A Lesson from Twyla on Creating Dance and Keeping Secrets

New projects have opened up new ways of thinking about “bellydance” for me – and I am thoroughly enjoying exploring them. Here’s an example…

I am currently (re)reading Twyla Tharp’s The Creative Habit​ – if you haven’t yet, I highly recommend it! In it, she discusses the importance of having a “spine” for your work – and the perils of sharing it openly.

​​As I understand it, she sees the “spine” as the guiding idea in a dance’s creation, a sort of compass to keep you on course during the creative process. But it’s not necessarily obvious to the audience. And she stresses that while it’s vitally important to the choreographer – it’s not important for the audience. In fact, knowing it might confuse them or even make them feel that they didn’t “get it”.

I’ve had direct contact with this idea this past month, both as an audience member and as a Middle Eastern dance choreographer. There’s nothing like first hand ex​perience from multiple perspectives to really clarify a concept!

I am currently creating a suite of theatrical pieces for my new dance company, Sharqia Dance Theater. ​We’re still working on the first one, I have a handful of other ideas for more – and full trust that the muses will help me with the rest if I show up for the work. But most of all, I know the spine that holds all these together. I kinda knew it starting out, and the more time it spent living in my brain, the clearer it got. Including the hindsight of how and why that notion burrowed itself in there so deeply. I won’t tell you what it is, but I do hope you get a whiff of it if you come to see the finished show. Regardless, that spine is doing it’s job while I’m creating this.

From another angle – just this past week I attended Scorpius Dance Theater’s “D.G.” a work based on the story of Dorian Gray. Intriguing. Knowing the story, I definitely found myself trying to figure out who was which character among the dancers. And beyond Dorian himself, that wasn’t really obvious. It almost became a distraction from what were the stronger messages of the piece – at least how I perceived them. I decided to shut the instinct to “figure it out” by looking at the program and let my mind be led wherever this was going to take me.

​All in all, it was powerfully done and brought up all kinds of thoughts on the price of vanity in human connection, self-preservation, conflict negotiation and ​more. But that’s just what I saw. I wonder what the “spine” was in choreographer, Lisa Starry’s mind.​ I bet she had one – and I doubt she’d tell.

And I might not even get it if she did. But that’s not really the point as I see it. It made me think and feel and I was thoroughly engaged and moved. How I was emotionally affected and what thoughts it conjured up in my mind are unique to me – and I imagine every other person in the audience that night. The spine did its job.

So after more than 20 years of choreographing to entertain and showcase students progress or for the pure love of beautiful Middle Eastern music and the movements that express it visually, I’m enjoying adding this new deeper intention to my work. I hope you are also moving your dance in new directions that are meaningful to you.​​​

If you are interested in creating more meaningful work and connection with your audience, you may enjoy this upcoming event…