Fire and Ice
What makes some of our dance good, what makes some of it bad is puzzling to me. There is always a dancer who comes along whom I find just terrible, but someone, whose opinion I respect, will find wonderful. Tastes change. What I once found abhorrent often grows on me as my appreciation of the subtleties of the dance change, or according to my sense of humor at the time. However, some things never look good, never feel good. What is this about? Is our individual criterion for Middle Eastern dance so "individual" that we cannot come to an agreement? Individuality is not an issue in ballet, or in any art form with clearly understood parameters for quality, but in belly dancing, it is a real dilemma. Should we apply different artistic criteria to Middle Eastern dance than we apply to ballet, flamenco, classical Indian dance or other forms of art? I'm not talking about student recitals, informal haflas or private parties. I'm talking about large venues for which we charge admission and lead the public to expect a level of professional entertainment. If we are not concerned with general acceptance of Middle Eastern dance as another form of art, but we are content to confine ourselves to dancing for one another, then it really doesn't matter.
I recently viewed a tape one of my students brought back from a weeklong dance camp she attended. The quality of the tape, which was an amateur recording, was surprisingly good. It featured dances by teachers at the camp and informal performances by some of the participants. I sat though clip after clip of camp attendees clad in the versions of Egyptian Chic: beads, gauntlets, handkerchief hem skirts, and little wisps of veils discarded before the introduction to the music was done. There were a number of very polished dancers, but there wasn't much that was notable. However, I am pretty fussy, and this was videotape. I don't dance Egyptian modern styling, except as a novelty, and there are many, many dancers who do it far better than I do. Much as I appreciate the form, I have my own style.
However, two performances stood out like beacons in a sea of ennui.
The first was an
informal gathering where several of the guests had been
performing in full Madame Abla costumes. At a break in the parade
of dancers, a woman who had been sitting in a group of people on the
floor stood up and moved to the center of the circle. She was wearing
jeans, a tank top, and some sort of healthy looking shoes, slip-ons,
not conducive to dancing at all. She had obviously been overtaken by
I can only think of one other time I have been so moved by a film of a dancer. In live performances I have been moved to tears many times, but only twice on film!
The second performance
was by an instructor and took place in a larger, more formal area. The
musicians, a much larger band that included clarinet, had obviously
been instructed to improvise. The performance, one must believe, was
also improvised. It could not have been further from the earthy, basic,
traditional style of the dancer in jeans. This was a highly stylized,
interpretive performance that left me wondering just
The dancer was a
tall, thin woman with long black hair cut similarly to Xena the Warrior
Princess. She took the stage in a long heavy, bias cut skirt of something
that sparkled like the night sky and hung heavily in graceful folds
along her body. Her top was a short tank of chain mail, lending a rather
gothic look to the whole ensemble. She had a beautiful girdle of coins
that clung gracefully to her slim hips, with chains of coin hanging
down onto the folds of the skirt. She had impressive, voluminous veil
of dark silk sort of wound around her in disarray. Standing very still,
as the music began she slowly spun around in a widening circle of skirt,
veil, hair and arms. At the end of her spinning, she arched her back
and reached forward with one long leg in a movement reminiscent of Egyptian
dancers on the tomb walls. Then she did some more business with the
veil, seeming to have trouble disentangling herself from it. She stopped,
did a vibrating
If you had come to this performance expecting to see Middle Eastern dance or Belly dancing, you would have left confused and disappointed. Of course, that is not the case. People at the camp knew what to expect. I didn't.
Be wary of embracing those who tell you they KNOW the deeper meaning of this dance, are the "Keeper of its Truth". We all contain precious parts of it, but none of us contains it all. As it changes, it moves like the proverbial python, like the glaciers, and like life itself, slowly, very slowly. It has fashions that come and go, but the essence of it will always involve a dancer, a rhythm and an audience. Remove one of these elements and it dies. However, I am a proponent of the KISS technique….(Keep It Simple, Sweetie)! If it is odd, unusual, profound AND connects with the audience, fine, fine. If not, then we need to ask ourselves if we aren't asking too much from something that was doing well long before we came along. However, if it stinks; it stinks. Bad entertainment is bad entertainment; no excuses!
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Festival West: Sunday Photos
by Susie Poulelis
Festival, West: Saturday Photos
by Susie Poulelis
Festival, West: Friday Night
Photos by Susie Poulelis