Monday, October 19, 2009

Beyond the red boots...

Kimc's question on the red boots post recently initially made me feel a little defensive when all I wanted to do was to enjoy my red boots and underscore the Western tradition of wearing one's pants legs OUTSIDE the boots. But s/he got me thinking about costumes and how virtually everything we choose to put on our bodies represents something in our lives, whether that's a conscious decision or not. Thanks, Kimc, for that nudge and for being a catalyst to deeper thinking, even though I wasn't ready to do it at the time.

Yesterday was a long, challenging day, ending late (for me) at night with my having volunteered to be the congregational host at a Zikr which followed an interfaith peace event. I had never attended any Sufi dancing, except for the variation called Dances of Universal Peace, which isn't really Sufi but incorporates many traditions in sacred dance.

I had decided that I would just watch this event, though we were all invited to participate at whatever level we wished, but I wanted to watch and think because my initial reaction, at meeting the folks who came, was that they were mostly in costume: long skirts, tunics, hats or scarves for many of the women, and for several of the men long white skirts, dark vests, and long caps.

As I sat and watched and thought about why these mostly-young men and women would dress up as they did and spend two hours chanting, moving slowly through steps and arm movements, in an ancient ritual that is not native to most of us, I had a variety of responses, beginning in a negative place and moving from that space into a bigger place.

Nearly everyone in the Zikr, except for the leader and a couple of younger folks, was of northern European stock, yet nearly all those participating consider themselves to be Sufi in their religious practice. They had come from all over Western Washington for this event, which was a demonstration of "turning", the dance of the whirling dervish. The turning occurred within the community dance circle and was startlingly beautiful.

I felt captivated by the turning, amazed that the dancers could whirl for long periods of time without dizziness or apparent weariness. I asked one woman later how she did that and learned that it is a discipline, to be still at one's core, like the center of a child's top. The long skirts of the turners (aka "whirling dervishes") flared out in graceful circles as they spun---in serene ecstasy, or so it seemed.

My discomfort at the apparent "dress-up" nature of the clothing began to fade as the evening went on. I still wonder why we humans are so attracted sometimes to religious rituals which are not native to our own heritage (Native American, Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, Sufi) and that's a post for another day. But I came to see the clothing in a new light, as I realized that every time I select my own clothing for the day I do it in response to the activities of the day.

Everything I wear is a costume; it is just that my costumes tend to be more conventional than others' choices! The Favorite Son and his Beloved are members of the Empire of Chivalry and Steel, a Renaissance re-enactment group, and wear costumes of the Renaissance era. They have a wonderful time at it and have learned more about medieval history than I'll ever know. In their group, they act as King and Queen of the Realm, having been duly chosen by their comrades, and their royal garb is quite attractive.

But Kimc questioned the word "affected" and I've realized that I used this word to describe my sense of disconnect between conventional costumes and costumes selected to play a role. That's probably not fair! Why should my conventional costumes and my choice of red boots be any less "affected" than a dervish's swirling skirts (or a fashionista with fancy boots and tucked-in pants)? I guess it's a continuum of choice and my judgment doesn't matter a hill of beans! Thanks, Kimc, for the shift in perspective!


Heidi said...

Kit, I love how open you are to rethinking an idea or belief and that you can share your new understanding and idea.

ms. kitty said...

Thanks, Heidi.

John A Arkansawyer said...

There's a moment in a Frank Zappa concert at the Fillmore, back in the height of the hippie days, when someone yelled something inaudible from the audience.

Zappa's answer: "Everyone here is wearing a uniform, and don't you ever forget it."

Mile High Pixie said...

John A, that's brilliant! What a great way to describe the human [cultural]condition. I wear a "uniform" of business clothing that's usually one or two steps above what my colleagues are wearing, and I've found that I actually like "dressing up" like that during business hours. Because my workplace is so casual, one could say that my look is a bit "affected", but I've found that I really like looking the way I do at work. Outside of work, I wear workout clothes nearly everywhere I go during the day and then at night I'm dressed again really nicely. My husband gets annoyed with me sometimes because I think he thinks I'm trying too hard to look "good" at night, but I'm truly most comfortable when I'm put together in a certain way.

I've tried breaking some of my long held behaviors and thought patterns, and while I've let go of (or am trying to let go of) those that don't ring true with me, there are some that really ring true. Funny thing is, I dressed rather slovenly in high school and college, but now I'm Ms. Classic Chic. I suppose the same could be said of those un-Sufi-looking people dancing the dervish--they've found the way of life and behavior and appearance that feels the least affected and most true to themselves.

kimc said...

when I was in high school, an ex-nun came to speak to us about poetry. I remember her saying, "Our clothing is a statement of our commitment."

I'm glad you got something positive out of my other comment.

ms. kitty said...

Thanks, all, for your cogent comments and especially to Kimc for starting me down this track. It's been a good one.

Miss Kitty said...

Very interesting discussion, Ms. K! This is certainly an idea for me to mention to my students next week, when we begin discussing advertising and how "who we are is sold to us," to quote Judith Williamson in Decoding Advertisements. I imagine some might say they're not sold anything. Some might point to religious, traditional, or spiritual clothing. No doubt we'll have an interesting discussion...that you and Kim C got started, no less! :-)

ms. kitty said...

Woowee, Miss K, wish I could be a fly on the wall in your classroom! I'm glad it's been interesting.

John A Arkansawyer said...

Turns out my memory was inaccurate, though I got the gist of it. Here's a better report:

"At the end of "Little House" Zappa makes some quick replies to a heckler in the crowd. The guy shouts something like 'Take off that f***ing uniform before it's too late.' (possibly talking to a security guard that can be heard trying to get people to get back in their seats), and Frank replies 'Everybody in this room is wearing a uniform, don't kid yourself'. The heckler continues shouting, and eventually Zappa just says 'You'll hurt your throat. Stop it.' "

(I find it appropriate that my verification word for this is "pertwit". I'd just like to know if it's "pert wit" or "per twit". Or both.)