Updated: Aug 16, 2020
"I can't learn to belly dance, 'cause I ain't got no rhythm."
The worst feeling is when we feel powerless. When we feel that we can't do something because of the way we are, the way we were born. Like not ever being able to be a ballerina because we have "no turnout" or not being able to be a basketball player or a model because we're too short.
And then there's the talent issue—I can't sing because I have no talent.
And I can't dance because I have no rhythm.
I'm not talking about excuses we sometimes give because we really don't want to do something; I'm talking about actually believing that we have to be born a certain way (with rhythm, say) or in a certain place (in Africa, say) to be able to do something (like dance, say).
I'm a mover, and I have always loved to dance and have been drawn to any style of dancing. And from an early age, I sensed this pervading message that you if you were lucky enough to be born black, you for sure, had rhythm. And if you weren't, well, good luck, because you'd always look like a "white girl" dancing.
But as I grow closer to 6 decades on this planet, I will say: THAT IS HOGWASH. (No offence, swine.) Yes, we are born with certain unchangeable features like height, but even that does not have to preclude us from doing something because society has simply become accustomed to seeing things look a certain way and done a certain way.
The fact of the matter is, that when groups of people do a thing a lot, we tend to get good at it. And when that is multiplied by generations and huge regions of people, we get really good at it. And because the history goes back so many generations and includes such a large group of people and the thing becomes so good, we lose sight of the fact that each person learned to do this thing—and maybe, and often, began the learning in utero. So it seems that he or she was born with it. When, in fact, he or she has simply been inundated with it, and has picked it up, at least some rudiments of it, by osmosis.
But it doesn't mean that someone much older than an infant cannot learn and become really good at the thing...yes, including rhythm.
Having rhythm means understanding what it is and how it relates to beat and tempo and melody and actually learning skills and practicing these skills. And it's doable. It's just that methods of teaching these skills is nowhere near as developed as, say, teaching arithmetic or grammar.
Because you are black doesn't mean you automatically have rhythm, and because you are white doesn't mean you automatically don't. And being Lebanese or Egyptian or Turkish doesn't automatically mean you can belly dance. If you want to learn to belly dance, you must practice skills—the skills of movement and the skills of music, which includes rhythm. And it may take a loooong time to "get" some of these skills. And it may take a long time to "get" a lot of these skills! The trick is to savor the process as you learn. Study and practice in small doses and give yourself permission to look awkward as you learn...because you will look awkward. And that's good! It means you are learning.
©Jennifer Carpenter-Peak & Robert Peak, 2020