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An Opposing View

South Africa’s Dance Community Thrives

International Bellydance day
A huge group dance done on World Bellydance Day

by Alexandra Graham
photos by Paul Gilowey
posted October 24, 2011

This article was inspired as a response to this article publised on Gilded Serpent on September 15, 2011,"Three South African Dance Pioneers"

It is difficult for an individual to speak on behalf of an entire community, but I feel that I should at least attempt to dispel what I believe are some current misleading and misrepresentational thoughts about the Belly dance community in South Africa.

As in any community or industry, you will find strife and troubles in our Belly dance community. The usual issues do arise such as a dancer charging too little (or too much), teachers stealing students, and bad-mouthing other dancers.

In an industry filled with artists, it is no real surprise that people are butting heads, and with such a strong online community, it is becoming increasingly public as well.

Nonetheless, we are still a closely-knit group–with, perhaps, a handful of people who have decided to set themselves aside from the mainstream of our community. Unfortunately, we find that those are the same dancers who are giving their opinions and critiquing the rest of the community and its dancers.

As a country, South Africa is known for its diversity  in environment, religions, cultures and people. The same could be said about our Belly dancing styles. Different areas and major cities boast a variety of styles in their own right, with certain styles being more prevalent in particular areas.

Vendors support the dancers
Taken at the International Oriental Dance Festival.Two
vendors who always got very involved, shouting to the
ladies and dancing along!

While Tribal Fusion is a constantly growing newer style of Belly dance, there are still many in the community who speak out and voice opinions such as: Tribal Fusion is not a “legitimate” form of Belly dance. Many studios teach Tribal Fusion employing an ATS (American Tribal Style) background and movement vocabulary. What many studios are doing now is a westernized cabaret form of Belly dance that borrows from the Classical Egyptian form as well as Turkish and adds in Western elements that would appeal and resonate with Western audiences.

The diversity of South African Belly dance is most evident at several festivals that are held throughout the year. One of the biggest festivals is The Oriental Dance Festival that is held on the last weekend of October. It is a 2 day festival, held at the Waterfront in Cape Town and boasts performances of over 60 national studios as well as a few international artists. A festival and event that is more largely known would be The World Bellydance Day, which is celebrated on the second Saturday in May. These kinds of festivals bring together Bellydancers from all over and inspire and show us that we are growing as a community.

Competition is a new concept for Belly dancers in South Africa, with the first Miss Bellydance South Africa Competition held in 2009. Talking about dance competitions is a fairly dodgy topic  because often, dancers are unsure about whether they agree with the concept of competitions or not. Luckily, for those in doubt, the Miss Bellydance South Africa website lists all the aspects that the judges (national and international) consider such as artistic interpretation, technique, and expression–to name a few. The competition winners have all been of a high quality and this competition is a logical way to show off how high our standards are when it comes to quality in dance.

Unfortunately, since South Africa is a small country; we don’t have as many performance opportunities that one might find in the USA or the UK. Restaurants are wary of hiring dancers and there are few appropriate restaurant venues for such an activity. However, many dancers turn to other sources of performance opportunities such as themed birthday parties, bachelorette parties, corporate functions, and festivals of all kinds.

A community should be more than just a supply of services and agendas. A truly supportive community is one in which everybody can participate with dignity and respect for themselves and one another, one in which the physical and social backgrounds play no part and create no barriers.

From personal experience, I can say that South Africa ticks all these boxes, despite its few diamonds in the rough.



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