I've been to a residential course; a regular occurrence; an annual pilgrimage in fact.
Ford Castle is normally packed with school children on geographical field trips; on this occasion it was transported back to a time of princesses- no, further back; to the era of the matriarchy. Goddesses walked the ramparts.
Egyptian (Arabic) dance has transformed, embroidered, informed, dominated the lives of women for years without breaking through into popular culture. Perhaps this is just as well; perhaps the images of 'Carry-On' style chest-wobbling nymphs, or harridons was a clever ruse by the Goddess to keep this delicate bloom of female empowerment protected from the cynical eye of market forces. We don't 'do' labels, Darling, unless you count Eman Zeki, costumier extraordinaire; dancer of a classical tradition, whose aim in life is clothe each client, no matter what age or shape, in a costume that will make her feel beautiful- Goddess-like.
The weekend brings together teachers and students from all over the U.K. and further afield. It is an opportunity to learn: techniques of old, or the latest in Cairo; Folkloric traditions; Belly dance flavoured with latin, with flamenco, hamming it up, or a generous potion of cheese (belly dancers do have a sense of humour!) Not only style and technique; good practise, safe dancing, performance issues; how to stand-
A willing student can be drawn down a road of enlightenment and self- awareness by a pantheon of mentors offering food for the soul. The dance can be an hour a week in the company of women, moving to nice music, blocking out the humdrum world, simple as that, no more, no less, but it will throw challenges a woman can accept and move on, or deny. By coming forward and sharing her dance with her fellows, a dancer shows an aspect of herself, allows herself to be praised, appreciated, admired; accepts these gifts and gives, in return, to the next dancer. The aspect on display might be a comfortable persona dressed for the public, but she might be a long-forgotten, or a forbidden friend who maybe has the audacity to have a mind of her own, or a repution for having an opinion. She may not even have the capacity, yet, to accept deserved praise, or permission to like herself. A student may fall at the first hurdle, to allow herself time to dance.
So, what am I barking on about The Goddess for?Well, she, to me is resident, she holds the keys to the cell, will stand up to the critic, make a gesture to the One, to the authority, the sleeping policeman. I'm not talking about parking on yellow lines or smoking behind the bike sheds, I'm talking about the spectre of body image, of body ownership, of personal responsiblilty which were all issues, mostly unspoken, present in the castle, for this weekend.
An example, just the one, before I go; a class billed as roots of the modern form of dance, the teacher moved to relax her keen and pensive students began her warm up:
'We are here,' she put her hand below her belly button, 'and 'ah' we are home.' She softened her knees slightly, her shoulders back, and down; spine aligned and feet in parallel.
Home; inside, she talks about, being present in the body, secure and centred; she is powerful but not dominant, not great by the weight of a hip belt jangling with the corpses of the vanquished, but comfortable in her own skin, safe in her knowledge, able to love.
From the castle, filled with warmth and humour, sparkling costumes, sweat and tears I return with a few aches and a folder of handouts.
Pah, I feel the magic weakening, the pull of chores and the awful prospect of the weekend suitcase. I'm going to make some notes, and, um, maybe have 40 winks to freshen up before teaching tonight.