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Sunday, August 30, 2015

Give Me a Kick

Please consider contributing to an upcoming show in which I am taking part.  SHE:  Voices of Women, Heard and Unheard.

A few years ago I became very interested in exploring a belly dance interpretation of contemporary lyrical dance, striving for something built with the looping and ornamented air design of belly dance vocabulary, but presented without interest borrowed from exoticism. I had just come off of a streak of choreographing almost exclusively for theatrical fantasy, and was ready for something that felt more rooted in the real world.

I wasn't sure how to get this work staged or otherwise seen until what I thought would be a perfect performance opportunity presented itself in early 2013. I was an instructor at that year's “Art of the Belly” festival in Ocean City, MD, and for the evening performance prepared a mixed set starting with a short choreographed Oriental piece using the lush old-fashioned orchestral music that I love, followed by a costume change into a leotard layered under a slip for a contemporary dance to Imogen Heap's version of Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah. My set couldn't help but be a hit, I thought, since I would be performing for an audience of fellow dancers and this is exactly what I, a dancer, would want to see: something classical followed by something risky and daring. Perfect!
Classical.  Perfect!

Risky and daring.  Perfect!
Except it wasn't perfect. It wasn't even adequate. It really really wasn't. There is a reason that you have never seen the video of this performance. It was not good. Really not good. Thinking about it now makes my stomach churn and my chest ache.

Some of it was the situation, and some of it was me. For starters, I had severely misjudged the venue. I was deeply sandwiched in a lineup of crowd-pleasing high-energy artists, and to interrupt this party atmosphere first with something delicate and old-fashioned and then with something raw and emotional was a sequencing calamity. My Oriental piece was too prim, and Hallelujah just left the audience uncomfortable and confused.

But it wasn't just that. I didn't dance well. I had taught all day, I was tired and nervous, and I couldn't muster enough momentum to compensate for the grabby drag of the abrasive floor. Most of my preparation had happened in my cramped home studio, and I was not appropriately rehearsed to scale up for the larger stage I was dancing on. And I didn't look good. I was on the heavier end of my fluctuating weight, I hadn't done a very good job with my makeup, and I looked haggard.

And maybe the dances themselves were just not that good. I can't really tell anymore. I lavished care on the composition, but earlier this year I reluctantly showed the Hallelujah video to someone whose opinion I respect, qualified with all the context of the circumstances of the performance, and still her comments began with “please don't take this the wrong way.”

I have mixed feelings about trying to resurrect Hallelujah: I think I still believe in the dance, but that whisper of faith is lodged in a muck of defensiveness, shame, resentment, regret, and dread. My memory of being onstage is fuzzy, but I clearly remember coming offstage. I only made it a few steps before I burst into tears. No one spoke to me, and I felt as alone as I have ever felt. I was shivering with exhaustion and my chattering teeth were rattling too painfully into my metal water bottle for me to take a drink. I have that memory in my teeth, and I can feel it right now. I never want to do that to myself again.

Yet, this October, I might be doing it to myself again.

I'm not bringing back Hallelujah, but I'm working on something new that shares some of its aesthetic. I am telling you this explicitly because bringing this piece to the stage requires funding, and, to that end, it was suggested to me that I reach out and let people know about my work in progress, how excited I am for the upcoming show, and how they can support me.

Talking about my new project, though, is awkward. I wish that I could tell you about how excited and inspired and filled with renewed enthusiasm I am, but I really can't, because mostly I am just weighed down with anxiety. I mostly want to curl up in a weepy fetal ball, renege on my commitment, and give myself permission, once and for all, to just give up. In sharing the Kickstarter link (also at the top of this post and I'll link again at the end), I want to suggest to people who explicitly don't want to support me that they too should contribute, since it's certainly within the realm of possibility that I will entrench myself even more deeply into this self-perpetuating despair lemniscate I am so handily weaving into existence.

But for your sake, dear reader, and for the sake of my own mental health, dignity, and self-respect, I'm fighting this as best as I am able. You and I both would prefer to hear an outgoing, fearless, upbeat spin on what I'm doing. I can at least craft that narrative.

Shine out love, and fear crumbles away.

The show that I'm contributing to is specifically focused on women's experience and stories, so I chose to choreograph for music by LanaDel Rey. The song asks, “Will you still love me when I'm no longer young and beautiful?” The lyrics of the song affirm that I know you will, but the voice of fear whispers to me, “I know you won't.” Fear whispers that women become less desirable as they age. Men accrue status and socially-assigned worth as they grow older, becoming more attractive mates; women simply grow old, and lose the ability to inspire romantic love. All that waits for me, fear whispers, is loneliness, loss, and that metal water bottle rattling against my teeth.

Shine out love, and fear crumbles away.

I am insecure, I wrestle with attachment and impermanence and the desire for approval. I want to break my own heart so that it can not be broken. I slip into cynicism, because it's easier than being vulnerable. I am tempted to dispel apprehension with apathy. But every anxiety dissolves in the face of a simple choice, to choose love. Shine out love, and fear crumbles away.

Here we are, at last, at my final appeal:  Kickstarter:  SHE--Voices of Women Heard and Unheard.    Please click through and kick in. The drive ends on September 3, so go do it right now. Small contributions help too. You'll be funding a worthy cause, and from my perspective, performing the even more benevolent work of relieving me from having to ask you for money again. Writing this piece was rough. Please, please, please, do not make me blog again.

Update, September 2, 2015:  The funding goal for "SHE" has been reached.  Thank you.  And, I've written a part 2 to this post.  It's significantly less harrowing, so don't be afraid to plunge on over.

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