Belly Dance 2.0
Dance From the Heart’s Empowerment Gathering
By Lydia Hance
If you were to ask me what it’s like to watch a woman descend into the splits with three foot swords balanced on her head, I could tell you. It’s impressive. I found out because Dance from the Heart celebrated their 10th Anniversary with a series of weekend workshops with Amy Sigil and a gala performance at The Barn on January 31. The workshop brought in belly dancers from all over Houston, Austin, California and Spain to learn Sigil’s Improvisational Tribal Style dance technique. The gala performance featured the Dance from the Heart performance company with belly dance fusion solo acts and small groups filling out the program. The pieces were short and numerous, and the program offered a varied glimpse at belly dance and its many extrapolations.
But back to the swords. I was sitting in the front row and Silvia Salamanco’s piercingly confident eyes were the only reason I didn’t wish I had body armor. Salamanco descended into the splits, traveled across the floor via knee crawls and ascended; she hinged backwards all while balancing two giant swords on her head, and at times a third between her toes.
Kimberly Larkspur, Artistic Director of Dance from the Heart, offered a regal solo with long, articulate arms and torso. She coyly progressed across the stage and her long hair trailed. The piano music teemed with delicacy, presenting the most weightless and professional dance of the evening.
April Rose and her company, the Rose Movement Group came from Austin to partake in the weekend celebration of Dance from the Heart. Her company performed a hip hop fusion. I was drawn to their finely communicative fingers. The choreography was the most varied with floor and standing work, formation shifts, and a layered use of timing. Their energy was seductive and dark.
Dance from the Heart brought Amy Sigil and her company Unmata from Sacramento, California as master teacher for this weekend of workshops. Unmata’s performance closed the evening; it didn’t live up to the hype. The piece was unpolished and the dancing lacked the punch of “powerhouse” performers. The duet wore druid robes and paced the stage until they stripped into their yoga pants and halter tops. The music was larger than their movement and energy. Their piece did offer a poignant moment of physical connection between dancers (the first and only of its kind in the show.)
There were fourteen pieces on the program, and thirteen were performed. There were nine solos, assorted in skill. A charming MC introduced each act which warmed the crowd and provided connectivity between the many pieces. I am convinced that Sahira, who performed with red sticks and cymbals on her fingers, was part comic and part belly dancer. She broke the fourth wall making jokes about how long it was taking her to put on her cymbals. She talked to the audience, and we talked back. She was funny.
Evidenced by the sold out audience and standing ovations, Dance from the Heart is a warm and encouraging community. At the top of the second act, Anne Caruthers, Creative Director, made a tearful speech of gratitude to her dancers and audience. Reminiscing on ten years of hard work to raise money through their organization for charities across the world, it is clear these dancers commit their time to the company to better their communities and bring healing to those who are hurting.
Their message this evening was empowerment. The Dance from the Heart Company performed a short work in which two dancers placed Velcro words on the cast walking around the stage: slut, whore, dyke, and more. Momentum built when dancing turned to fighting and they started to tear the words off and put them on each other. Somehow they morphed into a clump of shapes in the center of the stage, and after a moment of stillness they turned around towards the audience to lower their shirts with human written on each of them. The choreography was hollow and the dancers’ faces were overdramatized. The crowd went wild, and it was rightly for the message.
What I thought was going to be a belly dance show was more of an empowerment gathering. Dance from the Heart is a community that supports each other, has fun together, and dances together. While the performance was weak through the technical lens, they clearly have created a special community where expression and equality are paramount.
Lydia Hance is the founder and artistic director of Frame Dance Productions.