A New and Ancient Reality
Fantasy seems to be the growing new reality for bellydance in America. Winged goddesses, mythological archetypes, masked creatures and
elementals are re-emerging from the depths of our psyches to
become the inspiration for many bellydancers in this age. Theatrical
plays, concerts, and works on video enacting famous myths or
personal dramas incorporating several dance forms are becoming
This trend has been growing steadily since I can remember,
but caught fire recently, due to the instantaneous broadcasting
of ideas and styles on the worldwide web and the proliferation
and availability of video for this generation of dancers.
Fusion, confusion and delusion are subjects which deserve their
own book. To navigate through the maze of creative fusions,
sub-genres and sub-styles in our field can be overwhelming
to new dancers trying to identify what style bellydance they
should study. Dramatic themes and the eccentric use of
movements easily recognizable as bellydance (but which depart
radically from how and why oriental dance was performed and
the cultural context in which it originally evolved) leave
many wondering which way to go.
All that defined
oriental dance of the past hundred years is often gone. Now,
the style of music that can be unrelated in any way to
Middle Eastern culture, the idiosyncratic costuming, emotional
expression devoid of eastern ideas of femininity, anatomically
bizaare postures, modern western dynamics, exteme aggression,
and unusual interpretations of even traditional music and vocabulary
can be beautiful, shocking, and entertaining - a mystical experience
or one that is annoying and puzzling..
all this mean? It just means that this dance has
taken root in a land known to be a melting pot, where
no rules and no restrictions exist. Modern technology
brings the inspiration of the entire world to our door and then
human innovation takes over. I think the latest dance
trends are nothing more than proof that change is constant,
change is a need in many and that discontent is very human. People,
including aspiring dancers, are endlessly fascinated by
themselves and by the world, and then they find an ability
to create new forms and to tinker around with what already
exists. The need to keep busy and the desire to
stand out or be recognized are common. To feel discontent,
and then to want to rise above the human condition and to transform
those around us is all part of the human condition.
in dance were at one time new thoughts, steps and feelings
- innovations which caught on once they were released
into the world. Many who relate to something find
that they want to share and preserve it. I, for example,
am a dancer who is rooted in Middle Eastern tradition, but
being a dreamer and having grown up exposed to so many
other arts and cultures led me to fuse all of them together. As far
back as I can remember, I kept one foot in alternative
dimensions, receiving visions which would later show up in
my dance. Because growth takes a lifetime, most of these visions are
still in the process of manifesting. Trying to manifest
the dream, or fantasy, of what was and what could be in dance is
my reality. I preserve traditions and honor
the past, but also venture into unknown territory and
of us have incredible potential and imaginations,
and this stage of discovery in our art form is healthy
and necessary to let us fearlessly experiment.
However, it doesn’t mean every attempt is something great
or that tradition should be wiped out. It is
always wise to study the roots of an art form and to understand that
form so that it isn’t abused or confused simply because
a dancer desperately wants instant gratification from
performing or quick notoriety for being different.
graphic by Nehmi Hanna
hope this article will shed a light to inspire and open
a discussion that will lead to greater harmony and unity
within our multiverse. The long, ancient history of dance
on the continent of Asia (especially the Middle East), where
our contemporary bellydance originates, teaches us that many
sacred dances used a vocabulary of movement that some would see
as fusion bellydance today – including gymnastics, acrobatics,
and sacred posture and gestures. Elaborate ritual choreographies
mimicked elements in nature, the cosmic play of the zodiac,
the gods and goddesses. Dancers often dressed as powerful archetypal
figures wearing elaborate masks, headpieces, and veils,
and made use of props, musical instruments, poetry
As we move
forward into the past we should remember that there are specific
lines of energy and postures that make our physical bodies
graceful, free-flowing and strong instruments. This has
been known and practiced for thousands of years, so why throw
it all out the window? To have a free, creative mind
in a restricted body is absurd, especially for an art form
which is supposed to be expansive, so caution and respect when
re-inventing bellydance technique would be wise.
of fantasy or mythological themes with bellydance may seem
like a departure from the traditional Oriental dance, but as
we go further back in time and take a closer look, we
see how this “new trend” has long been evolving quietly, in
the Middle East as well as in the West, under the radar
and away from the watchful eyes and scrutiny of the new bellydance
pervasive internet web dominates the world we live in today,
magnifying and exploding every idea and carrying it like
wildfire through the dance community. It is both a positive
and negative phenomenon. In previous decades, adventurous
pioneers in bellydance came from all walks of life and
naturally put their own unique spin on the dance. However, in
that pre-web time they didn’t and couldn’t have as far
reaching an influence because there wasn’t today's immediate
access by the rest of the dance community and the
use of video wasn’t as widespread.
of us who are drawn to create similar primal choreographic
visions can make them unique and enhance the concepts by using
unusual new musical sounds never before easily available. Even
most of us with small budgets can use the wonderful gifts
of technology that allow magical lighting effects, multi-media
visuals and the use of materials and fabrics from all
over the world for sets and costuming, as well as ideas
from once remote cultures and unknown authors. Philosophies,
history and dance styles are merging in our minds, creating
both clarity and confusion… but ultimately a potentially harmonious
new world culture.
original photo of Layla Isis by Chritopher
a personal note, I don’t blame lack of opportunity for my silence about
most of my work. I have been on the frontlines of edgy
bellydance and I did have access to media, but I chose not
to release embryonic ideas on a large scale, until now that
the fruit is maturing. I also digressed from dance for
many years in order to create genres of music that hadn't existed
before, with a new spirituality, sexuality and drama,
so that I, and other like-minded artists, could express the
otherwordly dances longing to be born.
DEMON OR ANGEL
Dance of passion, truth and lies - demons and angels behind these
Anything you desire - creatures of earth, air, water and fire.
Mermaids swim, a fairy flies - behind these eyes
can take us far, when we become who we really are .
Demon or Angel: what do you see?…. reflecting you, reflecting me .
Demon or Angel? Demon or Angel? Demon or Angel?
you can imagine is what I’ll be… tell me your secret fantasy.
So many creatures waiting inside,. waves of thought…enjoy the ride!
Tell me your secret fantasy...
has taken me to extreme places in life, and therefore,
in dance. Although I am grateful for the rich experiences I
had as an “authentic, traditional” working bellydancer, I am
more blessed by the amazing opportunities I had to do
alternative work – collaborating with magicians, shamans,
musicians, painters, singers, healers, yogis, bullfighters
and circus performers.
that the West has in fusion and fantasy is very natural
– a result of the adventurous spirit, curiosity and freedom
Americans have to experiment in all fields and therefore, of
course, in bellydance. For me, this direction began in
early childhood when my grandfather, who was a charismatic
storyteller, writer, poet and mythologist with the knowledge
of Joseph Campbell, not only read, but acted
out, the myths and legends of the ancient Near East and Mediterranean
that would become one of the strongest influences on my future.
Salome as a nightly story was the obvious one, but others are
now surfacing in my memory. My other grandfather told
me tales of the Arabian Nights.
1001 Nights carried me away from the world..Too
real from things I didn’t want to feel… I didn’t want to feel,
When I was a little girl …. Can magic lamps and flying carpets still
save me from the darkness I’ve known… I’m still pretending, dancing
in a world of my own. …
A story keeps unfolding unraveling my mind, dreams that have no end
never knowing what I’ll find…
I dance but there’s no solid ground, drunk on my imagination…All at
once I’m lost and found in ecstatic self- intoxication…
Save me, fantasy, save me tonight…Sheherazade! Save me save me
save ….Sheherazade !
I want to live the greatest story, I will believe in love and glory…
I’ll rewrite what I’ve known, create a world of my own….
When I was
just beginning to dance professionally in New York City in
the 1980s, some dancers on the scene were beginning to seek
other avenues of expression. I looked to dancers
such as Elena, Serena, Ibrahim Farrah, Valerie
Camille, Marta Zorina, Mateo, La Meri, and Phaedra. Then
I looked even futher back, to the mothers of modern dance,
who were highly influenced by the East and by fantasy, and who
innovated new techniques: pioneers such as Ruth
St Denis, Loie Fuller, and Martha Graham,
to name just a few..
original photo by Mikio Kennedy
Orientalists and fantasists spawned a generation of dancers fascinated
by the dream of Oriental dance, which, in turn, made way
for another generation, who investigated the art's roots
and traditional Eastern dance techniques. Now, many have
the need for spirituality and fantasy again - not the old harem
girl fantasy, but that of the empowered, multi-faceted woman. Many
women trying to find their strength and purpose in the dance
arts can relate to the warrior/heroine… the goddess…the priestess.
and jeweled, we undulate ,but naked is the soul.
Watch our silent language, read the secrets never told -
We sway our hips and armies fall; we conquer with a glance ,
In this dream where rhythm rules and love is the only dance
lies… Breaking the ties…. Touching the skies….
upon the womb; raise the lotus to full bloom;
Wings unfold upon the snakes and consciousness awakes.
It is tempting
these days to become a poseur, creating heroic images of ourselves as
archetypes, goddesses, or any wonderful creature we can imagine.
With the incredible graphics used in photos on DVDs and websites
…. add an exaggerated bio and one is an instant bellydance
star. This short cut can feel validating and empowering
on many levels, and can actually be a first step towards discovering
true inner strength and beauty. But it can also stunt growth
and become a trap. We must never forget one of
the greatest myths of all, the story of Narcissus, who looked
into a stream and was trapped, gazing forever at the
sight of his own beautiful face, and we must beware not to
be mesmerized by the satisfaction of our glorious, perfect, re-touched
image reflecting back at us... masking emptiness, lack of technique,
experience, and the quirky flaws we may have that make us unique.
Technology, like everything else, is a mixed blessing…the
downside is that it allows us to run from activities and experiences
that challenge our soul to grow.
have learned over and over that it is far more satisfying
to live your dreams and make them reality. To simply create
a perfect image and then hide behind it is stifling. Being
a "bellydancer” then becomes the lock instead of the key,
trapping us inside a rigid identity instead of becoming
a fluid, expansive liberating force which will hopefully
bring us closer to a state of enlightenment and compassion. It
is always a struggle to resist the temptation of the easy
Fact can not
only be stranger than fiction or fantasy but more beautiful
and more intense. What most call ordinary reality is
divine creation; more impressive than anything we can possibly
re-create or take pride in. When we realize that magick
is everywhere, we should be humbled.
visions pass before my eyes… electrifying rushes through
my mind.. I feel the stillness in the dance, bathing in
a violet trance, supreme imagination flowing free… through
my veins runs the primordial sea, magick weaves through
every cell, with every breath I touch divinity captured by
an intangible spell.
that the finest Oriental dance technique combined with elements
of classical Western dance, theatrical storytelling and soul
will one day be able to give this dance form the high regard
it is beginning to achieve. I leave you with this thought: be
inspired and courageous; imagine, explore, create magick, transform
and inspire others. Believe in infinite possibilities and variations upon variations,
In Dance As In Life….
photo by Ramu
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photo by Steven Speliotis
Golden Apple: Bellydance Stars of New York DVD Review
Released by WorldDance New York, this DVD provides
an almost spiritual viewing experience.
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 this DVD..."
and Dance Fusion, Multiple DVDs Reviewed by Jawahare
It may be a challenge to adequately achieve all three
fitness parameters while also offering a technically solid and
tasteful representation of the dance form.
3-11-08 Serpentessa –Do
not try this at home…. DVD review of "Belly
Dance with Snakes: Embody Your Inner Serpent" Review
There are things in this video I can get behind and
things I can’t. A blessing and a curse of this video is
that there is so much information that it is difficult to navigate
through it all.
Great American Belly Dance Veil Routine by
After having said all that, I must add that American style Oriental/Belly
dance is a distinctive style composed of creative elements that are simply
Wa Sahlan 2008, Not So Welcoming this Year by Yasmin
have gone up everywhere, and Egypt is no exception. The reality
hit me as soon as I walked into the Mena House. Bottled water
was $4.00, where out in the street the same bottle was $.50.
A bottle of beer was $10.00. Internet connection was $30.00 /
hour. At those prices, life's little pleasures didn't seem important
at Raqs LA, One Dancer’s Journey Back Home by
was a nice variety of vendors, mostly leaning towards the cabaret
style of costuming and props, although there were vendors catering
to tribal dancers as well. Dancing on two open stages provided
constant entertainment with a variety of performance types.
in the Phoenix, photos by Susie Poulelis, video
28, 2008, Brava Theatre in San Francisco, CA Produced by Bellydance
Presence, Stories and Advice from 30 Years Under the
Hip Belt and Counting... by Aszmara
audiences’first glimpse of you is as you arrive and how
they see you affects their opinion of your show. First impressions