Studio Work with Some of My Favorite Dancers!
Photos and text by Michael Baxter
posted June 4, 2009
Lynette recently asked me for up to a couple dozen or so of my belly dance photos and since I have about 1 million, I thought that ought to be easy. As I started to form this collection, only then did I realize how incredibly hard it would be. For one, I have met and photographed hundreds of fabulous dancers and I’d most definitely have to leave someone out whom I really do love. Then, in order to show as many belly dancers as possible, I would certainly have to limit picking one photo per belly dancer.
Half a decade ago, I remember that soon after I first met Michelle Joyce, I discovered that I was truly ignorant about belly dance, and that it was an enormously deeper art than I had ever imagined. I had technical photography skill (or so I thought at the time), but I did not have very much knowledge about the dance, nor the belly dancers.
I actually felt ashamed, because Michelle had really opened the door for me and now I could sense how enormous belly dance was and how little of it I knew.
The first step is learning. So, from that time onward, I vowed I would learn as much as I possibly could from each lovely dancer, and especially the teachers whom I was privileged to meet.
Ultimately, it became very helpful as a photographer to take belly dance class from a teacher so that I could understand how the movements work to the music, why things are done, what the setup moves are, and so on.
I didn’t do this a lot, and I’m a terrible dancer in that I can shimmy but that’s about it; my footing for traveling is just terrible and I get left and right mixed up a lot. But the learning I had via Sandra and Setareh was very providential for understanding belly dance. What I learned enabled stronger cognition of each belly dancer’s movement vocabulary, and the ability to sense faster.
After that, belly dance became much, much deeper than a sense of inertia and muscle memory. There was one day, about two years ago, I was covering a show with Sandra when time appeared to slow down to me … a lot. All of a sudden I was overwhelmed with "seeing" Sandra dance in a kind of slow-motion … this was a novel and uncanny sensation that I was not used to. My camera though, was stuck in some other parallel universe that ran even slower, it was definitely not keeping up with what I could see.
In actual fact, this was only the beginning of new sensation, an entirely new dawn. I’ve had an extremely large number of non-ordinary experiences in belly dance and these have been quite helpful to the photography work. Most of these have been trance-like, or a unique psychic connection, with the dancer. It’s taken me a long time to even understand and then explain these things, but now in belly dance, experiences that would be considered non-ordinary have actually become normal and routine for me.
What might not be generally realized is that if you ever have obtained a really good photograph with Single Lens Reflex (SLR) camera, at the time that photo is taken, you literally cannot see it. Now this is no less true for bad photography, but you don’t see what’s recorded because in a SLR (or DSLR, for a digital camera), a mirror lifts up to block a pentaprism that provides your view in the viewfinder. This effect is called viewfinder blackout and depending on the type of camera, it can be very quick, or not. But at the moment exactly when the photo is recorded, you cannot see with your eyes what the camera sees.
There are, however, other ways to "see." If you can sense the dance in a manner connected with the dancer, then the dance becomes an unbroken whole. When you are psychically "tuned" to the same sensations and movement, they appear hyper-real, and time becomes meaningless. The camera in that instance is merely an electro-mechanical device that does your bidding. The hyper-real dance is one where the shutter opening is a rendezvous with the belly dancer, both arriving at exactly the same moment in time concurrently. Taking the photo in this manner is not anticipation, it’s KNOWING. There is no shutter blackout when sensing the dancer directly as she is herself — everything appears continuous, more real than real, and basically the photographer is merely a witness to a cascade of numerous beautiful events. The "great shot" is plural: many are accessible as a consanguinity of arrival times that are concurrent.
From this and many other similar experiences while photographing belly dancers, I have come to know the joy of the dance very personally and it has affected me deeply.
I sense this joy is a kind of light within and that maybe it could be the belly dancer’s true nature … unburdened from any existential worry, completely free to move with the music. If true, this seems to be a much better light source because it both reveals and shadows what may be seen as herself, the dancer.
The photos in this small collection are some of the "unseen photos," generally from 2007 and after. I hope you may like them.
Ready for more?
3-31-09 Mina’s 1001 Arabian Nights,
1001 Arabian Nights started with asking several of the community troupe directors and teachers I’ve known over the year if they would like to create a show with me. They all seemed very excited about the prospect of doing something "different" in the dance community.
- 3-2-08 The North Valley Belly Dance Competition- 2007,
Held on November 10, 2007, in Oroville, California, event produced by Carolee and David Tamori. It was an exciting contest, covering five categories: Novices, Intermediates, Troupe dancers, Solos and Live Solos. Live music was provided by Doug Adam’s amazing Light Rain.
- 7-30-07 Belly Dancer of the Year Pageant 2007 Sunday Photos
Event produced by Leea. The competition for the Finalists.
- 6-21-06 Photographic Review of the 33rd Annual Bellydancer of the Year Pageant
This show has some wonderful traditions.
- 12-2-05 A Photographer’s View, The North Valley Competition 2005,
It was an exciting contest, covering five categories: Novices, Intermediates,Troupe dancers, Solos and Live Solos. Live music was provided by the amazing Light Rain.
- 5-29-09 Carl Capture Character: Rakkasah Festival East, Friday Evening Dancers,
help October 17, 2008 in Somerset, New Jersey. Bianca, Willow, Tempest, Leila Haddad…
- 5-28-09 Through the Eye of the Camera
This photo exhibit captures moments and scenery of Delilah’s most recent Visionary Belly Dance Retreat, which took place in Hawaii, Janurary, 2009.
- 5-26-09 Bellydancing Fashionably
Always remember that you’re representing a country’s culture! Sometimes, less is more; sometimes, more is less.”
- 5-17-09 Ahmed Adaweya My Introduction to Shaabi
Where once he was known as a master plumber, he had now become a master of Saltana.
- 5-14-09 Know Your Venue, Style & the Savvy Performance Artist
Personally, I believe that to pull off something dangerously edgy and thoughtfully shocking (while still providing entertainment) you might need to offer them something as well. Something like, oh, say…skill!