Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The drumbeat of your heart

"To me the effect of a Siva dance was that of a dozen Rembrandts intensified into the most glowing beauty of life and motion.” ~Henry Brook Adams

Tahitian dance is exuberant and vibrant, and has a long history of cultural significance. These dances are associated with certain events and occasions, and there are multiple dance styles. Tahitian dance has had a difficult history, but despite setbacks to this artistic expression, it remains a popular and recognizable aspect of Tahitian cultural tradition. [reposted from] 

In the early age of Tahitian dancing, performances were symbolic and significant, not just an art form. Native people of Tahiti had different dances for different occasions. For example, there was a dance that was performed to greet guests at an official ceremony. Other dances were designated for prayer and worship ceremonies dedicated to ancient gods. Some dances were more personal, and people danced to challenge an adversary to combat or to seduce and entice a potential mate. Tahitian myths and legends were acted out through traditional dance.

There are many different styles of Tahitian dance, and the variations have to do with movement and performers. One of the most popular dance styles is ote'a, which is performed by a large group of either all male or all female dancers. Traditional costumes are worn for this, as well as most other styles. A dance called a hivinau is usually performed as the last dance of a ceremony. It involves a group of dancers led by one dancer who may improvise some movements. Aparima dancers use intricate hand movements and gestures, and these dances usually mimic scenes from everyday life, such as courtship or fishing. All of the Tahitian dance styles are stylistically complex and athletic.
Music Tahitian dances are performed to the accompaniment of traditional music. Drums, made of hollowed-out tree limbs and shark skin, feature heavily in Tahitian music. Dance music is strongly rhythmic and powerful, and these qualities are also characteristic of the dancing. Other instruments include the conch and the nose flute. The conch, called a pu, is blown like a horn to create a deep, reverberating tone. Nose flutes, called vivo, are made from bamboo tubes with holes carved into them, and they are played by exhaling out of the nose and into the flute. These traditional instruments and music styles have been used to accompany Tahitian dancing throughout history.

It isn't certain when or how Tahitian dancing originally developed. It is a practice that dates back to ancient Tahitian people and their Maohi ancestors. Early native Tahitians had complex systems of religion, etiquette, social structure and artistry. This included dance and music. Troupes of professional dances, called Arioi, traveled the island and performed at ceremonies and celebrations. Dance was an important and popular cultural expression in Tahiti, but it suffered a setback during the 1800s. Early British colonists and missionaries who came to Tahiti found traditional Tahitian dances provocative and offensive. These dances usually included revealing traditional costumes, and some sensual movements and subject matter. In 1820, the British colonists abolished most forms of dance in Tahiti.

Traditional dance was illegal in Tahiti until the early 20th century, when it began a slow and hesitant revival. Traditional costumes were not used during this period, and only the hands, feet and face of the dancer could be exposed. In the 1950s, the revival of Tahitian dance gained momentum, and there was a movement to preserve and revitalize the traditional styles. The style had been influenced by European presence and interaction and the changing religion of the country. Despite the cultural changes in Tahiti since the dances were first born, Tahitian dance has regained its importance as a unique expression of Tahitian culture and history.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Samba made simple

You'd know the look anywhere.  Perhaps you even know the music.  But do you know anything else about it?  It can take months to create a costume and years to master the dance form.  But today, you get a quick view of this quick step in under 5 minutes... and that includes a dance lesson! [The following is from]

Developed in Brazil during the 19th century, the Samba is considered the dance of celebration and joy at Carnival celebrations in Rio. Lively and rhythmical, there are many types of Samba dances, just like there are many types of Samba music. Ballroom partner Samba, one of the popular Latin dances in ballroom competitions, is made up of many different South American dances mixed into one. In Brazil, a Samba dancer is known as a Sambista.

Samba Characteristics

Before Samba became a ballroom dance style, there were many styles of partner dances as well as solo Samba dances. As with the solo Samba, partner ballroom Samba has a quick beat that requires fast footwork. Over the years, the Samba has incorporated elaborate tricks, turns, and acrobatic feats into its basic set of figures. The main characteristics of the Samba are rapid steps taken on quarter beats and a rocking, swaying motion of the dancers.

Samba History

Introduced in 1917, the Samba wasn't adopted by Brazil as a ballroom dance until 1930. In Brazil, Samba is mostly danced solo, and remains especially popular during celebrations of Carnival. The festive mood of the dance is responsible for its continued popularity. In International style Latin dancing, the Samba is one of the five Latin competition dances.

Samba Action

The major action of Samba, the "Samba Bounce Action," gives the dance its unique look and feel. The Samba Bounce Action is a gentle, rhythmic action felt through the knees and ankles. Samba dancers must strive to make this action appear effortless and should never be exaggerated. This bounce action is quite difficult to master, but really adds to the overall character of the Samba.

Distinctive Samba Steps

The basic footwork of the Samba includes fast, three-step weight changes with a slight knee lift, led with alternating feet. The basic rhythm is "quick, quick, slow, and." Distinctive Samba steps include the following:
  • Voltas
  • Bota Fogos
  • Kick Change
  • Samba Side Steps
  • Samba Strut
The Samba also has a distinctive, dramatic concludes with dancers throwing back their heads and extending their arms out to the sides.

Samba Rhythm and Music

Samba music, with its distinctive rhythm, is highlighted by original Brazilian musical instruments, including the tamborim, chocalho, reco-reco and cabaca. Samba is danced to music with a tempo of about 100 beats per minute. The fast and energetic rhythm of Samba music encourages spontaneous dancing, such as in the streets during a Carnival celebration.
Learn How to Samba in 4 minutes

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Who was Morris & why did he dance?

In 1600 Shakespearean actor William Kempe
Morris-danced from London to Norwich.
The Morris dance is one of the most delightful and enduring of the last half a millenium.  Dancers may be of either sex at just about any age and level of fitness.  So just who was this Morris who created the steps still danced at festivals and celebrations round the globe?

The term Morris Dance was coined in the 17th century and is said to have been derived from the phrase Moorish Dance.  The story goes that in 1492 Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castille unified Spain by driving the Moors out of the country. In celebration of this a pageant known as a Moresca was held. This pageant, along with the regional dance form known as the paloteao, is still performed in places such as Ainsa, Aragon, the Basque country, Castille, Catalonia and northern Portugal. The original Moresca is believed to have been a sword dance. This accounts for the striking swords and sticks used in Morris dance.

Morris Style
Despite its Spanish beginnings, the dance is now categorized as an English folk style.  The form is lively and jubilant, generally accompanied by an accordion, a fiddle and a drum, and is notable for its colorful costuming.  Costumes differ from region to region.  Many dancers dress in white with colored baldrics (belts) strewn across their chests. Border  Morris Dancers are known for their 'tatter jackets' and blackened faces.  Sides have been historically danced in shoes, boots or clogs. Modern revivalists have tended to favor clogs.  In addition to sticks and swords, some dancers brandish handkerchiefs and bells.

The dance sides themselves have often been called 'maze' or 'garland dances' as they involve intricate steps with dancers weaving around one another. Some dances are performed with a wicker hoop decorated with floral garlands that the dancers hold above their heads. In a few instances, dances are performed across a pair of crossed clay tobacco pipes laid on the floor.

Prior to the English Civil War, the Morris dancing was popular among the working peasantry, especially at Whitsun, where Ales festivities were held. Cromwell suppressed Whitsun Ales, but when the crown was restored by Charles II, the springtime festivals were restored as well. Morris dancing continued in popularity until the advent of the Industrial Revolution. Today four dance teams remain that claim a  continuous lineage of the dance tradition.

The Re-Revival
Cecil Sharp is credited with reviving the dance form on Boxing Day 1899, as it was on that date that Sharp became intrigued by the Headington Quarry, a dance team he saw perform while visiting a friend in Headington.  Sharp began collecting tunes and dances and a decade later gave them to Mary Neal and Herbert MacIlwaine for use by their dressmaking co-op called the Espérance Club in London. The 20th century saw some scattered activity, and in the 1960s the dance resurged with an explosion of new teams, some co-ed, which caused quite a debate as the dance had previously been barred to women in a majority of regions.  To this day, only all-male teams are allowed membership in the governing body called the Morris Ring.

As we gingerly step into the second decade of the 21st century, the current popularity of the Morris dance shows no signs of waning.  Many English villages have revived their previous dance traditions as new teams with their own traditions are springing up worldwide.  And it was just a few years back, in 2007, that 88 dancers participating in The Moreton-in-Marsh Show in Glouucestershire, UK set a world record for the largest Morris dance ever chronicled.

Long live Morris!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The dance that roars

Talk about fierce dancers!

With the Chinese New Year festivities fresh in mind, here is a look at that most challenging of pas de deux, the Chinese Lion Dance.
This traditional form of Chinese dance involves performers mimicking a lion's movements in an exaggerated lion costume. The dance form requires agility, grace, acrobatic skills and martial arts knowledge.  As with many arts that have spanned great distances and timespans, a variety of different styles have evolved.

The earliest references to Chinese Lion Dance date back to the 3rd century BC early Ch’in and Han Dynasties when the colorful lions were created as a means of expressing joy and happiness through dance. . Originally intended for the imperial elite, by the time of the Tang Dynasty the Lion Dance had become a New Year custom for the entire countryside. Beginning in the Ming Dynasty the element of martial arts was introduced.  The two styles are named North and South, referring to the geography on either side of the Long River.

Both South and North Lion are danced by two partners,  one as the head and one as the hind.  The North Lion's head is carved of wood and its body is covered with gold and red hair meatn to resemble a real lion. The northern lion has a mane and four legs and is generally more realistic than its southern counterpart. North style involves sophisticated elegant movments, especially somersaults and leaps.

The South lion has a fierce bearing and is made of five-colored cloth. This performance style emphasizes footwork and strength, either with 2 or 4 lion's 'legs'. Currently, the types of South Lion usually found in Hong Kong are either "Foshan Style" or "Heshan Style". Foshan Style lions have a large head and wide mouth, whereas Heshan Style lions have a narrow head and flat mouth.

In South lion dance, a "Big Head Buddha" with a palm-leaf fan in hand may tease the lion; while in North lion dance there may be a knight brandishing a bundle of flowers to draw the lion's attention. Gongs, drums and cymbals synchronise set the rhythm dance movements and actions and create the mood for the audience. The lion dance costumes used in these performances can only be custom made in speciality craft shops in rural parts of China, and have to be imported at considerable expense for most foreign countries outside Asia. 

Both areas of the lion dance emphasize a certain theme. The focus of the South is "Green-Plucking". The "Green" in "Green-plucking" can be lettuce, which carries the auspicious meaning of prosperity and energy in Chinese.  Plucking moves vary in difficulty based on where the items to be plucked are placed.  North lion dance highlights Lion with Ball and Two Lions Dance routines, sometimes with a whole 'family' of lions.

Regardless of regional differences, styles and techniques, the Lion Dance remains one of the most colorful,  exciting and whimsical forms of dance in China as well as the rest of the world.... Rowwwr! 
prepare to be amazed 

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The itsy bitsy dance

Ever seen anyone do a spider dance?
What would it look like?
Would they move slowly, deliberately and creepily like a big hairy tarantula?

There actually is such a dance, the tarantella, whose nature-inspired name has produced supernatural states for its dancers.

Etymology meets Entomology 

The name tarantella first crawled into use in 17th century Italy, as a term for a therapeutic form of dance believed to stave off the poisonous and mind-altering effects of Mediterranean Black Widow spider bites.  Victims engaged in vigorous rhythmic dances accompanied by tambourines, mandolins and accordians. The more frenzied the dance, the more likely the bitten person's chance of conquering and sweating out the poison's hysteria-inducing effects, if not death!

The trance that often accompanied the dancers' experience is much like that felt by techno-trance enthusiasts today.
The tradition persists in the area, and is known as "Neo-Tarantism." Many young artists, groups and famous musicians are continuing to keep the tradition alive. The music is very different—its tempo is faster, for one thing—but it has similar hypnotic effects, especially when people are exposed to the rhythm for a long period of time. The music is used in the therapy of patients with certain forms of depression and hysteria, and its effects on the endocrine system recently became an object of research. [per Wikipedia].

As with many dance forms, there are variations on the pure art form. In the case of the tarantella, there are about half a dozen subsets total, including that of a slow, elegant courtship dance designed for couples. Later, the name was adopted and adapted into works by Chopin, Liszt and Rossini.

To this day, feverish fans of the dance join together to celebrate this most esoteric of dances in something of a folk music dance-a-thon, where dancer and drummer do their best to tire out one another, and emerge as the last one standing.... both alive and well.