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Dancing Like a Flock of Birds

Dance has been an important part of my life, especially throughout the last eight years. After a brief stint in ballet, when I was five and six, I picked up dance again in my early twenties. I saw a flyer for belly dance at the local YMCA when I had just finished college, and I really wanted to try it. I danced for two years with the women who I befriended there. Many years went by where I thought about dance and missed it. Then when my daughter was two, I needed something to do, in the evening, on my own. Amazingly enough, there was a dance troupe very close by in Bennington, and I started going to weekly classes. Soon enough, I was hooked.

The style that we dance in is called American Tribal Style Belly Dance. We dance in groups, with a leader at the front left, and followers stacked behind, on an angle. Our style is all improvisation, meaning that we know the moves, we know our fellow dancers, we know the music, but anything can happen when we start! That makes what we do both terrifying and intensely creative. It also puts a lot of trust in the other dancers. When we turn fully around in a slow song, we do what we call flock of birds. This means that as soon as the leader turns, the new leader is the next person that the group can see, and this continues until the turn is complete.

In December, our group had a holiday party, and we wound up sharing what we like so much about dance, and what keeps us coming back. Stress relief and joy were common reasons, and also the feeling of support that we get from being there. We don't generally talk much about personal issues during class. There's a feeling that we don't have to, because we feel lifted up by each other, just by physically dancing together. It occurred to me afterwards that we have a lot in common with a flock of birds, flying in a V formation. The leader takes on the full brunt of the responsibility of navigating and pushing through the air currents, just like our leader decides which moves to throw, and to signal in a careful way about what she's about to do. She has the responsibility of making her fellow dancers look good by taking their abilities into consideration, so everyone is able to participate and look beautiful. She gets the full support of those behind her in following her moves and keeping their timing together. When she is ready to change the lead, she falls back into formation, and allows someone else to take on the responsibility of leader. She supports from behind and feeds on the energy that the leader puts out. Maybe this is another reason that this style of dance feels just right. It's an instinctive give and take, follow and lead.

If you'd like to see a recent video of me dancing a duet with my friend and teacher Julz, take a look here. Our duet is all improv, and we hadn't even practiced the song together. It's the magic of the style that we dance in!

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