This article was first published here http://www.assiutandtie.com/tag/rita-markwell/
When asked why I am drawn more and more into contemporary dance from my original heartland of Middle Eastern dance, I start with why I dance.
I dance because I hunger to dance every day.
In dance, I have found ways to convey my most painful experiences, my deepest unspoken truths, and my intense elation in connecting with God.
There is freedom in contemporary dance to express complete ugliness, brokenness. One can be wild, unkempt, beautiful, triumphant, or destroyed. One can reveal their full story because there are fewer rules about what makes a contemporary dance compared to belly dance.
2. Use of the whole physical form
What I have learnt through contemporary dance is the use of breath, of flowing from a point of impetus, of embracing momentum and s p a c e. I love the possibility involved in using the whole physical form. Limbs and torso move counter to one other, together in unison, or a combination of both – like twenty matches lit at once. There are no rules about keeping one’s posture or legs together. The limits of one’s strength and flexibility are fiercely pushed. A variety of improvisation exercises, including contact improvisation are used to build the intuitive and proprioceptive parts of the brain.
3. Moving effortlessly from standing to floor
In contemporary there is a lot of floor work. There is emphasis on visualisation – we crumble into the floor, peel away from the floor. This demands upper body and core strength (something I am still building).
I am particularly drawn to female contemporary dancers, and the boneless and spherical way in which they move across the floor and in space. They dance as if they are not only embodying their physique but the air that is around their body. There is something deeply sensual about this. Often male contemporary dancers approach their form more athletically, seeking to cut through the space and create dramatic visual imagery. This is just my observation. There is so much diversity even within the contemporary dance genre.
4. Personal growth
The opportunity to once again be a floundering student, completely mesmerised, entranced, stumbling to speak the language with natural fluency. I am again uncomfortable, and out of my depth. I am creating pieces that I obsess about.
And how belly dancing has improved my contemporary dancing…
1. Joy, sensuality
Belly dance is a joy that comes with connecting with my Arabic cultural traditions, with my community of dance sisters. It embodies something deeply feminine, powerful, sensual, even erotic.
Through belly dance we learn to love our dance sisters and treasure womanhood – the camaraderie.
Through belly dance we learn to use our central form, to flow between the pelvis and torso. To shimmy and move staccato. To visualise the small ball of energy that flows from one body part to the next to create indecipherable undulations.
Strangely, in the world of contemporary dance they are only just grasping the power of ‘centrality’ – using the torso, hips and pelvis. They are entranced by it, having traditionally been concerned with extension and contraction of the limbs and spine.
5. Audience connection
Sometimes contemporary dancers become so cerebral about their work it borders on self-indulgent. I believe composition still needs an aesthetic, something that can stir a feeling. Belly dance thrives on the audience connection.
6. Interaction with live musicians
As belly dancers, we lose our fear of improvisation with live music, interacting with the rhythms as they are played. This idea remains quite foreign to many contemporary dancers.
I no longer see myself as a dancer of a particular genre. I used to worry about the fact that these two worlds – Middle Eastern and western contemporary – appeared irreconcilable. For example, there isn’t much crossover or appreciation of Middle Eastern dance amongst contemporary dancers. Now it no longer worries me. That is just politics. The art is my business, and I’m fortunate enough to have opportunities to express the full force and direction of my creative self without worrying about that other stuff. The true heroines in my world are the dancers who see without pretention and rigidity, who welcome and cultivate creativity. The upcoming Melbourne show of Lumiere, produced by Antonia Gore and Brigid Morgan, is one such ‘light on the hill’ for genre-defying dancers everywhere.
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