and Reason Series, Article 14
Mary Ellen Donald
published in Bellydancer Magazine in 1978 as part of an ongoing
This magazine was published by Yasmine Samra in Palo Alto, California.
Revised for Gilded Serpent April 8, 2006
We have all
heard a lot of talk during the past couple of years about the
need to raise standards within the bellydance profession – the
need to convince the public that bellydancing is a genuine art
form, not just the hoochy coochy.
I’m disturbed about the ways in which many of you have attempted
to achieve these goals. You seem to think that you arrive
at excellence by throwing in the word ‘art’ every time you mention
have you heard a dancer say that she performs the “art of ballet?”
Actually, saying the ‘art of bellydancing’ isn’t even lofty enough
for many; it has to be ‘la danse orientale’, ‘la danse du ventre’,
or at least ‘oriental dance’. Others go one step further
and seem to assert that you are raising standards by wrapping
yourselves up in ten layers of cloth.
When you see
a performance by someone like Dalilah
of Las Vegas, some will call it entertainment, others will
call it ‘art’ – I call it good. When a great performer
weaves his or her magic, labels become secondary. Bert
Balladine prefers to call himself an entertainer and says:
believe the title ‘artist’ is one which can only
be bestowed on a performer by the audience.”
In my opening
remarks I’ve said “you” instead of “we” because I’m not a dancer;
I’m a musician who dances. Now I’m going to turn to my
part in all of this. Up to now, I’ve kept silent about
some very delicate issues for the same reasons I would suspect
motivate other people with influence in the bellydance world – political
reasons, fear of endangering the growth of my business,
wanting to be considered nice in order to be well liked.
Anyway, I’d like to share some of those withheld perceptions.
have cautioned me against using psychological terminology and
difficult concepts in my writing. In short, I’m being asked
to believe that bellydancers are a bunch of dummies. I don’t
accept that. I think that many of you for your own personal
reasons have allowed yourselves to be misled by some of the leaders
within the bellydance profession.
powerful tool used to mislead is bellydance journalism.
specifically to the write-ups about conventions, workshops, and
shows. When reports about such events give the illusion
of being critiques, trouble is close at hand. After
exploring this issue a bit, I’d like to propose a new way of handling
news and evaluative write-ups.
me ask you what you think and feel when you read a write-up similar
to the following:
demand, _____ has returned for fifth convention in _____.
The event was a great success. Participants flocked from
ten surrounding states. The classes were fabulous.
The Saturday night show featured the sponsor’s troupe, which
dazzled the audience with their array of fascinating costumes
and authentic presentations of exotic village dances.
Our special guest was stunning, graceful, and very exciting.
The sell-out crowd gave six standing ovations during the performance.”
Some of you
probably stopped reading such write-ups long ago. I’m sorry
to have to remind you of their existence. I’ll answer my
the article is talking about one particular instructor I have
in mind, then ‘by popular demand’ probably really means the instructor
called up the unlucky sponsor and begged, threatened, or demanded
that she be invited back.
ten states’ could mean that there were ten people at the workshop
and each person came from a different state. ‘Fabulous instruction’
could mean that one hour’s worth of material was skillfully stretched
into six hours. The show featuring the dazzling troupe might
very well have lasted for five hours with the standing ovations
coming when the audience mistakenly thought the show was over
and were overwhelmed with joy at the chance to escape. I
don’t mean to be Miss Cynic because actually I’m quite a joyful
person usually. What I mean to say is that many times our
reporting of events and the true character of the events are often
hinder our own growth with such reporting because we don’t have
the chance of learning from past mistakes. If an instructor
is a fraud, incompetent, or just plain mean, every dancer in the
country has to experience that ripped-off feeling personally before
the instructor’s business drops off.
think that some instructors ought to be run out of business,
I have some petty personal grudge against anyone but because some
instructors-performers-merchants make thousands of dancers all
over the country feel bad. They turn off many from seeking
instruction in the context of seminars and workshops. Many
lose out because of the greed and antics of a few.
inferior instructors and performers in a good light in print leads
readers to question the credibility of the publication.
Indiscriminate and excessive use of praise renders praise meaningless.
For example, Bert tells me he once found himself in the absurd
position of receiving a rave review of a performance he never
can I be motivated to put forth my best when I know that much
less than my best will evoke great praise?”
I’m not advocating
taking the opposite tack as a solution – unrestrained negativism
in describing events. That would be still another way of
leaving good judgment behind. We need to distinguish between
news and evaluations. Sponsors of events and guest instructors
at these events are fully qualified to write up brief reports
on who did what, where and when, for publication. However,
neither the sponsor nor the instructor should pretend to be a
critic of his or her own event. They can pay for
advertising space and say whatever they wish about themselves.
it comes to evaluating or writing critiques on such events, this
should be done by a qualified critic who spells out his or her
criteria for judging, then proceeds to comment on those areas
which are significant indicators of talent.
it will be difficult to find such a critic because of the rigid
encampments that exist in many sectors of the bellydance world.
If a qualified critic cannot be found for covering certain events,
then the event should just be written up in the matter-of-fact
style of a news article. I don’t think that we should overdo
the evaluative writing. I think we should be very selective
as to what warrants or who warrants a critique and do a good job
with those few. Of course, it’s a little scary to open yourself
to the critique of a qualified outsider rather than evaluating
your own performance, instruction, or merchandise. I know
for myself that I love to write glowing reports about my own work
or ask one of my supporters to do the same.
I think if our profession is to mature at all, I and many others
have to give up such self-indulgence.
Even if I’m
the first one to experience the negative critique, I’d like to
say that I wholeheartedly reject the position of one editor who
brags that he will never print anything that puts down anyone
or any event. Two years ago when I participated in a horrendous
show that was written up as a smashing success, I knew that I
rejected such an editorial stance. It has taken me a long
time to admit it.
to the news articles and critiques, I think there is a third type
of write-up related to a convention or workshop that should appear
in bellydance publications. I would call this the human
interest story. Many humorous or touching things take
place during big events.
sharing such moments, we foster warmth and openness within our
I’d like to
close with such a note. As I’ve been giving workshops in
various parts of the country, I’ve been deeply moved by seeing
the sharing of the workload among my sponsor, her husband, her
assistants and their husbands. Something very special takes
place when men and women work together like this. Just as
people use to say that behind every great man stands a strong
woman, I’d like to say that personal experience leads me to believe
that, with few exceptions, behind every woman successful in the
bellydance world there stands a man who is caring and strong enough
to be supportive. With encouragement and support from others,
we can all achieve much more.
a comment? Send us a
Check the "Letters to the Editor"
for other possible viewpoints!
7-20-06 About Cymbals
& a Workshop Checklist, Rhythm and Reason Series, Article
13 by Mary Ellen Donald
it or not, playing cymbals can be a real pleasure. Playing them
well can greatly enhance your dance performance. Playing apologetic
or offbeat cymbals can ruin your dance performance.
On the Subject of Critique
Critic; Real Critics Don’t Mince Words by Najia Marlyz
Either we are a sisterhood of ego therapists and our instructors
are politically correct in all they say and do—or we are
tough artists in search of ways to improve our art form by ruthlessly
weeding out the lame from our herd.
Emperor’s New Clothes by Yasmela/ Shelley Muzzy
Until we see ourselves in the context of a larger society, no
one outside of our community will accord us the respect we desire.
the “Agony & The Ecstasy” by Nisima
It’s an unnerving experience to be “critiqued”
by your peers, but my personal opinion then and now is that
when you perform in public, critiquing just goes with the territory
Art? by Najia Marlyz
It is possible to be an artiste in a non-art form
in the sense that one may be skilled, professional and artistic
at the business of entertainment.
God Belly Danced: Belly Dancers
in the First Century Banqueting Tradition, Part 5, by DeAnna
So, like in the Old Testament Book, belly dancing can
at times be connected specifically with wine and viticulture
A Meeting with Hallah Moustafa,
Haute Couture Costume Designer in Cairo by Milena Miklos
I’d heard there was an American costume-maker living
in Cairo, but her clients prefer to keep her name a secret.
Shades of Goth Fall Upon
Belly Dance Gothic Bellydance: The Darker Side of Fusion DVD
Reviewed by Amulya produced by WorldDance New York. "There
have been heated discussions on several Belly dance forums about
In a New England Snowstorm,
Hopes of Spring...Amel Tafsout, workshop review by Rachel
some point, one collapses into a dream, but this dream world is
the most real of realities.