Thanks to the plethora of information rolling at us, we have become accustomed to seeing the best, brightest and most flexible examples of artists in many mediums. :So You Think You Can Dance’ exposes us to dancers that inspire shock and awe in me. Gordon Ramsey’s cooking competition forces the chefs to be better than they knew they could be to meet Mr. Ramsey’s standards. I wonder how many people who watch all the shows out there that make everything a high stakes competition get discouraged from self expression.
A Native American Tribe I heard of while traveling through North Dakota have a designated “Rotten Belly”. This is a tribesmember who takes on all the slothful, nasty behaviors of humankind and exhibit it everywhere they can. Whatever is inappropriate , they do. They serve as a repository of nastiness so that the rest of the tribe can be free of it. I can see how this could work. It would be like being sober in the presence of inebriation- its so unpleasant and boring and pointless to be around it re-enforces the rightness of sobriety.
I wonder if we allow our examples of human ability in the media to become our cultural “ Rotten Bellies”. Do we stop dancing around our living rooms because we aren’t executing split jumps? Do we stop making the food we were given as children because its not haute so we settle for a branded product (fast food)? Are we content with watching somebody else do what is our ability as corporeal beings? While I can see placing all the negatives in us in one repository as being a cultural solution, I don’t think it serves us if we allow others to become our experiential Avatars.
Wine enthusiasts talk about terroir, the soil that a grape comes from. The minerals, amount of rainfall, humidity, everything about the earth in a particular region can be tasted in the grape, and therefore gives the wine its unique characteristic. I think of my own terroir as everything I have brought with me- from childhood to present day- that makes me me. My DNA from my ancestors spins in a way that you can see when I dance or cook. But my terroir also includes the old woman who was my mother’s ex mother-in-law. We would sit in her kitchen above the railroad tracks in the Bronx and watch her roll out her own filo dough to make tiropitas, amazed that someone so ancient and twisted in her body could produce such a delicate dough that it seemed laid out by fairies. I use bits and pieces I learned from her, despite being bored out of my mind at the time, in my daily cooking. My terroir is also the hot pretzels at the New York Zoo my parents treated me to every Sunday. That taste became a part of me and I often make them at home for my family. So it becomes their terroir as well. Madhur Jaffrey’s children went to the school I attended for 11 years and would bring great pans of Indian food to the Autumn Fair. I absorbed all that as well.
Both my parents were professionals in the dance world, so its interesting that when we children danced after dinner it wasn’t tricks that made them laugh or cheer. When I look back at it critically, they responded to our dancing our truths. I was prideful and argumentative as a child, and when I dared to expose that, even make fun of myself by exaggerating it in my movements when I danced- mincing my steps or aggressively lunging at my audience of two, they would see and respond to the inside family knowledge that this was a part of me. This is also my terroir. As is the fact that I would see my mother dance and recognize her sensuality, and therefore not be afraid of my own. All the aspects of my life that make me unique, the good as well as the bad, and even painful, are expressed in how I live in my senses. A group of dancers executing a perfect split jump will all look the same to me, where as I can watch an older Greek man dance with a napkin and see his terroir. And it thrills me. I find as I get older , that I am more impressed with being able to see where someone comes from than to see people’s training- in dance, in cooking, in life.
Don’t eat fast food today, make something you remember from your childhood and make it over and over until it pleases you and makes you cut your eyes with remembrance. Dance with abandon, with who you are, what you’re angry with, what you love. No rules- you can include them later- but get to your truth first. Let’s not let the experts we see everywhere take away our wildness and desire to revel in our terroir. Let’s not let them do and experience those gifts for us- they can’t.
When my mother was dying, she could no longer talk or move- except for her left hand. We children sang the songs she taught us in childhood as we sat by her hospital bed- I guess it was all we could think of to comfort and communicate with our Mama who was slowly disconnecting from this earth.
Under the spreading Chestnut tree
There we sat, just you and me
Oh how happy we will be
Under the spreading Chest nut tree !
As we sang, she danced with her left hand, with all the terroir of her 86 years. It was beautiful, and unrepeatable . And brave.
All these amazing top- of- their- field people we see, let them inspire us, but they are not our Avatars or “Rotten Bellies”. We all carry such uniqueness, lets share that with each other. Dance!