I’ve been again thinking lately about what it means to be authentic. Thoughts about authenticity tend to be cyclical for me. Maybe because I’m involved in two ethnic dance forms, they cycle around to the front of my mind every few months. This time around I’m not ruminating on the issue or worrying it like a bead but, like a lot of people involved in an ethnic dance that does not match my personal ethnic background, it’s something I consider.
What does it mean to be authentic?
This time around I’ve focused more on authentic as it relates to creating art. At this stge of my dance career, I’m wanting more out of myself. The foundation is there, imperfect though my technique may be. So I’m ready to think about the art of my dance.
What is it to create art with movement? How do you do it? How do you do it when the dance you do doesn’t match what is expected by your appearance, your ethnic heritage, your country of allegiance? We, as concerned dancers,--I’m feeling very lofty-- worry so much about being authentic culturally but it is also important to consider what it means to create art with this art form. Yes, it is important to have a framework for creating art. My chosen mediums are Raqs Sharqi and Flamenco. Yes, it is important to define the parameters of the particular ethnic dance form you do: what is the movement vocabulary, what music, what is the cultural foundation, expression. Without those elements, what are you doing but interpretive dance? But beyond all these important considerations, what creates art? Beyond all of it what is left is YOU.
To create art with your dance, you have to be willing to be raw and open, to reach not only inward but also outward to connect to what is universal. You have to be willing to not close yourself off to the experience. There is vulnerability there but in that space is where you come through. Inhabiting yourself and not a vision of yourself is where the art reveals itself. It’s your raw emotive power that makes the space for art to happen.
Be who you are. I know it can feel strange to think about being who you are when you’re heavily made-up and beautifully attired but it not being an everyday image does not make it less than authentically who you are—in large feather duster eyelashes I’m no less who I am than in wrinkled pajamas with unkempt hair.
The authentic performance is the one that allows your emotional body to shine through your physical body’s movements. I’m not talking here about abandoning your technical foundation or the crazy skills you’ve developed though intense practice. Being authentic and raw is not about abandoning your technique but allowing those elements to take you to a place where you can just be you responding to the music. They are your tools. You worked hard for them. So use them. However don’t let technique be the whole of your dance. Tricks are well and good. They’re flashy. They excite. They add drama. But in the end they’re only tools. Technique is a vehicle for expression. It is tool for creating art. However don’t confuse technique for art. There can be as much or more art in how you raise your hand or lower your eyes than the most technical and precise hipwork.
The most important thing is to be who you are, to feel, to allow yourself the space to create. You are what’s authentic.
Next time—keeping choreography free and raw