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Make New Friends & Keep the Old

Response: A Dance Perspective for Today

April Rose

by Miles Copeland
posted February 11, 2013

A response to comments made below Mile’s previous article here.

After living in the Middle East for 25 years and continuing to work in the region for music and dance, I have a pretty good idea of what talent and creative ideas exist in the region. Additionally, with the Bellydance Superstars, I have produced over 800 shows in 22 countries and a few festivals as well as Club Bellydance dates; so, at this point you could say I have a large body of experience about the business side of bellydance.

Whatever naivete I may have had at the beginning has long since been beaten out of me, and the world of reality (especially financial reality) has been beaten into me on a daily basis. So, replying to comments comes not from what I would like to have been reality but what reality actually is – as I have experienced it.


Regarding including a live band into the BDSS shows:

On the live band front, all I can say is: Add the cost of musicians, added crew, set up time, equipment, additional transport, hotels, salaries, etc. and you are talking about ticket prices more than tripling to pay for these added costs. Most likely, it would be a recipe for the company to go broke twice as fast! I am sorry to say so, but when I hear people make comments such as: “BDSS needs a live band”, for purely financial reasons, I consider them as a cuckoo-land critic.

It means one would have to restrict the music of the show to be what one band could play, meaning that all sorts of music would not be available to use in the show. A band that can do genuine Arab music convincingly would be out of their depth when it comes to what our Tribal dancers require.

Regarding incorporating folkloric dance into our show:

Although, on one level, one can appreciate so-called "folkloric dances" for what they are, at the performing arts level, in competition with major dance shows, I am sorry, but these dances are as boring as they appear easy to do; hence, they are called "folkloric". To the trained eye and those who are knowledgeable, folk-dancing actually may be difficult, but to the untrained eye they may appear too simple and easy, so why would I want to pay to see them? A juggler may juggle 4 balls while the average person can’t keep even three in play, but in a world of Cirque du Soleil, unless you can juggle 10 balls while riding a horse upside down, you are not in the game. There is not one Middle Eastern folkloric company that can compete and win before a Western audience–and none have ever done so! Perhaps a one-off date here and there has been successful, appealing to a largely ethnic audience, but certainly with no consistency, as a show like the BDSS needs.

So, I beg to differ on the opinion held by some that folkloric styles would deliver a large potential audience.

If one is talking about a small gathering of 100 people, this is minute in the world of the mainstream where 1,000 people in the audience every night 5 to 6 nights per week is a minimum to be in the game in any real way (and even that would not be considered a home run by most promoters).

Meanwhile, at the risk of offending some bellydance experts, I contend that bellydance, as it is performed today, is not a folkloric dance, and I would also contend that it did not stem from any folkloric traditions that I have seen. Today’s Bellydance is way too "sexy" to fit with what Arabs consider an acceptable dance for women to perform in public. That is why it is generally accepted in parts of the Arab world that it is a dance akin to prostitution. Of course, although I find this idea highly offensive and untrue for many, there is no doubt that it is the accepted idea for the majority of the Middle Eastern population. If you think I am wrong, just ask any of the Arab bellydance teachers who live in Egypt or Lebanon.

SabahFor those who live in the belief that there are "folkloric" roots to bellydance, I ask simply, “How do you equate the fact that Arab women are covered from head to toe with only eyes showing as a mark of correct morality and even ones wearing Western dress now almost all cover their heads with a scarf?” The entire moral thrust of that society is about control of women through "modesty", and let’s face it: Bellydance is not a dance of modesty! No Arab family would want their daughter or mother doing bellydance outside the home, which is why the dancers performing in the Middle East now are 99.9% non-Arab. Furthermore, it is not getting any better.

Let’s not forget that the first thing that happened in Cairo with the "Arab Spring" was all the clubs that had bellydance entertainment were burned down.

In short, as I see little connection between what is folkloric dance in the Middle East, and bellydance as we know it, I see no reason to feel that I need include folkloric in a BDSS show to somehow have more accuracy or credibility to my audience. If we develop a piece incorporating folkloric elements (and we have done so in past shows), just as we might incorporate ballet, Polynesian or other styles it has to be because it works within the piece and is there because it works and for no other reason.

Regarding expectation that our dancers have other dance skills besides Bellydance:

Finally, regarding what you need to be able to do as a professional dancer certainly means connecting with the audience and the music. However, for a show like the BDSS presents, you also need to be able to do complicated choreography accurately, which means absolutely that you need to be able to chaine across the floor properly. The idea that the basics of dance are not important has been a major factor in keeping bellydance from being taken seriously by other dance arts, and I know is a pet peeve many noted bellydance teachers have as well.

The truth is: a really good dancer (who is serious about dance) will be able to both connect with an audience and the music and also, be able to chaine accurately or whatever else is required. I would go so far as to say if a dancer cannot chaine across the floor, then she is not serious about dance.

If that offends, then so be it, but that is the reality. Meanwhile, if you want to be able to do a prestigious show with refreshing choreographic ideas, you need dancers who can execute those ideas, or all you do is limit the choreographer to work within the limits of the dancers. Why hire dancers with limits when you can find ones that have everything?

The whole point of the BDSS is to push this art form to excellence beyond what others have done; so why would I want to refocus on what bellydance has been: bellydance that you can see any day of the week and has been done repeatedly. Why relive old news as if that were something good? Been there, done that! I really don’t get the idea that bellydance has to live in a box with myopic rules set in the past. Any art that is worth anything will only blossom when new creative ideas are welcome rather than shunned out of hand. Of course, not every new idea and fusion works or advances the art, but some do and that inspires more to try. That experimental effort keeps bellydance interesting and makes the art ever more relevant to today’s dance world.

I believe in the idea of the song lyric: "Make new friends but keep the old; one is silver and the other–gold."

I would translate this idea to dance as: “Keep the basic resource of bellydance as one’s ‘gold’ but add the new takes on that art as one’s ‘silver’.” Together, both make for a better show than only one.

BDSS does a fan dance


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