The Belly Dance Police
posted January 3, 2011
"I am become death, destroyer of worlds"
– Bhagivad Gita
In any field of endeavor, you will find them. Those who set themselves up as self-appointed guardians of the faith. Those who strive for their version of "racial purity". Those who will argue incessantly about absolutes in a relative universe. In my involvement with a different dance form, another troupe prided themselves on their precision and authenticity. Unfortunately, their dancing was not particularly engaging as they danced with no joy whatsoever. But they were authentic as could be and their director never lost an opportunity to tell any and all of this fact.
"The only thing that I know, is that I know nothing."
In Belly Dance, these killjoys are often referred to the "Belly Dance Police". They are found backstage at any Belly Dance festival, on-line on Belly Dance discussion boards, personal ‘blogs, social networking sites such as FaceBook or MySpace, and professional Belly Dancing websites worldwide. The only thing they have in common is their disdain for anyone who doesn’t share their view of "how things should be ™" and are only quicker to tear each other up than to criticize and try to destroy anothers dream of beauty.
Beginning dancer: knows nothing.
Intermediate dancer: knows everything; too good to dance with beginners.
Hotshot dancer: too good to dance with anyone.
Advanced dancer: dances everything. Especially with beginners.
-Attributed to Dick Crum, a folk dance teacher
The great Greek dance researcher and choreographer, Dora Stratou, sought to preserve and protect the indigenous dances of Greece. And indeed, she did a wonderful job – sitting in the audience of the Dora Stratou Folklore Theatre in Athens, one cannot help but be awed by her accomplishment. Yet at the same time, what one sees there is a dead thing, a thing no-longer living. Like a resurrected dinosaur from "Jurassic Park", many of the dances presented are beautiful fossils out of time, preserved forever in stone.
Is this what we want for our art? Do we want a petrified dance form that is only done, can only be done, one way? If so, whose version shall we use?
At what point in the continuum of space-time shall we take this snapshot, and what interpretation shall we employ? Egypt, c. 1925? Lebanon, c. 1970? United States, c. 1893? Or perhaps Mesopotamia, c. 5,000 BCE? You’ll find proponents for all these, and more. The only thing they’ll agree on is that everyone else is doing it wrong.
"Its all in Plato, all in Plato. What *do* they teach them in these schools?"
– Professor Digory Kirke, "The Last Battle" by C.S. Lewis
This type of absolutist thinking is what has destroyed the world’s major religions, to use but one example. The same Belly Dance "scholars" who rightly decry the absolutism of the populist monotheistic religions draw the next breath and say "My way of dancing is the only true way ™."
Contrast this to the IDIC concept: Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combination. Many people will buy into this philosophy, at least "on paper". However, a quotation found online by a guy who calls himself "The Satirist" observes:
"We claim to celebrate diversity, but when faced with diversity we complain. We try to teach our children to think ‘out of the box’, but when faced with someone who actually does, we criticize. We should be glad that we live in a country that allows ‘Freedom of Expression’".
In no way should these comments be construed as criticism of those legitimate dancers and dance scholars who want to be true to a form, a style, or an idea, yet do NOT proclaim themselves as the Goddess’s gift to Belly Dance and tear others down in order to (attempt to) lift themselves up. They do not remind everyone how important, and authentic, they are at every breath; nor do they shrill about their agenda at every opportunity whether or not their comments are either appropriate, or even on-topic.
Indeed, the legitimate purists are the first to cheer on a dancer of another style, another aesthetic, another vision. Their dancing is full of life, laughter, and joy, because they know what the true purpose of dance is.
They know their particular chosen purity of dance is only so in relation to all others. Everything in the universe is relative to something else – these dancers "get it". They know that, as a performance art, their performances are all about the audience and that the audience doesn’t CARE what’s authentic or not. As one of my teachers, Janette Benedon-Brenner says, "they want to FEEL something!". Authenticity, and the advanced technique we ALL strive for, is for the benefit of other dancers.
Janette adds that "technique is the articulation of your expression. The expression itself being the outcome."
Our dance would be poorer if, for instance, we didn’t have the Carolena Nericcios of the world. Her development of ATS (American Tribal Style) has spawned a whole plethora of new genres of "Belly Dance", bringing opportunity and joy to countless dancers. Mention should also be made of dancers such as Alexandra King, who can tell you exactly what is authentic (or not) for a given style; yet dances many styles herself. "Old Skool American Cabaret" dancers such as Cory Zamora of Fresno and Siwa of Santa Cruz can tell you the what, where, why, and how of the various components that make up the amalgamation that is "American Cabaret" style. They can tell you the "who" also – for instance the Middle Eastern contingent who insisted on the dancers performing veilwork which, as any killjoy can tell you, is "oh so inauthentic".
The fact of the matter is, nothing in the universe is constant: except change. "Inauthenticity" becomes "authenticity" over space/time – and vice versa.
The killjoys also argue incessantly about semantics – either decrying terms such as "Belly Dance" or trying fruitlessly to define them, such as "Tribal". Semantic arguments are a total waste of time – the naysayers may be completely correct from a technical standpoint – but the terms are what they are and no amount of politically correct posturing is going to change them anytime soon. Frankly, I think the semantics are a waste of time, breath, and energy. The only definition I’ve seen that is pretty useful and absolute is the one for "ATS" – and that’s only because same is still quite new in the greater scheme of things. 100 years from now, it (the ATS definition) will be a bit more fuzzy.
"Would a rose…"
If someone finds fulfillment dancing "for the Goddess" in a troupe which is all about "empowering strong women", why should the self-annointed Belly Dance Police tell them they have it all wrong? They have a vision, a passion, a joy, a completeness in their quest for beauty. Who’s wrong are the self-righteous who "rain on their parade".
A quote I found on an enthusiast’s board for a topic totally different from Belly Dance shows these types are endemic everywhere (slightly paraphrased):
"There’s actually a term for people like that, its clinical narcissim. A couple of people like that travel the boards telling other people how stupid and ignorant they are and bragging about their experience. If anyone says anything they perceive as contradicting them, they get an inbox full of flame. Every profession has them and they believe themselves to be gods. When they do answer a question, its often something that anyone could have answered, but they do it in a way that makes it sound like its beneath them. Many times they don’t pay attention to what is actually said and totally miss the point. I’ll listen to them because you can often learn from other’s mistakes, but I’ll have a cargo container of salt handy. I’ve occasionally had doctors like this, and despite their best care and several trips to the emergency room, I’m still alive."
In conclusion: Dancers who are driven by a vision should not allow anyone to deter their passion nor ruin their joy. The naysayers need to get a life and get over themselves; the less attention paid to such people, the better. The ancient Delphic commandment instructs us "Know Yourself". Know yourself, know your audience, know your vision and – full speed ahead and damn the torpedoes!
Ready for more?
- 4-9-09 A Quest for Beauty, Part 1: Beauty is Discovered
My wife of 17 years asked, "You’re going to do…. what?"when I told her of my desire to take Bellydance lessons.
- 9-10-09 A Quest for Beauty, Part II: Damn the Torpedoes and Full Speed Ahead! by Zorba
I recognized that "femininity/masculinity" was an entirely artificial construct, and femininity/masculinity was based on reality, i.e. biology.
- 3-3-10 A Sense of Humor: It can Help! Quest for Beauty, Part 3 by Zorba
What follows here are several humorous anecdotes. Some of them are about being a male in a female dominated field while some are merely about being a Bellydancer in the first place. My first rule concerning being weird ("weird" as evidenced by some reactions to my previous articles) is to have a good sense of humor!
- 12-28-10 Sahra Goes to Egypt, Follow Your Dreams by Amina Goodyear
Getting to know Sahra through the years I came to realize that all her richness and wealth was in her commitment to the dance and to the culture adjoining it. Like many artists, in many fields, she sacrificed for her art and she was always trying to find ways to share her art, her knowledge and her love of Egypt, dance and music.
- 12-25-10 20th Annual BDUC 2010 Photos: Category Winners! Photos by Carl Sermon
Here are the champions of each category from the various contests held throughout the weekend. Gina, Dilek, Rachel, Katya, Jane, Melanie, Mireya, Roxanne, Viridiana, Wiiz
- 12-16-10 Dance for Dancers by Leila Farid
Art created for other artists will evolve differently from art created for the masses.
- 12-14-10 Tribal Fusion: An Evolving Dance Form by Jasmine June
The biggest contrast between ATS and Tribal Fusion was that improvisation was the basis for ATS while Tribal Fusion, at least in its earliest phase, had a strong emphasis in choreography. This allowed Jill Parker to play around with musicality and to explore musical genres that were appealing to her.
- 12-8-10 Cecilia of the Bellydance Superstars, Gigbag Check #25
Cecilia of Argentina shows us her makeup kits and talks about how dancing with BDSS is fulfilling her dream. Brief glimpses of Cecilia dancing with the company. Filmed February 2009 at Marin Civic Auditorium
- 12-7-10 Photos from the 20th Annual BDUC 2010 Saturday Night’s Judges Celebrity Show, Photos by Carl Sermon
This is the 20th year and was held in the Long Beach Convention Center. Saturday night’s show featured all the workshop teachers and the judges for the many competions. More of Carl’s lovely photos from the competitions are yet to come!