Finding- and defining- “Duende”

It’s a word not often used in belly dance, but the concept surrounds us as dancers. Passion, spirit, heightened emotions

I pulled this from wikipedia- “According to Christopher Maurer, editor of “In Search of Duende”, at least four elements can be isolated in Lorca’s vision of duende: irrationality, earthiness, a heightened awareness of death, and a dash of the diabolical.”

If you dance Tribal, or for me more specifically Tribal Fusion, you are an intimate acquaintance with el duende- consider yourself lucky you’ve not lost your way in the woods yet.

Or have you?

The Recent 1001 Nights Workshop Series and Show in Lexington, KY, got me thinking- and reading- about this concept and the four parts Wikipedia’s page handily broke it down into. Below are my thoughts.

Irrationality- love is, more often than anyone will admit- irrational, and this is congruent with whatever internal force that drives us to dance. Dance, like love, can be irrational. Out of time, out of sequence, not the “right kind” of song to dance to. This is a large part, I think, of  what constitutes “style.” Especially for Tribal Fusion artists.

Earthiness- we use this term so much in belly dance. Jillina will call the hagallah “very earthy.” We’ll remonstrate our students to bend their knees more by gently reminding them that “this is an earthy dance.” But what does it mean, for us the modern or (gasp!) American belly dancer?

a heightened awareness of death- all one has to do is watch Zoe Jake’s iconic mask performance, or the male dancer in the 1001 Nights show (his first name was Matt, last name apparently Awesome). His wonderful journey into the voodoo soul shows that the Tribal fusion world carries a very la danse de la mort feel. The inherent conflict of such an earthy dance transporting us, the dancer and audience, somewhere else, somewhere not necessarily connected to this ground, almost has to conjure undertones of the afterlife.

For me, the origins claiming belly dance as a fertility dance draw forth just as much a heightened sense of death. The mother knows her child must some day die. Sees her own mortality reflected in the child’s eyes. That doesn’t even touch on the fear of death of a child too young.

“A dash of the diabolical”- this is, personally, my favorite aspect of the concept “duende” because it is the one I identify with.  There’s something about dance- especially tribal fusion- that is, as one onlooker told me after I came off stage- “is beautiful and alluring, but dangerous and totally scary. Sexy and scary.”

I grew up at odds with my body, spending my teen years ignoring its presence, in wars of attrition with it, or even attacking it. To open my eyes on a stage, knowing that I have become the alluring danger, the dashing diabolical, irrational lover of the earth, One who knows Death and Dances On; that’s the goal. I haven’t made it there yet.

But that little girl at odds with her body, she doesn’t disappear, and she won’t on the day I find duende- she’ll be right there, curled up inside, grown to a woman with a secret smile. Ready to strike, to shimmy.

Ready to dance.

In the meantime, I think I have some reading to do.


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