Mind Over (gray) Matter

"For Beginners" (ZAGHAREET! July/Aug. 2005)
by Anthea Kawakib Poole

In our continuing look at the role the intellect plays in our dancing, I want to share something I mentioned lately on a teacher’s discussion forum: namely, that beginners don’t always SEE what more experienced dancers see. That was brought home to me years ago when, while watching videos one night, a student commented on “how boring” Soher Zaki was - !

It’s not just a matter of taste: neuro-physiological research on the role mindful attention plays in brain development suggests that the brains of more experienced dancers are very different from beginners. In fact, that would be true even for audience members: a connoisseur of the dance would SEE a performance differently than someone who was seeing belly dance for the first time.

I remember my own confusion when, with only a handful of classes under my belt, I first saw Nagua’s “Princess of Cairo” piece. My reaction was NOT one of boredom, but more like speechless amazement, and in fact I couldn’t even find words later to describe it to friends - I had never seen anything like it before.

Whether someone is looking in the mirror at class, or at a performance onstage or on video, what they PERCEIVE may be very different than what the teacher or performer thinks they would see. The implications are huge - and make learning from instructional videos a really dicey situation, wouldn’t you say? And maybe it could explain taste–or lack thereof–after all!

It’s literally true that what you think, what you see, what you choose to do and pay attention to everyday is what makes you “who you are”. And the more attention you pay to something, the stronger an effect it has on you because your brain is forming more and stronger corresponding neural connections.

Use Your Head

So with this in mind (ha!) you can stack the deck in favor of becoming the dancer you want to be:

Belly dancers shouldn’t be just “exotic entertainers” or showgirls in bedlah, but “poets in motion”. The best dancers are experts in Body Language – they not only read it but use it in their dancing to speak directly to people’s hearts.

There may be many things about the dance you don’t understand yet, but if you attentively watch good dancing, you’ll enrich your vocabulary of “eye-words” or “body-thoughts”. The more “sight language” you study, the more you’ll see and understand... and perhaps one day you’ll become a connoisseur of the dance.

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