Gilded Serpent presents...
No Excuse for
Low Video Standards!
hundreds of commercial belly dancing videos. Some are available
through Amazon.com, many through vendors, and many directly
from the dancers who produced them. With a collection of
more than 80 videos, amassed over the course of two decades,
I’ve seen the good, the bad, and the ugly.
I received a message from a dancer I hadn’t previously
heard of. She was advertising a video of her own performances
which she had compiled to promote herself.
little investigation revealed that this video consisted
of shows she had danced in over several years, mostly
festival performances, restaurant appearances, and
similar routine engagements. The cameras had been operated
by friends, family, or other amateur videographers,
mostly using equipment made for home use rather than
to someone who saw the video (I didn’t), many of the
clips were blurry, poorly lit, or abysmal in their sound
quality. Her performances were ordinary, and her stage presence
not particularly compelling. Some clips even dated from her
days as a student dancer, with corresponding student-level
dance skill shown on-screen.
don’t get it. If this dancer hopes that selling a video
will help stir interest in her as an artist, why didn’t
she create one that would show her at her best? Does she
really believe that a cheaply made video composed of poorly-filmed
shows in ordinary situations will advance her standing in
the dance community? When asked about it, she replied that
this was all she could afford. She said it was her intent
to use the money earned from selling this video to create
a second one on which she would “do it right”.
apparently didn’t realize that proceeding with this
project could put her at risk of damaging her future prospects.
Suppose her first video develops a bad reputation. When she
releases the second, the buzz will sound something like this:
anyone seen Gladys Gumball’s second video? Is it any
haven’t seen it, but her first one was so awful I wouldn’t
waste any more money on her.”
all of us when someone decides that it’s okay to sell
poor-quality material simply because mediocrity is the best
she can manage. A dancer who does this conveys the impression
that belly dancers either don’t know what constitutes
professional quality or we don’t care.
places a price tag on a video of her performances, that price
tag constitutes a claim that her material is important enough
to be worth paying for. Our dance form will attain true credibility
among the performing arts establishment only when we release
products that actually are worth paying for.
many ballerinas do you think are peddling their blurry,
poorly lit home videos as a tool for promoting themselves?
hard for my money. I don’t want to waste it on scratchy
amateur films depicting a jumble of routine gigs by someone
who is too cheap to deliver good value.
no excuse for any of us to be selling poorly-filmed footage
of our own performances unless our performing careers ended
20 years ago and we’re no longer in good enough condition
to create high-quality new material. We have the opportunity
to rent well-lit studio space, hire trained camera operators
who use professional-quality equipment, and engage skilled
editors to showcase our dancing to best advantage. Anybody
who refuses to invest the time, effort, and money into creating
a product worth buying is either:
(can’t be bothered to put any real effort into the
(believes herself to be so important that even poor-quality
film of her shows is valuable) \
(forgets that customers expect to receive their money’s
worth) Unethical (content to deliver slipshod work even
though she knows it’s not worth the price)
(willing to sacrifice quality to keep the price at rock
I truly believe that most of the offenders are probably just clueless. These
dancers mean well, but it doesn’t occur to them that customers might
be expecting video performances to be better than average. They don’t
stop to think that buyers want something superior to ordinary performances
by an obscure dancer filmed by someone who can barely operate the equipment.
they become caught up in the excitement of thinking, “I
could be a star!” or “I could make money
on all these souvenir videos I have lying around the
I can accept
vintage film from decades ago depicting historical dancers
in the Middle East or North Africa, even when such videos
have poor lighting, sound, and camera work. Such material
offers me a glimpse into a cultural legacy that no longer
exists in today’s environment of urbanization, mass
media pollution of culture, and Islamist extremism. The only
way to see real Ghawazee or Ouled Nail dancing is to watch
material that was filmed when home movie technology was extremely
primitive compared to that available today. When the video
contents are important enough, I’m willing to tolerate
a certain level of poor lighting, sound, and camera work.
insist that belly dance videos must be Hollywood-slick. Features
such as voiceover, scrolling titles, beautiful sets, and
elegant scene transitions may be attractive, but a video
can still be enjoyable without them. I value substance over
sizzle. The key is to understand the difference, and it seems
many video producers don’t. As a viewer, I can live
with plain sets and simple transitions.
I do insist on sparkling performances, adequate lighting,
decent sound, and competent camera work. These are
all essential components of substance – they
are not “optional”.
not acceptable to cut corners on fundamental quality issues
such as adequate lighting simply because someone can’t
afford the investment. Any dancer who believes this really
needs to stop and take a deep breath. It’s better to
delay the project 12-18 months, using that time to put aside
some savings, look for sources of funding such as grants
or loans, and hire affordable professional technicians. If
people volunteer to help, it’s worth taking the time
to determine whether their skills and equipment are capable
of delivering acceptable quality.
actual content of the video itself is important. I know of
at least one video on which the dancer included two different
performances in the same costume to the same song. Although
both were improvised and therefore somewhat different from
each other, they weren’t different enough to justify
including both on the same video. A dancer should beware
of assembling a video based on her own ordinary restaurant
shows because they often feature ordinary dancing. For a
commercially-sold video, the dancing should be inspirational,
not routine. This means carefully selecting music and thinking
about how the individual pieces on the video fit together
as a whole with respect to dance style, prop use, costuming,
and other elements. All performances should be polished and
get one chance to make a first impression. You have the power,
through the decisions you make, to determine whether that
impression will be positive or negative. Which will it be?
a comment? Send us
Check the "Letters to the Editor" for
other possible viewpoints!
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