Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Dance it out

This is a Tajik Pamir dance.  Although it may share similarities with certain other familiar ethnic folk dances I have never seen this particular sequence before. Even the woman's dress dances!

Badakhshan (Persian: ببدخشان, Tajik: Бадахшон) is an historic region comprising parts of what is now northeastern Afghanistan and southeastern Tajikistan.

Tajiks, Uzbeks and Kyrgyzs live there, as well as speakers of several Pamir languages of the Eastern Iranian language group. . .   The people of this province have a rich cultural heritage and they have preserved unique ancient forms of music, poetry and dance. [Source]

Sometimes, to calm oneself down--or fire oneself up--or just to express one's sadness, happiness, or amazement at being alive--dance is the perfect vehicle. It has the capacity to induce euphoria, make one forget, for a time, the pain or weariness that existence sometimes brings. And--it costs nothing. You can lose yourself in the music, put your whole being into it. For a brief time, you go somewhere "else".

I sometimes wonder if we are born with certain rhythms carried forth, to which we seem inherently drawn.  They may or may not be from the culture we were born into   but when we hear them--the beat of an African drum, the haunting urgency of that gypsy violin, the call of an Andean flute, the teasing beckon of a Greek bazouki, the vibrations of distant ancestral voices, something awakens in us, a kind of re-cognition, and we stop to listen.

Feet with a Mind of Their Own:

Sometimes, in a public gathering, when a selection of lively music is being played, I sometimes notice people's feet. People who are sitting down, for example, engaged in conversation, half-listening to the music playing in the background. Some toes start tapping automatically, like unleashed puppies, unable to contain themselves. Other feet remain firmly planted, their owners' arms crossed, like stationed Observers (as opposed to TTIIPs (Toe-Tapping Involuntary Inadvertent Participants).

Then, there are some who just simply cannot stay seated; they immediately jump up and start dancing, oblivious to whether adequate space exists to perform such impulsive rhythmic gyrations. No matter. They compensate by what's known as standing there and dancing-in-place. We all know someone who fits this category. And the worst of it is, they try to get you to join them! (That they invite you in the first place means they think you're one of them. You should consider that a compliment. It means you understand how rhythm operates.) Never refuse to dance with this person, for fear of looking foolish.  This ultimate display of courage could open you up to a connection with openness (and fun) you never imagined possible.  Don't laugh.  Maybe you hear it, too, not just as background noise but a melodic reminder of states of feeling lately absent.
Not only feet respond sometimes without your consciously telling them to -- how many times have you listened to a particular loved classical recording and find your hands sweepingly "directing" along with the conductor, or find yourself humming along when a particular favorite aria flows out from a radio opera, or whistling a decades' old  rock tune.   All are spontaneous physical responses to rhythmic prompts or periodic replayings of mentally archived sounds whose which acts of engagement nurtures the spirit.   The perfect pill for what ails you! Stressed out? It calms you. Stuck in mental inertia? It energizes you. Need to be reminded of something? Its nostalgic recall helps preserve fond memories (or lets you deal with the bittersweet, regretful ones). In short, it's therapeutic.

So anyway, I stumbled on this Pamirian dance this morning, and right away saw a parallel in the graceful sweep of certain of the arm movements to reminiscent of certain Chi Gong positions.  Though I practice Tai Chi in silence, I feel its music.   Seeing this Pamirian dance reminded me of those forms.

Should we fear dilution?
People who study, teach or choreograph certain traditional dance forms are careful to preserve  "authenticity".  For example, in some cultures, although everyone does the same basic folk-step, the men are traditionally allowed to be more flamboyant; the women's foot movements, in contrast, are more contained, less pronounced. People learning or doing these dances sometimes append their own personal variations (e.g.,  you can always tell which ones have had ballet training).  As with language or tradition, a nation's dances evolve without compromising their essential character.  Its performers may not be native, nor the costumes always "authentic", but one still recognizes that distinctive heartbeat, so to speak.   What's fascinating is what each peoples and generation have done with this universal pastime we all share.

Though I enjoy occasional staged performances, I moreso love witnessing little spontaneous eruptions from random people in rhythmic response to "sudden music": Someone in the group pulls out a guitar, and everybody starts singing; one of the older kids plays a Bob Marley song and a younger one begins reggae-ing down the hall; people get together for coffee and music unexpectedly "breaks out". It's a language we all understand, without knowing the words.

All movement is a kind of dance. Kind of like life: Whether you move in lines, or circles, embedded in groups, or off in a corner, alone, we all hear its rhythm, and even when you don't actually hear it, it still plays out in your memory.  This can be a definition, for some, of joy.

Once a dancer, always a dancer, I think--even if your ancient feet no longer work and you can't keep up with the pace for fear of passing out.  I once saw a paralyzed ex-dancer in a wheelchair, watching, in rapture, a dance performance, her hand poised on her lap, executing the remembered steps with the second and third fingers of her right hand.  Like little miniaturized feet, they stepped, kicked, ran, jumped, and swirled.  Can you still sing if you've lost your voice? Can you "write" when you can no longer hold a pen? Can you play piano without a piano? Of course it's not the same.  (What is anymore?)  And yet ...

What a magnificent invention, dancing. It's like a gift.

Speaking of foot tapping:   :)

French Canadian/Metis-style foot tapping (taper du pieds) to accompany the fiddle.

If you have ever wanted to learn how to do this, you can get an introductory lesson here.  Just watch and imitate.  At some point you won't have to count; your feet will just automatically take over.  Or so they tell me.  :)

Thursday, December 22, 2011

poeming the winter solstice

Winter solstice time again, the shortest day of the year, which means night comes sooner.

Blogger Sandy Brown Jensen, a writing teacher in Eugene, Oregon has restarted a personal tradition this year to write a poem about the winter solstice, because, she says, "It reminds me to be conscious of the season, the coming and going of the light."  Her poem was accompanied by an image of a V-shaped line of geese sailing past a crescent moon.

I miss those geese.  Kind of like old friends who only show up twice a year, honkily announce their presence, then speed on.  A funny kind of visit, so brief, yet looked forward to with such heightened expectation and delight.  It never gets old.

Jensen's remark about "the coming and going of the light" came to mind when I read teacher/writer Paul Martin's review yesterday of Joan Didion's new book, Blue Nights, about the death of Didion's daughter, Quintana.   "The Buddhists tell us that pain, suffering and loss are part of life, and must be accepted as such," he wrote.  "Still humans go on and on, raging against the dying of the light, reaching out to hold on for just one more second, the blue light of memory."

Consciousness of light and darkness (physical, emotional, perceived)--their (and our) arrivals, departures; memory; loss; renewal; and seeming constants, like the twice-annual crossing of those geese traversing the sky.   The conjunction resonated.

An excerpt from Sandy Brown Jensen's poem:

Now, in the dawn dark, I hear them high
up over the bike path cottonwoods,
coming my way. I imagine
what I cannot see–twenty four wings
beating tip to tip, veed out
like talkative angels. . . .

And I am only afraid when the honkers fly on silent,
intent wings, quieted by some collective
thought too large or moving for even geese
to talk about, even to each other,
in those black hours before the earth creaks
again toward the light, and we can breathe, and speak.

(A reader commented that those "geese inspire my wings to quiver, too."  Add me to the list, it inspires me as well, that graceful journey of barky "sky-voicers", sad to see them go in autumn  (because that signifies a kind of end); happy to see them return come spring (another beginning). 

I don't know if it was the image of that V-shaped crossing under the crescent moon, an awakened consciousness of the comings and goings of light (and darkness), or the reminder of the Sisyphus-like predilection of humankind to "go on and on"-- alternately celebrating--or raging against--life's coming, life's going.    If I were to attempt to poem it, it might come out something like:

 Solstice Whisperings

'Tis the season we commemorate
light's contract with the world; 
mid groans at start of winter's Dark
(here blanketed in white).
For some, a time of inner fire  -
peak yin, the muse awakened, lo
behold its quickening.
Illumination reborn, freeing our
quiet, unheard voicings.
Cycles repeating ... ad lucem, 
ad opscurum
Retreat, contract, 
be re-lit inside.
Cradled in life's fragile,
invisible hold, we
become its eternal

Hmmm....  seems less to do with solstice & ends up being a cryptic pseudo-meditation on cycles.  Or existential weaving.  And poem is not a verb, last time I checked.  No, I have not hit the eggnog a tad early.  Am on Day 8 of an annoyingly debilitative seasonal malady, kind of a cross between laryngitis, cold & flu (it can't seem to make up its mind) (flucolarnge? larngclflu?   sounds positively Lovecraftian) .

Taking 2 aspirin and going back to bed. 

Friday, December 16, 2011

More, less, & just enuff

Took Chekhov on the trip down to the States last week but no time to read; this rarely happens but on this trip it somehow did. My rideshare driver reminded me it was my ninth trek in the luxurious Phillipemobile (twelfth for Don, aged 77, up in the front seat regaling us with tales of his many travels and unusual adventures). Some border officials, believe it or not, have never heard of rideshare or craigslist, finding it difficult to understand why six or seven unrelated people would all be coming into the country together in the same vehicle, none heading to exactly the same destination, all returning on different dates. But you get there twice as fast at half the cost; a smooth, comfortable ride with interesting people, lively conversations, good music, what more could one ask.

It was wonderful to see the l'il grandbubs again.  While there, one night, on our way back from the grocery store, we drove through this quiet neighborhood of gigantic houses with enormous manicured lawns, when this light display suddenly shrieked out in brightness:

My daughter said it had won some kind of local competition. Between the "ohhhhhhs" and "ahhhhhhhs"of passersby, one also heard:  "Wonder what their electric bill will look like ..."

And for all those large, overly decorated Christmas trees, real or fake, there're also those scraggly, marked-down leftovers bargained for on Christmas eve, before the tree lot closes, by those who find the only thing they can afford this year is a Charlie Brown special or its scrawny equivalent. Less decoration, more spirit - that'll work!

"Christmas" has become so commercialized, it's sometimes met with dread instead of joy.  Joy, joyous, joyful - words we say or sing or write on a card this month that roll out as effortlessly as "Have a nice day.

For some, these holidays (Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza, winter solstice), are a time of sadness, stress, or  creeping indifference.  What is there to celebrate? Some parents can't afford to put food on the table, as TV ads remind you how great it would be to be gifted with a diamond, expensive  appliance or spiffy new car with a big red ribbon tied 'round it. One is expected to honor family traditions even when it may be impossible to do so. Whatever cheer you might muster could suddenly wash right out of you by the proliferation of political correctness: saying "Happy Holidays", for example, you risk being lectured for not saying "Merry Christmas").

And yet . . . despite all the hype, and angst, and commercial shlock, families try to get together, spirits are lifted, people who wouldn't ordinarily, give. And there's the Peace-on-Earth thing. Which is another way of saying No More War, only quieter.

My dad was Smokey the Bear when I was in high school.  He used to go around to local elementary schools dressed as Smokey the Bear to teach kids about safety in the forest.  At Christmas time he'd make loaves and loaves of raisin-nut bread (the only thing he enjoyed cooking) and deliver them to certain families in the neighborhood.  I remember being impressed by his sheer enthusiasm -- none of my friends' fathers did these things--and regret that I never told him so while he was still alive.

What I like about the end of the year is that it's an End and you can imagine the new, coming year as an opportunity to correct/resolve/expand, whatever -- do things differently, or "better".  Which feeling sometimes evaporates as quickly as one's unmet New Year's resolutions, but at no other time of the year does that particular urge seem quite as strong. The older I get, the more inclined I am to just let some things go--habits, for example, that have run their course, worries that are not worth worrying over; and concentrate on those things that are important, or should be moreso.  Energy and focus squandered, a depletion you sometimes don't notice till it's too late. I have to remind myself to stop looking at some things as insurmountable obstacles; view them as challenges instead; think of creative ways to arrive at a solution, be more proactive, etc. Yeah, I know, buzzwords (like "Joyous"), but somehow simply waiting, and hoping for the best -- seems too lethargic.

So, onward and otherward 2012.  My grandson told me he watched a documentary on the Discovery channel last month which discussed the prediction that the world, as we know it, will end on December 21, 2012, when some catastrophic event will occur and "we'll all disappear".   Or not.  Living moment by moment begins to take on a whole new meaning, in light of that possibility, though. 

Anyway, glad to be back, though I wish I could have brought those Vermont mountains home with me. Seeing them again -- now that was pure heaven!


Sunday, December 4, 2011

Cat Photo Shoot

Part 1:  Choose subject 

"You want me to do WHAT?!!!"

Part 2: Consider asking Nikki
if this is how she wants to be portrayed.

I already know the answer.
What was I thinking?!

 She  prefers this one.
[The beach ball was unintended.
Not a prop.
It was just there.]

"Okay, enough. 
I'm done ..."
she heads back upstairs to snooze again.

Photoshoot Final Report:

1. Never attempt a contrived pose.
2.  What's a hug for one, may be a choke for others.
3.  Posing should always be voluntary.  Ask first.
4. Let sleeping cats be. They'll hear you if you try to sneak a
candid photo.  [If they want to be photo hams, of course --
well, that's a different story altogether.  Let 'em shine!]

Thanks, Nik, old girl.
You haven't aged a bit.