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Spoon’s take on the evolution of Bellydance

posted in: history, musings | 1

Tribe isn’t as dead as many people think, and over on Shira’s tribe, there has been a lot of eager discussion about bellydance fusion and its legitimacy as bellydance. Some purists posit that it is an insult to the cultures from which bellydance comes from to change it or fuse it in any way. I have long held the belief that the nature of human culture is that things grow, change, and evolve over time just by being brought into a new environment. Nothing stays the same, and in the world today it is even more true–we are becoming a global culture where things will mix and mingle and change whether we want them to or not.

Now I *DO* agree that some fusions have moved so far away from bellydance, it doesn’t fit the genre any more. And I agree that a lot of these more recent “infractions” are being perpetuated under the mistaken moniker of tribal. But that is another topic altogether. This particular post by Spoon addresses the idea of “change as insult” quite well and I wanted to share.

“American Cabaret is the original ‘Fusion’ style of bellydance in America. You see… a dance follows the music and in this case we had musicians from all over the Mediterranean and Middle East coming together and playing music with one another. They learned or were already familiar with the music of multiple countries so as to give the widest number of people at a given venue a taste of home. When the music blends together the movements start to blend together and American Cabaret fused multiple forms of Orientale dance together into one. Was that an insult, the destruction of dance tradition, or was that a representation of the natural way that cultures interact when brought into close proximity?

Today Arab-American music and Mediterranean-American music sounds different than the its parental styles. This is because there has been yet another cultural exchange; this time it was not simply between Islamic nations, this time the exchange occurred on our home soil and in some cases a more global soil. Thus pulling in influences from all over the world. Where the music leads the dance will follow.

What we are looking at is not confined to dance, if it were it would be an easily resolved issue, this is both a generational and a cultural issue. As the music of North Africa and Asia Minor has migrated outward and mingled with other influences, as is often the case when emigration occurs, the resulting sound has reflected those changes. In America the visual result has been American Cabaret, Tribal (not specifically ATS) and then its offspring, Tribal Fusion and ITS. Each represents a stage of musical and cultural development that have evolved hand in hand over the years. What I would like to know is if some of you honestly expect that two cultures would come into contact with each other and not leave any kind of visual impact on one another.

I think to understand fusion you have to understand diffusion. Take a bowl of water and add a couple drops of blue food coloring. At first the coloring will hold to its shape within the water but eventually it will diffuse evenly throughout the bowl if given enough time. This will happen every single time you try it because that is just how the universe works. Now to get a good idea of what America is take a bowl of water and drop in just about every color of food coloring you can think of and then wait. What color comes out dominant? What happens during that span of time where you wait for the colors to completely mix together? Do you really expect that all the little colors will keep to themselves in that bowl?

…Theatrical Bellydance and Gothic Bellydance I would like to point out are not actually dance forms, ie they have no official vocabulary of movement and are actually composed of multiple forms of Orientale dance including American Cabaret, Turkish Orientale, and even folkloric dances are often featured at shows under these banners alongside performances that weigh in with more theatrics or more of the Gothic cultural aesthetic. In these circumstances it would be handy to use the term bellydance as you would never be able to clearly state what actual form of bellydance would be present.

As for Amy Sigil of Unmata… would she have started considering her dance as not belonging to the bellydance family tree if she had not felt forced outside of it? I think that if you want a little more honesty in advertising in the bellydance community that we could all benefit from it. I would like to see Turkish Orientale dance when it is advertised as such. I think it would be very amusing to see this sort of honesty applied to the non-Tribal dancers. I largely suspect that many would not be able to distinguish what movements came from where and when nearly half as well.


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Shay Moore is the director and primary instructor at Deep Roots Dance in Seattle, WA. She loves writing, movies, costuming, knitting, cooking, and bellydance to the moon and back again; and loves her amazing husband and doggies even more than that.

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    That’s been a pretty interesting discussion, I’ve been following along though not participating.

    When people say that belly dance should only be the dances from Egypt, Lebanon and Turkey that adhere to a particular style (as is outlined in that thread), and seem to assume that natives of those cultures will only recognize those dances as belly dance, I wonder: are these cultures not evolving? I wonder, would/do younger, more globalized people from these cultures maybe like some of the fusion they see? Rap and rock and electronica and cross-cultural music exchange is happening all over the world and it’s going to effect dance globally. You’ll see people still dancing the classics, and you’ll see people doing fusion and good for both camps!

    I agree that once the fusions move too far away from the original, and I’m not sure where that point is!, they should become their own style. But I think just as belly dance evolved from older dance styles that it can evolve some more and still be belly dance.

    I also want to add that our troupe (ATS based fusion) has received compliments for our dancing from people from Egypt. No, our admirers never said we were doing Egyptian style belly dance, but they did seem to think we were doing belly dance of a sort and liked the look/feel of “how it happens back home”.

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