Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Reading at the KGB Bar on Thursday

Photo from the KGB Bar website.
I'm excited to be reading at the KGB Bar as part of Columbia's "Faculty Selects" programming at the KGB Bar in the East Village.  Here is their blurb:


Join us for our Columbia Selects December line-up, at the KGB Bar, this Thursday, December 6, at 7 pm! Selected by the Columbia Writing Program, our readers are sure to dazzle and delight.

Our line-up this month:

Jennifer Sears’s work has appeared in FenceThe Boston GlobeNinth LetterGilded Serpent Journal of Middle Eastern Music and Dance, and Arabic Literature, among other publication. She's received a citation in Best American Non-Required Reading, and fellowships from the Millay Colony for the Arts, the Mid-Atlantic Arts Foundation, SLS, and The Money for Women Fund. She is finishing a novel about an American belly dancer who tries to help a Palestinian student flee the United States for Canada during the Special Registration, a controversial anti-terrorism measure implemented by the US Department of Justice in 2003.

Richard Dragan teaches creative writing and journalism in the CUNY system in New York. He has worked extensively as a magazine journalist writing about science and technology, and his recent fiction has appeared in Eclectica Magazine. He is polishing up his collection of short stories and is at work on a novel that mixes love, revenge and the possibilities of artificial intelligence.

Peter Vilbig is a writer and teacher in Brooklyn, New York. His short fiction has appeared in the Baltimore ReviewDrunken BoatFleeting, Horizon Review, The Ledge Poetry and Fiction Magazine, Saranac Review, The Linnet’s Wings, and Tin House, among other publications. His new fiction is forthcoming in 3:AM Magazine. His story, “Frida,” published in Fleeting, was nominated for the 2012 Best of the Net Anthology. He is currently completing a collection of novellas.

This month’s reading will be hosted by Emily Austin.

What is Columbia Selects?  The first Thursday of each month the Columbia MFA program hosts a reading series featuring Writing Program alumni. These fresh talents are finished with or near to finished with their first books, but do not yet have a book contract and/or an agent. In recent years, many of our featured writers have achieved critical and commercial success. This is your chance to glimpse who you'll be reading in 2014!

Columbia Selects is curated by Bryan VanDyke and Emily Austin.

Columbia Selects: MFA Readings @ The KGB Bar
Thursday, December 6 @ 7 p.m.
KGB Bar 85 E. 4th St
F Train to 2nd Ave
http://www.kgbbar.com/

Come for the talent. Stay for the camaraderie and cocktails.
For more info send an email to kgbcolumbia@gmail.com.

Egyptian Trans Dance at Arte East

Photo from the Arte East website.
I'm so sad I found out about this so late: Egyptian Trans Dance lecture and and performance.  I'll try to go to the event on the 11th.  The show on the 6th looks promising, but I'm elsewhere.  Arte East is a venue that offers high-quality arts events with a Middle Eastern focus.  Try to get on their list! http://arteeast.org

Sunday, November 11, 2012

"German POWS on the American Homefront" vs. Treatment of Current POWs

German POW Camp in Nebraska from the article in the Smithsonian.
I've just read an article in the Smithsonian by J. Malcolm Garcia:  German POWs on the American Homefront

The subject interests me because I've been working on a short story based on a story my father told me about German POWs who worked on a farm for Libby's canning factory outside of his one room schoolhouse in rural Illinois in the early 1940s.  When my father was telling me the story of his interactions with these German men working on the farm, I was struck, immediately, by how differently the US treats POWs now.  As I searched the Internet for information, I came across this account published in the Smithsonian.  The writer of this post directly addresses that difference.  There is also, in the article, a reference to how civilians responded differently to the idea of a "prisoner of war."  Civilians want more retribution.  To mind, this represents a shift in our cultural mindset that runs far deeper than trying to blame the military forces.

As I was perusing the unreliable Net, I did find differing views of how the German POWs were treated.  Some were put into camps.  Those who tried to escape were kept in stricter conditions. What I also find notable in terms of "now vs. then" is not all prisoners of war were assumed to be Nazi supporters whereas now we assume a great uniformity about those who labeled as an "enemy."

This account byJ. Malcom Garcia sounds most like my father's story.  Racism must play a part in this different treatment in addition to the need for media sensation.  The subject is far too complicated for simple blogpost, but our society seems, with advancing technology to have less and less respect for human life.  Drones, prisons, people stripped of all rights, an alarming trend in comparison to this story in the Smithsonian.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Maureen Fleming Intensive at La Mama: November 2012

Maureen Fleming (Photo: Jennifer Sears)
Maureen Fleming, an inspiring teacher and performer I have studied with for many years is teaching an intensive course and a one-day master class at La Mama in NYC on November 17.  Here is an Argentinean report on the event:
http://www.hoydia.com.ar/espectaculos/agenda/item/13830-maureen-fleming-en-el-teatro-real.html
They used my photo (above) in the paper!  A hoot.

In the meantime, please consider DANCING THE INTERNAL BODY: A workshop


  • 10 a.m. at 47 Great Jones Street
    New York, NY

    The workshop description.  Also consult the website: http://www.maureenfleming.com

  • Dancing the Internal Body - For everyone.

    Access your creative inspiration and learn to move in new and transformative ways. Maureen Fleming, acclaimed New York City choreographer and performance artist, creates surreal movement poetry that gives birth to a new vision of the body.

    In this workshop, Maureen Fleming shares her distinctive approach, which originally arose from the avant-garde Japanese dance movement: butoh. Her unique approach adds catharsis and alchemy to the traditional dance techniques o
    f strength, flexibility, and balance. In a disciplined way, Maureen expertly guides you to your deepest creative core, helping you discover and reveal the transcendent that resides in physical form. You will learn:

    • FLEMING ELASTICS TM, original exercises that initiate movement and voice from the innermost layer of muscles, promoting efficient movement and increased flexibility
    • Transformative imagery to challenge the way you think and help you move past physical form
    • Massage that incorporates stretching and shiatsu techniques to increase joint flexibility and unlock energy blockages

    This deep, regenerative inner work allows for a more complete realization of your personal and creative vision and is geared for directors, actors, dancers, singers, yoga enthusiasts, therapists and anyone interested in discovering their movement potential through an efficient and integrated training that becomes a part of daily life.




Thursday, November 1, 2012

NYU Belly Dance Class Cancelled: Nov. 2

Good luck to students and faculty recovering for the effects of Hurricane Sandy.
The official alert is here.
Best wishes to all.....

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Belly Dance Class Notes (Level 1): Maya Hip Drop


I hope everyone is recovering from Hurricane Sandy and fared as well as possible.  I haven't heard word on Friday's class and will let you know when I know.  For now, here is a video breaking down the "Maya" hip drop, which a few of you had questions about after class. There is a video and a written transcript. The instructor on this "eHow" video is Tara, who is a student of the Belly Dance Superstar Ansuya.

Also, on November 7, Ranya is hosting (assuming recovery goes as planned) an Arab Dance Night at Je'Bon (on St. Marks Place) with some of the best musicians in the city!  

Sunday, October 28, 2012

New York Times highlights Le Sajj in Bay Ridge

Photo by Dave Sanders for The New York Times.

On the eve of Hurricane Sandy, I'm admiring this slideshow in today's New York Timewhich gives a favorable view of a lively night of debke and dancing in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn.  The pictured dancer in the slideshow is the fabulous LaUra,!.  Read: "Smoke, Dance, and a Sliver of Lebanon."  The dance in the title refers to dabke dance.  Some will dislike the overall portrayal, too stereotypical.  Still.....looks fun to me. 

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Orientalish NY: Ballet Next at the Joyce Theater


Ballet Next by Paul B. Goode
(from the Joyce Theater website)

Though this doesn't relate to main focus of Orientalish, this week I’ve seen two modern dance performances: Pina Bausch’s company at BAM on Saturday and tonight Ballet Next at the Joyce.  The three hour Bausch performance (“…como musguito en la piedra, ay si, si, si…”)impressed me with its stamina and single-minded vision.  The stage rent itself apart in jagged lines(or was designed to appear to do so); dancers groped for each other and grasped at ropes.  Couples batted at love with rollicking Latin dance music.  Melodramatic men adored women and then solos showed the inevitable aftermath, including the work’s end: one lonely dancer, bleeting on all fours, lonely animals.  We.

Tonight’s show at the Joyce, however, had an edge I didn’t realize I was wanting.  Out of the three premieres, choreographer Mauro Bigonzetti’s “BachGround” startled me most.  In comparison to the show at BAM, the much smaller cast on a much smaller stage spoke more loudly.  The staging was far more minimal, two spotlights my friend told me were called “specials,” dancers in black lycra (men can wear skorts), and black folding chairs.  The minimalist, urban chic highlighted the grasping and elastic choreography. 

The work opened with a row of dancers on chairs.  Their solemn gaze and line beneath the dusky spotlights created a tension that was one part boxers waiting in the corner of the ring and two parts chorus in line to render a Greek tragedy, both images fitting for the melancholy anguish and technically stunning movement.  The male soloists, Clifford Williams and Jesus Pastor, fully surrendered to Bigonzetti’s complex and sometimes intentionally busy composition.  Yoga seemed to work its way in, but what yoga it was….Compass poses were turned on their heads.  Hanumanasana was simply a prep, and Williams’ uddiyanabhanda was pleasingly obvious in a few balances.  The men jabbed each other, women competed, lovers paired off for a couple of rounds of eensy-weensy-spider up and down each other’s bodies.  The chair-slamming, driving energy of the piece seemed to only secondarily succumb to the staid, continuous flow of the piano, Bach, of course.

In a nearby Cuban restaurant, I kept talking about Bigonzetti’s piece.  My overworked friend wanted only to eat his fried plantains and I kept bringing the choreographer and his work back into our conversation.  I let the topic drop, resolving to post by night’s end.  But behind us, other diners were mimicking the hand-puppet like movements, gestures that chopped and undulated and jabbed, that were a significant repetition in the work and an effective repetition, one that brought stingers together for a moment on Eighth Avenue.


Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Writing News: Reading at the KGB Bar on Dec.6

Advanced notice!  I'm reading at the KGB Bar with others as part of Columbia University School of the Arts "Faculty Selects."

Please join if you can:
Dec 6. , 7-9 p.m.

(Also found out today, a section of the novel I'm working on made Honorable Mention in Glimmer Train's Short Story Award for New Writers. Top 5% out of more than a thousand.  Almost.....again!  Thank you, GT.)

Sunday, October 21, 2012

For Dance Students: Soheir Zaki

In class this week we looked at a movement, (sharp hip drops on the balls of the feet) I associate with Soheir Zaki.  As we discussed, the more natural movement is to put weight onto a hip lift rather than the hip drop.

There are innumerable clips on YouTube of this Egyptian dancer who remains an icon decades after the height of her career.  What I love in her dancing is her joy in the movement visible on her face, her musicality, control, and her tendency not to cover too much floor space.  This more settled tendency makes her dance more classical and less trendy.  

Orientalish NY: Elena Lentini, James Wood, Orientalism, and Flaubert

Photo of Elena by Mia Moy found on Gilded Serpent.
Elena Lentini at the Cupping Room with Souren and Haig!  All of these artists continue to inspire so many simply by doing what they love to do for decades. Consistency, the cultivation of and attention to craft, and one of the many offspring of those two disciplines, humility, are so rare to see.

On Thursday (Oct. 18), I saw James Wood at Columbia University SOA.  What does this have to do with Orientalish?  In a word: Flaubert.  I love Wood's book How Fiction Works.  On Thursday, he spoke of the changing nature of narrative consciousness and how fiction shifted dramatically from an  "implied interiority" (think the KJV or much of Jane Austen) to an "articulated interiority" (think Virginia Woolf and Flaubert).  
I do think this interior consciousness Wood mentions relates to the changing time in America and the abrupt shift in power and expression.  People became more mobile (Flaubert's artistically pivotal travels to the "Orient" come to mind) and saw the "world" as a commodity to be taken, at times violently and other times artistically.
James Wood's book
from MacMillan

Yes literature shifted and perhaps for the better.  As Woods mentioned, the external mechanics of Austen and the King James Version of the Bible seem archaic.  But their distant, overarching tone seems to keep them contained and careful whereas the interiority of what emerges with "articulated interiority" takes more freely and perhaps, in being more self-conscious, bleeds its needs onto the fantasized "other."  Flaubert is such a part of this lens that saw only itself in the "other."  Emerson later famous complained of the effects of popular travel and its strange effect on consciousness when he said our "giants," or selves/egos, accompany us always even when we believe we are seeing something new.  I'm both simplifying and riffing, but this shift in consciousness must relate to the self-justification necessary for Orientalism.  (Again, Flaubert.)  Great beauty evolved from this shift.  As our world grew larger, narrative consciousness began to grow smaller.

Thank you, James Wood, for context and clarity in the midst of such complicated thinking.


Sunday, October 14, 2012

Friday, October 12, 2012

NYU Fall Class Notes and Dance Videos (Practice!)

Photo of Samia Gamal from Wikipedia
I've mentioned several dancers in class that I've posted here, so here are quick links to see them!

Fifi Abdo, an Egyptian dancer, made this hip circle a standard in modern belly dance.  Though others certainly did it before Abdo, her characteristic mix of folkloric and cabaret styles made her version become an association with her name.  I highlighted this post in which she is wearing a white gallabiyya.  You'll find many more on YouTube.

Randa Kamal is a contemporary dancer who tours internationally and offers many workshops in Egypt.  She is energetic and athletic.  What I like about this particular video is the costume and the angle of the video, which for learning purposes,  highlights how she uses her legs in the Egyptian-style shimmy we've been working on in the beginning class.  She is also just fun to watch:

For "classic" Egyptian belly dance, here are two names you should know with links:
Tahia Carioca, also a film actress from the same era who Edward Said reminisces about watching during his youth in Cairo in this short memoir.  Here is more about Tahia Carioca on Wikipedia.

Practice!  Practice!  Have fun watching these videos.....

Ars Medica: "You Can Be Madonna if You Want To"

I just received in the mail my contributor's copy of Ars Medica, the Canandian literary journal that just published my story, "You Can Be Madonna If You Want To," about two teenagers who think they are at Planned Parenthood but end up at a pro-life clinic posing as Planned Parenthood.  The story is perhaps even more creepy now as these rights are suddenly being revisited in a manner even more conservative than the Reagan-era 1980s when this story is set.  Hard to believe.

Thank you, Ars Medica for publishing my work.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Orientalish Travels: Miserlou with the Ebene Quartet

The Ebene Quartet, picture from the BSO website.
On August 17, I went to the Boston Symphony Orchestra's lush summer site, Tanglewood, to see the young group from France, the Ebene Quartet. The last set, "Fictions," contained  a surprise for me.  The group played a beautiful version of "Miserlou," one of the first songs I danced to with Nick Samra at the Middle East Cafe in Cambridge, MA in the 90s.  Their version, which is available on I-tunes and worth picking up, made me curious about the song's history.  A quick scan on Wikipedia and I learned the song is documented as an early 20th century folk song, a rembetika from Greece that spawned versions in various folkloric traditions before it's foray into rock fame in the 1960s and into the belly dance clubs it went.  Interestingly random how some songs stick.

Writers on Dance: Muller's The Appointment (1)

Herta Muller photo from Wikipedia entry
In July, I posted dance excerpts from Herta Muller's book, The Hunger Angel.  The way this writer uses German-Romanian folk music and dance to convey beauty in moments of a character's or characters' seemingly inescapable desperation startles me each time I go back and reread sections of her work.  Here, in The Appointment, the narrator's husband comes home from a factory where his clothing has been stolen due to her own complications with the local powers.  His borrowed clothes fall from his body as they dance.  She sees, in their dance, his love and sacrifice for her.

"At home, Paul made fun of his appearance and pranced about the hall.  The seat of his trousers billowed down to the back of his knees.  He stretched his arms out and whirled me around, faster and faster.  I put my ear to his mouth, he hummed a song, closed his eyes, and pressed my hand against his chest.  I could feel the swift pounding through my hand and said:

"Don't charge around like this, your heart is fluttering like a wild dove.


"We daned more slowly, keeping our elbows in front of us and sticking our behinds out so our stomachs and legs had room to swing.  Paul bumped me on the left hip, spun around, bumped me on the right, and then his stomach danced away from me, and my hips swung up and down of their own accord.  My head was empty except for the beat.

"This is how old people dance, he said.  You know, when my other was young, she had pointy hips.  My father called them tango bones.


"I stepped on Paul's dusty toes with my own red-tipped ones and sang......


We felt so together, we laughed our way through the song, in which death seems like a special prize following a life that's been paid for dearly.  We gulped down the song as we laughed and never once missed a beat.   Suddenly, Paul pushed me away...

From Herta Muller, The Appointment.  Translators Michael Hulse and Philip Boehm.  New York: Picador.  2001. Pages 91-92.

Orientalish Summer Travels: Abbey of Gethsemani

Lake near Thomas Merton's hermitage
In August, I stayed with my parents for a week at the Abbey of of Gethsemani in Trappist, Kentucky.  It was a silent retreat, but we walked for hours around the grounds where the monk and writer Thomas Merton lived for most of his adult lie.  Merton rose to fame with his autobiography, Seven Story Mountain, and through his writing that advocated a deeply grounded, pacifist message in the late 50s and sixties.  Merton was significantly influenced by Eastern thought near the end of his life.
Merton's grave
His accidental death in 1968 occurred while he was traveling through Thailand to experience more fully the cultures that spawned these paths.  Merton's grave on the Abbey grounds (pictured right) had items of acknowledgement draped on it from pilgrims (like me, I suppose), crosses and stones growing pale from exposure to Kentucky sun, reminding me of Thoreau's gave in Concord, MA.

On an Orientalish note, Merton was intensely interested in Sufism, which he considered a "living" mystical tradition.  A book, Merton and Sufism: The Untold Story from Fons Vitae highlights his relationship with Sufism.
Abbey of Gethsemani after Compline
Book from Vons Vitae

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Dan Goodman in Romania: "Orientalism: Imagination's Vice"

Map: 1855 by Cezar Bolliacfrom Wikipedia entry: "Greater Romania"(Note my Orientalist predilection for the antique map of the East.)
I encountered a blog post from Dan W. Goodman, which fit my mental meanderings well this month.  As I've been swooning over the work of Herta Muller this month, I have also been considering her representations and why they work so well.  The main answer is that she's an amazing writer with sensitivity and a great sense of story (yes, who has also been translated well).  But she is also telling stories from an area that remains mysterious to Western-based readers, which is certainly part of the appeal, that desire for novelty.  As Goodman states on July 10 in his blog:
Romania’s ambiguous identity as a region somewhere between West and East highlights the collective psychological trait of travelers including myself who identify it solely in relation to concepts of Occident and Orient, for nothing outside the categories of familiar and different appear to exist within the Occidental imagination, leaving the mind of the traveler entirely restrained and controlled by Orientalist constructs.
This post tells the story of a trip to Romania and Goodman's contemplation of "authenticity" as well as his thinking of Edward Said's ideas in Orientalism, stab at other themes that interest me as a person uncomfortably interested in the West's "East."  He mentions his foray into a cafe that claims to be 'authentic' where he orders the most sensationalist item on the menu.  Then he wanders onto a side street and experiences an "off the beaten path" moment, that so many Western tourists think they can find.  But it is still, of course, a Westerner's desire for novelty, to be the "one" to see "it" from a new lens.

I remember my trip to Siwa, in the Western desert of Egypt in 2010, which included an astonishingly beautiful ride through the desert and a constant meeting of generous natives who wanted money, yes, but had a deep pride in their own culture.  Yet after looking and looking and loving that place, as a tourist there is always a predatory "something" underneath my desire to see what I haven't seen.  As Goodman states at the end of his post:
That which I call mine; my imagination, my perceptions, and my reality, are not mine but rather those of the Occident. My perspective is inseparable from that of the West’s. Regardless of my vain attempts to overcome the subjectivism specific to the Occident, I will never attain a personal identity devoid of Orientalism, for I am a product of the Occident, my mind is Occidental, I am the Occident.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Writers on Dance: Herta Muller (2)

Herta Muller (photo from Wikipedia)

Continuing my current reading of German-speaking Romanian Herta Muller and her style of using folk music and dance in her writing, I'm continuing this scene from The Hunger Angel.  This short take comes before the previous post. This section shows how people reach out to each other despite the horror of their collective condition. It's raw.  Dance and being in the body becomes resistance.  The desperate and joyless dancing and music disturbs me almost to the point of feeling sick, yet I am convinced that nothing but dancing and music could be so necessary to these characters.  Dancing makes you "think what you have to think even if you don't want to."

This horrible, deft balance between the reader's discomfort and the characters' groping, physical need for each other despite the hunger that has moved them beyond the possibility of recognizing their pain, is part of Muller's haunting and singular skill in this work.

From The Hunger Angel:


After the break comes La Paloma.  I dance with the other Zirri.  loni Mich, our singer, stands half a step in front of the musicians.  For La Paloma she takes another half step forward because she wants to have the song all to herself.  She keeps her arms and legs completely still, but her eyes roll and her head sways.  Her small goiter trembles, her voice turns raw like the undertow of deep water:

"A ship can go down very fast, And all of us sooner or later Will breathe our last, So it's anchors aweigh, We all reach the day, When we're claimed by the sea, And what the waves take away, Never comes back."


Everyone has to keep silent while dancing our pleated Paloma.  You go mute and think what you have to think, even if you don't want to.  We shove our homesickness across the floor like a heavy crate.  Zirri lets her feet drag.  I press my hand against the small of her back until she regains the rhythm.  She's had her head turned away from me for some time, so I can't see her face.  But her back is quivering, and I can tell that she's crying.  The shuffling is loud enough so that I don't have to say anything.  What could I say other than she shouldn't cry. 


Herta Muller signs "The Hunger Angel"
 for me at the 92nd Y, May 2012.



It's impossible to dance without toes, so Trudi Pelikan sits on a bench off to the side, and I sit down next to her.  In the first winter, her toes froze.  The following summer, they were squashed by the lime wagon.  That fall, they were amputated because worms got under the bandage.




From Herta Muller's The Hunger Angel translated by Philip Boehm.  New York: Metropolitan Books, 2012.


Other posts on Herta Muller:
Another dance at the concentration camp
Herta Muler, Orientalism, and Dance Scenes

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Writers on Dance: Herta Muller (1)

Herta Muller's most recent book published in English, The Hunger Angel, was titled in her original German Everything I Possess, I Carry with Me," or Atemschaukel.  When I saw Muller read in May, I hadn't read the work, but I do remember that a woman beside me asked Muller why the title was changed so dramatically. Frustratingly, I don't remember her answer, but I remember how her eyes lit up with the question, and now I suspect, after reading the devastating and powerful book, it's because the original title fits so well.  The main character, Leo, does carry all he possess and all that possesses him: memory, a gramophone case, strange objects given him from those who know him, stories and songs of his childhood, a book on existence titled Physics and You, and as the novel progresses, confusion about what constitutes "home" and ultimately, what counts as love.  


 By re-titling the translation book The Hunger Angel, the subjection and starvation the ethnic German-Romanians endured in the work camp, and there is also the beautiful combination of  both the body and flight, but by focusing the title on hunger, the focus feels as if the book is about oppression rather than the self-recognition and displacement that is so pivotal in Everything I Possess, I Carry with Me.  Or maybe it's the Gramophone case I love, which Leo uses as a suitcase.


Two dance scenes take place in the book among the camp members.  They are ridden with lice and scarred with their work assignments and have become "skinandbones" (I love this combining of words to get the feel of the German dialect) but the members have a zither and drums and the singer Loni Mich.  This is from pages 139-140 in my translation.  It is brutal and shows the body-song that survives and resists through dance:


The couples stumble awkwardly through the song, hopping like birds trying to land in a heavy wind.  Trudi Pelikan says we're no longer capable of walking anyway, all we can do is dance, were nothing but quilted jackets filled with sloshing water and clattering bones, weaker than the drumbeats.  To prove her point, she offers me a list of Latin secrets from the sick barrack.


Polyarthritis.  Myocarditis. Hepatitis.  Encephalitis.  Pellagra.  Slit-mouth dystrophy, called monkey-skull face.  Dystrophy with stiff cold hold hands, called rooster claw.  Dementia.  Tetanus. Typhus. Eczema. Sciatica. Tuberculosis.  Then dysentery with bright bloody stools, boils, ulcers, muscular atrophy, dry skin with scabies, shriveled gums with decayed and missing teeth.  Trudi doesn't mention frostbite, doesn't talk about the brick-red skin and angular white patches that turn dark brown at the first spring warmth and are already showing on the faces of the people dancing.  And because I don't say anything or ask anything, nothing at all, Trudi Pelikan pinches my arm hard and says:

From New Books in German


Sailor leave your dreaming

Don't think about your home




All winter long, Trudi is speaking through the singing--the dead are stacked up in the back courtyard and shoveled over with snow, and left there for a few days until they're frozen hard enough.  And then the gravediggers, who she says are lazy louts, chop the corpses into pieces so they don't have to dig a grave, just a hole. 


I listen carefully to Trudi Pelikan and start to feel that I've caught a little bit of each of her Latin secrets.  The music makes death come alive, he locks arms with you and sways to the rhythm.


Muller, Herta.  The Hunger Angel.  Trans. Philip Boehm.  New York: Metropolitan Books, Henry Holt and Company.  2012.

Orientalish: Writers on Dance

Photo from the French website on Colette:
http://www.centre-colette.fr/

Since I've launched this page on my blog (Writers on Dance) I've honed my intent more clearly. I'm interested in writers, primarily fiction writers, who use dance to explore connection, emotion, meaning, and the body.  These writers primarily (though not exclusively) write about Middle Eastern or Eastern or gypsy-style dances.  Writers such as Simone de Beauvoir, Herta Muller, Sonallah Ibrahim do more than describe movements.  A scene is set and dance evokes fear and self-defense (as in Ibrahim's The Committee), self-destruction or representation, (as in de Beauvoir's She Came to Stay), or a means to feel alive (Herta Muller). Flaubert, Edward Said, and Jean Said Makdisi write non-fiction here, but their descriptions of time and place show reveal an intent different from standard journalism.

To sum up, "Writers on Dance" considers portrayals of dance and/or dancers  by writers who move beyond reportage of movement and costume and who consider this art form to be a serious, valid, and valuable means of human understanding.

Enjoy and send suggestions if you have them:
Jennifer@HolisticBellyDanceProject.com

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Herta Muller, Orientalism, and Her Dance Scenes

Herta Muller photo by Ulla Montan
from Nobel Prize photo gallery.
 
Novelist Herta Muller doesn't write about belly dance or the Middle East.  However, as a German speaker born in Romania, she does write about regime and exile and the humanizing force of fear in a manner I admire deeply.  She avoids labels.  I've read her novel, The Appointment, and Nadirs, a story collection and saw her twice this spring at Pen World Voices festival.  I'm currently reading her newest novel, The Hunger Angel.  Because she avoids names and dates and labels, her characters rise organically bravely within their misery and make their individual stories universal.  In The Hunger Angel, a young German-Romanian man is sent to a Russian work camp after World War II.  The story starts with poverty and countryside and ventures into worse poverty and more remote countryside and forced labor that intends to destroy. Hunger steals and taunts and makes mockery of those slave workers, and yet hunger also becomes a beautiful force, reminding them of their humanity.

Herta Muller signs a book for me at the 92nd Street Y
at the Pen World Voices Festival 2012.
More related to Orientalish, Muller overtly refers to music in all of the works I've read.  Folk songs become self-sustaining threads of "home" or a remembered childhood and a reason to continue despite hardship.  Sometimes the songs seem to make no logical sense, but their haunting lyricism exemplifies the characters' necessary ability to find moments of beauty inside desperation.  Muller gains emotion without sentimentality.  There is a dance scene in The Hunger Angel and two dance scenes in The Appointment. Dis-empowerment, exploitation, the body pushed into submission and spectacle for "the other," the more I consider her work, the more I feel its connection to part of the troubling nature of "orientalism."  And, as with belly dance and general orientalism (if there is such thing), Muller, writing from a stable place, derives beauty from depicting and exploring the conditions of those who are less able to write their own stories.  (I think of the criticism Tahar Ben Jelloun has received.)

Regardless, Muller's work haunts me.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

This Week: Omnia, "Race and Belly Dance" Panel, and Souad Massi/Simon Shaheen

Three events are happening this week that I'm going to do my best to attend.

First, on Friday, July 6, Omnia from the NYU Intermediate Belly Dance class is singing with classical Arab music group Zikrayat in their Cairo Cabaret evening, which will also include a dance performance by the wonderful LaUra.
July 6, 8-10 p.m.
Yippie Cafe
9 Bleecker Street
$10 cover; $8 students
http://www.zikrayatmusic.com
Come and support your fellow NYU dancer/singer-songwriter/musician!

Second, Leila Tayeb, also an NYU grad, who taught last summer's belly dance classes in June is offering a talk on Race and Belly Dance at Alwan for the Arts this Tuesday at 6 p.m.  As the website states: "The panel will explore how America's history of minstrelsy comes to inform both processes of creation and reception of "othered" dances, specifically in relationship to the presence of people in the Middle East and North African region on US soil."
Panel Discussion: Race and Belly Dance in America
Tuesday, July 10, 6:30 p.m.
Alwan for the Arts (http://www.alwanforthearts.org)
16 Beaver Street
New York, NY
$5.

Algerian singer Souad Massi
And last, Souad Massi and Simon Shaheen playi in Prospect Park on Saturday, July 7.  Souad Massi is a popular Algerian singer who I saw in Cairo at the Citadel in 2007.  Also, playing is the oud and violin virtuoso Simon Shaheen and his group.  If you are in my classes, you've danced to his music!
Saturday, July 7, 6:30 doors; 7:30 p.m. concert
Prospect Park
9th Street and Prospect Park West
Brooklyn, NY
FREE (or donation)
http://www.bricartsmedia.org/events/souad-massi-simon-shaheen
Part of Celebrate Brooklyn!


Friday, June 29, 2012

June Elastics Workshops with Maureen Fleming

Dance studio taken from the porch during a rain shower.
So much time has passed since the last post on Orientalish and so much has happened.  It's summer vacation in some ways, and I've been dancing and doing yoga more than ever.  The first weekend in June, I went to Oneonta and studied with Maureen Fleming at the upstate New York site shares with husband and artistic partner Chris Odo.  They offer great workshops once a month during the summer and a 10 day intensive I can't recommend enough.

Each day includes 6-8 hours of dancing and stretching, all of the organic food you can eat, and a chance to get out of the city.  The first week of June, baby birds were hatching out of nests all over the place and the first night, after a rainy downpour, the road in front of their house/barn/compound was crowded with bright pink chameleons.   Maureen's stretching technique is truly unique.  She uses guided imagery to open all areas of the body, arms and legs, with a focus on the sacrum and the spiraling muscles of the inner thighs. All of this works opens my body so completely, I dance differently after just three days of working with her.  The imagery: smoke rings, highways, mother and child, heaven and earth are drawn from butoh technique but the elastics and presentation are entirely her own creation.  And every time I go, I meet new people who are interested in the interior nature of her movement style and are drawn to exploring and deepening the experience of dance.

Baby birds everywhere!
I'm also taking a workshop with her right now at LaMama in NYC!  More on that later.....

"Art of the Bedchamber" by Peculiar Works Project

I'm going tonight to a weekend event at La Mama that promises an interesting take on Orientalism.  The "Art of the Bedchamber" is part of the "Spring Pictures of the Floating World" presented by Peculiar Works and is billed as a "pleasure palace installation inspired by classic Asian erotica."  Intriguing...one of the participants in the workshop I'm taking with Maureen Fleming is in the cast.  Definitely intrigued..

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Djam Performance on June 13 with Kaeshi and Djinn Revival









700thalia2012

I'm performing with Kaeshi Chai and Carmine & Friends on Wednesday, June 13 after my weekend with Maureen Fleming (see post below).  Part of the Djinn will reconvene to provide music (Carmine, Brad, Pete, and maybe others).  Please come! For full event info. visit the Bellyqueen  page.

Djam at the place formerly known as JeBon...with the band formerly known as Djinn

Wednesday, June 13: 8 p.m. (doors); 8:30 (band); 9 p.m. Dancing!
Saint Mark's Place
$10 cover