Spirit of the Dance:
A Response to the Criticism of my Tribal Fest 2006
“Pierced Wings” Performance
originally hesitant to write this article regarding my Tribal
Fest 2006 “Pierced Wings” performance as I personally believe
that a performance should not have to be explained by the
artist, rather it should rely on what it evokes in others.
I feel that the Gilded Serpent articles, “Sashi-kabob”
and “Weird and Beyond”, misrepresent my intentions and
serve to illustrate a larger issue that our community
struggles with, the ability to constructively critique
“Sashi-kabob” article focuses on the most irrelevant and
non-bellydance related aspects of my performance, including
the gauge of the needle I was pierced
with and how sterile the field was. Further, its title and
URL sub header (sashisushi) appears to be an attempt at
humor but, only further illustrates the lack of understanding
of my piece and respect for me as an artist. I am saddened
to say that the writer of the “Sashi-kabob” article, Lynette
Harris, Gilded Serpent editor, did not view my piece in
its entirety. Had she done so, she would have heard the
introduction which humbly illustrated my intent to combine
aspects of two “tribal” communities into one dance piece.
I am also saddened by Barbara Grant’s piece entitled “Weird
and Beyond” as this article makes glaringly negative generalizations
about differing communities and social issues while appearing
to hide behind the veil of religion.
I am pleased with the good and bad responses both have prompted.
appears that my performance and the subsequent articles
written have sparked ongoing commentary on the following
topics; the differing sub-cultures which exist in our
bellydance community, the understanding of the many cultures
that influence our dance, body modification vs. self mutilation
and lastly, our critical thinking of one another as a
larger dance culture.
first issue, our combined bellydance community, my comments
are simply that within any community subcultures naturally
form (i.e. Tribal Fusion, American Tribal Style, Egyptian
Cabaret, Folkloric, Gothic Bellydance, Gothic Tribal Fusion
Bellydance, etc). While the Tribal Fusion Bellydance Communities
and the Cabaret Bellydance Communities may share a common
umbrella regarding title, each tends to be showcased in
venues that usually do not cross over into one another.
invited to perform at Tribal Fest 2006, I accepted, knowing
that I would be performing my piece for a Tribal Fusion
our Tribal Fusion Bellydance community is so heavily influenced
by the aspects of “Tribalism”, which includes a strong identity
to the ideals of open, egalitarian and cooperative community,
I felt that my piece would be appropriately understood within
the paradigm of our Tribal community. It was, as I have received
many positive comments regarding how moved many audience members
were by my performance. It was never intended for a Cabaret
Bellydance audience or venue and therefore does not warrant
judgment utilizing paradigms common to cabaret Bellydance
yet irrelevant to the Tribal Fusion Bellydance community. Furthermore,
my piece was a combination of characteristics of two forms
of “tribal” communities. It is imperative that all of us realize
that we venture into cultural appropriation when utilizing
aspects of different cultures for our dances without fully
understanding the nature and context of their meaning.
aspect of what I brought to my dance was inspired by the Tribal
Hindu Thaipusam Festivals of Malaysia in which individuals
“bear burdens” or “kavadi” which can include the practice
of piercing in many forms to show devotion to the Hindu deity,
Lord Muruga. These festivals occur with tens of thousands
of people attending the three day event cultivating at the
Batu Caves. The second aspect is Tribal Fusion Bellydance,
a dance form which is an amalgamation of many styles of dance
and culture layered on a foundation of morphed classical bellydance
my piece, I knowledgeably brought two styles together,
both of which came from “tribal” cultures, to illustrate
and educate my community about what the truest “tribal”
cultures practice and how.
All of us, whether a Tribal Fusion Bellydancer, Cabaret Bellydancer,
Folkloric Bellydancer, etc., utilize “tribal” aspects of communities
such as the Kuchi tribes of Afghanistan, Ragistani of India,
Sudanese of Sudan, etc. Do you always know when you are wearing
an African fertility charm, an Afghani marriage necklace or
what the markings on your face or bindi truly signify?
participant carrying “kavadi”
importantly, please consider that any non-Middle Eastern person
who performs any style of Bellydance is taking from one culture,
ancient and current, and attempting to represent it within
the context of their own culture no matter where it is performed.
aspect of body modification versus self mutilation, it was
never my intention to make this issue a focus of my performance,
however, due to the misinformed and naively generalized opinions
of the writer of the “Weird and Beyond” article, I am compelled
to address this subject. On a basic level, self mutilation,
also known as self injurious behavior, can be described as
the act of deliberately destroying body tissue often times
to relieve severe feelings of emotional overwhelm, inability
to cope and/or dissociation. Body Modification, on the other
hand, is the knowledgeable decision to decorate or adorn oneself
according to aesthetics which include, but are not limited
to, piercings and tattoos, etc.
you dance a Guedra or Zar
do you realize what spirits you are calling to you or
attempting to excise or appease and why?
culture engages in many forms of body modification such
as breast augmentation, facelifts, liposuction, rhinoplasty,
body building, shaving, cutting/coloring hair, getting
manicures and pedicures, etc.
change in the body in order to make one self more socially
attractive is body modification. Therefore, to generalize
that self mutilation and body modification is the same is
to misunderstand human nature.
and most importantly, is the larger issue at hand, the constructive
critiquing versus negative judgment of each other within
our community. In the bellydance culture we are thought
to embrace the divine feminine or creative aspects
of the self. It is disappointing to see how the two articles
about my performance did exactly the opposite of that.
performance was intended to showcase the act of “being”,
a connection with the divine feminine focusing
on the aspects of creativity, intuitiveness and deep introspection,
hence the trace-like state I entered into as I connected
within myself and cultivated the spiritual energy to share
with the audience.
two articles focus more on the rational, functional and
outward aspects of my piece, or what can be considered the
more masculine side of the divine. In the “Sashi-kabob”
article, the size of the needles and the sterile field were
focused on and the “spirit” of the performance missed. The
“Weird and Beyond” article focused even further on pathologizing
or dissecting to understand the aspects of this performance,
also ignoring the divineness or “spirit of the dance” as
a whole. Truly, I believe that this speaks to an overwhelming
aspect of our community in which we engage in the negative
analysis and critique of one another as dancers (masculine
or “doing” aspects) while not balancing this out with our
supportive communal nature (the feminine or “being”
Jung asserted that each of us embodies unconscious feminine
(anima) and masculine (animus) aspects which act
as guides to balance the unconscious Self (i.e. Yin and
Yang, Shakti and Shiva). While balance between the two is
the eventual goal, an imbalance between the two can initiate
the projection of the missing aspect (anima/animus) outwardly
onto others in order to illustrate which aspect is out of
balance. In this case, I would like to posit that the divine
feminine or anima aspect of the bellydance community
is collectively projecting itself in an overtly animus or
masculine way so as to illustrate to us as a community
we appear to have lost balance with anima, or loving and
kind aspect of the feminine. This is not to say that constructive
criticism or honest dislike does not have its place in our
is to say that the truest nature of our dance, the connection
with the divine feminine, is being neglected and is requiring
a conscious move toward balance between its anima and
perhaps this is the Bellydance Community’s “collective unconscious”
unifying to illustrate a call to all to attend to the aspects
of how we treat each other and how we can better cultivate
the productivity of the spirit that originally brought us
to this dance. Namaste.
a comment? Send
us a letter!
Check the "Letters to the Editor"
for other possible viewpoints!
Weird Rituals and Beyond:
Exploring Current Controversies in Middle Eastern Dance
by Barbara Grant
If you are like me, (I know that many are not)
you first responded viscerally and negatively to both situations.
Then, as the shock wore off, perhaps you tried to make sense
of it all.
Tribal Fest 2006,
May 19 in Sebastopol photos by Susie Poulelis
Performances from Saturday late afternoon including:
BlackSheep, Sashi, InFusion...
Sashi - Kabob by Lynette,
Warning, possibly disturbing graphics!
The punctures appear to go under the skin into
the subcutaneous fat layer and not through muscle tissue.
The Photos of Saroya Ahlaam,
March 2006, Rakkasah Festival, Richmond, Ca
...she was a replacement at Rakkasah for a no-show
and did a great job! I was so impressed with the crystals
on her costume. You could see them sparkle from the back
of the auditorium.
The Photos of Susie Poulelis,
March 2006, Rakkasah Festival, Richmond, Ca
were treated to an improvised drum solo by Shoshanna
in the foyer
Belly Dance, Burlesque
and Beyond: Confessions of a Post Modern Showgirl by
Princess Farhana (Pleasant Gehman)
WAIT!!!” I can hear you screaming, “ BURLESQUE
Teacher by Reanee Temple
then, do we do about a teacher who has been misled, apparently,
concerning the history of our dance?
The Sacred Surprise
of Tribal Fest 3 by Shahana Cartahi
I now understand, in retrospect, that I had been really
drawn to Tribal Fest 3 for another reason.
Tribal Fest 3 photos
Event produced by Ellen Cruz and Kajira, held May
17 and 18, 2003, in Sebastopol, CA