Belly Dancer Yasmina Ramzy writes for the Gilded SerpentGilded Serpent presents...

Ask Yasmina #2

Handling Media, Choreography, Name Our Dance

by Yasmina Ramzy
posted 1-15-09

I receive questions everyday by email from students both in and out of town or country, and if I do not have the answers, I usually find the appropriate expert who can answer the question. It is my hope to share these answers with as many readers as possible through this monthly column as I find many have the same questions. My 28 years performing in the Middle East, teaching around the globe, and directing a Middle Eastern Dance company, orchestra, school and conference has fostered a deep love and respect for this awe inspiring art form that I love to share. I hope to be inclusive of different styles of Bellydance and offer different points of view on controversial issues. If you have a question, please ask.

Question: I know I can have control over the presentation of my dance performance when it is live at an event but how can I control how the media presents my Bellydance performance or interview be it in print, on TV or in a movie?
Answer: Often the media has a singular view of what Bellydance is. This is no fault of their own, only a lack of exposure and education. Often, they are grateful to be given another alternative. Some Bellydancers are often too quick to comply with requests that can make them appear as a tacky circus or even a comedy act instead of a dance artist. Your director is often delighted when informed that the presentation could be a lot more interesting than the ever boring and predictable seduction of the male TV show host.

Before agreeing to go in front of a camera, I make very clear to the producers that no belly button or sexual innuendo comments can be made at any time during the presentation nor any type of joking that might infer that Bellydancing is not anything but high art.

Sometimes, producers want to make a point somtimes that certain statements are true and they want you in your costume to act as spokesperson. One such point may be that Bellydance is good for pregnant women and ease in childbirth. While it may have its prenatal advantages - and this is a whole other subject - I always tell my own truth which is "not necessarily and I am not a medical expert, but......". In such examples, the producers may turn me down and find someone else who can fulfill their expectations. More often than not though, they are more than happy to present a new and wider view of their subject matter. Even if they turn me away, at least I did not contribute to perpetuating ignorance about an art form I love deeply. Not all publicity is good publicity.

Even in a live performance, the artist can usually have more control than they think. Obvious examples may be to refuse dancing on a table or receiving money in a bra strap. Saying no to such activities emphasizes the importance of your art and the respect you deserve for your years of hard work. More often than not, your host is delighted to discover that they ended up hiring a classy and respected artist instead of the non-memorable circus act they thought they had hired.

Note: I love and respect circus performers myself but often Bellydancers are held in less regard than comedians or circus performers and these artists always complain about no respect. Bellydancers need to take extra measures to counteract preconceptions instead of perpetuating them. Some comedians take dramatic roles in a movie so that the audience has a chance to judge the artist without the stigma attached.

Question: Are there rules when creating choreography concerning how many times one can repeat a certain move? Are there some moves that are neutral and some that are not? What are rules regarding the music?
big belly dancingAnswer: Improvising dance or creating choreography is for the most part, art, and therefore has no rules. Having said that, I spend many hours attempting to teach students the tricks to improvisation and creating effective choreography. Basically, all you need to know is that your repertoire of movement and your knowledge of music are the paints and paint brushes you will use to create your work of art.

There can be many kinds of intention behind choreography. When creating choreography for students to perform, the objective is to display their accomplishments gained in class such as a series of movements. In this circumstance, music will be chosen that can best accommodate the appropriate steps and repetition will be a balance between what the student can handle and not boring the audience. Because of the intention, this example is pretty much "paint by numbers choreography".

In creating a work of art that will enlighten or move an audience emotionally, the artist's intention is to communicate a message or an emotion. In this case, the artist has years of knowledge and experience which informs her/him that the colour yellow conveys something different than blue and the balance between the two colours conveys yet another message. This kind of knowledge is infinite. Experience is also a key ingredient.

It is best to first learn and practise with these tools including performing many choreographies by other people or experimenting with your own improvisation to get the experience needed to answer these questions yourself. It would be like cooking a meal from a cookbook without actually understanding the nature and properties of salt or yeast. The meal could possibly come out alright once or twice but eventually, they would to have spend the time exploring salt and yeast if they really want to be a cook. One day, you will get an inspiration that you can not wait to express. When this happens, the answers to these questions are inherent in the inspiration. 'Hope that helps.

hello I am a BellydancerQuestion: What is your take on the use of the term Bellydance / Belly Dance vs Middle Eastern Dance?

Answer: For the last few years I have been waiting for inspiration to come up with a whole new title for what I do. I used to steer completely away from any term with the word "Belly" in it. When I opened my school Arabesque Academy in 1987, I made sure that all promotional material used only the term "Middle Eastern Dance". I thought we would be taken more seriously as dance artists by not using the "belly" word.

Of course, everyday, I would get calls inquiring if we taught Belly Dance. Was I to say "no, we only teach Middle Eastern Dance"? Eventually, out of survival and the hope (or justification) of reclaiming and elevating the term, I came to allow a limited used of the "belly" word. Inspired by a typo, I thought by making it one word as in "Bellydance", it might help people think of it as a dance form like Flamenco or Tango. When one inquires at a dance school, they ask for Tango or Salsa classes but one would not ask for Belly classes. I thought this new title would still be clear about what the dance was while almost christening it with a new name. The change was subtle but I had hoped this new presentation of the term would have an effect on readers. Other people must have felt similarily around the world as I have seen it used elsewhere as well.

Today, I use both terms "Bellydance" and "Middle Eastern Dance", depending upon the audience and the mode of communication. However, I have never used the term Belly Dance. I am searching for that "other" title because I do not want to be limited to what is perceived as Middle Eastern Folklore nor do I want to be associated with Vegas type entertainment that the "belly" word often implies. So my answer is....still asking the question and still searching for an answer..

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Ready for more?

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I started my Yoga practice not long after beginning to Belly Dance. I was drawn to it and stayed with it as I enjoyed the benefits of its complementary practices. The promises of relaxation, strength, flexibility, and spirituality intrigued me and fit right into my Belly dancing lifestyle.

1-8-09 Apprenticing at ADC by Laura
At first rehearsals were terrifying. The girls were learning new choreographies and positioning and I would follow along in the back, feeling like a bit of a dolt and getting in everyone’s way.

1-6-09 2008 Drum, Dance, & Music Festival Raqs Taiwan with Karim Nagi! by Lisa Chen
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This article is for those of us that would like to delve into areas of the art form that may be beyond the usual class topics.

12-31-08 8th Annual Blood Moon Regale: Disease 101 Photos and text by Brad Dosland
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12-16-08 Whose Dance is This, Anyway? Where Do Men Fit into the Belly Dance World? by Lara
As soon as he was born, dancers of all stripes immediately started in with "Oh, a new little drummer for the troupe!". Excuse me? Why is there an instant assumption from birth that all little boys will be drummers and all little girls will be dancers just like mommy.
---Added Feature! See our Gallery of Men in Middle Eastern Dance

12-14-08 What’s in a Name? Orientalizing Oriental by Paola
He had 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”.