folk and song performance by ethnochoreologist Daniela.
She had everyone accompany her by droning our voices behind
her beautiful, evocative songs.
What’s in a Name?
I attended a week long symposium on Ethnochoreology (the
study of how dance transmits cultural heritage) sponsored
by ICTM (International Council for Traditional Music). Eight
days were spent in idyllic intellectualization on issues
such as “heritagization”, folklore on the ground
vs. folklore on the stage, the role of tourism in these processes,
the politics of authenticity, the role of the media in perceptions
of dance, and many more debates to which I could regularly
supply examples from my own journeys in Oriental.
heard diverse panels discuss dance heritage issues from Cambodia,
Tonga, Croatia, Turkey, Mexico, Indonesia, and the list goes
on. There was a lot to learn about the problematic
relationship between folkloric dances and those who study
platform of the symposium is the UNESCO Convention’s definition
of dance as “intangible cultural heritage” – transmitted
orally, by imitation, or by practice.” Included on
that list are oral traditions, social practices and rituals,
mythologies, and craftsmanship. In other words, those
methods of transmitting culture that are essentially rooted
in pre-literate times, as many forms of folklore are. These
are practices and expressions that solidify a sense of group
identity in folk cultures.
this mean for us? First of all, it goes back to the
question of names and labels. I found myself in a discussion
during coffee break of Balkan dance traditions. (I’m
a native of the Balkans and a lifelong participant in the
intangible cultural heritage of Balkan dance, hence my interest
in the conversation.) One of the participants turned to me
and asked, ”What form of dance do you deal with?” I answered,
“Mainly Oriental.” His rebuttal I was not at all prepared
for…..”Oh, so you’re an exotic dancer!”
on, I approached this speaker, who holds a PhD. in Ethnomusicology
from Wesleyan University, and asked him to explain his comment. He
said “Well, you did say Oriental….”exotic, strange…other…”
Yong - the ancient deep trance ritual dance in which
a female dancer embodies a male god. We were lucky to
see it because the Islamists here are trying to stamp
it out, just like they're trying to stamp out yoga!
is a shot me learning traditional Malay "Zapin" dance
which was brought here by Yemeni traders about 500 years
twist to Zapin is that it's rather "courtly" as
a lot of the traditional dances of Southeast Asia are
anyway. There is a strict interdiction on physical contact,
in favor of rhythmic motion in groups and pairs with
prescribed postures and gestures. Very fascinating stuff
from the standpoints of cultural diffusion and dance
courtly nature of Zapin - this was a romantic dance, but
notice how far apart the dancers must remain physically.
The Zapin workshop in Batu Pahat - on a sweltering day!
it dawned on me, he was using the definition of “Oriental”
from Edward Said’s seminal work Orientalism – a study
of Western stereotypes about the East, particularly the Muslim
East – colonial attitudes oversimplifying the East, or Orient,
as “mysterious, unchanging, and ultimately inferior…the Other”. I
pressed on. “No, you don’t understand. I dance Middle
Eastern dance and the reason we call it “Oriental” is because
that’s what they themselves call the dance – Raqs Sharqi,
or “Eastern Dance”. He pressed back, further defending
his comment by stating that “Belly Dance” is used mainly
for purposes of titillation and is therefore perfectly admissible
under the rubric of “exotic”. I supplied our stock distinctions
between Cabaret and Folkloric forms, but it was too late
and beside the real point.
already managed to use my definition of my dance form against
me, to paint me as marginal, politically incorrect, and strangely
enough, to “orientalize” me within the context of that symposium
in the ways that Said describes in Orientalism. I
was now, officially, “Other”. Not representative of
any of the “legitimate” dance forms, eastern, western, northern,
or southern being represented in the symposium, but “Other”
and therefore not entitled to a voice among dance scholars. All
because of a word choice.
led me to this question: how are we supposed to talk about
our dance form? “Belly Dance” has never tasted good
in my mouth, and its history as a misnomer is now well-circulated
in our community, although it’s a label still liberally applied
by the wider dance community and the mainstream. It’s
too limiting, for reasons already well-put by Morocco and
“Oriental Dance” gave me a jolt years ago just because of
the Orientalist and PC question, but I had allowed this concern
to go dormant as my involvement in the dance form deepened
and my discourse with scholars I respect (like Morocco) developed. It
reared up to bite me later as we’ve seen.
Eastern Dance” seemed like a solution for a while, but, ultimately,
it is way too broad. What kind of Middle Eastern? Egyptian?
Turkish? Lebanese? Palestinian? Algerian? Hagalla? Fellaha?
Saiidi? Baladi? Khaleegee? Dabke? Got a few hours so I can
define my dance form to you?
about forms that may be rooted in Middle Eastern dances but
cannot rightly label themselves as such, like Tribal or Gothic? What
about fusion? Samba, Latin, Flamenco, Gypsy fusions? I happen
to enjoy good fusion projects, regularly dreaming up choreographies
that weave Balkan, Roma, and Isadora Duncan with Oriental. (Gosh,
I felt a little dirty writing that just now…) How on Earth
do I sum this up for people?
I can’t accurately name my dance form, how can I set about
legitimating it? I also attended the 22nd CID-UNESCO
World Dance Congress in Athens in July of this year. Again,
international panels, workshops, and performances every night.
was thrilled to witness the variety of subject matter, but
particularly thrilled to see beautiful variations presented
in Oriental dance – from Cabaret to Tribal (see? ah? already
some of you are protesting “Tribal is NOT Oriental!!) to
Gypsy fusion to Turkish to pure Raqs Sharqi.
Duncan-Tchiftetelli fusion was warmly received and applauded
by diverse participants and audience members. Within
the Congress, however, this was all perceptually lumped under
the simple banner of “Belly Dance”, and during the wrap-up
meeting on the last day, people gave their opinions. “There
was too much Belly Dance this year!” was the rallying cry,
plaintively echoed by several attendees, who thought CID
should stick to “real” dance forms, “legitimate” dance forms
that reflect hard work and discipline and “real” traditions.
the silencing effect has deeper consequences. Ours is a
dance mainly in the province of women, performed by glorious
female bodies and spirits. Contained within these attitudes
toward our dance is the inherent fear of women’s bodies and
women’s expression. It then becomes a political question
- an attempt to limit the expression of our female powers
as well as to further circumscribe us within the marginal
realm of the “Other”. A retrogression into an all-too-near
past of gender “otherness” that we’ve worked too hard
do we do? I submit that we won’t have much success
in reaching across to other dance forms until we’ve made
a bit more headway in reaching across internally to each
need healthy, robust debate about our dance’s identity, and
we need more scholars willing to brave the front lines of
the intellectual battle. We need to discuss, doubt
write, question, agree, disagree, and make proposals – in
the spirit of sisterhood and advancing not only the cause
of our dance, but the cause of modern-day women’s community.
in today’s day and age, women are veering further and further
away from traditional forms of community – less and less
do we bond over quilting, canning, or sewing. We have
made great economic and political strides and our participation
in our dance form is a sign of our personal and collective
evolution. What, are we going to skulk into the corner
just because a pedantic egghead can’t countenance a slice
of belly showing or a hip shimmying?
conferences were a real wake-up call for me and I’m sounding
the clarion to others. I propose we allot time during
our festivals and workshop weekends for open forum discussions
of this topic. We can avail ourselves of electronic forums
and blogs as well; the point is, let us not be silent. Let
us welcome the challenge of defining the intangible cultural
heritage of Modern Woman and not shy away from the discussion
of what we value in our dance. Inasmuch as we value our specific
forms, we should also try to celebrate what binds us together,
the joyousness of women dancing in free, beautiful, healthy,
expressive bodies. When we can strengthen our own internal
identity and present a much more unified front to the mainstream,
perhaps the era of the “Other” may be that much closer to
slipping into the past.
a comment? Send us a
Check the "Letters to the Editor" for
other possible viewpoints!
Broken Vessel by Paola
too, must believe in our movements, believe in their purpose
and message, and we must deploy them with the array of human
faculties that begin to evolve when the Art of the Dance is taken
Cairo: You live a whole lifetime in one week! by
builds bridges, and in today’s world, bridges –between
individuals and between cultures, are becoming more and more of
Roots Raqs –An International Belly Dancer Goes Home
to Macedonia by Paola
The musical folklore of this region deserves full
debut in the World Music scene, and those of us in the MED community
worldwide are ripe for the breath of fresh air that Chochek and Gypsy
Brass Music can bring us. It is an original, organic and time-honored
fusion, brought about by history, geography, and most importantly,
tolerance and mutual cultural celebration.
Festival in Catalunia, Spain June 20-22, 2008 photos
by Eulalia Grau and Janixia text by Ling Shien Bell
the third year in a row, Maria Cresswell produced a dance and music
festival honoring the Summer Soltice. This year's three day event
took place high up in the Catalunian Pyrenees, in a rustic hostel
fed by fresh springs and bordered by a rushing river.
Tours 6th Annual Middle Eastern Music and Dance Camp Report
and Photos by Nina Amaya
at Camp Greenlane in Pennsylvania, May 2008. The authenticity of
the camp is amazing. I love Rakkasah and Tribal weekends as much
as anyone else, but watching and listening to Arab musicians play
Arab music and Turkish musicians play Turkish music, well, that
adds a little something! After the nightly shows, the musicians
keep playing to the wee hours and the camp dances in the big dining
hall until we drop.
of the Tribes 2008 photos by Denise Marino
24-27 2008, War Memorial Auditorium in Fort Lauderdale, Florida
Produced by Maja
Fantasia: A New Direction by Josephine Wise
had a vision of the whole dance scene becoming one and being
aware of one another.
Mendocino Middle Eastern Music & Dance Camp 2008, Part
1 report by Sophia & Lynette
This morning the classes begin. Dinner and breakfast was quite good! The students
on scholarship working the kitchen were cheerful and surprisingly bright eyed
after being up so late last night!
5-21-08 Saturday Gala
Peformance Part 2 of the International Bellydance Conference
of Canada video and photo report by GS staff
in Act 2 : Aisha Ali of Southern California, Bozenka of Florida,
Amy Sigil & Kari Vanderzwaag of Unmata from Sacramento, California,
Tito Seif of Egypt, Aida Nour of Egypt
Part 3: The Community Response- Dream Big by Betsey
Flood, Photos contributed by Masouma Rose and Monica
did those who attended that Las Vegas event last August –the
one that strove to become the biggest belly dance convention ever
-- think about their experience? Their answers may surprise you.