Bellywood

A year or so ago I received a phone call and email from a woman who wanted me to teach her bollywood dance. She wanted to show me some of her favourite bollywood movies and asked if I could then teach her the moves she wanted to learn.  It was an interesting question, and I probably could have done it. I could have studied some bollywood moves on TV and broken them down using my knowledge of movement, kinetics, and the bits & pieces of Indian dance I’ve done. Maybe I would do that, fooling around in the living room by myself or with a friend. But I wouldn’t be accurate. I would be imitating a 2-dimensional image. I wouldn’t know that a movement was led from wrist and not the elbow. I wouldn’t know that the weight should be on the heel and not the instep. I wouldn’t know how much weight to put in the free foot, and whether the pelvis should be tucked or relaxed. I wouldn’t know the meaning of the hand mudras, nor the story behind certain facial expressions. And therefore, I could NEVER take that imitation and teach it to anybody, nor could I perform it. That would be unprofessional and irresponsible. Irresponsible? Yes – to the student and audience who assumes that I, as a professional have obtained a level of mastery in what I am presenting, to the people of India to whom the dance form belongs and to the dance form itself (which has inherent integrity).

Nothing picks my butt more than someone imitating ethnic moves from this or that culture and then teaching or performing it with no thought or respect to executing the move correctly, nor to its origins. So no way would I pretend to teach an ethnic dance form whose movements I did not deeply understand and master.

But I thought it was cool that she called me. It gave me pause to think about my own ethics and feelings around cultural dance forms. Anyway, here is my response to her. I hope you enjoy it and I hope you learn something!

Dear –

In my dance travels I have taken one bollywood dance class, one Kathak dance workshop and one Bharatanatyam workshop where I learned some of the hand mudras. So my experience is very limited. Because of my limited experience, I have spent a couple of days doing some research to learn more about it to help me answer your question around why I (as a bellydance teacher) cannot teach you bollywood dance.

I study and teach bellydance, which is Egyptian cultural dance. Bellydance has its own specific movement vocabulary. It involves isolations and undulations of torso, hips and arms. There are no large movements of the arms and legs. Movements are very centered and core-intensive. There is a lot of isolated use of the hips. There is very little travel, footwork is very simple, and there is no jumping or leaping. Arms are quiet or move slowly, are never percussive and are used mainly to frame the movements of the hips & torso. Hands are graceful but do not tell a story.

Like bellydance, most people do not know what exactly bollywood dance is. Bollywood dance is a modern Indian fusion of two cultures: Western dance styles (mainly Hip Hop, Jazz & Salsa) fused with East Indian Classical, Folk, and Bhangra dancing. Foot patterns are complicated and precise. There is a lot of aerobic jumping, bouncing, knee lift and leg action. Arms can be either percussive or soft, with percussive and large arm movements being more common. There are very specific hand gestures in bollywood dance that originate from classical Indian dance such as Bharatanayuam and Kathak and have actual story-telling (translatable) meanings. Watching bollywood dancers, it is easy to see the hip-hop and jazz influences in the style.

None of these bollywood dance elements are found in Egyptian bellydance. There are times when a bollywood dancer may appear to be doing something similar to bellydance on the surface (such as a hip lift, torso or arm undulation), but at the same time she will be holding her body in a certain way or using her hands in a way that is very different from bellydance, and the movement may be produced differently (i.e. generated from the foot rather than out of the hip.)  

Given the extreme differences in the dance styles, my lack of experience with bollywood dance and my firm believe in respecting and honoring the dance forms of other cultures, it would be unprofessional of me to attempt to teach it to you. I am a professional instructor who is dedicated to sharing my love of Egyptian dance with anyone who wants to learn, and I would be very happy to have you in my beginner bellydance class in this capacity (bellydance student). Since you are anxious to work with the bollywood movies you have for the choreography styling, I recommend that you also take adult hip hop and jazz dance classes. This way you would learn isolations, torso, hip & soft arm movements from Egyptian bellydance, percussive arm & leg movements from hip-hop, and some floor patterns & footwork from jazz dance. If you are travelling outside for a business or holiday you could take a private bollywood lesson in a bollywood dance studio while away to help you put it all together.

Big Band and Bellydance

Rockin’ the Casbah is going to be an interesting show. I’m probably breaking all kinds of rules, but I think its okay if you know what they are and have respect for their purpose, if you are a master in your craft, with the proficiency to do a fusion well and if you accurately name what you’re doing…call it what it is.  Well, maybe “rules” isn’t the right word…but anyone who knows me knows how much love and resect I have for this beautiful art form with its roots deep in the sand and soil of Egypt and the Middle East. So maybe the rules are my own.  But besides being a dance teacher, troupe leader, choreographer, student & solo artist, I also like to think of myself as a bit of a preservationist. Past shows have always had an instructional element to them by including folkloric dance and different styles of Egyptian dance. It is important to keep dances alive and gift them to the public. Dances like the hagallah and the khaleegi.  But this show is different. This time the medium is the message.

I wanted to showcase The Big Band and their versatility – our lovely vocalist Rebekah, our talented players; from the beauty of the ballad to standard swing pieces.  I want to showcase my friend Fawn who has the most amazing rich voice I ever heard. I want to dance with her singing beside me – a duet of voice and movement. I want my dancers to perform to live music again – and right now the only live music I have access to is the big band.

 I wanted to showcase my dancers in both troupe and solo situations. I gave everyone an equal invitation to express interest in doing a solo and actually managed to find a place for everyone who responded.  I wanted to give them the  same opportunity I was giving myself  – the opportunity to stretch their wings and explore whatever element of the dance they are led to. Some are going outside their own boxes to look at fusions of their own. Others are intensifying their study of Sharqi because that is where their hearts lead them.  I wanted to stretch my own wings as a choreographer and venture into dance fusion.

How wonderful it would be if I could marry my two loves together – big band and bellydance! Saba will be dancing two fusion dance numbers to live big band music. I won’t tell you what they are – you’ll have to come to the show and see! In addition, there will be fusion involving other non-traditional music, interesting and unusual props, a theatre element, on and on. And oh, yes – there will be bellydance, too! Good old fashioned Raqs Sharqi will definitely be there along with a good dose of traditional music – no worries on that account!

Besides showcasing The Big Band and Saba Middle Eastern Dance Ensemble, I will admit to a vanity – I want to showcase myself as the creator and artistic director. I wanted to create something very special. I really wanted to stretch my wings and move outside my box – do something creative and unique that will bring all the threads of my creative life together. Every single troupe number as well as my own solo pieces are original works created by me. I chose the pieces the band will be playing. I really struggled over the shape the show would take. How in the world does one put two completely different art forms together on the same stage? God, I hope it works!

Goal!

After chasing about 4 pounds around all summer, I finally realized that I have been successfully maintaining a healthy weight for 5 months. I’m not a failure – I’m pretty good – a success! So I decided that at the next weigh-in, I would accept whatever the scale said as my “goal” weight and stop chasing those last couple of pounds. I’ve felt out of control all summer because I was unable to reach that last final number.  Then, I realized that it is only a number and I am needlessly fixated on it. In reality, I am more fit and healthy than I have ever been in my life. So by making the decision to accept whatever the scale should say at the Wednesday weigh in, I was putting myself back in charge. Last night I got up on the scale and was very happy to see a number inside the healthy BMI weight range for my height and I happily accepted that number as the end of my weight loss journey.

60 pounds are gone, gone, gone. Gone for good!  I picked up a 60 pound weight in the gym the other day.  60 pounds is very heavy. No wonder my knees always hurt! No wonder I was always tired!

My friend Judy says she did not “lose” her weight – she “got rid of it”. I like that. I did not lose 60 pounds – I very deliberately got rid of it. If you should find the “lost” weight, please do not return it to me! I don’t want it back!

What is my advice to the rest of my weight-watcher friends that are still on the downward path?

♥Set realistic weight loss goals and re-evaluate them on a regular basis. Adjust your goals as need. Make every goal an obtainable one: 5 or 10 pounds, or one dress size, or lowered blood pressure by a few points. When you reach your goal, congratulate yourself and then set the next one.

♥Reward your successes! Tell someone about it and get a high five! Get a manicure or a new piece of clothing.  Buy a new pair of walking shoes or gym clothes. And by the way…food is not a reward.

♥Find the positive lesson learned with every weigh-in, no matter the result of that weigh-in. You didn’t loose any weight this week? Or you gained? Don’t beat yourself up. So what.  What is important is to ask yourself what did you learn about yourself and your habits? What changes can you make because of it? Let knowledge be your consequence. You lost this week? Again, what did you learn about yourself and your habits? Nothing is “bad”. Everything we do has a consequence. Some consequences are just nicer than others!

♥Never quit! Our WW leader once asked us the question: “if you stumble and fall down a couple of stairs,  do you then throw yourself down the rest of them! No way! You get up and start climbing again!” So don’t give up. You are so worth all the efforts you’re putting towards your good health! I’ll say it again – you are worth it! You deserve good health!

♥Address the reasons you were heavy in the first place. Those emotions you are eating aren’t going to go away when the weight is gone. Those reasons you got heavy will still be there. Deal with them. Resolve them. Don’t let them continue to have power over you.

♥Ask for help when you need it.  Ask your WW leader. Ask your friend. Ask your spouse & family. Whatever you need, ask for it. Need professional help?  Get it! No shame there. Health is more than pounds on a scale. Health is being in balance. If you need help sorting out how to find that balance, get it. You deserve it!

♥Go to your WW meetings. Every week. Faithfully. I have learned so much from these meetings! I often come home with a new idea, recipe, or way of looking at something.

♥Have a wing mate. A friend who supports you on your journey.  My wing mate is my friend Maureen. She went through the program at the same time as me and is now celebrating one-year at goal. Way to go, Maureen! I am so proud of you! You have helped me get here and I love you. I am also grateful for all the tremendous love and support I’ve received from my husband. Honey, you are my reason. I love you.

Here’s a costume I’d been working toward getting into. It was a bit tight when I bought it, and the bra was definately too small. Now, the bra fits fine and I need to sew in the darts of the skirt a bit because it’s a bit loose.  But hey, not too bad, eh? 

My journey isn’t over. It’s just changed shape. Now I am in “maintainance.” After 6 weeks, I become a WW lifetime member. I can’t wait!  I’ve got the tools and I’m going to be okay.

So, eat well, but not too much. Move your body with exercise you enjoy. Laugh. Enjoy  life. Be around people you like. Love & let yourself be loved.