Expression and Energy

Elfie

New member
Not sure if this should go here or in the instructors section... but since expression and energy are a major part of performing, I thought here was the better sub-forum. Mods, feel free to move if you feel it should be elsewhere (which you would anyway, but you know...).

I recently discovered a lovely song, which I think is probably a classic in the Arab world, but you know... I'm still getting acquainted with Arab music. The song is "Wana Wana" and I just can't stop listening to it! It's energetic and fun, but still poignant and solid in feeling. (I have to say, it's wonderful when I have it on, dancing, and all three of my kids start dancing too... both boys included!)

I looked up the translation in English and the lyrics are very moving. There's a longing there that I want to express while keeping the energy of the dance up. It's energetic longing, I suppose.

However, my daughter says that sometimes I don't look like I'm in actual pain, but like I'm showing pain. To me, that seems fitting as desperate longing can be painful. But my daughter says it doesn't fit with the song.

So, I'm wondering if it's too over the top to try to portray that much emotion. But then again, I thought too that we, as belly dancers, were supposed to translate the music... which includes the lyrics... into the dance. So I'm confuzzled.

Suggestions? Opinions?
 

Shanazel

Super Moderator
I could be wrong, but I suspect you know more about dance, emotion, and expression of longing than your daughter. :cool: If you are really concerned, ask another dancer whose objectivity you are sure of and whose opinion you value.
 

shiradotnet

New member
My suggestion is to videotape yourself dancing and watch it, being as objective as possible. You may need to watch it 3 times, with the first two times getting past the knee-jerk reaction to seeing yourself on video, and the third being when you can be more objective.
 

Elfie

New member
I know Shana. My daughter is bright and intelligent, but too true... she knows very little about longing of any sort. I guess I just let the fact that she's my child bias my opinion of what she thinks. Which I shouldn't concerning dance, as she's only 10, even though we often drill and dance together. Getting another dancer's opinion is a very good idea.

And Shira, yes. I need to videotape myself anyway. Have been meaning to for months as it is, and keep putting it off. To be honest, I'm afraid of what I'll see.
 

Shanazel

Super Moderator
Lordy, if I took to heart my daughter's opinions of what I did when she was ten I'd have just gone to bed and pulled the covers over my head!!! She's eighteen now and cautiously beginning to admit I occasionally do something that doesn't embarrass her. :lol::lol::lol:
 

Elfie

New member
Lordy, if I took to heart my daughter's opinions of what I did when she was ten I'd have just gone to bed and pulled the covers over my head!!! She's eighteen now and cautiously beginning to admit I occasionally do something that doesn't embarrass her. :lol::lol::lol:
I'm bias, I admit, but my daughter is 10 going on 25. She's smart, innovative and rather mature for her age. She cooks as well as I do (I started teaching her to cook when she was 4... same age as my mother taught me), loves housework (except dished LOL). She already has a decent business and customer base selling bead jewelry at school (with the school's permission) that she makes herself. She can sew, crochet scarves and paints abstract art and watercolors. She's beginning to learn the guitar and has been belly dancing with me for a year and a half, give or take.

To me, she's an impressive girl.
 

Yame

New member
IMO when it comes to expression, we have some leeway. We can choose to express what the song originally meant, or we can choose to express the way the song makes us feel, or anything in between, and more.

I think what may be happening here is that there is a disconnect between what the song originally expressed and what it sounds like it expresses. There are a lot of Arabic songs that sound joyful, but if you look at the underlying lyrics they talk about pain and longing. So perhaps you chose to express the latter, and your daughter, without knowing this context, found that it did not fit with what she was hearing, which to her perhaps sounded more joyful.

We don't have to always express what the song originally means. We don't always have to express pain when the song talks about pain. This doesn't mean we should remain willfully ignorant of the meanings of songs, but it does mean that it's just as valid an artistic choice to express something else that you hear in the song.

Of course, it must also be said that different people hear different things, in the music, and something that might sound poignant and emotional to one person could possibly sound happy and joyful to another. This could be another disconnect.

Finally, sometimes there is a disconnect between what we want to express/what we think we are expressing and what we are ACTUALLY expressing. For example, I have this face that I make that feels to me like it's a very intense, serious look. But whenever I see it in video, it just looks like I'm concentrating really hard, or like I'm bored. I really need to work on that one. The first step is to video yourself and spot this problem, if it is there at all. Next, you have to figure out how to make an expression that actually looks like what you are trying to achieve... and practice it enough to remember how it feels, so that when you perform, you do what looks right, not what feels right.
 

Shanazel

Super Moderator
To me, she's an impressive girl.
She sounds impressive by anyone's standards. We used to say my daughter was four going on forty, so I know what you mean, but that didn't keep mine from being hypercritical of mom. ;)
 

Elfie

New member
IMO when it comes to expression, we have some leeway. We can choose to express what the song originally meant, or we can choose to express the way the song makes us feel, or anything in between, and more.

I think what may be happening here is that there is a disconnect between what the song originally expressed and what it sounds like it expresses. There are a lot of Arabic songs that sound joyful, but if you look at the underlying lyrics they talk about pain and longing. So perhaps you chose to express the latter, and your daughter, without knowing this context, found that it did not fit with what she was hearing, which to her perhaps sounded more joyful.

We don't have to always express what the song originally means. We don't always have to express pain when the song talks about pain. This doesn't mean we should remain willfully ignorant of the meanings of songs, but it does mean that it's just as valid an artistic choice to express something else that you hear in the song.

Of course, it must also be said that different people hear different things, in the music, and something that might sound poignant and emotional to one person could possibly sound happy and joyful to another. This could be another disconnect.

Finally, sometimes there is a disconnect between what we want to express/what we think we are expressing and what we are ACTUALLY expressing. For example, I have this face that I make that feels to me like it's a very intense, serious look. But whenever I see it in video, it just looks like I'm concentrating really hard, or like I'm bored. I really need to work on that one. The first step is to video yourself and spot this problem, if it is there at all. Next, you have to figure out how to make an expression that actually looks like what you are trying to achieve... and practice it enough to remember how it feels, so that when you perform, you do what looks right, not what feels right.
Excellent points, Yame! I agree with you there. I've noticed that a lot of Arabic music does sound happy or joyful, only to find out the lyrics are more emotional than I ever would have thought. I hear the emotion in "Wana Wana", but too I can hear the joyful sound you're talking about. I can see where that disconnect comes in. Definitely!

I guess it's time to finally video tape myself. No more putting it off, no more excuses. I'm hypercritical of myself in all things (like mother, like daughter lol) so my viewing it may not help much, but maybe I can dissect it in parts, watch expression in one viewing, technique in another etc. and get what I need to out of it. I need to anyhow. The teacher I have coming for monthly workshops wants to review my dance beforehand anyhow because I've been studying independently for so long, so I really need to stop procrastinating about the video thing.
 

Greek Bonfire

Well-known member
When I was a newbie, I used to see a very experienced dancer from time to time who showed immense feeling on her face and at first I thought it was kind of dumb. But as I became more educated, as well as doing my own performances and learning to feel the music, I loved watching her face and seeing all of the passion and emotions floating across. And she would lip sync because she understood and knew the words, and I thought that, with the feelings on her face, really made the whole dance so alive.
 

Safran

New member
Everyone else has given great tips, so I won't be repeating them. However, one of the reasons why your daughter finds your expressions strange, may be that you don't use expressions to such intensity in your everyday life and she is just not used to it. Or, maybe when you try to portray the emotion, it looks different from what your expression looks like in a normal setting. Maybe you can sit in front of the mirror with your daughter and she can help you identify your daily expressions so you can compare!
 

BellaBohemian

New member
I think most things have been said already. The only thing I want to mention is I find it best to draw from personal experience. Its easy to tell when someone is faking an emotion for the sake of a show; but when you use a time that you actually felt that way it changes the mood.

I agree with the video tape too. :D
 

Darshiva

Moderator
I never learned about facial expression (nor realised I should teach it!) but I've always just let my face reflect what I was feeling from the music - and THAT I've always taught in my classes.

How is this different?
 
I think what may be happening here is that there is a disconnect between what the song originally expressed and what it sounds like it expresses. There are a lot of Arabic songs that sound joyful, but if you look at the underlying lyrics they talk about pain and longing. So perhaps you chose to express the latter, and your daughter, without knowing this context, found that it did not fit with what she was hearing, which to her perhaps sounded more joyful.

We don't have to always express what the song originally means. We don't always have to express pain when the song talks about pain. This doesn't mean we should remain willfully ignorant of the meanings of songs, but it does mean that it's just as valid an artistic choice to express something else that you hear in the song.
It's exactly the same in flamenco. In fact, there's a style of music called alegrias, which sound just like the name suggests - happy,joyful, upbeat. But often, when you listen to the lyrics, they're the opposite. One of my favourites is about a young girl whose sailor sweetheart has just drowned. :confused:

Even when dancing for Spanish audiences (who understand the lyrics) you're not expected to reflect the tragedy of the words in the dance. I've always wondered if the same would apply in belly dance.
 

shiradotnet

New member
Even when dancing for Spanish audiences (who understand the lyrics) you're not expected to reflect the tragedy of the words in the dance. I've always wondered if the same would apply in belly dance.
My take on it is this....

You wouldn't want to do a joyful dance to a song with tragic lyrics.

Some dancers such as Dina will make tragic faces to go with tragic lyrics, and many American audiences find that off-putting. (I know you're not in the U.S., so you'll have to draw your own conclusions on how Aussie audiences are likely to react to tragic facial expressions.)

I personally spend some time thinking about the song, looking for potential moods that honor the content of the lyrics but without looking angry, upset, or miserable.

For example, if a song is sadly speaking of the agony of lost love, I might go for meditative, introspective, or hopeful: "I'm looking for my inner strength," "I'm preparing to move on," or "Someone new is out there waiting for me".

If the lyrics consist of a woman telling the man in her life to get out of her life, I might go for "glad to be rid of him", "empowered woman who doesn't need that worthless guy", "gleefully telling my girlfriend afterward about how I told him off", or "eat your heart out, guy, because you aren't getting any of THIS any more!"
 

shiradotnet

New member
There are a lot of Arabic songs that sound joyful, but if you look at the underlying lyrics they talk about pain and longing.
One observation that a friend made is that the instrumentals may sound perky, but listen for the vocal quality of the singer's voice. Often, if you focus on the singer's voice you'll pick up nuances of mood. For example, the lyrics to "Oolooloo" (which you can find on my web site at Index to Articles About Near Eastern Music on Shira.net (Site Map)) has lyrics that may seem sad and longing, but if you listen to a version with Abdel Halim Hafez singing, you can detect a joyful quality in his voice.

Another tip that can help: do a bit of research to determine whether the song may have been featured in a movie musical. If so, what was the movie scene like? Was the movie scene joyful, or was it tragic? Returning to my example of "Oolooloo", that song appears in the movie Sharia el Hob (Love Street), and the scene in which Hafez sings it is a happy, joyful party. The easiest way to research this is to try finding a video clip on youtube with the song.
 

Aniseteph

New member
Even when dancing for Spanish audiences (who understand the lyrics) you're not expected to reflect the tragedy of the words in the dance. I've always wondered if the same would apply in belly dance.
I think so. A song means more than just the lyrics and music. It also has a cultural context, whether it's to do with that specific song, or the genre.

So for me there is more to it that getting what the lyrics are about and not doing happy happy to a tragic love song. On another level you are sharing your love and enjoyment of the music with the audience, and as an audience member I like to see that in the dancing too - it's what makes belly dance different to other more theatrical dance forms for me. Hope this makes sense. :confused:
 

Pirika Repun

New member
I think Dina is first dancer to express her emotion with "sad face" but before her, I assume non of dancers really make the face. Then after she became so famous, many Western dancers make "the face" even though happy happy song. Once one of my friends who told me that "I can't do Egyptian style, because I can't make the face like Dina, or such a such person (who is kind of famous dancer in the US)" :shok::doh:

When I look at Golden Age dancers, and 70s, and 80s dancers, they do not make sad/agony face but mostly they are smiling. I know most dancers were performed for movie, so it is different than performance in night club or Nile boat.

A couple of days ago I watched documentary film "These girls (El Banate Dol)" that teen age girls live on the street in Cairo. They have really hard life that remand me actually Egypt is third world country. In the film, these girls sometimes start singing and dancing with smile and enjoy themselves. I don't know what song they were singing, and don't know if that was sad song or happy song. However, if your life is already hard enough, you don't need sad song to make more pain. I think that's why many sad songs have up beat tempo and happy feeling. So, you can lough, singing, and dancing to forget about how hard your life is. Like escape from reality. So, that case, even though lyrics are sad, you don't need to make sad face to express pain.

I LOVE Tito, because he always enjoy and express what HE FEELS and express by dance, and most of time that is "smile, and he make me smile too. I took his WS many times, and every time he said "SMILE" and he smile while teaching and dancing. Yes, sometimes he makes face that express kind of sadness but, most of time he is smiling. I think that is his personality. It doesn't matter what kind of song he is dancing, he just express his feeling, but NOT express lyrics of song. I'm with Darshiva for this point. While I dance, I don't think about facial expression. Most of time I'm smiling because I just enjoy and happy dancing. Yes, if I know the meaning of the song, and if I feel it, I'm not have big happy smile, but not have agony face all the time either.

I'm pretty sure if Dina, Randa, and Tito perform the same song, their facial expression/emotion are all different, and interpretation of music are also different because they have different personality, and different way to express their feelings. I might say their style?

So, I think if you "feel" the music, then your emotion/expression come with it, not other way around.
 

walladah

New member
I have never understood what is the problem

in a more or less western context to accept that bellydance might also express pain, sorrow or grief. we are not happy-go-lucky entertainers, we are artists and we have souls, for goodness' sake!

Bellydancing might express all feelings, even the subconscious ones, so it is important to leave music lead the soul/psyche to decide what the situation is.

THe case with the poor, homeless girls who bellydance in joy is not weird: it is the bravest and perhaps most tragic (in its ancient meaning) way to fight back life's misery, to enjoy yourself while you have nothing to expect, to appear as the happiest person despite the people around you having accepted/imposed that you have nothing to expect and that you are poor, homeless, etc.

However, yes, arabic music, just like all mediterranean music has scales and patterns that sound "happy" within other cultures and "sad" within some other.

There is also the feeling of χαρμολύπη/harmolype, which i cannot translate from Greek: it means sorrow-happiness or happy sorrow... and yes, there are songs, dances, poems, theatre plays, paintings, etc which express such feeling. Why should bellydance not express such mixture?

So, it is up to the dancer to dance as she wants. A happy song might give you the feeling of revenge or victory after fighting too much or having lost too much of after having suffered too much, so you will not probably be smiling, and a sad song, might give you the feeling of redemption, so you might be smiling while dancing. Better you keep your expression tight to your heart and your heart tight to the music.

And, by the way, do take into account any audience's view. But accounts are only for outside our heart. If your heart says that you are in a song full of sorrow, then you dance like this and there is no-one in this universe to tell you otherwise.
 
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