Sunday April 20th 2014

Out Going

If these hips could talk: Theatrical Belly Dance at Bright Star World Dance

By: Shannon Bryan

It’s easy to express joy with your face. And it’s no hard feat to furrow a brow or roll an eye, depending on your mood.

But conveying an emotion with your hips? That’s harder.

Hips don’t generally have eyebrows, first off, and eyebrows are the true conveyers of feeling (even though the eyes often take the credit). And hips don’t always do as they’re asked. Tell a hip to be happy and it might jerk harshly to the right as if fleeing in fear. Tell it to be sad and it might ignore you altogether.

But hips can tell a story. Selcouth can teach them how.

Shannon Bryan photos

Founder of Dark Follies, Portland’s Gothic vaudeville-inspired variety show, Selcouth is an experienced belly dancer and performer – one who can tell wordless stories with hips, arms, and hands. And she’s ready to share the knowledge in her upcoming Theatrical Belly Dance class, taking place Jan 10-Feb 14 at Bright Star World Dance in Portland.

Theatrical belly dance, Selcouth notes, blends the emotion, drama, and storytelling of the theater with the beautifully passionate and expressive art of belly dance.”  The class isn’t simply shimmies and undulations – it’s about making an entrance. It’s about being a presence. It’s about saying something.

Back in December, Selcouth hosted a free theatrical belly dance workshop to give the belly dance curious, like me, a sample of what’s to come in the six-week session. I told my hips we were going to a movie to prevent them faking a cold and burying themselves in the couch at the last minute.

Luckily, Selcouth is a welcoming instructor. And funny, to boot.

Her humor puts hips – and their adjoining people – at ease.  At least as “at ease” as two scared-out-of-their-sockets set of hips can be. My hips are generally wallflowers, you see, preferring to watch over the gesticulating arms and chattering face. They never interrupt, and when questioned they give abrupt answers that make other people uncomfortable and mildly suspicious.

So Selcouth started us out with seated stretches to awaken our spines. You’ve just got to get the spine on board. Then we stood to work on posture: shoulders back, pelvis forward, soft knees.

We practiced shoulder shimmies and experimented with chest pops. We extended an arm to the right and we tilted our hip to the left. We tried to be fluid.

But theatrical belly dance is more than mastering movements. So to get our mute bodies to start talking, Selcouth led us in a bit of improv. Hip impov. We each drew an emotion from a bag and acted it out – no sounds, no hands, no facial expressions. Just hips. I drew “full of anxiety.” And I was a natural at it.

But imagine what your hips would do to show “happy” or “shy” or “depressed.” They might sway languidly or in quick succession. They might turn sultry or barely move at all. See? Hips can talk.

With our hip-talking confidence running high, it was time time to learn the art of making an entrance. There’s no shuffling shyly on stage here. It’s about getting attention. It’s about having an impact. It’s about telling the audience, “Hey, my hips have something to say to you” and giving them no choice but to listen.

Selcouth gave us characters to play out – an infatuated girl giving a boy a gumball or a ghost haunting the people who murdered her (Selcouth is dark like that, and it’s awesome).

And when the hour was over, my shoulders and hips didn’t want to return to their forgotten and speechless state. They’d been heard. And they liked it. I can’t imagine what they’ll say if given the chance during a six-week session.

Theatrical Belly Dance with Selcouth of Dark Follies

Thursdays, Jan 10-Feb 14
$60 full session/$15 drop in

FMI or to register: www.darkfollies.com or email darkfollies@gmail.com
You can also find the event on Facebook

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