plays a role in human spiritual experiences [26]. Additionally, use of ecstasy, a serotonergic neurotoxin, at rave dances and dance clubs [27] further links serotonin to both dancing and states of altered consciousness, two phenomena also linked in the absence of drugs. Finally, many studies show that serotonin enhances the release of vasopressin in the brain [28], suggesting the notion that these two genes, AVPR1a and SLC6A4, are also likely to exhibit epistasis, or gene−gene interactions, in association studies that reflect their interaction at the level of individual neurons as well as on the plane of neurotransmitter pathways. Interestingly, serotonin and vasopressin interact in the hypothalamus to control communicative behavior [29].

NB: Please follow the link below to read the whole paper.

Source: Public Library of Science (Genetics)

Monday, 16 July 2007

In Iraq, This Art Takes Courage

By Michael Luo
Published: Tuesday, October 31, 2006

BAGHDAD: The members of the national dance troupe of Iraq are performers without an audience. They rehearse daily, but hardly ever put on a show.

Yet each turn of the hip and dip at the waist in their choreographed pieces has become weighted with a dangerous new reality, even as they wait for the chaos around them to subside so they can perform again. In today's Iraq, with conservative religious parties and radical militias exerting growing influence over every aspect of life, even dancing is an act of bravery.

"Society is overwhelmed by these religious ideologies," said Tariq Ibrahim, a male dancer in the Baghdad troupe, the Iraqi National Folklore Group. "Now a woman on the street without a head scarf attracts attention. What about a woman onstage dancing?"

Together they are a band of 10 women and 15 men from varied religious backgrounds. Once they toured the world together. Today they are simply trying to survive, hoping one day to thrive again as a troupe. But the religiosity sweeping Iraq does not bode well for their future.

Female participation in folk dancing is considered haram, or forbidden, in Islam. Ayatollah al-Sistani, the leading Shiite cleric in Iraq, has issued strict guidelines against dancing in various situations. The country's Shiite-led government, the dancers said, is naturally trying to marginalize them.

"Religion in its essence does not match with art," said Fouad Thanoon, the group's director and lead choreographer. "So when religion and government come together, that will affect art very much."

The group has more immediate worries about extremists. Recently one of its members, Bushra Yousif, 21, a petite woman with delicate features who has been with the group for six years, received a note at home warning her to leave within 48 hours. A bullet was included in the envelope.

She was probably singled out because of her profession, she said, but she will continue to attend rehearsals every day. She loves dancing too much, she said, describing it as the highest form of art to "deliver a message through your body."

"Dying for this group would be like being martyred," she said, adding that it is a risk she accepts.

The group, which began in 1971, is dedicated to preserving the folk dancing heritage of Iraq, performing traditional dances drawn from across that country's history and geography. The troupe's first two decades were golden years, when dancers trained with master instructors from overseas and frequently went on international tours.

In 1980 the dancers performed at the United Nations in New York and visited Paris. They have gone to Italy, Japan and China - 60 countries in all - and won numerous prizes along the way.

The economic sanctions imposed by the United Nations in the early 1990s brought most of that to a halt. But just a year before the American-led invasion in 2003, the group enjoyed a rebirth with a burst of freedom under Saddam Hussein's government, performing almost every week here.

"The audiences were huge," Thanoon, the group's director said. "The theaters were overbooked."

But the group has been in suspended animation since the invasion began. It has performed just four times in Iraq and made two brief trips to Jordan and Dubai since 2003. The violence that surrounds it makes holding performances impossible.

"It is absurd," Ibrahim said. "It is not logical to have a performance group that only practices."

The dance troupe had mainly supported itself with ticket sales before the fall of Saddam's government, but when performances ended that became impossible. The current government has not compensated for that loss, the dancers said. They receive tiny stipends, amounting to about $140 a month, but even that is not guaranteed. The money is usually barely enough to cover each dancer's rent. Because the dancers rehearse every day from 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., it is almost impossible for them to get second jobs.

The present government, controlled by conservative religious parties, cares little for the arts, al-Damalouji said, so it is not inclined to support groups like the dance troupe.

"Iraq is without a doubt an Islamic society, but Islam is not our only culture," she said. "All the other cultures are being denied by this government. There is an attempt to change Iraqi culture in general."

In this climate the dancers said they must censor themselves. The group recently played a small role in a theatrical production in support of the country's national reconciliation plan, put on for some employees of the Ministry of Culture, but Thanoon advised his dancers, for their own sake, to minimize any shaking of their hips or shoulders. The result was a rigid routine that seemed more martial than elegant.

Most of the women in the group go to elaborate lengths to hide their occupation from their neighbors, even though some of their faces are well known in Iraq from their performances on television under the old government.

Subhi, who lives in a mostly Shiite neighborhood dominated by militiamen, said she told her neighbors that she had quit her dancing and was working as a receptionist.

On a recent trip to Jordan for a cultural festival, she had her husband load her luggage in the car in the middle of the night. Even her husband's family did not know that she was going to perform. She told them she was visiting her brother in Kirkuk.

Dumoaa Jamal was with the group for 10 years, but her uncle forced her to quit after the invasion because he deemed it too dangerous. But she returned three months ago, and tries to allay his fears by making sure she comes to rehearsals dressed in inconspicuous clothing and a head scarf hiding her long flowing hair.

"I wish it could be 24 hours a day," she said about the group's rehearsals. "When I enter the theater, it is as if everything from outside is gone. It is as if I have entered a different world."

Madeeh Qasim and an Iraqi employee of The New York Times in Baghdad contributed reporting.

Source: International Herald Tribune

Tuesday, 3 July 2007

Achieving the Ideal Bellydance Posture

by Cinthia (??)
published: Sept 22, 2006 (??)

For all of you aspiring belly dancers out there: here’s how to improve your dance posture and get everyone’s attention.

Stand up with your back against a wall. Lift your chest, keeping your shoulders down and your neck stretched tall. Your feet should be hip-width apart with the back of your heels touching the wall. Bend your knees (and keep them bent no matter what!) Keep your upper back resting against the wall.

Now, the key part: take one of your hand and slide it behind you in the small of your lower back. It is very likely that you’ve got a gap between your hand and the wall, which means that you are arching and need to align your lower back against the wall. If your hand can’t fit in there because your entire back is touching the wall, congratulations, you’ve got the straight back fundamental for the ideal belly dancing posture

How to align your lower back against the wall:

Put your hand on your tailbone (coccyx) and push down on it until your pelvis tilts away from the wall and every vertebrae in your back has contact with the wall. Notice that keeping your knees nicely bent helps a lot! Remember to keep your upper back to the wall as you do this so that you are not bending your upper body forward.

Also, the chest should remain lifted and the weight of the shoulders pushed down until you feel some resistance in your back. The lift of the rib cage will bring strong opposition from your back muscles, which are pulling down. You know you are doing this right when you start to feel some tension on your lats (muscles right below the shoulder blades). If you feel your lats pulling down and lengthening, it’s working, girls (and boys)! After all this hard work, the persistent arch should have disappeared - or gradually be disappearing - by now. You may not get there for a while, but the more you push your body, the closer you’ll get to your goal. Keep pushing!

If you think you’ve got it, let yourself get used to the feeling of a straight back, bent knees and a lifted upper body. Hold the position and then slowly release. Pay attention to your body’s natural tendency to arch. Repeat over and over until you start to get a feel of what your muscles have to do each time in order to make the right posture happen. It may feel unnatural and stiff, but once you practice keeping this posture at all times, you will eventually get used to it and it will become second nature.

I assure you, getting this posture right will give you a totally different look as a dancer. When you are able to hold yourself like this, you will not only be able to command attention easily on the dance floor, but you will also have better control of most belly dancing movements and steps, including spins and turns (where a straight back is absolutely essential). And last but not least, once you get comfortable with your new posture, getting into it will immediately make you feel more confident about yourself and about your dancing.

Good luck!!

Source: Wannabe Nothing

P/S: She's not a pro or teacher, but I just wanna save this here to read later.

Wednesday, 20 June 2007

Belly Dancers by the Bay

Text and pictures: Tim Coleman
A titillating trip to San Francisco and its tattooed belly dance troupes, Fat Chance, Ultra Gypsy and Indigo.

Published in: Skin&Ink Jul 07 and Taetowier-Magazin (German) Jul 07
Translation from English to German: Petra Tilg
Re-translation from German to English: Ursel Meyer (Tribester)

Note from Ursel: Please bear in mind that this text is a re-translation of the original translation, and that it can’t exactly reconstruct the original text. Potential mistakes or misquotes may occur due to these circumstances. Thank you.

Five years ago, when I first wrote about the dancers of Fat Chance, there were only a few tattooed bellydance troupes. (Re-translators note: either the author or the original translator has to be mistaken here, as his first article on Fat Chance was published in the November 1996 issue of the Taetowier Magazin. I know because I own that issue, too.) But things have changed since. Nowadays there are tattooed troupes all over the US. For this article I met with three of the most talented from the (San Francisco) Bay Area: Fat Chance, Ultra Gypsy and Indigo.

Fat Chance – The Pioneers

All eyes are on the wave of dancers, gliding gracefully into the room. Flowers adorn their hair, hands play zills, and traditional costumes reveal exquisitely tattooed waists. Welcome to an exclusive event in San Francisco: the 20 year anniversary of Fat Chance Belly Dance, one of the most gifted bellydance troupes in America, that has more than anybody else contributed to inspiring a blending of the art of tattooing and this ancient dance form.

“People keep telling me that our dance and our body art impress them profoundly. They feel so inspired that they change their lives radically to include both into their lives”, explains Carolena Nericchio, founder of Fat Chance.

Just like they were the pioneers of the new tattoo aesthetic in bellydance, Fat Chance have also introduced a new dance style, “American Tribal”.”In traditional bellydance the steps are improvised by the dancer”, explains Carolena, “in American Tribal the dancers move in formation while the leader calls out the steps for the others. We use codified steps, and we don’t digress from them.” Six of the eight dancers are tattooed. When the founding members first met they were astonished when they discovered that most of them had been tattooed by the same artist. Her name is Vyvyn Lazonga. “It felt as if our tattoos created the strong bond between us, that brought us together”, confesses Carolena, “we thought it so strange and exciting”.

It is not surprising that some of Carolena's tattoos are inspired by Middle Eastern culture. The blue diamond on her back, done by Bill Salmon, originates from patterns on amulets of the Tuareg, a North African tribe. The hand of Fatima is a symbol that is used in the whole Arab hemisphere to repel evil spirits. The Arab word “ghawazee” on her back has two meanings: dancer and prostitute.

Not only in the Arab hemisphere people connect bellydance and sexuality. Western club owners have debased bellydance for decades by announcing performances in ridiculing ways as cheap vaudeville acts, sexually stimulating or openly erotic. Outsiders all too easily misunderstand the undulating movements of bellydance as sexual animation. This assumption enraged any dancer that I talked to.

Ultra Gypsy – The “Sisterhood”

El Rio, a bar in San Francisco’s Mission District, is packed. The crowd waits patiently. Suddenly a group of beautifully costumed women glides out of the shadows and onto the stage, accompanied by a firework of folk rhythms. This is Ultra Gypsy, another one of the famous and talented bellydance troupes of the Bay Area, that perform at parties, in clubs and in theaters. The founder, Jill Parker, started to learn the dance in 1988. Today Ultra Gypsy consists of 13 members, five of them are heavily tattooed.

The name of the troupe bears witness to Jill’s fascination for the culture of Gypsies. “Gypsies were always at the fringes of society”, she explains, “I like that, and I fully identify with their lives as outsiders. Gypsies are tribal people. They have much strength and a strong company.” A characteristic that she finds as well in the world of bellydance. “Ultra Gypsy is like a family. We are a sisterhood”, she explains, “we have a strong connection. None of us wants to make big money by dancing. We fulfill our artistic dreams, and that can be risky. You have to love what you do, and the people who work with you as well, otherwise you’ve got a problem.”

Jill believes that their tattoos contribute to the atmosphere within the troupe. “I think it is important, because it demonstrates our will to show ourselves, bear art on our bodies and tell the world something about who we are.”

Jill got tattooed before she discovered bellydance. Freddy Corbin did her biggest tattoo, an elegant grape-vine that winds around her hips.

Jill remembers how it was when she went to a bellydance class for the first time. “When I entered this room full of strong women, who were sensual without being competitive, I knew immediately that this was what I wanted to do”, she says, “ and many women who come to my class for the first time feel the same. It is a very deep and healing feeling.”

Indigo - Bellydance and Cabaret

It is late afternoon. I’m sitting in a café in Berkeley and waiting for the appearance of two members of Indigo, another great tattooed bellydance troupe from San Francisco. Rachel Brice, the founder, and her best friend Zoe stream laughing and giggling through the door. I wave with an issue of the Taetowier-Magazin (or is it Skin&Ink?) and they grab their coffee and come to me. During the interview they share the microphone and present such a funny double-feature that my sides begin to hurt. “Don’t worry”, says Rachel, “we’re always like that, especially on stage”.

For both women it was love at first sight when they first saw bellydance at the California Renaissance Fairs. To Rachel it happened when she saw Hahbi ‘Ru dancing. “I saw them, and I was so touched it brought tears into my eyes. I felt something release inside me, and I wept and wept. The next day I started taking lessons. I never stopped dancing ever since.”

Currently only Rachel and Zoe are heavily tattooed. Zoe lifts part of her top to show a sherry bloom (cherry blossom?) design on her shoulder, done by Philip Milic of Braindrops. On her back there’s a crowned fairy with an eye at the center of the crown. “What does the eye mean?” I ask. “It stands for the third or the spiritual eye,” Zoe replies. “Yeah, Zoe has three eyes” jokes Rachel. “It may sound odd,” explains Zoe, “but it stands for a spiritual connection that I have with myself and the world around me.” “Honey, you’re cheesy,” Rachel japes, and both start to giggle once more.

Now it’s Rachel’s turn to show her wonderful flower design by Tex of Cold Steel, that winds around her muscular belly. Some Sanskrit letters are artfully worked into it. “They originated in the yoga sutras, written by the Indian mahatma Patangali,” Rachel explains, “they refer to the necessity of practicing yoga consistently and in humbleness for a long time, to reach your goal.”

2003 Rachel founded The Indigo Dance Company. Where does this unusual name come from? “It’s such a beautiful word and so full of spiritual meanings,” explains Rachel, “the root is Indian, and some people believe that bellydance originates in India, so that is a connection. But also the Tuareg in North Africa dye their clothing with indigo, and I’m enthused with their aesthetics. Then indigo is a royal color, even indigo as tattoo ink. There’s so much in it.”

“We love calling our dance style Dark Cabaret,” Zoe adds, “we draw our inspiration from the time period between 1890 and 1920. When women like Mata Hari and Ruth Saint Denis took up bellydance and interpreted it in their own ways.”

When Zoe and Rachel were studying with Ultra Gypsy, Jill Parker didn’t only teach them to become better bellydancers, but she also inspired them to get more tattoos. “When I danced with Jill, “ remembers Rachel, “I only wanted to watch her tattoo wind around her hips. It was so beautiful. And I thought I had to work on myself more.”

Since Indigo got told that they could get a tax refund for their tattoos, they feel motivated even more. “Yeah, we want to thank George Bush for paying our tattoos,” jokes Zoe. “Yes, thank you, George,” Rachel adds, “you’re no good otherwise, but this was really cool!”

Indigo are delighted that bellydance is spreading so fast all over the USA, and with it the tattoo aesthetic. “You know, it’s unbelievable,” says Rachel, “but I found out that some grannies in my classes consider getting tattooed for the first time in their lives. Women in their sixties and seventies who have discovered bellydance for themselves are now getting their first tattoos, and their grandchildren as well – oh my God, ain’t this cool?”

Source: an Ultra Gypsy forum

Wednesday, 6 June 2007

Afghanistan Exhibition Provokes Questions

'the king and the dragons' gold pendantBy ROBIN POGREBIN
Published: June 6, 2007

The National Geographic Society has struck a $1 million deal with the Afghan government to bring a rare cache of gold artifacts to the United States in a traveling exhibition. But some cultural experts who have followed the negotiations are questioning whether Afghanistan is being properly compensated.

Plans call for the ancient Afghan pieces — part of the storied 2,000-year-old Bactrian hoard — to be displayed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the National Gallery of Art in Washington, the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco and the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, although contracts have not yet been signed by those institutions.

The National Geographic Society and the Afghan government signed a protocol accord over the weekend in Kabul, Afghanistan’s capital, outlining an exhibition schedule that would begin in May 2008 at the National Gallery. The document calls for Afghanistan to receive $1 million as well as 40 percent of “total revenue,” which is defined as exhibition revenue, minus expenses.

Lynne Munson, the former deputy chairwoman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, which helped finance the cataloging of the Afghan treasures, said the arrangement would leave Afghanistan with “40 percent of absolutely nothing,” because expenses would be significant.

“This is a travesty,” she said in a telephone interview from Washington. “The Bactrian hoard is simply the most valuable possession of the poorest people on earth. To ask them to lend it and give so little in return is unconscionable.”

She said she had ceased working for the endowment in 2005 because of internal conflicts within the agency over arrangements for the show.

The protocol accord signed over the weekend says that the exhibition revenue going to the Afghans will be derived from the fees paid by the museums as hosts of the show and from corporate sponsorships. It does not guarantee them proceeds from ticket, catalog or merchandise sales.

Reached by telephone in Washington, Terry D. Garcia, the executive vice president of the National Geographic Society’s mission programs, said that the financial terms “were dictated by the Afghans.”

He said that no decision had been made on proceeds from the merchandising or the catalog sales. He added, “Those categories of revenue are in fact included in what the Afghans would receive.”

Ana Rosa Rodriguez, executive director of the Society for the Preservation of Afghanistan’s Cultural Heritage, said in a telephone interview from Kabul that she felt the society had taken advantage of a country that has endured nearly three decades of violent upheaval.

“I think it is my duty to express my concerns about this deal,” Ms. Rodrguez said, complaining of “the unacceptable manner” in which “a prestigious American society has dealt with a postconflict country with a devastated cultural heritage.”

gold earringsThe collection includes more than 20,000 pieces of gold jewelry, funeral ornaments and personal items from the Silk Road culture of Bactria, an ancient nation that covered parts of what is now Afghanistan. The hoard was discovered in 1978 by a Russian-Greek archaeologist, Viktor Sarianidi, at a grave site in Tillia-Tepe, in northern Afghanistan. The works blend Greek, Bactrian and nomadic traditions, reflecting Afghanistan’s historical position at the crossroads of ancient civilizations.

The treasures were only sporadically displayed over the next decade and then packed away. Then, in 1989, when Afghanistan’s last Communist president was facing a growing insurgency by the Islamic rebels known as the mujahedeen and the imminent withdrawal of Soviet troop support, he ordered that the treasures be hidden. He was ousted in 1992, and for years it was widely assumed that the gold had been looted or destroyed and would never resurface.

The treasures were unearthed from a bank vault beneath a former royal palace in Kabul in 2004. They were among the few examples of Afghanistan’s rich cultural heritage to survive decades of war. The collection had been kept hidden by curators and employees of the Kabul Museum at tremendous personal risk under the fractious mujahedeen and then the Taliban, who ruled from 1996 to 2001.

“It’s a compelling story, not just of the Silk Road but also the work of these modern-day heroes,” Mr. Garcia said. “We think people are going to love it.”

But Ms. Munson said that if the show proved to be a blockbuster, an impoverished Afghanistan should reap more of the benefit.

When an exhibition of 130 objects from Tutankhamen’s tomb began touring in 2004, the Egyptian government set out to clear $10 million in every city visited and to take more than 50 percent of the gross revenue.

Thomas Hoving, who pioneered the museum blockbuster concept as director of the Metropolitan Museum from 1967 to 1977, said Afghanistan should have held out for more. “They don’t get enough money,” he said.

“The Egyptians are getting all admissions, 80 percent of the sales in the shop, and they should have patterned it after that,” Mr. Hoving said. “Or a flat fee of a million a venue. The entity that ought to get most of the bucks should be Afghanistan.”

Mr. Garcia declined to discuss how the traveling objects would be insured.

He said the museums had each signed a letter of commitment regarding the artifacts, though only the National Gallery would confirm this. “They’ve all expressed their keen interest and hope to be a venue,” Mr. Garcia said, adding, “We’re working on contract negotiations.”

The protocol signed by the society and the Afghan government stipulates that a new museum would be selected should any of the four museums not be able to play host to the exhibition. Ms. Munson said she was concerned that this could lead to the objects’ being displayed at an insufficiently secure location.

Mr. Garcia said the National Gallery was expected to be the lead museum, subject to completion of the agreement.

Asked about its plans, the National Gallery said through a spokeswoman, “The National Gallery of Art is interested but has nothing to confirm at this time.” The Asian Art Museum and the Museum of Fine Arts both referred calls to the National Geographic Society. Harold Holzer, a spokesman for the Metropolitan Museum, would not comment on any agreement but added, “This would make a valuable contribution to the exhibition schedule.”

The accord signed last weekend calls for the exhibition to run at the National Gallery from May 25 to Sept. 7, 2008; at the Asian Art Museum from Oct. 17, 2008, to Jan. 25, 2009; at the Museum of Fine Arts from Feb. 22 to May 17, 2009; and at the Met from June 14 to Sept 17, 2009.

“The timing sequence is subject to change till we become able to work through scheduling,” Mr. Garcia said. The agreement with the society was signed by Afghanistan’s information and culture minister, Abdul Karim Khoram, Mr. Garcia said.

bronze river goddess
About 100 of the Bactrian gold objects were recently on display at the Musée Guimet in Paris, along with 131 objects from three other Afghan archaeological collections, and are now in Turin. The terms of that exhibition were unclear.

The new show is to be overseen by Frederik Hiebert, an archaeologist formerly affiliated with the University of Pennsylvania who specializes in Silk Road artifacts and is a fellow at the National Geographic Society. Mr. Hiebert led the effort to compile an inventory of the collection in 2004. The National Endowment for the Humanities helped underwrite the project with two $30,000 grants.

The society also paid for Omar Sul tan, an Afghan exile and archaeologist, to assist Mr. Hiebert in his dealings with the Afghans. Mr. Sultan became Afghanistan’s deputy culture minister in January 2005, while still a consultant to the National Geographic Society. He also led a committee responsible for selecting the institutions that would display the objects.

“Did this create a conflict of interest?” Ms. Munson asked. “We’ll never know.”

But Mr. Garcia said in response: “Our selection as organizer of the exhibition was made by the full Afghan exhibition committee, and approved by the minister of information and culture, Minister Khoram. The process had the full support of the entire committee as well as the ambassador to the U.S., Said Jawad.” He said that the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, “was aware and fully supportive of the process.”

Ms. Munson said that during a 2005 trip she made to Kabul, Omara Khan Massoudi, who leads Afghanistan’s Museums Ministry and is now the director of the Kabul Museum, expressed concern about how the National Geographic Society had handled the inventory of the hoard.

“Mr. Omara Khan Massoudi told me repeatedly and in no uncertain terms that he thought National Geographic had disrespected the Afghans and their objects during the inventory,” she said. “Massoudi said the Afghans had no more need for National Geographic. So that they’re being awarded the exhibition means something has gone awry.”

Asked about his position by telephone, Mr. Massoudi said, “It’s out of my hands,” but declined to elaborate.

Ms. Munson suggested that there should have been an open competition among museums for the show to assure maximal revenue to aid in Afghanistan’s cultural reconstruction, and that the National Endowment for the Humanities should have exerted greater oversight.

“Instead it seems we’ve ended up with a National Geographic monopoly and a very poor deal for the Afghans,” she said.

Source: The New York Times
View: Afghan Rediscovered Treasures

Learning to Dance, One Chunk at a Time

Published: May 27, 2007

LAST month in a studio at American Ballet Theater, Angel Corella was studying the former Ballet Theater star Gelsey Kirkland as she showed him sequences from the second act of “The Sleeping Beauty,” a new production set to have its premiere this week at the Metropolitan Opera House.

One of the world’s finest dancers, whose powerhouse technique and dramatic intensity propelled him from his native Spain to American Ballet Theater when he was still a teenager, Mr. Corella also has a rare, less visible gift: he is able to reproduce a dance simply by seeing it once — not only his part, but everybody else’s too. After observing Ms. Kirkland, he was soon following behind her, humming as he mirrored her movements. Forty minutes after they began, he had the hundreds of steps down cold.

But for Mr. Corella and the other Ballet Theater dancers, knowing the steps of a dance is just the first phase in perfecting it. They must also convey the intention and feeling of the works they perform, which, in a repertory company like theirs, run from classical to modern to brand new. During the 2006-7 season alone, the dancers have rotated regularly through 21 works by choreographers as varied as Marius Petipa, Frederick Ashton, George Balanchine, Agnes de Mille, Jerome Robbins, Twyla Tharp and Lar Lubovitch.

That dancers can remember such a wide range of steps, roles and styles is sometimes forgotten in the awe produced by a great performance; the seeming effortlessness of it all suggests that each phrase and combination is spontaneous and not a memorized series of steps. But in getting to that point, most dancers share a relatively similar path, first learning the choreography and then adding layers of detail and color. Finally, they absorb the work so completely that its elements literally become automatic, leaving the dancer’s brain free to focus on the moment-by-moment nuances of the performance.

Dancers call it muscle memory. And while it obviously manifests itself physically as far as dance is concerned, what actually happens, according to neuroscientists, is that the movements become thoroughly mapped in the brain, creating a shorthand between thinking and doing. We may speak of a musician’s fingers or a winemaker’s nose, yet the resulting product is all the brain’s doing, explained Daniel Glaser, a neuroscientist who works at the Wellcome Trust, a philanthropic organization devoted to health care based in London. “Of course you need a body to dance,” he said. “But as dancers transition from conscious awareness of a newly acquired routine to the automatic performance of it, the brain is not doing any less work.”

Dr. Glaser is one of a handful of neuroscientists who have studied dancers as a way to understand the body’s relationship to the brain, and vice versa, better. Because classical ballet relies on certain discrete movements that a dancer must repeat thousands of time throughout a career, the brains of dancers, it turns out, are exquisitely sensitive to seeing movements they’ve rehearsed. If they see someone performing an arabesque, for example, certain motor areas of their brains respond as if they were themselves performing the step.

But before they get anywhere near muscle memory, dancers must first, as they like to say, get the dance into their bodies. This was uppermost in the minds of Ballet Theater’s dancers last month as they prepared for the current Met season. Some were learning new roles; others were refreshing their memory of works they had already performed.

In one studio, Marcelo Gomes led David Hallberg, the company’s newest principal dancer, and his fellow principal Gillian Murphy through their opening entrance and the pas de deux from Ashton’s one-act “The Dream.” The pair were to play the regal fairies Oberon and Titania, and Mr. Gomes, who has danced only Oberon, knew both parts. As they followed behind him, sketching his moves, Mr. Gomes gave a master class in cognitive learning — or so it seemed to an outsider.

First he demonstrated each role, calling out verbal cues (“You look at the moon”), ballet positions (“Put her in fourth”) and movements (“You’re doing bourrées and saying ‘no’ at the same time”), and then described in more detail the impetus for the movement (“As you back up, you’re scheming, and we see it on your face”), all the while humming the Mendelssohn score and counting the beats (“One and two and three, tee-ta-tee-ta-tee”).

Within the hour they had learned most of it. The next day they rehearsed with the ballet mistress, Georgina Parkinson, adjusting movements as she called out visual images and described the intention of a particular moment. The 10-minute duet requires great stamina, and the quality of any step can vary depending on its speed and texture: fast, slow, honey or molasses.

Ms. Parkinson wanted to see more lushness and amplitude in the lovers’ sensual choreography. “You need to explode,” she told Ms. Murphy, advising her to rely more on her back muscles as she flitted her arms madly about. Mr. Hallberg, who does not have Mr. Corella’s gift of being able to learn steps from sight alone, looked on. “It’s not in my body yet,” he said. “I’m just trying to get the feeling of it.”

Where initially dancers see one move and then another, eventually they merge the steps into phrases and then into longer sequences. Brain scientists refer to this process as “chunking.” Dr. Glaser likens it to learning to tie a shoelace. First you think “left over right, right under left,” and then you make a bow. But once you’ve learned the steps, they become one seamless movement.

“What dancers are able to do, which you and I cannot,” he said, “is to take a set of those moves and turn that into one long phrase and then take a dozen of those phrases and put them into one long movement.”

Karen Bradley, a movement analyst who directs the graduate dance program at the University of Maryland, said: “No two dancers chunk the same way. Some do it rhythmically, some consider spatial configurations, some think about weight shifts, some rely on imagery, and some follow an inner monologue.”

After his third rehearsal for “The Dream” — about three hours of studio time — Mr. Hallberg could run through the pas de deux with Ms. Murphy nonstop. “This means that it’s not only in the body,” he said. “But it’s nowhere near performance value. Now you can add yourself into the performance.”

For that, the dancers rely on Ballet Theater’s coaches, many of whom have danced the works themselves and can help the dancers create a performance that resonates with an audience.

That was the lesson the ballet mistress Irina Kolpakova was trying to impart last month to Mr. Gomes and Veronika Part, the opening-night leads in the new production of “Sleeping Beauty,” staged by Ms. Kirkland; Kevin McKenzie, the company’s artistic director; and Michael Chernov, with choreography after Petipa. A former Kirov ballerina and celebrated Princess Aurora, Ms. Kolpakova, 74, frowned as she watched the pair run through their pas de deux. “It’s very nice, but where is your feeling?” she asked, and then demonstrated what she wanted. Following behind her, the younger dancers were all taut, sinewy limbs and unlined faces; it was in Ms. Kolpakova’s expressive face and articulate phrasing that the choreography came alive.

“You work your muscle memory in rehearsal so that when you get onstage it’s only your brain and your emotions working,” Mr. Corella said. “You don’t think about what the body is doing anymore. When I go into the wings, I can’t remember what I’ve done. I don’t remember if my foot was pointed.”

But not all dancers achieve this every time, he added: “They stay in the rehearsal period. You can see that they’re thinking if their leg is in the right place.”

Scientists say motor learning like Mr. Corella’s can actually be observed in the brain. To know precisely where our bodies are in space at any given moment — an ability called propioception — our brain receives signals about the length of each muscle and the angle of each joint and “does a kind of mental trigonometry,” said Prof. Patrick Haggard of the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, University College, London. Professor Haggard, who has measured the brain activity of ballet dancers using brain scanners, observes that dancers “have better propioception than the rest of us.”

“Those brain signals seem to be of a particularly high quality in dancers,” he said.

For many dancers, music can be a helpful prompt for muscle memory, enabling them to recall dances they did years ago. “It all comes at once,” said Mr. Corella, describing his response to familiar music.

But music can trip up dancers too, as the ballerina Julie Kent discovered while rehearsing the new “Sleeping Beauty” with Ms. Kirkland. Ms. Kent had danced the version by Kenneth MacMillan many times, and as Ms. Kirkland demonstrated a different position of the arms, Ms. Kent tried to resist her body’s natural impulses. “Your conscious thought has to override the stored memory and say, ‘No, it’s not that, it’s this,’ ” she said.

A self-described slow learner, Ms. Kent, 38, recalled that early in her career she didn’t perform a new work because she couldn’t remember the steps. Occasionally, she still forgets them. In rehearsals with Mr. Gomes, 27, a quick study and her partner this week in “The Dream,” she acknowledged that “I drive him crazy, because sometimes I’ll just blank. But I tell him, ‘Wait until you get to my age and you have all these ballets in your head.’ ”

Frederic Franklin, 93, can attest to that. Mr. Franklin is among the last of the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo stars of the 1930s and has one of the most prodigious memories in dance. After watching a rehearsal at American Ballet Theater studios last month, he jabbed his temple. “It’s all in here,” he said. Even now, he added, “when I’m watching them, I can feel my muscles doing it.”

Source: The New York Times

Wednesday, 30 May 2007

Egyptian belly dance 'in crisis'

By Malcolm Brabant
BBC News, Cairo
Published: Wednesday, 30 March 2005, 12:45 GMT 13:45 UK

Exponents of the art of belly dancing - a unique element of Egypt's national cultural heritage - believe it is undergoing a crisis and is in danger of being driven underground.

Two years ago, the government banned foreign dancers from performing, but has recently done a U-turn and allowed them back.

One of the country's former belly dancing divas, Nagwa Fouad, is now calling for the establishment of an academy to preserve the art.

Dressed in a turquoise harem outfit, Iranian-born Liza Laziza practices in her studio high above the Corniche alongside the River Nile.

Liza is a world-renowned belly dancer who came to Cairo five years ago to fulfil a dream of living where her art began many centuries ago.

Even to my unpractised eye, it is clear she is a fine exponent, combining grace, interpretation and sensuality.

Declining art

But Liza has not performed on one of Egypt's great dancing stages for two years.

"The dance, from what I see, is at the moment rapidly fading in the background, whereas before, it was right up front," she says.

"It's very serious and I'm part of what's going on. I'm part of the big decline that's going on in the dance."

During the ban on foreign dancers, Liza was forced to teach for a living.

Now she is free to perform again, but she has had trouble finding a suitable platform for her talent.

"Egypt has been the central nervous system of the dance for a long time now," she says.

"It's not as great as it used to be and that's because of the climate of the times, socially, economically, religiously.

"And there isn't any education on the dance in Egypt, so I really do predict it fading into the background as we speak."

'Part of Egypt'

One of Liza's students is a Saudi Arabian woman who must be in her 50s, who has taken up the dance for the benefit of her husband.

She prefers to remain anonymous for fear of shocking relatives in her arch-conservative homeland.

"Like the Sphinx or pyramids, belly dancing is part of Egyptian culture and it would be a shame to lose it," she says.

On board a Nile river boat, about 200 tourists are taking a two-hour-long supper cruise.

The highlight of the evening's entertainment is supposed to be a demonstration of belly dancing by a 27-year-old Egyptian dancer called Wafaa Fowzi.

To borrow the words of Jerry Lee Lewis, there's a whole lotta shaking going on - but none of the sinewy grace of Liza Laziza.

Miss Fowzi believes that Miss Laziza and her Saudi Arabian pupil are scare-mongering.

Brilliant moves

"I'm not worried about the dance. It can't really die out in Egypt. It's an important part of our popular heritage," she says.

Nagwa Fouad used to be one of Egypt's belly dancing divas.

She is of indeterminate age, and went into retirement about five years back.

Madame Nagwa is very worried that subtleties of an art dating back to Pharonic times are being lost and she wants Egypt to set up a national academy to teach the dance properly.

"What you are seeing nowadays is just shaking, which is very Turkish," she says.

"Egyptian dancing has many more brilliant movements, which is why there must be an academy to teach it, where I could lend my expertise."

But belly dancers here worry no one will take heed and that their cultural heritage will be consigned to history along with the pyramids, Tutankhamen and that great seductress Cleopatra.

Source: BBC

Monday, 28 May 2007

Born to Dance?

Published: Circa February, 2006
By Jennifer Viegas, Discovery News

Professional dancers are born with at least two special genes that give them a leg up on the rest of us, according to a new study.

Recent research also has suggested that intelligence, athletic ability and musical talent are linked to our genes and brain hard-wiring.

With dancing added to the list, the evidence indicates that certain individuals are born with a predisposition to specific behaviors and talents, and that at least some of these qualities may represent evolved attributes.

"I think that dancing is an evolved trait," said Richard Ebstein, who led the recent study, published in a recent Public Library of Science Genetics journal. "Animals have courtship dances and I think that human dancing represents the further development of a very ancient animal trait."

Ebstein, a psychology professor at Hebrew University's Scheinfeld Center for Genetic Studies, said, "Also the fact that dancing is universal and existed in all human societies, even those communities of man separated geographically by tens of thousands of years (native Australians, native Americans, Africans, Eurasians) attests to the very early origin of dance in our evolution as a species."

First, find your dancers

Ebstein, doctoral student Rachel Bachner-Melman and their colleagues examined the DNA of 85 currently performing dancers and their parents. They then did the same thing for 91 competitive athletes and 872 people who neither regularly dance nor often participate in sports.

The scientists discovered that dancers tend to possess variants of two genes that are involved in the transmission of information between nerve cells.

One of the identified genes is a transporter of serotonin, a brain transmitter that contributes to spiritual experience. The second is a receptor of the hormone vasopressin, which many studies suggest modulates social communication and human bonding.

"People are born to dance," Ebstein told Discovery News. "They have (other) genes that partially contribute to musical talent, such as coordination, sense of rhythm. However, the genes we studied are more related to the emotional side of dancing - the need and ability to communicate with other people and a spiritual side to their natures that not only enable them to feel the music, but to communicate that feeling to others via dance."

Ebstein believes some adults may possess the special gene variants, but they perhaps never nurtured the related skills or recognized their hidden talent.

He said, "Many of us surely have the ability, but for a hundred reasons never exploited that particular talent."

Ebstein explained that the identified genes seem to be linked to every form of dancing, from tap to hula, since all usually involve social communication and connecting to music or rhythms.

Other factors to consider

Irving Gottesman, a senior fellow in psychology at the University of Minnesota and an emeritus professor from the University of Virginia, is one of the world's leading experts on genes as they relate to human behavior and psychology.

Through prior research papers sent to Discovery News, Gottesman emphasized that genes are only one part of "complex causality" systems that make us who we are. For example, Gottesman confirmed that intelligence can be in our genes, but that socioeconomic considerations, such as a quality education, can have a greater influence on a person's intellect.

Ebstein agreed that genes were not the whole story. He said those of us without a twinkle-toed predisposition can still become good dancers, since "it's not only a question of having the right genes, but also training and motivation, that make professional dancers."

Source: Discovery News, ABC.net.au

Sin eaters: Sheiks condemn charity meals from bellydancers

Published: February 2, 1997
From Cairo Bureau Chief Gayle Young

CAIRO (CNN) -- As the sun sets during the holy month of Ramadan, volunteers prepare a meal for the poor.

Muslims fast during the day, abstaining from food and drink, then break the fast with an evening meal, known as Iftar.

It's considered a good deed to offer an Iftar to the poor -- except when the charity comes from the likes of Fifi Abdou, one of the most famous belly dancers in Egypt.

She and other bellydancers earn big money -- and are known for their generosity to the poor.

But some religious leaders say their behavior shakes the foundations of Islam, and their Iftar offerings are tainted.

Religious leaders from the prestigious al-Azhar University, who wouldn't consent to be interviewed during Ramadan, have preached that accepting an Iftar or charity from a bellydancer is a sin.

The pronouncement is being fiercely debated in Cairo.

Al-Azhar is one of Islam's highest authorities. But many here are poor and rely on charity for the meat and vegetables they cannot afford.

Volunteer Madam Hanaan says Fifi Abdou's nightly Iftars flow from a generous heart. "May God give her a long life," she says of her patron.

Bellydancer Dalia Fuoad says she considers herself a good Muslim, faithful wife and devoted mother.

"How can it be sinful to give charity to those who have less than we do?" asks Fuoad.

Bellydancing is wildly popular in Egypt. One study suggests it represents the country's fifth largest source of income.

And for the poor who benefit from the dancer's gifts, the sheiks' decree may be difficult to swallow.

Source: CNN

Egypt dance brings life to City of Dead

Published: circa September, 2006

CAIRO - In the depths of Cairo’s City of the Dead, Umm Essam unveils her latest creation: a blood-red bellydance costume, complete with golden pearls.

BellydanceBut there are no models or podiums in this dressmaker’s tiny workshop hidden deep in the alleys of one of the city’s oldest cemeteries.

At the bottom of a sandy path, erected over a tomb, lie two cramped rooms and a minuscule kitchen: her workshop by day, her home by night.

Like thousands of Egyptians, Umm Essam, whose real name is Fawziya Mohammed al-Sayyed, was driven to this unlikely spot of real estate by the housing crisis and dire poverty that plague Egypt. The gradual migration to the necropolis forced authorities to connect the area to the electric and water grids.

“Three years ago, I decided to embark on the job of making bellydance costumes, as my previous job of dressmaker was in decline,” said Umm Essam, still enthusiastic despite her 60 years of age and a life of hard labour.

The designer, whose only assets are a strong will and an old sewing machine, draws inspiration for her costumes from the Arabic superstars she watches on her tiny television screen, the only distraction in an area of few tarmac roads and smelly septic tanks.

She has come a long way since her first outfit. Today, she is the queen of an improbable kingdom, where dozens of neighbours help her cut and bead fabrics, while the laundry dries between tombstones used by the local children for games of hide-and-seek.

Each costume, a fitted bustier, a low-waist skirt and a wide belt, requires one kilogram (2.2 pounds) of glass pearls and several metres (yards) of colourful fabric.

“We make about 100 costumes a month. My daughter Madiha takes them to the (Red Sea resorts) of Hurghada and Sharm el-Sheikh,” says Um Essam referring to the country’s top tourist hotspots, popular with foreigners.

But despite the high output of costumes, which keep the designer up till dawn, the gains are slim.

“I sell each costume for a little over 150 Egyptian pounds (26 dollars), but in reality I only gain about 20 pounds (about 3 dollars) because the rest is spent on fabric, pearls and payments to friends,” she says.

But at least this little sum of money allows her to put food on the table for her family, in a country where most people earn less than 600 pounds (104 dollars) a month, and where unemployment is rampant.

“The retailer sells my costumes to tourists for at least 500 pounds (87 dollars),” she says bitterly.

But despite the hardship, Um Essam continues to produce daily and has even brought in her granddaughters to help, in the hope of one day escaping the neighbourhood of the dead.

Seven year-old Fawziya works on the children’s costumes.

“I learnt by watching my grandmother do the job,” she says, balancing a bowl of pearls on her knees.

“We have three sizes — adults, adolescents and children,” says the grandmother, who throws sideways glances at her granddaughter to check on the yellow pearls being attached to the latest costume.

“From time to time, we manage to sell a costume to a heaven-sent foreigner, who hears about us through word of mouth, like the Qatari man who ordered some costumes a few months ago,” says Umm Essam.

“I had to design custom-made patterns because he ordered bustiers for some pretty voluptuous chests,” she says, trying to hide her laughter behind her hand.

Source: AFP

Belly-dancing makes ripples among Asian women

Published: circa April, 2005

KUALA LUMPUR (AFP) -- Belly dancing is creating ripples among women in East Asia as enthusiasts from Malaysia to Taiwan pick up the ancient art of seductive shimmying -- and get a good work-out at the same time. From teenage schoolgirls to businesswomen and housewives, belly-dancing students say learning how to undulate their bodies and sway their hips is more fun than the traditional exercises available in the gym.

In a dance studio hidden in a leafy suburb of Kuala Lumpur, belly-dancing instructor Sherlyn Koh teaches her students to "shimmy" and do the "camel" to the rhythmic beat of Middle Eastern music.

"Imagine your body is like water or a snake," she says, coaxing her students to bend their bodies further than they ever thought possible. "This is a very good cardiovascular exercise, good for your waist, for nice curves," she intones as she glides from student to student.

"It's an interesting work-out rather than going to the gym," says beginner Miriam Al-Arishee, 51, who runs a business in the oil and gas industry. "I have a treadmill at home but I never use it.

"Belly dancing is good for the right parts of your body, it tones your tummy, hips and breasts.

"When I first started, I only gained aches and pains. But it exposed my own weaknesses, I realised how unfit I was," says the glamorous Al-Arishee, who attends the class with her 27-year-old daughter. "It's something everyone can do, regardless of your age or body shape. It's an all-girls environment so you feel comfortable, nobody's going to laugh at you, there is no self-consciousness unlike at a gym.

"It's simply a beautiful dance. A form of self-expression," she says.

Writer Mavis Hooi, 26, who has been belly dancing for the past 15 months and has achieved "advanced" status, says she has found a form of exercise she can stick at.

"I had already tried theatre, all sorts of dancing like the waltz, flamenco. They didn't capture my interest," Hooi says. "Belly dancing did. It has made me move muscles I have never moved before," she says, adjusting her sparkling Egyptian hipscarf adorned with dangling gold coins.

Teacher Koh says one of the reasons women find the centuries-old dance so attractive is that it indulges their love of wearing jewelry and make-up.

"They like the coins, the costumes and of course, the dance. It's very feminine," says Koh, whose own hips are adorned with a black crocheted hipscarf with glittery beads.

"It's very pleasant to watch. It shows a lot of body silhouette. It's very exciting. It's a celebration of the soul and body."

Koh points to one of her students from her advanced class practising for an upcoming public performance.

"When she first came to me, she used to have very low self-esteem," she whispers. "But now, she's totally different. She's very confident.

"Belly dancing really makes you a more confident person. It makes you feel more comfortable with your body, regardless of what size you are.

"All women can do belly-dancing, naturally," says Koh, who was first "mesmerised" by the ancient art when she saw popular Latin pop star Shakira perform some three years ago.

She began studying the dance under instructors from Egypt, including the renowned Raqia Hassan, and then established her own school.

"I went to Egypt to study. Whenever I travel, I make it into a belly dance trip. Whenever I go to Singapore, Australia or America, I make sure I go there to hook up with a belly dance teacher."

Her students include celebrities and the wives and daughters of government ministers and business tycoons. "In any part of the world, especially Malaysia, people in high society love belly dancing," she says. "The costumes are very glamorous. You dress up for belly dancing, make yourself beautiful, it's part of the whole costume. The makeup, a lot of accessories, thick eyeliner, you need to look very sophisticated. It appeals to those in high society."

Belly dancing parties are also becoming fashionable, she says, adding that she has performed for members of Malaysia's royal family several times. Women-only 'haflas', where members of the belly dancing community meet up and show off their moves, are also on the rise.

In Taiwan, belly dancing lessons were introduced about two years ago by 32-year-old Violet Lee, who learned the dance while studying in Israel. She has taught thousands of students, mostly female office workers and housewives in the past two years. She has six part-time instructors in her dance studio in Taipei.

"I think Taiwanese women like belly dancing because it's fun and not so difficult to learn. It also provides a channel for women to express their beauty and sexiness," Lee says. "Most housewives take belly dancing lessons to lose weight and for fun while many office ladies use belly dancing to release pressure from work."

In Hong Kong, an Egyptian restaurant has been flying in professional belly dancers for the past three years not only to entertain diners but also give classes in the ancient art.

Hosni Emam, manager of Habibi, said the last set of classes, held thrice-weekly between October and December last year, attracted over 500 applicants, but with room for just 15 students each class, many people had to be turned away.

Source: AFP

Dance Discrimmination

Published: May 21, 2007

Dance schools and dance companies have strong ideas about what a dancer should look like. Different dance forms, classical and contemporary ballet, jazz, musical theatre, modern etc all have ranges of body types and colors. Dance body types are not anointed by the gods, nor are they predetermined by our genes, they are cultural, which means they are decided by what everyone is accustomed to seeing.

Long-legged delicate sylphs were not always the norm in ballet. Once upon a time, the basic ballet body type was short and stocky, because stocky dancers tend to be stronger and have better endurance than the delicately boned creatures who now inhabit dance, but Balanchine liked a different look and he had the power to change the world. Now stocky (muscularly built) girls are relegated to the dust heap of classical dance and even stocky men have a hard time of it.

Dance companies say that people only want to see what our culture deems 'beautiful dancers' but it's a vicious cycle, what we see as beautiful was decided for us and we all went along. Give us something else and, after an appropriate amount of complaining, we'll see that as the norm and the sylphs will have a hard time getting in the door.

"I think there's something about a denial of death in all of this, and connected to that a denial of change, that our bodies change and decompose over time," said the San Francisco choreographer Eric Kupers, "A lot of these standards that people try to measure up to are trying to freeze us in time...In dance, fashion, the movies, we want people to look like adolescents...We don't want wrinkles, cellulite. We don't want to see the indications of our own mortality."

Source: RiDance

Funny, You Don’t Look Dancerish

Published: May 20, 2007

THE press kit is a crucial weapon in the arsenal of any media-savvy choreographer. A sort of all-purpose calling card, it includes photographs, biographical information and favorable reviews. As a popular choreographer in the middle of his career, David Dorfman has no problem supplying rave notices. But one year, fed up with a certain pattern of description, he flirted with the idea of using less flattering press descriptions: those calling him chunky or stocky, or — his favorite — saying that he looks like the owner of a hardware store.

Mr. Dorfman, 51, looks like many healthy men his age. He has, in varying degrees throughout his life, carried a few extra pounds. Never mind the quality of his movement, which is silky and quick; for many audience members and critics, apparently, he simply doesn’t look the part.

“Of course there’s always room for a Danny DeVito or a Lawrence Goldhuber,” said Lawrence Goldhuber, the 300-plus-pound actor who came to prominence in dance in 1985 as a member of the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company, one of the few major troupes to embrace some variety of bodies.

Mr. Goldhuber, who just presented work by his company, BigManArts, at Dance Theater Workshop, has made a name for himself as, in his words, “the only fat guy in dance.” But, he added, “I think for the most part, in all the performing arts, paying customers want to look at beautiful people, people more beautiful than us.”

It is tempting to believe that people’s deeply ingrained expectations about how dancers — like movie stars and models — should look apply chiefly to ballet. But contemporary dancers are also held to rigid physical standards, which generally have little to do with ability or health, let alone art. “Like most issues that appear to be aesthetic,” Mr. Jones said, “they are in some ways social, in terms of time and place.”

Performers who deviate from the norm are often treated cruelly in school; deemed physically unacceptable by university deans, they are told they will never make it professionally because they aren’t thin enough. Once out of school, they often face typecasting and disdain from their peers and, sadly, even from themselves as they struggle against the same social conditioning.

“Teachers who thought I was a great dancer and would put me in the front of the class and would cast me in the lead roles were still discouraging me from making a career out of this,” said Gina Bashour, a full-figured dancer who graduated from Adelphi University in 2000. “Those stereotypes are very much alive inside the dance world.”

When the choreographer Larry Keigwin envisioned “Bolero NYC,” he said, he imagined performers of “different shapes and sizes.”

“My objective is to mirror New York,” he explained last fall. “I’m not going to put a bunch of ballerinas on stage imitating that.”

But neither did he look to his peers; instead he held open auditions. The final group, which danced with his company last month at the Skirball Center at New York University, might have been a snapshot of the foot traffic on any given city block.

Differences for civilians are one thing. “Bolero NYC” shared a program with two other Keigwin works, including “Natural Selection,” performed without one of its original dancers, Hilary Clark. Reviewing the show in 2004 in The Santa Barbara News-Press in California, Ted Mills took issue with Ms. Clark’s body, drawing unfavorable comparisons with the “unceasing athleticism” of the other dancers. “Not that you’d know from the publicity or, from what I can tell, most reviews,” Mr. Mills wrote, “but Ms. Clark is a plus-size dancer, and her inclusion in this last work raised questions about Mr. Keigwin’s intentions.” Mr. Mills saw “old-fashioned shock-the-bourgeoisie” tactics at work.

Ms. Clark’s membership in the company ended shortly after that review. When rehearsals resumed on the company’s return to New York, she said, she was not informed. Mr. Keigwin said that the break had stemmed from “a combination of things,” but Ms. Clark is skeptical. She heard through a friend, she said, that Mr. Keigwin wanted “a more classically modeled company.”

Ms. Clark, who now performs with Tere O’Connor Dance, found her dismissal, she said, to be “a result of the larger issue” that “the unfortunate and superficial assumptions of who and what type of body should be dancing diminishes dance’s very potential and range of experience.”

Many dancers and choreographers echo Ms. Clark’s sentiment, tying the bias to America’s problematic relationship to fitness and to a misunderstanding of what it means to be a contemporary-dance artist. The virtuosic ideal of major touring companies, they suggest, has become the only standard by which many judge contemporary dance. And those big companies are well aware of what their audiences want.

“Looking as good as you can look is a plus,” said Moses Pendleton, the artistic director of Momix. “Not just a plus, we demand it. It’s part of the image. The repertory I have now does not require a character who is 10 pounds or 20 pounds or 50 pounds overweight. They would stand out in a negative way.”

The conceptual and intellectual elements of contemporary dance are often lost in the sheer physicality of various dance genres, which have reached new heights of athleticism in recent decades, as many dancers have been swept up in America’s fitness obsession. The idea of going to a gym, the choreographer and dancer Neil Greenberg pointed out, would never have occurred to a modern dancer 20 years ago. Now dancers have avidly embraced that culture, even though, as Mr. Greenberg noted, a performer’s mobility can actually be hurt by overzealous gym work.

“When I talk to people who are not in the dance world and I say I make dances, they immediately assume that I’m in a constant state of exercising,” said Miguel Guttierrez, a New York choreographer. “People think dancer equals person who moves, not artist.”

There is a sense in America “that it’s irresponsible or shameful, somehow, if you’re a mover and your body doesn’t look a certain way,” Mr. Gutierrez added. “That must point to a defect like laziness, or a genetic shortcoming.”

In a recent review of Mr. Gutierrez’s “Retrospective Exhibitionist” in The Burlington Free Press in Vermont, Lauren Ober described his “physical softness.” “Underneath his roly-poly exterior,” she added, “Gutierrez is clearly a trained dancer.” Ms. Ober, who is not a dance critic, said in an interview that she had “never seen anybody who looked like Miguel” in ballet or in the big touring troupes like Pilobolus or the Merce Cunningham Dance Company.

In American dance, Mr. Gutierrez said, “skinny and beautiful and strength and power are the universal standards.”

“The notion of a body that deviates from that is only articulated as being different,” he added. “Then the conversation ends. There’s no acknowledgment of that initial assumption.”

And these standards, he noted, are absurdly narrow. “I have a 34-inch waist,” he said, laughing. “It’s not like I’m making an appointment for stomach surgery any time soon.”

The choreographer Stephen Petronio says he has often received commentary on his dancers’ bodies, mostly the women, despite the unstinting athleticism required by his aggressive vocabulary.

“How would they know what a modern dancer looks like?” Mr. Petronio said, referring to audiences and reviewers. “I don’t even know what one looks like till they step out in front of me.”

Mr. Dorfman tells of a postperformance discussion in Arkansas, in which a man asked him, “Why do you keep so much weight on?” Mr. Dorfman, whose father was in the audience, was wounded by the remark, he said, but he also found it mystifying.

“The thing that people love about dance is that it’s bodies on stage, doing it live,” he added. “But then why can’t we really own that, that they can be all bodies on stage?”

The choreographer and critic Gus Solomons Jr. is unapologetic about describing dancers’ bodies. “The bottom line is: Can they cut the cheese?” he said. “Can they dance? If someone were too thin, you would not hesitate to say they couldn’t keep up, and the opposite is fair game as well. It’s nice when reviewers can stick to the issues in the choreography. But to the extent that the performers affect the vision, that needs to be noted as well.”

But whose vision are they affecting, the choreographer’s or the viewer’s?

“I think there’s something about a denial of death in all of this, and connected to that a denial of change, that our bodies change and decompose over time,” said the San Francisco choreographer Eric Kupers, a co-director of Dandelion Dancetheater, which has, since 2001, run the Undressed Project, featuring nude performers of all ages, sizes and abilities. Mr. Kupers said he had been dismayed by the number of colleagues who had dismissed his work and by the sense that he must “prove myself in a different way than I used to” since ceasing the punishing regimen necessary to maintain a streamlined body.

“A lot of these standards that people try to measure up to are trying to freeze us in time,” he said. “In dance, fashion, the movies, we want people to look like adolescents, basically — men and women. We don’t want wrinkles, cellulite. We don’t want to see the indications of our own mortality.”

The choreographer Alexandra Beller, who danced with Bill T. Jones from 1995 to 2001, has had abundant opportunity to ponder, she said, “what makes people so scared to see someone who does look like them onstage or doesn’t.”

“I was probably the first woman in a major company with a body that was not the expectation,” she added. The press coverage, overwhelmingly focused on her body, was devastating.

“For all the attention, I felt very unseen,” she said. She described finally losing her cool at a postperformance discussion, after a woman lavishly praised her for being able to dance like everyone else despite the 40 extra pounds on her frame: “I was like, you know, 60 years ago, somebody would have said: ‘I can’t believe you’re a doctor, and you’re black. You’re as intelligent as the white people, I guess, congratulations.’ It’s not a compliment, it’s a crazy statement.”

Ms. Beller continues to suffer such treatment. A recent interviewer for Dance Magazine, puzzled as to why she wouldn’t want to talk, pressured her to serve as a role model for the plus-sized community.

Bristling, Ms. Beller noted that even creating such a category was marginalizing. What, she asked, “makes a woman who’s a size 12 different from a size 4, unless you say she’s different?”

She got no answer. Before the phone call ended, she said, the reporter managed to ask if she was dieting. All she could do was laugh.

Source: New York Times