Nearly six months ago I quit my teaching job with a large local belly dance school for a lot of reasons that I don’t need to go into here. But the quitting allowed me to become more upfront about my growing frustration with belly dance as a product and the changes in the way it is marketed and sold.
For every Kiwi dancer who thinks deeply about what it means for us to use and represent a Middle Eastern dance form, there seem to be half a dozen who think they can and should do whatever they feel like with belly dance because this isn’t the Middle East. Strap on a hip scarf and wobble about, for it is party time, and who cares about the Middle Eastern bit because Middle Easterners want to take away our votes and swathe us in black from head to toe, dontcha know.
Belly dance is reduced to moves, completely disassociated from its cultures of origin and repositioned as reflective of a new separatist culture that draws, depending on its mood, from gothic/steampunk/”alternative”/BDSM/this week’s “edgy” trend.
Despite my transculturalist position and continued insistence that there is *no such thing as authenticity*, despite my full knowledge that when I say “100 percent Middle Eastern” that’s a lie and a fantasy too, a kind of authenticity is what I crave. I want to get back to the real. I want dance that is up close, not on a stage, I want Om Khalsoum and shisha and dancing because it is beautiful and pleasurable and for everyone. I see a little hope in the growing interest in Turkish dance and oldschool American Cabaret, even though I’m too old and big for all that bouncing, myself. I want Cairo and Istanbul and hell, San Francisco 1973. I don’t want to see you waggle your butt with a burlesque bow, calling yourself edgy. I don’t want to see you lock and pop in a bikini with a dreadlocked sporran on top. I don’t ever want to see a fan veil again.
I want to see you *belly dance*."
“Belly Dance for the Brain.” : Seeking Something Real. N.p., 11 Jan. 2010. Web. 16 Nov. 2012. <http://zumarrad.blogspot.com.au/2010/01/seeking-something-real.html>. (via antsinmypants)
not sure how i feel about this. this article seems to imply that tribal and fusion styles are a blight on the dance form, which i think is unfair. i realize there are problems with cultural appropriation and racism, but i don’t think we can discount the good things that have come from the tribal movement. i admit that i get a little exasperated with some of the more “experimental” pieces i’ve seen, but i also think it’s great that people are pushing boundaries and are finding/creating a dance form that fits them.
this may not be how other people view it, but i’ve come to view “belly dance” as the umbrella term that arches over egyptian, turkish, ats, fusion etc. maybe it’s just my western perspective, but i think it solves the “authenticity” dilemma—it can be belly dance without necessarily being strictly middle eastern. i understand that we should credit the dance’s place of origin, but i don’t think we need to put a hold on innovation and creativity. i don’t think someone doing an experimental fusion piece should call themselves a middle eastern dancer, but i think calling it belly dance is ok.
but i guess part of the problem is that nobody agrees on what belly dance is. when is it supposed to be authentic and when is it ok to go your own way? is ever ok to manipulate the dance into something completely different from its origins? what does calling it belly dance entail? and how much obligation do we as westerners have in representing this dance? maybe we’re just overthinking the whole issue and should just dance and enjoy ourselves!
I understand the original poster’s frustration. I, too, get frustrated with the pick-and-choose approach to belly dance, taking the movement vocabulary and severing it from its cultural roots. It’s one thing to present a fusion performance because a dancer chooses to do so; it’s another entirely to present a fusion performance because one doesn’t know any better or thinks that they don’t have to learn the more “traditional” stylizations because they’re a “fusion” belly dancer. For example, if I don’t play finger cymbals in a show, it’s certainly not because I don’t know how; I’ve made a conscious choice not to play them. A well-educated and well-rounded belly dancer will be knowledgeable in many stylizations, and if she (or he) is presenting fusion-style performances, she should definitely be able to perform in the more ethnically-rooted stylizations.
Self-examination regarding this issue is VERY important, and I don’t think we’re overthinking it. Both the presentation and perception of belly dance are wrought with issues of feminism, cultural appropriation, orientalism, and self-exoticism. We can’t just go along as practitioners of a dance form with blinders on pretending these issues don’t exist and then expect to be taken seriously by practitioners of other dance forms or the general public.
I believe that the more knowledgeable we are about the dance and its roots then the better we can make educated and informed decisions about how we present ourselves as dancers. Fusion should also be a choice made after many years of study. Personally, I think I could have waited a while before making the foray into Tribal Fusion. Many famous dancers perform fusion forms of the dance, but these dancers are also very educated in belly dance’s more folkloric and “traditional” stylizations. Many of them have studied “cabaret” belly dance for years, performing at private parties, restaurants, and nightclubs. They have made a conscious artistic choice to deviate from those stylizations, but also stay close to the cultural roots of the dance through continued training and workshop attendance.
I’m also of the belief that education, training, and knowledge will give you greater freedom in your artistic choices rather than hindering it.