Local dance legend, Delilah, posted this thought-provoking question to a local discussion group not too long ago, which I thought I would share with you, along with my lengthy answer. I am curious if you are experiencing similar “issues” in your dance world, and if so, what your thoughts on it is.
I have been getting a lot of calls e mails, comments in conversation about the spark being lost in belly dance these days. Here is a quote from one dancer I got 2 days ago.
“I have been a bit out of touch with belly dance. Belly dance had served its initial purpose, and yet I was beginning to lose interest in it entirely. I guess I feel that what I see today in its representation is a lack of substance – it’s not spiritually fulfilling for me. I have nearly lost the desire to even watch others perform. “
I get constant calls from all over the country about dancers being let down by the Belly Dance Super Stars. These comments come from new dancers, long time hobbyists, professional performers and instructors, and our moms. With a name like that I guess come expectations. Not that they aren’t beautiful and graceful But these women describe a flat presentation of something that means so much to women’s lives. It’s being reduced to a Las Vegas female objectification and what color will she wear next.
The women I’ve been talking to are saying , they want more! I am frankly very inspired that women are aware enough to articulate this (when commercial machinery is so powerful against the consumer). Personally the belly dance Super Stars do not embarrass me in any way. The show is PC and well rehearsed. However if I was the director with that budget I would do it much differently.
I ask you all. What would YOU do differently?
How can we bring back the qualities that deeply inspire us?
My response after the jump…
I think it’s not just the presentation of bellydance that has changed (a la BDSS), but also the teaching of it has changed so much. Does anyone else feel like so much of bellydance marketing today, in workshops and videos, boils down to “I am gonna KICK YOUR ASS in this workshop!”? It feels like a lot of the focus of bellydancing, at least in the circles I travel in, is on a boot camp workout and uber-complex-layering-technique-as-highest-priority. It has become “the more layers and tricks I can add the better”, while somewhat ignoring personal expression, connection with our audiences, and if dancing with fellow dancers, connection and communication with each other.
With the increase in the claim of unique “formats” and “certifications”, it gives one the impression that bellydance is a formulaic, scientific study where if one just follows the recipe, they can dance.
Don’t get me wrong, I think the increase in attention to technique, and the proliferation of mentorships where teachers are taking very public responsibility for the students they are producing is a good step for the overall growth and improvement of bellydance as a respected performance art (though in my opinion not all certifications carry equal substance to back up the paper–a discussion for another time). But it’s not all there is…
I feel this boom of “technique-centric” was in response to a really important need in the community to increase our awareness of what comprises strong and safe technique, and to help us understand what we are seeing in ourselves and in other performances–why did we think she was a good dancer, or conversely why do we think that performance was weak? Being able to identify strong technique, and employ it in our dance and performance is important. But it’s not all there is! Technique is a tool to reach something a little more difficult to describe, and yet natural to attain if we really focus on it: grace, beauty, connection, energy, emotion, personal expression…THE ART of it!
We always parrot on about comparing where bellydance is in the world compared to Western forms of dance, such as ballet or jazz. We talk about all the technique they learn, how difficult it is, what a commitment it is. And that’s true. But two key points seem to be ignored:
1) They also learn expression–what story their faces and bodies tell is trained into them as well. They often also take acting classes alongside their dance to be better at that aspect of performing. Yes, it is so much dance technique, but it is not purely technical execution. And
2) Do we really want bellydance to become just like those dance forms? Isn’t part of what we love about bellydance, and what it brings to our lives, is what was lacking in other dance forms at our disposal? I know it was for me! I studied jazz, ballet, and modern, and nothing weaved its fingers into my heart quite so much as bellydance. There is a reason for that–there are aspects to bellydance which nurture us in ways other dance forms don’t. And that is what is somewhat being lost today, in my opinion.
I feel like we have lost sight of the yin to our yang. The pendulum has swung so hard in the direction of methodical, mathematical, technical, manufactured, competitive, individual approach; and away from the artistic, nurturing, connecting, heart-felt, sincere, spirit-centered approach. Of course this is a vast generalization, and is also my personal opinion from my experiences in recent years. Your mileage may vary.
Locally, I feel like we have lost a lot of the “community” in our community. We keep holding events, but they seem primarily designed around a) for-pay workshops or b) performances; and everyone seems to largely draw their own students and friends. Neither of these kinds of gatherings fully creates a chance to connect and interact with one another. As a result, there isn’t so much cross-pollination as there used to be. Something changes when we interact with one another face-to-face. We respect one another more when we more often look one another in the eye, and interact in person. We feel more connected and responsible for one another.
Within my own hands, I feel guilty at how little I have been able to facilitate community in the past couple of years. Ever since my back injury several years back which had me not able to dance for months, and pain with which I am still affected, my energy has shifted so internally to self-preserve, and I have neglected the needs of my students, my dance family, and the community at large for opportunities to connect around the dance in unique ways. This was a very high priority for me, and anyone who knows me can attest, bringing people together is something I love dearly to do. My video nights and The Gathering open dance circles fell to the wayside. Drum circles on the beach used to be a favorite opportunity to hang out, dance, laugh, chat that we looked forward to every summer–Delilah remember you and Erik coming to play with us back then? I loved seeing you guys there and getting to jam and connect. And our troupe putting on haflas also faded away. Man, those are some great memories for me!
And now with a combination of national apathy and financial difficulty, what attempts to connect us which remain are often not well attended. Which further discourages those of our community left who are rallying to keep us coming together. Delilah, you are one of those who is so great at creating opportunities for dancers of all styles and focuses to come together around unique and interesting topics and events. I feel like you are one who is continuing to do the work so many of us have not been doing, or failing in our attempts to do. I know you, too, have been suffering with lower attendance; and financially being a studio owner must also be a struggle. But you keep plugging away, and for that I personally am grateful to you for all your energy you pour into it.
Thanks Delilah, for asking this very thought-provoking question.“
I am reminding myself that I don’t need to leap back in to every detail from day one. I remember when I first began teaching, and when I told Paulette that what was most important to me was building a community around the dance. That was what I admired so much in her, and what I wanted in Seattle. So that will be my mantra, my focus as we return to class this week. I want to teach strong technique and nurture confident and skilled dancers, but most of all, I want them to enjoy one another in the process, and share in each other’s growth over the days, months, and years they are with me ..and beyond.