Gudrun Dahl (Gudrun.Dahl@TELE.SU.SE)
Fri, 16 Feb 1996 11:22:46 +0100

First, as a lurker-on-the-list in the periphery (Sweden) I am relieved to
see again a real "thread" in the discussion on the list. Here are some
reflections on "drill" and "dance" from the perspective of one who has made
a minor fieldwork among Swedish belly-dancers. My experience of marching
stems mainly from being forced in secondary school in G=F6teborg in the=
sixties to march to honour the memory of the 17th century king Gustavus II
Adolphus, who besides of founding G=F6teborg tried to eradicate catholicism=
Germany. In 1965 we revolted against it, but for a number of years, the
school=B4s pride had been that every 7th of November (day after the
anniversary of Battle of Lutzen) the local daily paper featured a picture
with the by-line "The Girls of the Girl=B4s Secondary as always marched the
best...So August, September and October were spent marching around the
sports hall.

As Ralph Holloway points out, even belly-dancing takes a lot of repetitive
"drilling". In the Middle Eastern setting, however, the dance is usually
learnt by bodily mimesis from very young years. When Swedish women learn it,
they have to do it by breaking up the movements into small units learnt one
by one. This goes both for the genre of "cabaret dancing" (individual belly
dancing) and for that of "folk-lore dances" in which the same women engage.
The genres are danced intermittently, largely, I think, to counteract the
erotical connotations of the belly-dancing which these women find extremely

Egyptian "folk-lore dances" are formalized versions of assumedly
traditional peasant dances, and my informants paradoxically juxtapose the
formality of the folk dancing to the more individually expressive cabaret
dancing where the dancer is supposed to express her sentiments. Why I see
this as a paradox, is that popular dancing among Middle Eastern women is
able to be much more spontaneous since it is based on very early acquisition
of the movement patterns. The Swedish informants, naturally, do not question
that these formalized folk dances represent authentic traditions, but think
of them as true representations of peasant habits.=20

"Authenticity" is a very important concept for these women, and it is
ambiguous in meaning. It both represents "authenticity of emotional
expression", "authenticity in relation to Middle Eastern tradition as
perceived by Swedes" and alternatively "authenticity in relation to
belly-dancing and folk dancing as practiced in Egypt". Turkish and American
traditions tend to be discarded as inauthentic: to challenge somebody=B4s
status you just hint "...she must have had American teachers" in contrast to
Egyptian ones.=20

How does this all relate to drill? Of course, one of the intentions of
drilling people is to embody and make natural for them movements to which
they are not used. By drilling and repeating, movements become guided less
by thought and reflected effort, which makes up for a more relaxed
performance, which is in this case guided by the music. You can give up
yourself and get carried away, by what Csikszentmihalyi calls "flow".
(Csikszentmihalyi, M and I. Selega Csikszentmihalyi (eds) 1992.:
Optimal Experience: Psychological Studies of Flow in=20
Consciousness Cambridge UP). If you are on your own, your feelings may then
be experienced as carrying you away and you are "one with the music and the
audience", if you are in a crowd, the boundaries of yourself may seem to
evaporate, making you "one with the group". I think this is something which
the contributors to our discussion have underrated. Being largely a pacifist
myself, I still think that the emotional force of march-music is rather
irresistible and a bit scary. So, once the pattern of drilled movement is
settled in your body, it is not necessarily experienced as constraining
discipline, but rather as effortlessness. Having not been moving the Middle
Eastern way since they were toddlers, it is only repetition and drill that
can give these Swedish belly-dancers the security of movement that allows
for individual expression.