ad 4 Fahtiem


Sashi at Tribal Fest 2006
photo by Michael Baxter
The Spirit of the Dance:
A Response to the Criticism of my Tribal Fest 2006
“Pierced Wings” Performance

by Sashi

I was originally hesitant to write this article regarding my Tribal Fest 2006 “Pierced Wings” performance as I personally believe that a performance should not have to be explained by the artist, rather it should rely on what it evokes in others.

 However, I feel that the Gilded Serpent articles, “Sashi-kabob” and “Weird and Beyond”, misrepresent my intentions and serve to illustrate a larger issue that our community struggles with, the ability to constructively critique one another.

The “Sashi-kabob” article focuses on the most irrelevant and non-bellydance related aspects of my performance, including the gauge of the needle I was pierced with and how sterile the field was. Further, its title and URL sub header (sashisushi) appears to be an attempt at humor but, only further illustrates the lack of understanding of my piece and respect for me as an artist. I am saddened to say that the writer of the “Sashi-kabob” article, Lynette Harris, Gilded Serpent editor, did not view my piece in its entirety. Had she done so, she would have heard the introduction which humbly illustrated my intent to combine aspects of two “tribal” communities into one dance piece. I am also saddened by Barbara Grant’s piece entitled “Weird and Beyond” as this article makes glaringly negative generalizations about differing communities and social issues while appearing to hide behind the veil of religion.   Nevertheless, I am pleased with the good and bad responses both have prompted.

It appears that my performance and the subsequent articles written have sparked ongoing commentary on the following topics; the differing sub-cultures which exist in our bellydance community, the understanding of the many cultures that influence our dance, body modification vs. self mutilation and lastly, our critical thinking of one another as a larger dance culture.  

On the first issue, our combined bellydance community, my comments are simply that within any community subcultures naturally form (i.e. Tribal Fusion, American Tribal Style, Egyptian Cabaret, Folkloric, Gothic Bellydance, Gothic Tribal Fusion Bellydance, etc). While the Tribal Fusion Bellydance Communities and the Cabaret Bellydance Communities may share a common umbrella regarding title, each tends to be showcased in venues that usually do not cross over into one another.  

When invited to perform at Tribal Fest 2006, I accepted, knowing that I would be performing my piece for a Tribal Fusion Bellydance audience.

Lord Muruga
Because our Tribal Fusion Bellydance community is so heavily influenced by the aspects of “Tribalism”, which includes a strong identity to the ideals of open, egalitarian and cooperative community, I felt that my piece would be appropriately understood within the paradigm of our Tribal community. It was, as I have received many positive comments regarding how moved many audience members were by my performance. It was never intended for a Cabaret Bellydance audience or venue and therefore does not warrant judgment utilizing paradigms common to cabaret Bellydance yet irrelevant to the Tribal Fusion Bellydance community. Furthermore, my piece was a combination of characteristics of two forms of “tribal” communities. It is imperative that all of us realize that we venture into cultural appropriation when utilizing aspects of different cultures for our dances without fully understanding the nature and context of their meaning.

In my piece, I knowledgeably brought two styles together, both of which came from “tribal” cultures, to illustrate and educate my community about what the truest “tribal” cultures practice and how.

The first aspect of what I brought to my dance was inspired by the Tribal Hindu Thaipusam Festivals of Malaysia in which individuals “bear burdens” or  “kavadi” which can include the practice of piercing in many forms to show devotion to the Hindu deity, Lord Muruga.  These festivals occur with tens of thousands of people attending the three day event cultivating at the Batu Caves. The second aspect is Tribal Fusion Bellydance, a dance form which is an amalgamation of many styles of dance and culture layered on a foundation of morphed classical bellydance

Thaipusam participant carrying “kavadi”
moves. All of us, whether a Tribal Fusion Bellydancer, Cabaret Bellydancer, Folkloric Bellydancer, etc., utilize “tribal” aspects of communities such as the Kuchi tribes of Afghanistan, Ragistani of India, Sudanese of Sudan, etc. Do you always know when you are wearing an African fertility charm, an Afghani marriage necklace or what the markings on your face or bindi truly signify?  

When you dance a Guedra or Zar do you realize what spirits you are calling to you or attempting to excise or appease and why?

 Most importantly, please consider that any non-Middle Eastern person who performs any style of Bellydance is taking from one culture, ancient and current, and attempting to represent it within the context of their own culture no matter where it is performed.   On the aspect of body modification versus self mutilation, it was never my intention to make this issue a focus of my performance, however, due to the misinformed and naively generalized opinions of the writer of the “Weird and Beyond” article, I am compelled to address this subject. On a basic level, self mutilation, also known as self injurious behavior, can be described as the act of deliberately destroying body tissue often times to relieve severe feelings of emotional overwhelm, inability to cope and/or dissociation. Body Modification, on the other hand, is the knowledgeable decision to decorate or adorn oneself according to aesthetics which include, but are not limited to, piercings and tattoos, etc.  

Western culture engages in many forms of body modification such as breast augmentation, facelifts, liposuction, rhinoplasty, body building, shaving, cutting/coloring hair, getting manicures and pedicures, etc.

Any change in the body in order to make one self more socially attractive is body modification. Therefore, to generalize that self mutilation and body modification is the same is to misunderstand human nature.   Lastly, and most importantly, is the larger issue at hand, the constructive critiquing versus negative judgment of each other within our community. In the bellydance culture we are thought to embrace the divine feminine or creative aspects of the self. It is disappointing to see how the two articles about my performance did exactly the opposite of that.  

My performance was intended to showcase the act of “being”, a connection with the divine feminine focusing on the aspects of creativity, intuitiveness and deep introspection, hence the trace-like state I entered into as I connected within myself and cultivated the spiritual energy to share with the audience.

Carl Jung
These two articles focus more on the rational, functional and outward aspects of my piece, or what can be considered the more masculine side of the divine. In the “Sashi-kabob” article, the size of the needles and the sterile field were focused on and the “spirit” of the performance missed. The “Weird and Beyond” article focused even further on pathologizing or dissecting to understand the aspects of this performance, also ignoring the divineness or “spirit of the dance” as a whole. Truly, I believe that this speaks to an overwhelming aspect of our community in which we engage in the negative analysis and critique of one another as dancers (masculine or “doing” aspects) while not balancing this out with our supportive communal nature (the feminine orbeingaspect).   Carl Jung asserted that each of us embodies unconscious feminine (anima) and masculine (animus) aspects which act as guides to balance the unconscious Self (i.e. Yin and Yang, Shakti and Shiva). While balance between the two is the eventual goal, an imbalance between the two can initiate the projection of the missing aspect (anima/animus) outwardly onto others in order to illustrate which aspect is out of balance. In this case, I would like to posit that the divine feminine or anima aspect of the bellydance community is collectively projecting itself in an overtly animus or masculine way so as to illustrate to us as a community that we appear to have lost balance with anima, or loving and kind aspect of the feminine. This is not to say that constructive criticism or honest dislike does not have its place in our community.

It is to say that the truest nature of our dance, the connection with the divine feminine, is being neglected and is requiring a conscious move toward balance between its anima and animus.

In conclusion, perhaps this is the Bellydance Community’s “collective unconscious” unifying to illustrate a call to all to attend to the aspects of how we treat each other and how we can better cultivate the productivity of the spirit that originally brought us to this dance. Namaste.

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Ready for more?
6-9-06 Weird Rituals and Beyond: Exploring Current Controversies in Middle Eastern Dance by Barbara Grant
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What then, do we do about a teacher who has been misled, apparently, concerning the history of our dance?

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