20 Oct 2007

Female embellishments: Part II

In the present moment, Oct 2007

Living up to her reputation as a mature and experienced dancer, Milena Plebs offers good advice on the attitude towards adornments (see preceding blog). It sparked off my own thoughts.

Many women are concerned about making beautiful and as many embellishments as possible. One reason of course is it an aspect of preening in the dance, the natural desire to look asethetically good. The other motivating factor is another aspect of preening, of showing that yes, I am capable of making these technically challenging moves. So hence, I am a better dancer than those who do less "moves". The desire to prove oneself in this manner gives rise to the anxiety mentioned by Milena.

Looking deeper into this topic: now, exactly what are female embellishments?

For me, the answer is - embellishments are one way of expressing the female voice in the dance.

The Female Voice
To me, embellishments are important in this context only - in that it is my expression of what I feel from the music. It is the female composition on the music.

One doesn't add embellishments in the dance "just because one can". We are not Sir Edmund Hillary climbing Mount Everest here. Women who understand this point are the wiser.

So, why do some embellishments done by one dancer seem so marvellous, while embellishments by another dancer are at best ho-hum?

Because the best embellishments seem exactly right for the section of music that it was done for. In short, embellishments are born from the woman's musicality and creativity.

A Question of Substance
Expressing myself in the dance is important.

For a start, remember that adornos are only one way of having a female voice. For the woman, there are other means of self-expression in the dance than making "visible" adornos. For example, the quality of my movement. The feel of my body in the mood of the music. Personally speaking, these qualities matter more to me than adornos, because my dance partner can feel these transmission from me, whether dancing in close or open embrace. It is the bodily pleasure in the dance that I want to enjoy, that I want to give back to my partner.

When I was young, I once read that Sarah Bernhardt (1844-1923), celebrated french stage actress, had a quality of voice that she could bring her audience to tears by reciting the alphabet. This statement was etched into my mind, although it was many years later that I fully savour its meaning.

The female maestro who I admire can transmit beauty in the dance simply by moving. Its not even her walk. Its how she moves. It is her.

Style is nothing without substance.

Now, what about the actual adornos themselves?
Adornos are nothing without musicality.

To train to do adornos cannot be separated from learning to express one's musicality. Perhaps, the only way to develop musicality is to dance and practise a lot. Most importantly, really listen to the music when you are practising the adornos. Listen to different orquestas, recognise the sentiments expressed in the music, experiment with how it feels on the music when you do different movements and how to time the movements.

But how to gain the ability to execute the move?

Thats what those tough technique exercises are for. They train your body in the movement, before one attempts it in the practica. Then, practise till the adornos do not interfer with your partner and the dance.

This is what Milena Plebs meant by "It is good to work on decorations so that they form part of the global dance, without interrupting the energy by doing them and keeping the connection with the partner at all times."

Finding Your Own Voice
In the first 2+ years of my dancing, I was almost stubbornly anti-adornos. From the start I believed I need to concentrate on the fundamentals long and hard. I felt the embellishments can come later on. My reasoning was that if I have the fundamentals, it shouldn't be very difficult to pick up the embellishments at a later stage.

Much later on, from doing technique exercises and from watching female dancers with excellent musicality, I started adding simple adornos to my repertoire. True enough, the simple ones were not terribly difficult to pick up (I didn't say I am doing them well).

What I discovered to be more important and challenging is to express them to the music. To grasp the right timing, with embellishments that are appropriate for the sentiments of the music, within the framework of the dance proposed by my partner. In short, finding your own musicality.

For myself, often I find enough gratification in expressing my joy in the music by quick rythmic taps to accent points in the music, rather than feeling it is essential to pull off something complicated and showy. Because my primary goal is to enjoy the music with my partner, respecting that my partner has a musical composition in mind, and to be in time for what is proposed so that the musical dialogue flows back and forth between the two of us.

At the end of the day, Milena put it best in her advice to us ladies:

"A time arrives when one relaxes, no longer worried about how many and how various embellishments one does, and paradoxically, they (the embellishments) begin to flow naturally, they respond to an inner security and an enjoyment of the female dance role."

Her concluding statement "I believe also that, many times, less is more......."

What about for the Men?
By the way, many of the same aspects apply to the men too.

Doing a lot of figures (no matter how well you lead them) and embellishments do not equate to musicality in dance. At best it was exercise on the dance floor. At worse, not only are you ignoring the music, you are ignoring the musical communication that I am trying to have with you. To put it in a not-so-nice way, you are actually "dancing" only with yourself.

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