Dance Fever, Dance Fever
WARNING: THIS IS LOOOOOOOONG. This is a hard post. Why? Because I am going to attempt to put down all my thoughts and feelings in retrospect after a fairly significant event that just happened. And also because I am stoned from flu meds and thinking, what more typing, coherently is a challenge at the moment. But I shall endeavour and brave whatever brick bats that may come my way. Forward, groggy soldier ...
20 August was a killer day. The night before, I got called at the last minute at 8pm by an old friend in a panic. He needed dancers to perform for a big event in his restaurant and club and although I had already recommended another group of dancers, it apparently was still insufficient entertainment for his client. So ole reliable me went to the rescue. Needlessly to say, when I pitched up at work, I was one tired girl. And I still had two performances to go that day. That's right .. 2. I was going to work till 3.30pm. Then I had a performance at 5pm. In Sentosa. After which I promised to perform for the annual dancers ball at 7pm.
Was I insane? Indubitably so.
First, the performance at Sentosa. It was a troupe performance. Four girls. I had never danced with two of the girls before. And I did not know the song. Nor the choreography. And due to my work schedule and an unexpected bout of food poisoning - remember that soto ayam the designer bought for me? Ptui! - we have not been able to meet and rehearse. Not good.
After my performance, I met up with G, the choreographer of the dance item to learn the dance. For those not in the performance arts, this is no mean feat ... to learn a dance routine within 1 hour for a performance the next day with 3 other girls you have never performed with before. I was either very confident or very stupid. Please do not remind me which one I am.
It was hard-going at first with her mixing up names, positions and pronouns. But after a shaky start and my no-nonsense glare, we managed to get the choreo down. I wrote it all down and just focused on memorising my position and movements. By the time we finished, one hour later, I was fairly confident and spent the ride home marking my steps and memorising the choreo.
Next morning, I was still fairly chipper and confident and was still marking steps and running through the item in my head as I headed off to work. I was told to turn up for a run-through by 4pm. Er ... I finish work at 3.30pm and it would take me at least 30 minutes to get to Sentosa depending on whether I could get a taxi. I was not a happy camper. I told the girls I would try my best but no promises. I usually get the time when I am on, I show up and am ready to go and I leave immediately. I like it that way. I am a professional and as long as the instructions are clear, all's well.
Yeah .... rrrrrright. Not!
I turn up and it's starting to rain. There were no clear instructions on where the venue was so I am walking around like a cast member from Lost, carrying my luggage bag of costumes & make-up in the rain. I am not pleased. Finally, I spot the place and the bloody security knob refused to let me in!
"Excuse me, who are you looking for?"
"I'm one of the dancers and I am looking for the other dancers."
"Are there more than one group of dancers?"
"Which dancer? The tall one or the very short one?"
"Does it bloody matter???"
"Er ... I dunno where they are but I think they are there somewhere ... *vague wave in the far horizon* ..."
"Can I just go in there to change first. I am supposed to be ready in 5 mins."
"Er ... no. Er, which dancer you with?"
"Look, I have no time to play Who's on First. Just tell me where they are or where I am supposed to report to," I barked as I had to restrain myself from punching the git in the eyes since they had not left my chest during the entire farce.
In the end, he sends me off the main pavilion to the great, beachy unknown stating that the girls were there. After wandering around like a git for about 15 mins, I called G and threw a hissy fit. I declared I was moving no where and someone better come get me as I have been doing the Chinese Ghost Story routine out there on the beach.
Once the girls collected me, I dashed off to change. We decide, thankfully, that we needed a run through as it would be the first time all 4 of us danced together. And that's when it hit. G had given me all the wrong directions. She had confused my left with her left and stage left, my facing with her facing .. in fact, she had messed up all the directions and positions. It was a bloody disaster.
I had to re-adjust my thinking and steps in 15 minutes. The fact that I still managed it with minimal feck-ups is a testament of good teachers in the past. As it was, I was terribly uncomfortable at the complete mess. I think I muttered FUBAR under my breath a couple of times ...
Then it was a wait for our turn. I had made it abundantly clear I had to leave by 6pm latest as I had to make it to the other performance. As it was, we waited almost 40 minutes to go up. I was beginning to get rooted to the ground. Worse, we had no food or drinks while waiting and were sweltering in the heat. Not that I would have eaten as dancing after eating is asking for a scene from Monty Python ... just one leetle wafer ...
Fortunately it was over quickly once we were on stage. I always enjoy dancing in front of kids and there were a couple of real funny rugrats right at the front. The girls always think I am a princess and the boys are traumatised for life, growing up with an inexplicable fear of dancers with big hair. Bwahahahaha .. cough ...
The moment we are done, I fly like the wind to the other performance. With my ghalabeeya (black robe), I looked like a clueless ninja from some B-grade movie as I pelted up the pavement to the taxi stand. Peeps were jumping off to the side, into bushes and eyeballing me as I whirled past them. I felt like a super zero ... ta ta dum! Pant.
For quite some time now, I've been feeling really discouraged. I felt that I was not improving in my dance, had somehow lost a lot of my creative spark and may never really excel to the level I think I should. I was almost ready to throw in my dance slippers and call it a day. Retirement beckoned and I was feeling around for my stroller ...
This feeling of inadequacy was compounded by the deep betrayal and hurt inflicted by some other dancers I had considered as close, personal friends as well as a series of strange and bizarre incidences that coloured my relationship with another dancer, Ser. Fortunately, the misunderstanding with Ser was cleared and that helped in making me feel like I had at least one person in the dance world I could trust.
The Greatest Singapore Zero
It was with this feeling of disconnect that I arrived at the ball. The fact that it was held by a fairly notorious member of the dance community (let's call her BB) rather worried me. Will other peeps from the community vilify me because I had caved under her request to dance for her ball? I am such a wuss. Everytime someone cries or squeals in panic, I start acting like I am Singapore's Daftest Hero. Duh!
Anyway, as it turns out, my superhuman (sic) leaps enabled me to be one of the first to arrive. Yeah me! BB looked really grouchy and totally unfriendly as she was getting her make-up done so I decided to give her her space.
Are We There Yet?
Bored, I sms-ed the Australian dancers who had flown here for this performance. I love this bunch of ladies. They are not only talented but truly some of the nicest and most generous hearted dancers I know. Asking the girls when they were arriving at the hotel, I received a reply that they would pitch up at 8ish and a request that I be seated at their table.
I finally asked BB where I would be seated. She dismissed me by saying I can find myself a seat wherever there is a free seat. I silently rolled my eyes at this not-unexpected answer. Way to make me feel wanted. I wandered around listening to my CD music and watched as other groups practised their routines. I chose not to practise in front of them as I am paranoid after having my choreo stolen so many times by so many peeps. And also, I have a belief that if you practise too much just before you go on, you over-think your performance and end up stifling any real emotion.
I managed to lay my hands on a copy of the programme and realised the show was divided into two sets. The first set is dedicated to Bollywood dancing. 'Cor! BB had asked me to do an Indian fusion piece but Bollywood ... me???!! The mind boggles. I was relieved to see that I was relegated to the first 4 numbers, slated at 8.25pm. Phew! That meant I could eat and drink and chill out for the remainder of the show. Fabulous! I was right chaffed even though I knew it was a cut direct being placed so early in the show. Normally, earlier slots are given to "lesser" dancers. LOL ... I didn't give a flying ... er .. bun. I'd seen the line-up for the Bollywood set and other than Rose, the glorious and super-talented dancer from Australia, I knew that mine would be the best item in that set. Yes, I am so modest.
But above all I was glad to be able to relax and enjoy everyone else's performance - a luxury I seldom have the opportunity to enjoy.
I was curious to see how Rose would perform her Bollywood number as she is famous for her drum routines but not her Indian fusion dance. I knew that I would be in awe of anything she did though as she truly is incredibly good. The fact that she was on after me would have intimidated me except I was that confident that my performance would stand up to comparison.
As usual, right before my performance, I went into The Zone. I typically get very quiet and distant and I just cannot speak or interact with anyone. When it was my turn, I knew I could do no wrong. You know that feeling you get when you walk onto the stage and you just know all the stars are aligned, the gods are with you and you actually feel the glow of empowerment and sublimity? I felt all that and more. Someone once said that when I danced Indian fusion, she could almost see one of the Indian goddesses reflected in my aura and I had a luminosity that was otherworldly. I just reckoned she'd eaten a bad shellfish. LOL.
Up Yours, Judas
I performed my signature Maar Dala. The timing was perfect. I'd seen the dancer who had betrayed me recently. The dance was about betrayal and pain and I could channel all my hurt, anger and indignation into the dance with just one sidewards glance of the Judas. When I finished, the applause was gratifyingly thunderous.
Prancing over to the Aussie dancers and trying not to let loose a "Wiiiiiilburrrrr", I was hugged and kissed and congratulated by these ladies who have hearts as big and open as the outback. None of them had ever seen me perform except at workshops and it was very gratifying to receive their praise. A lot of my self-doubts and insecurity were mollified by their warmth and sincerity.
The clincher of the evening was yet to come though. I'd been standing in the middle of room with the Aussie ladies, watching all the other dancers perform - a spot just right next to the VIP table. In fact, just next to the Guest of Honour (GoH). BB seeing me there, gave me a warning glance and told me not to crowd the GoH. I resisted the urge to roll my eyes again as I noticed that the other dancers were not told to bugger off. Until I caught another dancer from Oz's (Janet) eye and she did the eye rolling on my behalf. We were like giggling schoolgirls.
Later, I stood with some international dancers near the VIP table again and BB was kind of giving me a hard time for standing too near the VIP table (I swear I was one car length away, Officer). Suddenly, a sweet old man gently nudged her aside and came up to me to shake my hand. Smiling broadly, he asked if I was the same dancer who danced at his welcome party a few months ago. I grinned and nodded yes. Yes, ladies & gentlemen. Meet the GoH aka The Egyptian Ambassador to Singapore. My client. Strangely, BB was suddenly not at our table. I bless my family for hardening me against outbreaks of hapless and hysterical giggles by being the most comically pretentious gits in town. I'd like to thank my dogs, God, my non-existent agent, my neighbour's brother's newsvendor's sister-in-laws' ... LOL.
The other dancers were terribly impressed and I tried to maintain a modest and calm demeanour but inside I was rolling on the ground laughing my bloody arse off. I really had to bite my tongue and swallow the giggles as the Ambassador waxed lyrical about my saidi dance skills, coincidentally BB's specialty, which truthfully I only focused on in a panic just days before performing for him. He stated that I really captured the feeling and spirit of the saidi for a non-Egyptian. I truly did not have the heart to tell him that prior to dancing the saidi cane dance for him, I had only performed the saidi once and had only the one intensive lesson with the great Yousry Sharif. (Note: That's how good a teacher he is. After Mahmoud Reda, he is my master favourite teacher) Egads ... the irony.
Anyway, enough being a gloating biatch. I want to rave about the Aussie dancers. The headliner of the night was an American dancer who, while a beautiful and talented dancer, was totally overshadowed by Rose. Rose stole the show and our hearts. Her charisma, power, passion, superior technique and beauty were magnificantly showcased. She is not called the Queen of Drums for nothing. Her drum routine is without a doubt the best I have ever seen. She commanded and deserved every millisecond of our attention. I was on the verge of doing a Wayne's World and making the "We Are Not Worthy" obseisance to this superb dancer.
Eva was also gold and continues to be my favourite dancer for her grace, soulfulness and pure elegance. I wished she had danced Faddah though as that is my favourite dance in her repertoire. She was the favourite of many in the audience because it is hard not to fall under the spell of this gracious woman who always reminds me of a sexier version of Audrey Hepburn.
And then there was Dervish boy. A male dancer direct from Egypt did the Sufi dance. He was really good and highly entertaining. The only drawback was the man's arrogance which took away from his art. At one point, Janet & I turned to each other and said, "Now he's just showing off!" LOL.
All in all, I was completely blown away with the high standards and quality of the performances. The Aussie ladies were complete stars and I would not hesitate to pit them against some of the so-called Superstars of Bellydance and loudly proclaim them superior. I think they deserve more credit and respect than they do and I truly bow to their deep knowledge, passion and love of the dance.
You Are Your Own Worst Enemy
Kaeishi, the headliner from America, was amazing in her shamadan dance which is what some peeps would call the candelabra dance. Dancing with candles on a tray which she balanced on her head AND with tealights held in her palms, she amazed us with her skill, dexterity, flexibility and control during her floorwork. What was funny though was that she later recounted that she'd lost her footing a little when she did a backbend. Truthfully, none of us really noticed. But she was terribly hard on herself and was beating herself up.
Watching her, I had an epiphany that we are all like that. How many times have I beaten myself up for not performing to par or missing a beat or a step despite everyone gushing over my performance. We are our harshest critics and the sense of insecurity and crusade for perfection is really what makes us strive harder. It also unites us in our neurosis.
Legend in My Own Lunchtime
Another epiphany that night was when a lovely Indian lady brought a little girl to me and complimented me on how my Indian dance was actually better than all the other dancers - even those who WERE Indian. Bless. She asked if her grand-daughter could have a picture taken with me and of course I happily obliged. The little girl was quite shy so I tried to be as non-threatening and gentle as possible as I put my arm around her for the picture. I did not think anything about it till later in the night. The grand-mother approached me again and told me how thrilled her grandchild was. Apparently, she told everyone "She touched me!" and was absolutely delighted.
I never really thought about it. I've always just been me ... just plain, ole, ordinary, slightly goofy (OK, plenty goofy) me. But to a little child or to an audience member seeing me only in performance mode, I am apparently the closest thing to a minor celebrity they might ever come close to. A little gesture like touching her arm was actually the highlight of her evening. I was reminded of my responsibility as a performer. It's not only to dance my best but to leave a positive memory for my audience even after the show. Even then, often I get caught up in my own world and truly I dance for myself - totally lost in the music and the story behind the dance.
And way too often, I would dash off after a performance, prefering not to deal with silly men trying to get my number or clingy females trying to score a free lesson. I usually just want to bugger off to smoke a shisha to come down from the high of performing or just go home to rest. I've been thoughtless. I kicked myself and promised I would endeavour to spare more of a thought or word. I would always think of that little Indian girl every time I feel impatient or the urge to rush off.
Most importantly, that night I rediscovered why I danced in the first place as I watched the lovely Australian dancers. I am inspired again. Refreshed and revitalised, I cannot thank them enough and I hope I live up to their expectations and praise. Aussies rule, ladies!
P/S. But I still hope the All Blacks kick their arses on Saturday. Ka mate ka mate! Ka Ora! Ka Ora!
Categories - Rambling Prose