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Steampunk Bellydance – an article and some thoughts

posted in: fusion, musings | 4

 On a discussion over in the comments section on this article on Gilded Serpent, there is some debate about whether Steampunk Bellydance is a legitimate genre of dance or not–the article asserts it is not, and some commenters argue the contrary.

One very articulate poster, going only by the name “T.”, is clearly a Steampunk practitioner/enthusiast/community member, and had some very articulate thoughts to share on her frustrations with the overuse of Steampunk in everyday parlance.  A portion of her post read:

“It’s never a good feeling, having your meticulous, time-honored craft dismissed or eclipsed by a trend you have no immediate connection to. It’s difficult not to feel uneasy, watching your art form be oversimplified, lumped in, or lazily dismissed by an all-too-easy and reductive definition. It’s not fun, being shoved in a box that you have no desire to be in, even if that box is comfortable, or even inspiring, for plenty of others who’ve willingly placed themselves inside of it.”

My reply, which I share as a founding member of the Seattle Steamrats in addition to my over a decade of teaching and performing bellydance, are as follows follows:

A. Not to be flip, but I imagine this sums up the feelings of a large cross-section of the bellydance “culture” who feel that lots of different things have been tossed into a giant pile and called bellydance, for no other reason than someone likes bellydance AND something else, and they think that gives them the inalienable right to jam them together and call it bellydance.  These sentiments ring true to artists of any and all ilk–there are always those who are trying to maintain a set of recognizable criteria and standards, and there are those who feel to do so is a constraint of their creativity. The former feels they are being undermined in their efforts to uphold their ideals, and the latter feels they are “taking it to the next level.”

I always argue that a dancer should be able to remove their costume and even the music (gasp), and those knowledgable of the style being presented should be able to recognize the dance they are doing.  I have yet to see a performance called “Steampunk bellydance” able to communicate that fusion through purely movement. Tempest and I disagree on gothic bellydance as well–I have not yet experienced something under that moniker that didn’t look simply as either simply bellydance or generally modern/interpretive dance.

Think of it. Can you recognize tap without any of the trappings? How about ballet? Flamenco? Hip Hop? Irish Step Dance?  Contact improv? Salsa? Jitterbug? Stomp?
And within these styles, experts can even discern sub-styles fairly easily.  Yet with bellydance, often we throw on a different piece of music and a different costume, and we think we can call it something else. We need to look deeper, as a community of artists, to understand what really differentiates one style from another and whether it truly is a new style, or an existing style in a new frock.

Shay and Chris at a Seattle Steamrats gathering
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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.

4 Responses

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    I’m in total agreement with you. However I feel that the insistence on gothic belly dance or “tribal fusion” (the solo version and a major, major peeve of mine) as different “styles” comes down not to the movement but the presentation. Absolutely the movement is the same regardless, but the energy behind it defines the style. I still hold that what I do is bad/weird/funny cabaret, though I get lumped into gothic/tribal fusion/alternative/etc. because of my music and costume choices and the events that I get booked for. My movement vocabulary though is almost 100% American cabaret, with other influences that taking the energetic presentation out would go unnoticed as non belly dance in an American cabaret performance.

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    A great discussion and excellent point. As a tribal girl who has found herself without a tribe this really strikes home on a lot of levels. Until I settle into a tribal home I am unwilling to be a wallflower and so I have continued to perform. I have found that the act of selecting my music and costuming has become very political and I really put quite a bit of thought into who my audience is going to be. If I am among friends and people who I know remember me as part of a respected tribal tradition I am actually willing to have a bit more fun with the costuming and music as I know they will “get it.” However, when I start thinking of dancing in a more traditional venue and for people who don’t know my background I go “old school” for both.
    I love your point about trademarking a new dance style based on aesthetics alone. I think as artists we are always trying to explain our work and define ourselves and combining that with the need to market ourselves as performers we may fall victim to labels. I absolutely agree with you that just because you sport an amazing half corset top and bustled skirt you are not a Steampunk dancer automatically anymore than a Banjara choli makes you a tribal performer. What does it mean to truly dance these sub-genres of bellydance? I love that you always keep me thinking Shay. Thanks so much for sharing this piece and for sparking the discussion.

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    My issue with Steampunk dancers isn’t with the term bellydance. It is with wearing a corset and calling it bellydance. If it is a real (boned) corset, it is designed not to allow the torso movement required for bellydance. If it allows such movement, then it is not a real corset. It isn’t bellydance if you can’t move your torso. In either case, if the dancer is wearing a corset and calling the dance bellydance, something up there isn’t real to me.
    (Sorry about the Anonymouos, I don’t understand how to link my email addy into this system.)

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    I love this post so much I want to have its babies.

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