Gilded Serpent presents...
Died and Made You
Queen of Dance?
by Najia Marlyz
Rather than a burr
under my saddle, it was a source of delight when I received the
email (several years ago) asking me the question: "Who died and
made you Queen of the Dance?"
To me, the question meant that I had struck a nerve
with my comments, and I imagine that the response was supposed
to make me feel ashamed of myself and my "careless, thoughtless
words" written-not on Gilded Serpent but in a time-eating chat-room
on the Internet!
It concerns me,
more than just a little, that the current common sentiment is that
one is not entitled to express one's opinion openly and
freely. Further, one's authority to have or form any opinion
is also called into question. Additionally, few days ago,
I received another email from one of my former students, containing
a forward from another Internet chat-room of which she is a member. The
statements contained in the forward were explosive fuel for my
thoughts: "Who are they on Gilded Serpent to criticize
and write critiques of our work, anyway?" one dancer whined. The
answer from another person was even more prejudiced than the writer
could have envisioned: "They are probably just dancers whose
careers just never took off."
"Now there is a
sensitive someone with some very sharp judgmental feelings!" I
thought to myself as I read onward. Later it occurred to
me, as the group continued discussing their old credo: "If you
can't say something nice about someone, you shouldn't say it at
all" that it apparently never dawned on any of them that the majority
of the dancers who write columns for Gilded Serpent, or any other
have had very long and successful careers in dance.
Just because these particular dancers had not heard
of the critics or known about their careers as dancers, did
not invalidate their authority, erase their history, or the
expertise that brings these critics and writers to extend themselves
to the dance community in the painful labor of writing
a critique of someone else's work.
Sometimes the works
assigned to the critic are excellent and inspirational, but more
often than I would prefer, they are mundane, uninspired, and produced
as a cash cow to be milked. The assigned works to be subjected
to review are quite difficult and time consuming to audit repeatedly
in order to produce the written critique. Early in Gilded
Serpent's existence, I wrote a few of these, mainly because nobody
else would volunteer.
However, without exception, I can say that it was thankless
toil that required more tolerance than I cared to give to someone
else's endeavors when I have so many projects of my own on
my desk and my career docket.
However, it is
not easy or simple to find people to write their own career stories
and anecdotes-let alone write what amounts to promotional material
for the work of others!
Even a negative
review of someone's work becomes free advertising for the object
or event being reviewed; also, this is time spent in an altruistic
way that does nothing to win friends and positively influence people
about one's own career. Had I wanted to become a critic,
I would have actually become one and, perhaps, gone to a journalism
school. It is good to remind yourself when making commentary
on the quality of writing in a trade journal: these writers are
not primarily interested in writing or they would have made their
careers in writing. Instead, they are usually dancers, former
dancers, and dance instructors who have been asked to share freely
their time, opinions, and expertise as volunteers in a forum without
Would it be unkind for me to point out that the persons
in the chat room felt free and qualified, however, to criticize
for the sake of prattle, but none were game to take on the
task of making a real commitment to their points of view enough
to submit their opinions in writing to worldwide public scrutiny?
You cannot have
it both ways, dancers; if you want to be part of an art form, you
have to treat our dance as if it were one. It cannot masquerade
as a therapy, coated in protective wording. If you want to
be considered professionals, you are obliged to withstand the slings
and arrows of negative comments as well as accept the supportive
bouquets of roses from those who have been involved in the field
for much longer than you have, whether you know their names or
not; this is not Mayberry, and we dancers often do not know each
Recently, I was
speaking to a group of dance students attending my workshop about
so-called "veil-work" in American Belly dance. I mentioned
that Loie Fuller had given the west a tradition of working with
materials incorporated into her dance that is now firmly imbedded
in our collective western dance psyche. I stated that it is natural
for the western dance artist to have contributed a fancier form
of "veil-work" than is contained in the authentic work of the original
ethnic dance of the Middle East, because of the work Loie started. "Who
is Loie Fuller?" I was asked. "Is she a local dancer?"
I was incredulous
(but did not say so)! As I described Loie Fuller's
career, her contribution to dance, and the hatred and discredits given her by her contemporaries,
I realized that many of today's dance students have very little
interest in the dancers of the past that are still famous in the
dance world, like Isadora Duncan, Ruth
St. Dennis, Mary Wigman, and Martha
Graham. However, far worse than that, I also realized
that we are part of a dance form that has garnered very little
creditability from other dance forms even to this very day! Moreover,
there was a whole different genre of performers to whom we owe
our history-such as it is.
performers to whom I refer were actresses and singers such as the
stalwart La Belle Otero, beautiful Anna
Held (who was Zigfield's lover), infamous Mata
Hari (Yes, she was a real person.), petite silent movie
actress Theda Bara, Mussolini's mistress-the gorgeous
actress and singer Lina Cavalieri, and Lys
Cordova (who posed for many a portrait in Middle Eastern-styled
costuming). All of them, and many more, played roles in the
theaters of Europe and America and left a lasting impression, all
be it largely fantasy, of the essential Belly dancer.
Could they dance? We
can only wonder because, for the most part, there is no existent
recording of their performances. Like all the other exquisite
and breathtaking performances of the past, they are gone-into the
stratosphere without a trace. We can only trust those who saw them
and wrote about them that they were outstanding, unique, and moving.
Can we trust those writers? Who died and left
them the title of Artistic Judge?
I think that there
is literally no other form of dance whose well known major instructors
never really have been performers at all. They have progressed
from the classroom strait into their own brand of teaching! This
lack of background basic performing experience would be unheard
of and un-tolerated in any other dance form.
Most dancers who
have performed for many years, as I did, had at least a few memorable
gigs without compare from which they could garner rich experiences
to pass along to their dance students. I cannot chose only
one among the many I treasure as being the apex of my career, but
certainly, among those I cherish most, for instance, was the gig
I did for Variety Club International, arranged by the agents of
Disneyland. In this contract, I was on the bill with The Meraklithes
Greek Band with which I had been performing for a number
of years and also with Ted and John Sofios who
were Greek dance exhibitionists and enthusiasts. We were
performing before a packed house of hundreds of famous media performers,
actors, and actresses at the Fairmont Hotel Ballroom in San Francisco. A
special stage for one person, high on the sidewall highlighted
by a spotlight from the back of the hall, was built for my dance. In
those days, many people were smoking and my spotlight cut through
the blue haze like a laser light and lit me as never before! I
do not think that anyone else's career-even La Belle Otero's-could
have been more thrilling than those moments were for me. The audience
was comprised of over two thousand people, and as I waited in the
darkness for my spot to flash across the hall, peering off the
edge of my lofty stage front, I saw below, face after familiar
face of well known and not-so-well-known actors and actresses from
both film and television, alongside other celebrities from their
industry! There were many older stars such as Gregory Peck,
John Wayne, Carey Grant, Jane Powell, Loretta Young, Roy Rogers and Dale
Evans, and Ozzie and Harriet Nelson and
newer ones from that current era too. The sight caused the nape
of my neck to tingle.
Oh, yes, I have
had a career (that certainly "took off") and it was not in the
field of writing; many other dancer/writers of whom you may never
have heard have had similar experiences. So, I respectfully
request that until you are mature enough as a performer to form
an artistic sense of judgment, which you are fully prepared to
defend, daring enough to express your opinions and artistic judgments
openly, and share them with the world in writing, that you take
care not to denounce and diminish the efforts of those who do as
invalid simply because you have not heard of them.
a comment? Send us
Check the "Letters to the Editor" for
other possible viewpoints!
more from Najia-
List of Recommended CDs, 2004 update
and compare this list to your present collection or take it to the
next festival to help you find these treasures!
Music and Me: The Third Sunday at El Morocco, Photos and story
provided by Faridha, Written by Najia Marlyz
musicians, whether hot or just luke warm, always confront the dancer
with a set of variables.
New Year's Dance
The 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.
West Festival Photo Teaser March 2004, Richmond, California
by GS Volunteers including: Biram, Clare, Cynthia, Krista, Lynette,
Michelle, Monica, Sandra, Valentino, Yasmine and probably more! Let
us know if you recognize faces!
2 of Photos
by Ram, the Featured Stars, Aida
Nour & Magdy El-Leisy, and Wafaa
Dallas, Texas, January
9-11, 2004, sponsored
by Little Egypt