This particular subject has attached itself to every belly dancers hip since the beginning of time. So let’s start looking into this topic with one of my first questions that has plagued me for years; are we entertainers or are we dancers? Interesting question because so many women through out the years have commented to me that to be a dancer is better than to be an entertainer. And some dancers have given the opinion that we are entertainers up on stage that dance. So here we have two different opinions and that is what makes our world go round. Even more so we will have a specific group or person say one way “their way” is better. This is understandable because no one can walk a particular dancers’ path for them or in their footsteps. With experience comes opinions and with opinions come life statements of what works and what doesn’t work. Is this the building block of criticism? What happens when we create a community that is critical of specific dance groups, dance styles, dance ability and dance venues? How healthy is the air we breathe in our environment when we contaminate it with criticisms and censorship? Is this necessary or does it do the opposite which is to clear the wheat from the chafe?
As time progresses along two things happen for dancers, either they keep up with the changes or they look around scratching their heads saying, “Where am I”? If you are lucky enough to be in the group that has kept up, I’m sure there are changes that have occurred that you may not care for. To tell you the truth I’m a little bit of both groups because I kept up and than some how got left behind. But sometimes when you get left behind you can hear the echoes and whisperings of those walking ahead of you and it’s really interesting what you can hear.
I’ll never forget a dance acquaintance of mine that said most of the shows that she had seen recently were just horrible. Since I was in most of these shows, she got me scratching my head wondering if this was a round about way of insulting me or if she just wasn’t thinking. Ah huh, well lets just say I let it slide but what was interesting was that the producer of these shows is a friend of hers but I’m pretty sure she didn’t tell her what she thought. Actually I’m wondering what it was about me that made her confide in me. Sometimes to be oblivious is a good thing.
Experience has taught me that looks especially packaged in a beautiful body can create a disadvantage when it comes to equal consideration. The world reacts differently to beautiful people. I experienced the other side of this coin when I was rehearsing with a friend for a show we were doing together. She is very striking and the band catered to her and kind of forgot about me. After awhile of dealing with this predicament I had to laugh because the musicians were crowding around my friend chatting with her. Before I knew it they were all getting ready to leave and we didn’t rehearse yet. My dance friend didn’t feel like rehearsing so everybody decided to go home. From back in the abyss I told them in a loud voice that I wanted to rehearse and we weren’t leaving. All of a sudden I became visible again and everyone realized that I too was in the room.
As women do we look harsher on beautiful women because we feel they have an advantage over us? Or do we help them become successful because we want to see the symbol of our dance in a beautiful woman? Is our dance form really women friendly? When I say women friendly I mean all types of women. Do we as women censor our belly dance image?
Many women want to be well known but can they handle it if a dance friend gets there first? Women gage how they are doing by other dancers that are at their level of success. This is where I have seen criticism lurk. You know what I mean, the eyes roll, side glances occur at an alarming rate and that look of total antipathy comes across the face. At this point even if a dancer did well the blur of aversion would keep another from seeing a performance well done. Who at this point is at a disadvantage? This especially occurs when the dance style is different from what a dancer prefers. Is there rivalry amongst dance styles? Let’s be honest here, yes of course there is. With the different styles follows change especially in the belly dance costume. Our belly dance costume is almost like a rite of passage for women especially when they wear their costume for the first time. Does the costume state who we can hang with? When dancers perform together the saving grace for all of us is that the audience can see how diverse we are. So maybe the shows that I performed in showcased other dance styles than what my dance acquaintance preferred. How can we educate our audience on the diverse elements of our dance if we can’t accept the changes that are taking place in our dance world ourselves?
There have been occasions that I felt like a fish out of water. I was performing in a show this past year with all the dancers on stage together and it hit me just as the curtains were about to open that I was the only cabaret dancer on stage with tribal dancers. I looked to my right and than to my left and was overwhelmed by this kaleidoscope of color. It was the most amazing site I can remember seeing and I could only imagine the gasps from the audience at seeing the array of color unfolding before their eyes. I knew from this particular show that our times were changing. The troupe dynamic is very popular now especially with the edgy tribal vibe. Todays’dancers are willing to take more risks and push the traditionalists’ boundaries. Each generation has to make their own way and as they do there will be dancers wanting to keep the old ways in tack by pushing back. Solo performing for me has always been an art because it takes tenacity and bravado to get out infront of people and perform. So you can imagine going out and performing after the stage was full of dancers performing in unison with grace and perfect timing. Your soul has to be willing to take up the whole stage. But I came to realize that dance is dance and if we don’t put censorship on it and try to define it than we can allow it to grow in the way that it needs to.
My next question has been on the front burner for awhile; how will the nightclubs deal with the new styles of dance becoming so popular? Music has changed too so this does help with the variety of dance styles occurring in our midst. Where does tradition and change exist together? I think this is where the stage comes in. It’s the one place where dancers won’t criticize each other at least until the end of the show. Creative expression is usually judged harsher by our own insecurities but than I’ve heard stories of inappropriate choreography in shows. Since we live life in so many different ways it is bound to happen that creative expression gets caught in between individual principles and values. Shock value isn’t usually what people go to a dance show for especially if they are bringing family and friends. I remember being a part of a show where a dancer had a flashlight and her dance was created around turning her flashlight on and off. I didn’t get it and neither did the audience but she had a really good time which I have to admit was disconcerting for me. So even an idea can cross the line of the bizarre and make an entire audience scratch their heads. One time I was dancing at a restaurant and my skirt was tucked into my underwear (by mistake). And I danced part of the first song with my right cheek saying hello to everyone. I did feel a breeze but than I was doing turns so I thought it was normal. The waitstaff cracked up laughing and one of the waitresses came over and pulled out my skirt, thank God! Just so you all know the owner of the restaurant was yelling at me through the bathroom door that my music was starting……ugh! But I did start dancing on time with my music even though I was giving the customers a show I never intended to give them. Fortunately there were no dancers for miles to giggle at me or give me that “Oh, I’m so embarrassed for you” look. The waitstaff was enough. Life can be a comedy where the jokes on you.
If we all pull together and create a community that makes each and every one of us feel safe than our diversity will make sense not only to our audience but also to ourselves. Self creativity that is selfish or blind to the comfort of others is the real issue here. We live in a world where we want to toot our own horn but we need to understand that we also fit in with a community that symbolizes all of us. So we have to understand that our new generation of dancers are bringing in their views of the world.
There are also world views that have been around for years and if we can bring together the old and the new than our future will be a potpourri of ideas and styles that compliment each other without clashing. There’s a quote that says; a critic is a man who knows the way but can’t drive the car.
Sometimes we drive and other times we sit in the backseat. But either way the goal is to get to our dreams and aspirations all in one piece together. We represent a culture that reflects the realities of us dancing and working together every day. In a way we have always been diverse maybe we just didn’t know it. It seems to me diversity is the one thing we all have in common and knowing this makes the view from the back of the car or the drivers seat that much more beautiful.