Updated: Jul 21, 2021
I asked Jo Ngan to dance for me and she did.
A few years ago, I took pole dancing classes. The ethereal Amanda Wing at The Pole Garage was my instructor, and she was amazing—she taught me to fly. But Jo taught me to climb a pole. Not an easy task. It’s about resilience combined with grace. I needed to grasp grace as I learned to rise.
See? It was a mix of me nearing my fiftieth anniversary, and feeling the gravity (and the gravitas) of over a decade of my studies and teaching that all that is me (“I’m large, I contain multitudes”) wanted to feel lightness. It’s true that so many books piled up over my head kept my spine aligned and my walk tall and straight. But I just wanted to learn to fly and feel the opposite of gravity: levity.
I’ve always dreamt about writing a scene as an ekphrasis of music and dance. How do I translate music and corporeal expression into visual words? I wondered. Undertaking such a task entailed that I summoned up forces. It had to be a combined task; one that called upon many of my identities: the poet, the writer, the wife of a musician, the woman who refuses to relinquish sensuality at the sight of gray hair and wrinkles around her eyes. And, in surety, I knew I needed to conjure up creative cross-pollinations between words, music, dance, and song. So, there, Yours Truly for words, Federico Ramos for music, Jo Ngan for dance, and Magaluna for mastering and video editing as she crafts as though songwriting) . Synergy!
I asked Federico to help me narrate music. He told me about the sections in the musical chart of a tune played by Jeff Beck’s ‘Cause We Ended as Lovers, that I had danced for him long ago. Federico worked hard to find a means to express music in aural, visual, and kinesthetic words, so I could translate them into plain English words. He clapped and tapped his foot, but all I could see was a light spanning over the sea at night. I heard wolves howling to the moon at Mountain Rainier, and rain falling outside a club, and Earth spinning around the sun, so very fast. He helped me interpret what the instruments were doing, how the musicians in a band cued each other, or how the instruments repeated note sequences and such. He taught me to envision music and movement so I could translate them into palabras. So, while Federico was describing tempo and identifying notes and the sounds they produced, I closed my eyes, and visualized music with colors and shapes synthetically: I could feel the air on my cheek, the sound of the rain in Seattle falling down on the grayish streets. I could foresee the scenes after the performance at The Spinoff, in a quaint hotel in near Capitol Hill. And all I saw was truth and beauty.
I’ve watched a lot of videos performed by Jo Ngan. I must confess that I drool over the eroticism and ethereality of her corporeal expression and fluid movement. She is gorgeous, incredibly agile, and her body aesthetics yield a new way to understand beauty. I crafted metaphors for each of her steps, and I designed a routine, jumping beyond the physicality of place and being to experience air. And thus, I imagined Lily, the dancer in chapter 14, “May the Soft Rain Fall Upon You," tallying Jo's moves, emulating her aesthetics of pole dancing; And I attempted to craft her sensual and ethereal movements while owning the air, while defying gravity.
May you dance tallying the howl's of your own guitar. May you take a fearless flight, remain suspended in ether. And should you free fall may you land on your feet.
Excerpt from WIP – Cecilia Martinez-Gil’s novel manuscript –
Sunshower [Lluvia con Sol] ©
The Spin Off wasn’t shady at all, but the entrance was from the alley. The stage was circular and not too high, and the pole was precisely in the center.
“The background music stopped, the lights of the club dimmed, even more, but on the stage, a spotlight shed a funnel of rainbow lights, a cone covering exactly its circumference and no more beyond. A guitar wailing like the call of a wolf, a cry of the wild, evocative of the verses that would follow, started. It was Jeff Beck’s Cause We Ended as Lovers intro in four long howls, like a call, a siren, a sound as though a spotlight spanning across an ocean back and forth, in a semi-circle of moving sounds. The howls were accompanied by an electric piano ad libitum and orchestral cymbals from the drums. Ad libitum sounds made way to a figure sauntering toward the stage, tallying the howling step by step. It was Lily. She wore a boyfriend’s oversized lumberjack shirt, a black cotton bra, and an orange cotton panty—everyday underwear. She wore metallic pink stilettos, about ten-inches-high platforms.”
Her steps towards the stage were sensual, following the cry of mating, the howling of Beck’s guitar. The strumming of strings and keys poured onto the chamber that was the packed club, intermittently from the two amplifiers, which chords also gave rhythm to the movements of her hand gliding from her neck up, under her long and wavy hair arraying, following a sweeping sound on the drumskin and a Chinese gong, that showered her hair over her skin, symphonically. The drumstick on the cymbal foreshadowed the arrival of the figure onto the stage that happened exactly when the bass string snored, at 0:30, sliding down to the root of the chord—its musical note seemed as curved as her silhouette. The full band entered so, Lily’s body undulated as a vertical wave, lowering her shirt to reveal her shoulder, lifting it just a bit, to reveal her right buttock--roundness up and down in body and sound. Her arm stretched and gripped the pole exactly when the beat began.
The A section, first verse, minute 0:46 started with the guitar leading the melody and each instrument, (the piano, the bass, the drums), accompanying, skating together as though on a river, a wave of sounds unraveling, with a piano playing the chord changes, the harmonies, the bass grooving with the roots, the drum set keeping time. Lily spun around the pole and stopped at 360 degrees; she tilted her head backward, turned it back, and with a sultry mien, she looked at Liam, who sprang on the chair and held the back of it to hold himself steady. More spins and full body undulations succeeded. Lily’s legs opened in a perfect A shape, then she lifted them up switching to a V shape, moving her feet in, curled—and her entire legs showed muscled, taut, tight, as they pressed against gravity. Lily twirled to face the pole. She loosened the shirt on her right arm, which fell to her left, languidly, rolling down her arm, showing her butt divided by the orange thong, which displayed two perfect orange-like-shaped buttocks, and her honey-tanned skin. The B section repeated at minute 1:00.
At 1:20 the B section howled but with a new stronger groove and a new chord progression: D/C – Fm – Bb9, the melody slowly flying, made by the bass, the drums, the keys, with chords supporting the effect of the guitar sounds that continued to escape as a light skating across the sea. Lily turned to face the pole and showed her back to her intended audience of one. She stretched one leg to the side, and her waist folded sideward concave, jutting her hips out. She removed her shirt completely and spun around the pole as if wanting to leave a leg behind that seemed to hover against the floor, Lily tossed the shirt. […]
Lily turned around and pushed her back against the pole, one leg rising, opening slightly. Then she stopped pushing her spine against the pole and vertically undulating from upper back to butt, she held the pole high with her right hand, and lower with her left hand. She leveled her hip and pushing herself up from her torso she pivoted her body, then twirled opening her legs in full split. Lily folded her legs and lowered her body down, to turn around again, one leg folded over the pole, and the back of her knee was the only point holding her entire body, her other limbs tethered to nothing.
Lily’s transitions were as flawless as Beck’s. She held the pole with two hands and her torso tightened. She climbed it while flying around and then her knee again as a hook aided her in inverting her body, then gliding downwards, gracefully. As she was sliding down, she lifted her head up, tilting it slightly backward to look at Liam again, seductively, a smirk on her lips, unruly. When her upper body had made it to the floor, her legs lowered down, and the pole latched to the softness between her legs, and she clapped her shoes twice, in synch of ‘Cause We Ended As Lovers, as the song form repeated the verses and chorus of the A Section.
Now, Lily was on all fours crawling and swinging her body as an unraveling wave, swelling and pushing back and forth, then turning sideward, her hand grazing the air, her hair covering her face. So she shook it off, facing up, lying on her back, splitting her legs again, taking invisible steps on an invisible upside-down staircase. Then, she sat on her collar bone, her back straight, so she fell backwards, her chest displaying a tunnel-like space formed by her breasts and her bra. And she went back to float in the air, holding the pole, rotating effortlessly, walking in the air, levitating in dance.
The guitar solo exploded at 2:45 exactly, which changed the chord progression to C minor 7- Ab major- F minor- G major 7, and with the pull and tug created by the music, the tension begun to rise, in crescendo toward the climax that was to happen at minute 4:15, which foreshadow the dénouement. Lily’s body was climbing the pole, moving legs and arms synchronically, gracefully, her body walking on air, defying gravity, weightless, ethereal and yet, prevailing.
The bass guitar’s vibrations curling up under the drumbeat coaxed Lily into speeding up her twirls on the pole, and she made a scissors’ movement with her legs, her groin pivoted on the pole. And she turned in the air, her body upside down, held only by her hands that one on top of the other pressed the bar as though an elongation of her arms, fused. Her feet opened slightly showing the pole, and she tapped the air, her shoes clapping against each other. She glided down to the floor again, her eyes transfixed on Liam’s, her mouth slightly opened hinting a pink tongue, and this time instead of walking on all fours, she laid on the floor, face down squiggling, heaving.
Now Lily was strolling around the pole, one foot floating, swinging back and forth, like a seesaw, and then her leg would rise to kick the air, walk like on a runway, and then she crouched in front of the pole, holding it with her two hands and opening her legs, moving her crotch towards the pole, animal-like, untamed.
The forceful solo ended at 4:23. She rolled on the floor, legs up and down, her hands caressing her breast, gliding down towards her belly, twining a finger in her belly button, taking it to graze her lower lip that one of her fingers lowered down, sensually, right after the song’s climax. And when the dénouement glided in, Lily’s movements decreased in intensity and speed, on the floor, still. With softened grace, she stood up and strolled around the pole, gave a few spins, pushed the length of her spine against the vertical rod, tilting backward and moving forward; and soon, Lily started to walk away, slow-paced, eyes appeased, a smile of bliss.
Lily at the Spinoff
Jo Ngan - dancer.
Federico Ramos- lead guitar on Stevie Wonder's ‘Cause We Ended as Lovers, as interpreted by Jeff Beck