Spontaneous Human Combustion

Sahra and Victoria Sept 14 (1)

The Dance Guild at The Dark Side Studio

Take six dancers from different backgrounds, levels and styles. Mix in six pieces of music from a variety of genres and sprinkle liberally with various arm paths and combinations. Add a few tears, some swearing and a generous dose of laughter, and you have Spontaneous Order by The Dance Guild.

This three day intensive workshop gave a group of bellydancers, who may not normally have the chance, to work together and create a half hour dance show. Under the guidance of the artistic director of The Dark Side Studio and Lavish, Audra Simmons, The Dance Guild danced (yes, literally danced) for 24 hours from the morning of Thursday, September 11th to 4pm on Saturday, September 13th to create a show for that night. Four of the participants also had solos, alongside a selection of guest artists from in and around the Toronto bellydance community.

“No one else does anything like this,” says Audra, “so I decided I would. This is my second time hosting The Spontaneous Order workshop, and both were wonderful in different ways.”

“I decided that three days was long enough to get stuff done but not so long that it would get overly stressful. I wanted to see what would happen if we looked at everything from a big picture perspective rather than getting caught up in small details. There was no way this was going to be perfect, but that wasn’t the purpose. The purpose was to focus on what we wanted the audience to take away with them at the end of the evening.”

For this bellydancer, taking part in Spontaneous Order was more of a giant leap outside of my comfort zone than a step, and I wasn’t alone. The group included Sahra DeRoy, a professional dancer, teacher and yoga instructor from Pittsburgh; Ioana Timariu, director of Undine Dance Company and instructor at Om Laila Dance Studio; Victoria Buston, accomplished soloist and currently a dancer with Undine Dance Company and her own Can Can dance company, The Saucy Tarts; Cheri Partridge, a student of The Dark Side and very new to bellydance, and myself. While most of us were experienced dancers, only one, Victoria, had done something like this in the past, having participated in the first ever Spontaneous Order in 2013.

Each of us had different thoughts and goals going into the workshop, but in the end what we created left us all feeling accomplished and deeply connected to one another. “Considering that I’m new and still developing my technique, I was damned impressed with myself in the end,” said Cheri during our wrap-up meeting on the Sunday after the show.

Audra sent us three pieces of music in August to have a chance to listen and develop some thoughts on what the music was about. Once we arrived at the studio on the Thursday morning, three more pieces were added to the mix, giving us a opportunity to work on one fully choreographed number, two numbers with structured combinations that included improvisation, two numbers that were fully improvised and one song that, divided into a trio and a duet, we created a storied, character piece that gave us a chance to just play.

I got a preview of the choreography at my regular Lavender class on the Tuesday, and let me tell you I had a minor panic attack when I realized how sharp and complex the piece would be. Regardless, I was determined to do my best and make the most of the experience.

With such a diverse group, the expectations and approaches to how we deal with both choreography and improvisation differed, and, with two of the dancers having never studied with Audra before, this was a chance for them to see how she approached the creative process. “This workshop gave me, personally, the chance to really get into Audra’s mind,” said Sahra. “I wanted to see how exactly Audra worked and how she created pieces,” Ioana added.

For Victoria, this was her second experience as a member of The Guild. “It’s a life-altering experience,” she had told me before the workshop, “it really gives us as dancers the chance to stretch our muscles. How can we grow as artists otherwise?”

Each day, we worked not just on learning combos and choreography, we also had a chance to discuss what the music said to us, how we felt we wanted to move to it, and learning the art of shadowing. Shadowing is when once dancer leads the movement for a section of music and others follow along. We also learned how to “pass” the movement between us, how to let emotion and feeling lead us, and how to really work together as a group.

“When we create art, we tend to get so attached to what the outcome will be that we forget to learn from the process,” said Audra. “I wanted this to be a safe, supportive environment for everyone to grow, develop and learn. This was not about achieving perfection. None of us are going to stop dancing because one piece isn’t exactly how we thought it would turn out. And with a group like this, where everyone gets a chance to share their own interpretation of the music, not everyone will have the same vision of the final piece.”

As we worked through the dances, we began to discover how quickly a small group like this could really come together. Knowing that there was a performance to be done at the end of the three days gave focus and purpose to our work, and while there were indeed moments of stress and frustration – in particular around the choreography that was to be our finale – we supported one another in ways I could never have thought possible. The kind of energy created and bond that grew was unlike any I had experienced in the past working with troupes. It was almost magical in its simplicity.

On the day of the show we reached a point where we simply had to let go of expectations of perfection. We were not all going to nail all parts of every piece in the way we may have wanted, but given the condensed rehearsal time, we were all determined to prove we could present an entertaining and cohesive show. We waffled between excitement and panic, elation and fear, and ultimately that’s what drove us to strive past what we thought possible.

And, like pretty much any show, it was over before we knew it.

Basking in the afterglow of having actually done what I’m pretty sure none of were totally sure was possible, there were a lot of hugs, a lot of praise, and yes, I’d say a bit of relief. It was over. We’d done it. Now we were going home to revel in our aching bodies and brains before coming back Sunday afternoon to take a look at what we’d created.

I think getting ready to watch the video made us more nervous than actually doing the show. We were jittery and on edge, already making excuses for what we had “messed up” during the performance. I, for one, was already apologizing for a few spots where I’d been aware of being in the wrong spot and/or doing the wrong thing. Regardless, we were all amazed as we watched what we’d actually accomplished, calling out moments where beauty, grace, emotion and synchronicity made itself apparent in our movements. We flowed, we moved as one, we were lovely.

We all had to admit, we’d done a pretty amazing job.

During the post-mortem we shared not only our thoughts on how we felt we’d done, but on the experience as a whole. “I felt safe,” said Cheri, “I knew it was going to be hard and a lot of work but I trusted Audra would put it together.”

“In addition to you guys being able to experience how I work, create and think about creating dance,” said Audra, “this was also play time for me. It also works as a spring board and created new ideas for things I might want to do with Lavish in the future. The end result of our time here together is that you’re inspired and I’m inspired. I love the craziness of this!”

The one regret we all agreed on? We had all hoped to have Audra dance with us – not so we could follow her movements, but to have a chance to share the stage with her. This revelation surprised Audra – she hadn’t realized how much we all wanted to dance with her and was quite moved by the sentiment.

At the end it was hard to believe how much we’d come to be a group. We grew together as well as individuals, and we learned so much from our shared experience.

Audra isn’t sure if there will be another Spontaneous Order in 2015, but if there is and you’re looking for a unique experience unlike any offered by any other artists, take the leap. You’ll never regret it.

• Thanks to guest writer Nashita