New Fusion Energy in Taiwan
by Lisa Chen
Images courtesy of Kelli Li, Liang An and Lisa Chen
posted September 28, 2011
Part I. Dream-Come-True: A Changing Path for Bellydance in Taiwan
As I was about to become Aubre Hill’s translator for her first workshops in Taiwan, I met her for the first time. She told me candidly, “I am a very verbal person!” So, five minutes before the first session began, I realized that during the next three days, I could expect to undertake an extremely challenging (as well as mind-blowing) stream of translation.
Indeed, it is a challenging and inspiring experience for me to be a translator for many foreign dancers and instructors during their visits and workshops at Taiwan. I didn’t anticipate it, and after the three-day project, I realize that I had become truly wide-eyed and inspired by this talented artist.
When I first learned about Aubre Hill, it was through a referral by Kelli Li, a dance friend of mine. (Kelli Li is also a talented young dancer.) She found Aubre through YouTube and immediately fell for her fusion style. I still remember that Kelli asked me if there were any chance that local dancers or instructors would sponsor Aubre to teach at Taiwan. That was two years ago and, frankly speaking, there was no market for a young fusion Bellydancer in Taiwan at that time!
Back then, our local Bellydance community was infatuated with “big brand-name dancers” and were lacking awareness of what had made those big names so big: dance and teaching technique, knowledge, and attitude.
Moreover, Fusion Bellydance has been a compelling (and yet tricky) issue for local dancers because most of them didn’t recognize the fact that a proper fusion of Bellydance with other dance forms or elements requires more than doubling one’s efforts and understanding! A truly competent Fusion Bellydance would mislead the eyes of the audience members and lead them to believe that such effortless ease and seamless fluidity comes without being earned.
As time has passed, the local community has found itself on a changing path. The heavily choreographed dance trend remains the staple of the main stream while increasingly, local dancers (and instructors as well) have begun to realize that there is something else in addition to set notations of dance movements to learn.
Somehow, when Kelli told me this spring that she was going to invite Aubre to Taiwan, I had a mixed feelings toward the idea. While I was happy that Kelli had a “dream-come-true moment”, I was slightly worried about how the local community would respond to Aubre and her workshops.
Because Kelli has both passion and training in dance and marketing, she had always aspired to combine the two things she loves so much. She thought out an innovative way to promote Aubre in workshops and performance by posting information on Facebook and providing e-registration for workshop sign-ups.
Though Aubre was a relatively lesser-known artist, with such a highly innovative promotion her event turned out to be a sold-out, as well as very inspiring, workshop and appearance. (It came as a surprise to both Kelli and me.) Attendants came, not only from Taipei, but also central and southern Taiwan! Kelli said that she wanted to give dancers encouragement to sign up for technique training, so she planned the five workshops based on a combination concept: two technique classes with three in which Aubre would be teaching a set choreography.
Therefore, local dancers could take technique classes first–in order to have some comprehension of the nature of the technique so that, later, they could understand how to apply it to a finely choreographed dance plan.
Author translates and stands next to Aubre as she explains concepts
Part II. Aesthetics, Attitude and Aspiration
The studio space was already fully packed with dancers. It was Friday evening and some girls arrived late. Aubre had everyone gather around, and she began the class. As she commented, “This was quite a verbal class!” It was a class featuring a choreographed dance that she had named “Fosse Jazz Fusion”.
Aubre began to explain Bob Fosse and his Jazz style. She said that a good fusion in dance requires a profound understanding of both dance forms, including the aesthetics of each one. In this case, and “Hip-Pop” also, Fusion dancers need not merely understand its technique, but the background information and attitudes as well.
The term “aesthetic” would often arise in the next two days. Aubre has been known for her versatile and adventurous presentations of different Bellydance styles: Oriental, Folkloric, Tribal and Fusion, among many others. So when she talked about fusing different dance forms, she was authoritative and informational.
Aesthetic is an abstract dance concept, compared to thinking of dance as a visually tangible form. Somehow, Aubre adopted an inventive approach to demonstrate the importance and differences of aesthetics in dance form. When she taught dynamic hip-work on Saturday, she told students that in different regions, because of local aesthetic preferences, even one single movement could look distinctively different. For instance, a “Pelvic Lock” in Turkey, Egypt, or Morocco is addressed differently in each one. Turkish Roma has more forward pelvic locking movement. Egyptian dancers use a gentile pelvic lock lacking forward movements, while the Moroccan style emphasizes movements between pelvis and navel. Such regional preferences also show in costuming: Turkish dancers tend to wear low-cut belts while Moroccan dancers usually have a large, shinny, decorative piece beneath the navel.
The first lesson about fusion that Aubre taught us was to understand and include regional aesthetics as the governing reference concerning what kind of form each of us would like to present in our dance.
On Saturday, Aubre taught dynamic hip-work and then a very tense drum solo employing a set choreographic agenda relying on musical awareness. Most dancers in the class undertook something they had tried only rarely before: notating the dance on a piece of paper! Aubre drew a horizontal bird’s eye view of the hip movements and explained how dancers could use different muscles to better express the music.
Musicality is another important and impressive component of Aubre’s teaching. First, she explained her reasoning: it used to be simple for her dance since there were only one or two musicians or instruments available for her dance, but as time went by, we dancers perform with large orchestras and increasingly complex music arrangements. As Bellydancers who must be mindful that we want to make a visual interpretation of our music, we need to improve our skills of multi-tasking.
Aubre vocalized her choreographed drum solo during the whole section. She said if we want to perform a good drum solo, which usually aims to show off the dancer’s skills, technique, and knowledge, we’d better sing the song out! Then, every movement and each step would respond perfectly to the rhythms and phrases of this music.
On Sunday, continuing from the previous day’s dynamic hip-work, Aubre led us in experiencing the concept of “layering” (or multi-tasking). In the beginning of the class, she said that it would not be easy, and she wished that students would take what they learned in class and practice it at home. After that, we took on a really funky Hip-Pop fusion she had choreographed. It was high-speed, funky, and both physically and mentally challenging. Students loved it and had fun.
While I translated, I was able to observe the entire class and was amazed about the changing attitudes of our local Bellydance community: dancers were willing to take technique-based classes and felt free to ask questions. They accepted as fact that they needed to study technique more and and that they would need time to develop their dance within it.
Fun Time! Photo by Liang An
Part III. Fusion Infusion vs. Emotion Immersion
Additionally, during her first visit to Taiwan, Aubre gave a private group class called “Intensive Performance Skill Training”. I felt thrilled when Kelli first told me about this class! In addition to choreography and technique, there is more to learn in order to develop into a dancer of good quality. We are so glad to see more and more local dancers understanding this point, and we observe that they are willing to take classes like this.
The workshop on performance skills was much more verbal than her other workshops. Aubre spoke a lot while all attendants were encouraged to speak out also. Therefore, there were a lot of conversations going on during the whole session. Aubre taught some fundamental performance concepts, including classical theatrical theories and emotional preparation.
What inspires me most is that Aubre used few and simple words to explain the effort dancers put into the aesthetic they choose to present (in terms of style). She demonstrated how simply adjusting one’s energy (or projecting the aesthetic) one could transform from an Oriental dancer into a Tribal dancer.
I observed Aubre in awe and was deeply inspired as well. I realized that there is probably no limitation on a dancer in terms of constructing her personal style. You don’t need to be Randa Kamal to be an “Oriental danseuse” nor to move exactly like Rachel Brice to be a “Tribal Fusion”dancer. You need only to nourish yourself and immerse yourself in the pertinent knowledge of the culture so you won’t make inappropriate choices. Both visual presentation and physical technique are supportive for an artist to express emotion, deliver a message, or connect with an audience.
My impression is that Aubre is well-educated and well-trained in this field that she loves. She not only shared with us professional tips and concepts, but also showed us her passionate commitment to the art with grace and poise.
By the end of this class, everyone sat down and shared what they learned or felt about this class. It was a touching moment, and the collective energy was warm and friendly. That’s why we all have fallen in love with Bellydancing: it comprises as a sisterhood-like bond and we felt that we became part of each other’s life experiences.
A Finale Never Ends
As I told Aubre, the way Taiwanese people show their hospitality is to feed their guests. After we finished the whole series of workshops, we dined at a delicious vegetarian buffet nearby. I learned that Aubre Hill has been a dancer since childhood and has immersed herself in several different dance forms. When asked about the reasons she became a Bellydancer, she replied that she just simply became increasingly interested and involved with this beautiful dance form.
Overall, this was an exceptionally pleasing and inspiring experience for me (and for my local dance community as well). Kelli ran a post-event questionnaire online, and positive feedback came in! I think this is a good sign: Aubre infused such energy and foresight into the remote, foreign land! We all felt it and look forward to having her return for more fun and inspiration.
Aubre Hill performs at Persian Heaven, a local Persian cuisine restaurant which supports much for the local bellydance community.
Photos by Liang An
(L to R) Ali Amini, General Manager of Persian Heaven, Aubre Hill and Kelli Li. Photo by Liang An
Ready for more?
- 3-22-11 Taiwan Bellydance: 2 Events Are Perfect Ending for 2010, Nefertiti Bellydance Carnival & Bellydance Evolution
I admire those dancers participating in the production for their talents, skills, and artistic qualities, however, I feel the framework of story-telling compromises dancers from better expressing their love for this dance (or through it). They are acting through dance rather than dancing to the music.
- 6-29-10 Argentine-Arab Dance and Music Charm Taiwan, Gina Chen promotes Live Music for Local Dancers
I have to say it is quite different from any other American or Egyptian style choreography I learned before; you almost always keep your feet into ballet position and body weight is relatively higher. The physical dynamic is much exaggerated. I guess this is the Argentine style bellydance and I could see why local dancers are fond of it, owing to the quality of fluidness and lightness, very outward gestures and wonderful live music.
- 1-6-09 2008 Drum, Dance, & Music Festival Raqs Taiwan with Karim Nagi!
She wishes to find the bridge between dancers and musicians, performers and audiences while still keeping its cultural roots alive. DDM is the platform for dancers and musicians working together and exchanging their professional experiences.
- 10-30-08 Aussie ATS Charm in Taipei: Devi Mamak
Since both of us are not based in San Francisco, we share many common factors in terms of learning ATS and developing our own visions for it back in our own home venues.
- 3-5-08 Learning Matrix: A Long Journey, The Belly Dance Scene in Taiwan
Sometimes, one might have to admit that learning only choreographies might lead students and dancers away from learning the essential elements of traditional Belly dance.
- 5-2-08 Live a Dance Divas’ Life! Interview with Jane Yee Shan Chung of Taiwan
Then I saw the Suhaila technique workshop announced on her website and I just signed up without knowing exactly what her format is. I am the only person who did not learn Suhaila format before at that workshop. I was so naïve, I simply wanted to give it a try.
- 4-29-11 A True Arabic Experience, November 2010 Arab Dance Seminar in New York City
His seminar emphasizes the cultural roots and context of this dance form; it is a form that is experiencing a disconnect as more dancers are entering the community through fusion and often not developing an understanding of its historical origins. Each seminar is themed to focus on a variety of elements within the culture, dance, and music of the Arab world.
- 9-27-11 Competition Strategies, A Judge’s Suggestions
Choosing a costume that fits and flatters your choreography is equally important. If you want to highlight your amazing hip work, be sure to choose a costume with lots of fringe and tassels on the hips so the judges cannot fail to see that hip work.
- 9-26-11 Video Sample of Band Rehearsal for Tarabiya Concert at Amina’s House
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- 9-25-11 Ahava and her Workshops, A Fan’s Viewpoint
“Usually, the up accent is on the downbeat,” said Ahava, “but if you are doing a hip drop in the modern style, the drop would be on the down.”
- 9-18-11 A Month in Cairo, Egypt, Report No. 1: Settling In, Post-revolution Egypt, Reconnecting to Life in Cairo
No one has ever seen the square being used in any of these ways over the last 30-some years. Everyone has remarked about this and is happy about it.
- 9-16-11 3 South African Dance Pioneers, Reaching Out to the "New Woman" of Their Country
One should dance with the fullness of knowing her role in life, honoring that knowledge in its purity, and following the ideal of Middle Eastern feminine essence rather than dancing from a competitive space.
- 9-15-11 Becoming the Object of Your Own Fantasy, Part 3: Diane Webber and the Perfumes of Araby in the 1970s by Stasha Vlasuk
In an almost archetypal will to power, Diane encouraged us to utilize our costuming – and our dance – as a way to search out and expand our own unique spirit, fantasy and physique, something I try to continue with my students today: become the object of your own fantasy.