a long over-due swing of the pendulum
by Najia Marlyz
believe that—only recently—the dance community is more than over-ripe
for getting back to the basics that attracted many (if not most)
of us ‘60s and ‘70s hippie-flower-child-wannabes to Belly Dance.
For over thirty years, I have written articles about dance, and
the teaching of dance, for various printed publications: Habibi,
The Bellydancer, Caravan, Lotus, and others
here and there that have passed out of existence for lack of subscribers.
However, none of them had any traction like writing my thoughts
here in The Gilded Serpent. Specifically, my articles
about teaching techniques and concomitant dancing techniques seem
to have reached into our dance community and sparked many needed
changes in a short time due to the large number of readers—worldwide.
However, traction arrives through more than shear numbers of readers,
and I see indications that the pendulum has begun to swing back
to the more sedate and emotional dance that has the power to touch
Dance is most meaningful when we define it as a communication
of mutually held emotional response and truths between people.
a unique opportunity to speak of our vulnerabilities as humans
and our finite mortality in search of an infinite immortality.
What? What the duce is she blathering about now? Well, it
is just this: Belly dance, Raqs Sharqi, or whatever you wish to
call it, is not (definitively not) on a par with any other stage
dance! It can and should be a most eclectic mixture of dance
technique, showmanship, stage-craft, skill, artistry, entertainment,
and general tomfoolery. Only the dancer who understands the language
of movement and gesture can reach the people with any valuable
message. In my experience, not one out of a dozen has ever given
a moment of thought to the simple, every day subtle gestures she
uses as they might apply to her dance.
us to Basic number Two:
Belly Dancer must have something to say—some reason to dance.
It is not
a valid reason to dance just to become a performer for the sake
of exhibitionism. A dancer must have some inner core reason
or personal mission that needs to reach out to people offering
something—perhaps solace, a healing laugh, a tearful memory, or
an emotion that touches and moves the emotions in members of the
audience. Buoying up the dancer’s own needy ego, while it
may happen and may feel deliciously satisfying and fulfilling,
should not be the focus of a dancer who aspires to be memorable
or to make a meaningful little wrinkle in the fabric of mankind.
Belly dance may be a dance of the people, but in its show
form, it is not a “folklore” dance per se. A dancer with
a full arsenal of technique and a backpack full of charm and wit
should almost never dance employing a full choreography
unless the dance is part of a troupe endeavor or an example for
instruction. At its most effective point, Belly dancing
is a real-time collaboration between a musician, his musical instrument,
his musical talent and the dancer, her skill, and her sense of
chemistry of the moment. It’s as we used to say in the ‘60s,
“a real happening.” Recently, it has been mostly a non-happening—real
dancing per se is not an art form.
Just as painting
a picture may (or may not) be a fine art, there is a lot of leeway
in this dance form to accommodate both the artist and the hobbyist.
I have seen Arab natives dance so badly that I wished I had a
video. Contrary to popular belief, not all Arabs have dance in
their blood, not all black people all have rhythm, and not all
Latinos are hot. There is no “all” in anything or anyone!
true artistry in this dance form lies within spontaneous or improvised
Much of our
Middle Eastern music is improvisation, and consequently, of necessity,
our dance must be an improvisation. Even within familiar
song tunes, a great deal of instrumental and vocal improvisation
can make the presentation a challenge for those dancers who rely
on preset choreographies for their dance. However, I am
not advocating raw, mindless, or wildly abandoned dance to unfamiliar
music. A dancer must be intimate with the music at least
on a gut level, if not an intellectual level. At the very
least, dancers must be familiar with the way in which music is
composed in order to understand and anticipate its content.
Steps and locomotion are only of secondary importance to the
form called Belly dance.
Dance is primarily a stationary dance centered upon torso movements
expressing emotions and changing themes that are evident in the
learn to just “stand still and dance”! Steps and movement
around a dance floor are elements that dancers have introduced
into the vernacular of Belly dance in order to adapt it for the
cabaret or stage presentation. Spatial movements (steps)
seem strange, foreign, and almost unnecessary to the Arabic and
other Middle Eastern cultures. (However, Middle Easterners
are not beyond opportunism, and they will attempt to give us foreigners
whatever we think we want. You want steps, you say?
…workshops? …festivals? …bizarre costumes of gaudy colors with
tasteless designs and battle-worthy construction? We have
all that and more!)
Teaches at Rakkasah in 1990
This basic element is the greatest magic of the Belly dance!
One of the most important components of Belly dancing is the performer’s
ability to become an actress for her audience. She must learn to
access her own emotional core enough to reach out to the music with
inner imagery that carries meaning and a sense of completion.
coach my clients so that they attain the ability to reach an audience
in a memorable, unique, and creative way, I have found a great
deal of help in presenting music to them as a “movie” or a “play”
with voices, dialog, plots and subplots, and above all—emotions
of all sorts.
is not an easy thing to release a dance student’s emotional
dimension, but it is a necessity to achieve excellence in dance.
is important to me for my students to understand that emotion
is a subtle thing within their dance. Emoting feelings is
not accomplished by pushing up one’s hair (sexy at times, but
is sex in the music?), closing one’s eyes and holding the belly
(perhaps a tummy ache?), tossing your (store purchased?) mane
of hair back or laying your finger aside of your nose (and up
the chimney she rose?). Just because dancer “A” accomplished
some interesting move (and it worked) does not mean that it automatically
translates to the presentation of dancer “B”.
believe in the Zen of Belly dance: either you have it in you
or you don’t.
All a teacher
or coach can do is to guide you to reveal your message and your
strengths, and perhaps, determine your career moves within dance.
There is no exercise, no practice, no magic, and no technique
or philosophy that can make a dancer out of someone who does not
show a demonstrable aptitude for using movement and expression
as a personal avenue to reach out to entertain people in a way
that moves them (not oneself).
Back in the ‘70s, I discovered that it is possible for me
to transform a competent, but dull, dancer into a dynamic and
breathtaking performer, through an simple method of musical analysis
coupled with imagery. A gifted dance coach can bring you
to awareness of the possibilities that dancers commonly miss in
or she can take your dance into a new realm of performance that
has value beyond a simple entertainment into a complex, worthwhile,
and fascinating art form.
analysis skills make an entirely new field of dreams—if you build
it, an audience will be yours and your moment will come!
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Check the "Letters to the Editor"
for other possible viewpoints!
9-15-06 The Taxim
from a Dancer's Perspective:Tarab or Tyranny? by Najia Marlyz
these improvisations can be quite elaborate. The effect is somewhat
like modern jazz and stays within the framework of the traditional
maqam or maqamat.
Dancing Inside Out
by Najia Marlyz
state of Oriental Dance in America, as it is most often seen today
in festivals and restaurants, is at a crossroads of change from
which there will be no way to return.
11-21-02 The Great American
Belly Dance Veil Routine by
having said all that, I must add that American style Oriental/Belly
dance is a distinctive style composed of creative elements that
are simply outstanding.
What Middle Eastern Audiences
Expect from a Belly Dancer by Leila
Audiences in the Middle East, especially Egyptians, see
bellydancing as something to be participated in, critiqued, and
loved (or hated) with gusto.
“The Bellydancers of Cairo”
An interview with filmmaker Natasha Senkovich by Betsey Flood
a maid you can find yourself in compromising positions—not
good situations for a woman to be in—but in Egypt, it is
considered so much better than being a dancer.