What Language Do You Speak?

Early this year I attended an out-of-state weekend workshop  to study Turkish Rom dance. After the final class, a group of us went out to restock our many burned calories. Our dinner party included the instructor and the sponsor in addition to a group of us students. Aside from being hungry, I was also there to work – specifically, to interview the instructor for Shimmy Magazine.

After the meal and interview were wrapped up, the talk continued heading in the direction of comparative styles. The sponsor was giving her opinion and said she liked Turkish style bellydance best because it is “so much more expressive than Egyptian.” My gut reaction left me speechless – probably a really good thing at that moment! ( I think my dance partner later said all the color drained from my face.) What could possibly be more expressive than Egyptian music with all its drama? I regained my powers of speech and tossed in my point of view – one long-steeped in Oum Kalthoum and Mohammed Abdel Wahab. The sponsor was unswayed  and still convinced that Turkish style was the epitome of expression in bellydance. I dropped the point and left her to her opinion, but had a long drive home to think about why we were each so shocked at the other’s fiercely held view.

In turning the world “expression” over and over in my mind, comparisons to language kept coming up. Learning a dance style is like learning another language. New movements are like new words. Combinations and gestures that convey the style are like context and idioms. As we gain mastery over these elements – be they words or movements – we gain fluency. Fluency is what allows us to truly express.

Expression happens in all languages with native speakers and diligent students; the less skilled linguist has to be satisfied with mechanically picking their way word by word through a conversation until they earn the badge of fluency. The same is true in dance. When a style truly becomes part of us, we have body fluency and the ability to express both ourselves and the music with every movement. And just as with languages, we can be fluent in one or maybe more, and quite challenged in many others.

By the time I reached home, I concluded it isn’t that one style of bellydance is inherently  “more expressive” than another, it is that each dancer has a different skill set, body-fluent in some styles more than others. We can choose to specialize and be mono-lingual dancers, work hard to be dance multi-linguists or happily reside somewhere in between. The important thing isn’t where we are on that scale, but that we realize it’s US and not the style that determine the possibilities for expression.

What language does your body speak?

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5 Responses to “What Language Do You Speak?”

  1. Kis Says:

    Prior to two years ago, I thought my body was that of a musicians, not a dancer. Now I find that the Egyptian style sits really neatly on these bones. But on doing some drum work and kicking out some Turkish Rom during a “follow/copy technique” session, I am starting to wonder if there’s some other areas of the region in there too. It hit a vibe in me. But a different one to the love that I have for the Egyptian moves and heart I have found.
    It envokes a different set of emotions. And to me, in the end, it’s the emotion you put into the piece that really sets aside a dancer from the dance.

  2. Viviana Says:

    While I trained in Egyptian style to work in the Arab resturants and appreciate it. It is like my second language, and I find it a little restrictive
    I find Turkish style fits my personality so much more & I don’t have to think about what I have to say.
    For me being raised in a area where the language is course, the residents are tough, and the women are just aggressive as the men.
    Then I am invited to higher class refined dinner party. Sure I can make my through the dinner. But I have to watch how I act & realize that certain neighborhood slang would not be understood by the other dinner guest

  3. Viviana Says:

    I.e. Some of the Turkish gestures, extended veil & floorwork. The athletic dancing. Typing on I phone can’t go back & fix mistakes.

  4. Nielle McCammon Says:

    We are all drawn to different styles of music… each nuance of movement and interpretation are unique and individual. Saying one country’s style of dance is more expressive than another should be followed in your head by (“for you”). There’s no point in arguing which is better since there’s no right answer.

    Kind of like saying, I want to dance EXACTLY like her. Well that’s not possible because the basic movements of bellydance look different on each of us, our unique bodies interpret the movement differently.

    Um oops tangent – great post!!

  5. Jennifer Shaw Says:

    I dance American Tribal Style. I came to belly dance late-when I was 62, and I had never danced a step before that. I even avoided social dancing, because I thought I was too awkward and clunky. But I was determined to become more graceful, so I chose belly dance to accomplish that goal-and it’s been quite a journey and a challenge for me. I studied traditional cabaret and fusion dance, and enjoyed them, but I felt something was missing. When I found ATS, I felt I was home, and have concentrated exclusively on that style for the past 3 years. One of the things I really love about ATS is the connection and power we have in our improvisations. Many dancers come to our studio from foreign countries to study at the “Mother Ship”, and this has led me to observe that, “We may not speak the same language, but we dance the same language”.

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