written for Caravan Magazine, November 25, 1995
The Maturation of a Career in Performing"
for Gilded Serpent, October 18, 2001
strange how our perception of things changes with the perspective
of time past. There was actually a time when I thought that the
last thing in the world that I wanted for myself and my own dance
career was to be a "forty year old belly dancer". That
aversion existed, of course, because I did not know at the time
how it really felt to become forty, nor did I know I had not realized
my potential in the field of Middle Eastern dance. I did not
hit my full stride until a decade later! When my first husband
left me for his secretary in the heat of his mid-life crisis,
I was thirty-something and professional a belly dancer with two
agents and an active clientele of dance students. I was faced
with giving it up to "get a real job" or making what
I was doing into a real full time occupation. At that time, as
any one of my friends could tell you, my goal changed to "staying
an active dancer as long as Martha Graham did (to age 92)".
That was quite an adjustment and a leap of faith!
I never really stopped to analyze was that Martha's game was
“art” and was perceived by the public at large as "culture".
Belly dancers and Oriental danseuses have been locked into long
career struggles for recognition of Belly dance as a legitimate
form of dance, instead of a chuckle in the joke of life. Is it
any wonder the ballerinas scoff at us when we ourselves rarely
approach our dance with any sort of dedication to discipline,
truth, or reverence toward the dance itself? I rarely deal with
new students who hunger for the beauty of the dance so much that
they have an unquenchable thirst for Middle Eastern travel, or
any sense of commitment to the cultures or history from which
our dance has sprung. More and more these days, Belly Dance has
become the chosen substitute for the failing marriage, the remedy
for secretary's bottom, sagging self-image, or therapy with an
appropriate psychiatrist. Yet, I have stayed beyond my original
cut-off mark because of a deep belief that there are more facets
to the gem than can be explored by the young dancers alone.
As my cat,
Grey Sea, and I roared down Interstate 80 from the family home
after Thanksgiving with the family this year, I chanced to tune
into a radio talk show. The topic of conversation was the host's
horror that his life-long singing idol, Frank Sinatra,
had over-stayed his apparent usefulness to humanity as a singer.
"His voice was shot!" he complained. "Why is it
that performers do not know when to retire? Why, when he was
only a shell of his former self, did he continue to crank out
those lousy CDs?"
he certainly had my attention! Each word he said could be applied
equally to any long-time Belly dancer. Yet, one caller after
another on the phone continued to defend "Old Blue Eyes".
One of them said he understood that the voice had gone but that
he had gone to one of Sinatra's last concerts and that it was
no longer about the fabulous voice of yesteryear or the sexy body
of the voice's owner. He said that there were hundreds of people
there and all of them had been entertained and uplifted. Undaunted,
the radio host stated that he was appalled, and that the general
public is wrong to encourage old troupers to haul out their aged
talents and thereby "destroy our memories of their greatness".
(Now he really
had my emotions stirred!)
should really retire at the penthouse of their career rather
than riding the elevator back down to the basement,"
this is really something to consider," I thought! "Maybe
Martha Graham was grotesque when she danced at 75, 85, or 90!"
I thought about the stars, Martha and Frank, as the callers continued
he did not feel he had accomplished all he could with his music
at that point," one woman offered.
he was just staying out of greed for money and applause,"
the host shot back.
I am staying for the money and applause too," I thought.
Yet, I have accomplished a new understanding and a new style to
my own performance that did not exist when I was forty. Had I
retired at that age, I would have missed all the lovely dancers
with whom I have worked and whom I have influenced during my recent
experiences. Worse, they would have missed me! Had I retired
back then, I would have been limited to the understanding of dance
that only my youthful body understood.
my body ages, I am forced to explore dance in many more heartfelt
and dramatic ways, incorporating emotional movements and techniques
that never would have occurred to me if I still had had the
nubile attributes upon which I originally based my dance.
This is where
we put-up, or shut-up, fellow fringe shakers! Either the dance
has sustaining substance, or it has only the exhibitionism of
the "body beautiful". Not that I advocate exhibiting
our deteriorating bodies and the public be damned! Instead, I
think that older dancers must search out individual ways to grow
within the dance without buying into the notion that the only
growth possible for a performer is to be all that you were… and
then some! Instead, there are choices to be made and deep changes
to be eagerly anticipated. No, I will never fully retire from
dance, as long as I can adjust and continue to evolve within my
As an audience,
we are only remiss when we force stars like Tony Bennett
to continue to warble beloved favorites such as "I Left my
Heart In San Francisco" for the millionth time. Perhaps
he would have preferred to sing a new tune more suited to his
aging voice. One would not confront the pain of comparing his
ability now to his youthful vocals. I think there is nothing
sadder than watching an aging actress or actor attempt to be a
leading love interest in a play or movie when other character
roles would better fit. Best you say to yourself, even now while
you are young, "There will always come along a dancer younger
and prettier than I, so I had better learn to emote dance and
touch the music with a magic that the public will not soon forget."
Follow the Bouncing
Butt; in Defense of a Teaching Method
Some of the
"Follow Me" teachers should be more aptly described
as "inspirationally oriented".
Scared Silly, A Letter
of Advice to a Beginning Performer by Lynette
give up on the improvisation!
2001 Lumbers Through the Bay Area with Heavy Feet by Lilly
Born and raised
in Lebanon, Lilly puzzles over an American bellydance festival
in Oakland, CA