Thursday, September 22, 2011

Life, Death, and Dance by Khalima

Today is the first performance for Beyond Barbie - Strength in Motion: Dancing our Sacred Bodies.  One of the dancers, who calls herself Khalima, wrote a magnificent essay about her relationship with dance, particularly the piece she will be dancing tonight.  I quote it here with her permission:

Life, Death, and Dance

by Khalima Dance on Thursday, September 22, 2011 at 8:09am
Life, death, and dance. You may not think these things are so inexplicably linked, perhaps not so seriously, but I’m going to tell you exactly why they are. It is too often that people find themselves at the precipice of death, and are pulled back in by understanding what it means to be alive in that incredible body of theirs. Movement arts like bellydance, which may not seem so serious in the grand scheme of things, can have that huge effect on the heart and body. Bellydance happened to be the gateway drug for me, and so often works this way for others. I lived trapped inside of my body, rigid as stone for so many years, until I was given dance. The tangibility of the body, and the act of channeling experiences through it brings a level of healing I have never experienced in another format.

Today is a day that I am thinking heavily about this connection, yet again. It is what would have been my younger sister Jenn’s 28th birthday. She passed away, tragically, in a car accident on July 25th, leaving behind two beautiful daughters, a host of friends and family, and a maddening anguish in the knowledge that she would never be able to move beyond that fateful day. I have been told that the first year is so hard because of anniversaries, birthdays, holidays…other changes, like the seasons, or walking past the medical examiner's office on the first day of school have also threatened to tilt me back into the dark void that encompassed those first few weeks when the veil between worlds had been removed.

I am thankful though, for answers to the pain that come flying at me like waves of alchemy on a sea of despair.

I reflect on the performance that I will be giving tonight as part of Susan Singer's “Beyond Barbie” Thursday night series, a celebration of women's glories and griefs. I shiver a bit when I think about it, and how the piece I will be dancing has revisited me in one form or another during times of loss, whether I knew it or not. I decided to perform to the unrelenting piece of music, titled “Farewell” a month before Jenn died, building off of previous versions that I have danced, also at times of loss that I was unaware of at the time. Little did I know when I chose this, that the haunting melody of cellos that seem to curl up from beneath the earth and sinuously wrap themselves inside my body, reaching into the firmament, would serve again as catharsis for some of my deepest loss, and in a show designed to give people a taste of what it means to dance from the heart: how it heals us, carries us through, and gives meaning to all that we experience and know.

Tonight's piece is based on the High Priestess card of the Tarot, and what she represents: innate knowledge and going inside of oneself to find deeper truths. She sits wide eyed, quietly beckoning to the pomegranate covered veil behind which lies the deepest, most secret knowledge. Where you find the High Priestess, you know you will need to be alone to find out what you know already, and be ready to penetrate the deepest levels of understanding, to illuminate your world, and be fearless as Persephone as she penetrates the strangeness of the underworld.

I understood the deeper significance of the High Priestess in relation to “Farewell” after I danced it for the first time at the first Raqs Luminaire, which is an ever evolving dance production based on illumination of a literal and metaphorical sense, story, and dancing all that it means to be alive or dead. When I conceived the idea for the show, I had no idea of the layers of significance the project would have on my life and others. My wish for the show was taken seriously by whatever powers exist; to be an outlet for all that you feel deepest in your soul, to be lain raw and naked to the world, and find out what you do with it. When I danced “Farewell” for the first time at Luminaire, I was pregnant with a child that would never know this world outside the warm shell of its mother. I had unknowingly set up a ritual and dance to honor that life without knowing it. My body and heart knew what my mind was unwilling to accept, and it carried me to dancing all that it meant to be alive and dead at the same time.

“Farewell” came back to me yet again during the time of a powerful loss in a relationship last summer. I was magnetically drawn to the sound and feel of the piece, and had the uncontrollable urge to work it out through the music, and did so over and over so that it could be presented in a format that an audience could understand. I couldn't dance to much else aside from that music. The ache in my body and heart was a tangible thing. I was vibrating with the energy of it all, and couldn't help but to move, to channel it through the glowing bloody vessel that is the home for a spirit trying to make sense of the wildly spiraling structure that life often takes. In times like these, I feel the energy of what is in my heart and belly float to the surface. I wrap it up in my hands and hips and release it out into the sky.

I often tell people that dance is an imitation of life. It doesn't matter what your method is. It only matters that you're moving, and I am eternally grateful to the people who brought that into my life. Today, I am asking this song to pull me up again. Where layers of despair have worn my desire to move down to nothing in recent times, I implore of this piece to lift me up again, to access the parts that remain hidden. I dance this not only for myself, but to show people that they are not alone. Today I move for my sister, for the joy of her birth, in honor of the time that she had on this earth, and for each soul brave enough to peer inside of themselves and behind the veils that hold us back from the knowledge necessary to grow into beautiful, glowing tendrils of the earth.

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