Three lessons from an intense weekend

I am just pulling myself together after a weekend of workshops with the one and only Mercedes Nieto. As usual, her workshops, all three of them, were amazing, as usual, she wore us out completely, and, as usual, her concepts were at times a lot more difficult to grasp than the dance technique she taught, which, I should add, is something to say, for her technique is anything but easy. The weeend was complete with a Saturday evening show starring Mercedes and featuring a number of other beautiful dancers and a live ensemble, where I also had the honour to perform.

Obviously, much of what I learnt is non-verbal – it was a dance weekend, after all –, but here are the 3 most important lessons I took away (and I can put into words):

  1. Even sadness can be light.

The first workshop was about lyrical and dramatic expression in oriental dance, and befre we dived into how to express any of that, we needed a way to define them and tell them apart. Most classical oriental songs are love songs, and few of them are happy ones – indeed, even those tend to have a touch of melancholy, so we won’t find it there. We might find it in the lyrics, but often a verse that would read rather dramatic makes for a much softer, more lyrical song. So wee looked at instrumentation, the use  of instruments, the layers and depth of the music as well as how the singer interprets the words in question. Of how much passion, hope and acceptance s/he puts into the song. Mercedes introduced an association of  something lyrical being lighter and drama being deeper, heavier, which accordingly led us to different dance techniques to express these qualities. She also said even sadness can be light – less dramatic, softer, airier than one might think – and I kept thinking of sadness accepted, of sadness I know will pass one day, of sadness so calm is becomes light.

2. Lost energy can (and should) be recovered.

In a dance context, we talk about energy as the momentum that drives us though a series of movements, that makes the next movement a direct consequence of the previous one.  To experiment with this concept, we practiced a combination, leading this energy and reacting to it in turn, at the end releasing it completely to remain empty of it and restart, building it up again. I found myself somtimes losing it in the middle of the combination, distracted maybe by getting too close to the dancer next to me and wanting to avoid bumping into her or simply forgetting the next step, so I asked if she had any advice, should we lose our energy on stage. She did have a piece of advice, applicable to much more than dancing on stage: slow down, re-center yourself and focus on your body. 

3. It’s good to be carrried away by the music – but find your way out

This lesson doesn’t come from the workshops, but from the performance, and was offered by another fellow dancer, Fédra. After the show, she complimented me on how full of feeling I dance (I took it as a compliment, in any case). I danced on a deep, sad and somewhat conflicted love song, improvising to allow myself the flexibility to follow the live music – and I indeed got carried away. So much that I was not quite ready for the end of the song when it came. I doubt many have noticed it – the musicians communicated and understood me amazingly. Fédra, and possibly some other dancers, spotted it though, and she pointed it out, not only offering a valuable lesson for future performances, but also a great example of constructive feedback.


Posted in Blog, Oriental Dance.

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