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.  :)