This is an essay from one of our contest winners Atisheh who won second place.
The Solo Surprise
When I read the topic for the essay contest, I thought it would be easy to answer. My passion for bellydance is in no small part due to its delicious, languorous movements. I love the meditative quality of the dance: holding a pose while tracing soft curlicues in the air with my fingers, stretching out a large hip circle to its utmost extension and letting my upper body sway down and then up again, unfurling my snake arms deliberately as though the air were made of maple syrup.
Given my love for the gooey, sensuous aspects of bellydance, answering what my favorite part of the bellydance routine is should be easy. It must be the chiftetelli, of course, or at least the veil section. What better chance to delight in slowness, moving and breathing with the music, letting an entrancing veil waft through the air, or doing sinuous undulations in floor work? And yet, I couldn’t commit. Because the more I thought about it, the more I realized that a different part of the routine has been winning my heart lately. And it is the utter opposite of everything I have always loved about this dance. But first, a little background.
I am not a professional dancer. I am, in fact, the eternal amateur. I go to classes, I take workshops, I buy a ton of DVDs, I read blogs and write one, I peek into conversations on online forums. Very, very rarely, I buy some little bit of a costume. I adore this dance, and it takes up a very high percentage of my physical and mental life, but no one is going to be knocking at my door tomorrow to ask me to perform a routine.
So the question for me is a bit theoretical. And yet, it’s also not. I’m not a high-energy person, a fast mover, so the slower aspects of bellydance always appealed to me. Given a choice between following a melody or following a rhythm, I almost always incline to the melody. I also liked the fact that slow movements, as in the chiftetelli, really made me feel my body from the inside, gave me a sense of deep connection to my own movement. I came to bellydance partly because I wanted to learn a dance I could do alone, for which I wouldn’t need a partner. It has always been something I did for myself, and only for myself.
But a few things changed for me recently. For one thing, I was pregnant – for the usual amount of time – and I had a baby. I danced a lot while pregnant, I worked with videos and I improvised on my own to many hours of Middle Eastern music. But something else also happened. I had taken a class on world drumming, and though I only picked up some basic skills, I did wind up with a very nice doumbek. My husband, who is much more talented musically, started picking up the doumbek now and then and improvising some rhythms. Some were Arabic ones that he had heard me practicing, and others were his own invention. And I started to dance to them.
Among my favorite memories of being pregnant, before the tornado of dirty diapers and nighttime feedings and inexplicable crankiness hit us, was my husband playing the drum, me grabbing a hip scarf if one was near by, tying it on, and happily improvising to his beats. It was a time in our lives when we both lived with constant awareness of my growing body, and somehow it made sense to play with an art form in which my body was also the focus. As his playing got faster and faster, I would forget my weightiness or my painful back and get carried away with the intensity of the music. There was no audience outside the two of us (and, well, a little creature who was along for the ride), but we had the conversation between drummer and dancer I had heard the pros talk about. While I had been attracted to the way bellydance allowed me to be alone and introspective, the drum solo allowed me to explore it as a partner dance.
This is how I started to fall for the drum solo. It can be fierce and tight, full of pops and locks, but it can also be cool and relaxed, with travel moves and big shimmies. And it’s the perfect do-it-yourself version of bellydance. You don’t need to have a lot of space for traveling moves, or the right floor for spins, or ceilings high enough to practice the veil. I can listen to a drum solo while waiting for the bus, and play with the rhythms under my winter coat. And even more exciting, you don’t need a full orchestra to enjoy dancing to live music. Find one drummer who is really into it, even if he or she hasn’t mastered all of Arabic or Turkish percussion, and you can have music and dance to it.
As I’ve recovered from childbirth and from the first, hectic year with a new baby, I’ve found the athleticism of the drum solo – the very thing I used to be wary of – to be a new attraction. I am spending more time dancing than I ever have before in my life. In fact, dance has become my lifeline. And doing a drum solo workshop or DVD, with all the sweat and speed and rehearsing of tiny, precise moves, has become a way to measure how far I’ve come in my dance training. The drum solo doesn’t let me stay where I’m comfortable. Whether it’s learning a completely new shimmy or drilling a series of bumps and pops until it comes naturally, working on a drum solo forces me to learn new skills in a focused way.
Sure, a drum solo is not as meditative or as soft as a chiftetelli or a taqsim. Those will always have their place in my heart. But I’m now a fan of the euphoria that comes from practicing and dancing with the drum, the excitement of give-and-take with a live drummer, the thrill of following crisp patterns with my own movements. Composed of rhythm and energy, the drum solo represents everything that I’ve always thought I didn’t have. Falling in love with it has been my solo surprise.