Ok. I haven’t really “gone off” about the dance community for a while…I’ve been trying to avoid drama: causing or getting caught in the middle of it…but today, I saw something that bothered the living daylights out of me.
Belly Dance is one of the great passions of my life. I’ve been dancing for 9 years next month, taking classes, workshops and educating myself about the dance and the culture of the Middle Eastern people. I’ve started teaching, I’ve performed professionally, and taught workshops, and continue to learn when I can (when I have the money to, which is not NEARLY enough for me…but that’s another story.). After ALL of this…I still hesitate to call myself a professional…and when I DO perform…I give it my everything to make sure that I am representing the dance as it should be.
That being said, while surfing around the web today, I saw a video of a dancer performing at a show…I got about 25 seconds into it and couldn’t watch anymore. This show did not have the appearance of being a “hafla” or a student recital…but rather looked like a show open to the general public who do not have much idea of what Middle Eastern Dance is all about, other than the preconceived notions MOST people in the GP hold. This dancer was not in a professional costume, but in a coined hip scarf, choli and skirt. She was dancing like a beginner.
Now, before people get all pissy about this: I am ALL FOR having beginning dancers perform at haflas and student recitals, where the people in attendence are mostly other dancers and dancer families. My girls do. We are performing at the LVBDI festival this year…for an audience of PRIMARILY other dancers, and dancer families. But it is MY OPINION (don’t like it? don’t read it.) that beginners have NO PLACE in professional shows, or shows for the general populus.
We want to present a beautiful and family friendly example of what a Professional Belly Dancer is: Someone who is PROFICIENT in their dance forms and who understand the history of the dance. Yes, I said dance FORMS on purpose. There is so much fusion going on out there…and to be honest a lot of it is crappy fusion. I’m tired of dancers jumping on the bandwagon of “Fashionable Fusion”…they see something new and inventive, and try to copy it/create something similiar WITHOUT LEARNING EITHER DANCE STYLE!!!!! Example: it would be like me watching someone AMAZING doing…oh, I don’t know…Hip Hop Belly Dance Fusion. I watch this person perform, and it is VERY clear to me through their performance and through talking with them that they have studied extensively in BOTH art forms…and then I run downtown, take 1 or 2 hip hop classes, and proceed to start performing “Hip Hop Fusion.” uh uh. NO. I may be proficient in Egyptian Dance, but 1 or 2 hip hop classes to NOT a proficient dancer make.
In the same respect, one 10 week session of Belly Dance Lessons do not a professional Belly Dancer make. I will admit, many dancers have a natural talent for this dance. I’m told that I did when I first started. That was not enough license for me to don a costume and start performing outside of recitals 6 months, a year…3 years after I started! No, rather I started performing publically 4 years after taking weekly lessons, a couple a week STEADILY. And teaching? Well…That was 7 years after my first lesson. 8 years before I taught my first workshop. And in that time, I’ve studied. I’ve read. I’ve taken workshops, weekly classes, and private lessons with world renowned Masters of the Dance and of Middle Eastern Music. Sometimes I feel it is still not enough.
All in all, the ending of this rant is this: I’m nothing spectacular or special when I dance. I’m disciplined. I worked hard. I waited and I sought advice from my teachers about WHEN I would be ready to perform. And even after I was given their blessing, I waited some more. But I’m sick and tired of seeing 6 week wonders getting out there and performing for the general public when they are not prepared. I’m tired of seeing dancers jump into “Fusion” without taking the time to learn the basics of Middle Eastern Dance, or the dance that they are fusing. What happened to integrity? What happened to elevating the Dance above all the misconceptions? You want to perform, and you’re a beginner? AWESOME. Power to you. Find a hafla. Ask your teacher to have a student recital. Don’t go don your jingly hip scarf and audition at a hookah bar, telling them they can pay you with free food, and you just want “experience.” No…go take more classes. Take some workshops. You don’t know who to study with? Write to me. I’ll tell you who some of the best teachers are in the country, and if you can travel, DO IT.
I feel a little better now that this is off my chest. Now if you’ll excuse me…I’m going to go practice.