Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Bellydancer, belly dancer

I took a workshop with Frank Farinaro during Cairo Caravan 2011, and he said something interesting about belly dancers. He said that he had heard from another dancer that there is a difference between a belly dancer and a Bellydancer.

A belly dancer is a hobbyist. He or she takes maybe a class a week, doesn't really practice, just does it for the fun of it or for exercise or whatever. A Bellydancer is a professional.

Because belly dance is such an informal style, it's sometimes hard to tell the Bellydancers from the belly dancers. When I think of a Bellydancer, I think of Rachel Brice, Frank Farinaro, Sharon Kihara, Ariellah, Steven Eggers. People for whom belly dance is a full-time job, and they spend all their time practicing, rehearsing, putting on shows and workshops, traveling all over the world.

And I certainly know some belly dancers. They are the women who don't show up to class every week, or don't practice at home, or joke around in the back when the teacher is talking about a concept she's trying to fix inside our heads. And that's where the grey area is. Some of the women who don't show up to class every week have reasons: they don't have enough money to pay for class, or they have to work, or there's something else going on at the same time as class, or they're so tired when they get home from work or there's too much to do and they can't practice. And I wonder, is this really worth it to them? Do they really want to dance that badly?

Because I do. I make sure I have money every week to pay for my classes--for awhile, I even had a budget specifically for dance class, and now I have an account that's specially earmarked for future workshops fees and conferences. I make time to go to class, and I've turned down social engagements--hell, I've turned down family dinners--in order not to miss class. Sure, I've made exceptions. I have a book club that meets once every 6 weeks on the same night as class, and to me, the book club and the time I spend with the people are as important to me as dance class. So I am fine with missing class that one day, every 6 weeks.

So I guess, using our definition, that makes me a Belly Dancer.

And my question is, how badly do you want to be a Belly Dancer? Because if you really want it, if you dream about it and dance about it and write about it and talk endlessly about it...there is no excuse. You can't say you want to be a Belly Dancer and then, in the same breath say "But I can't afford class, and my friends are going out that night, and I have to work, and I'm so tired from working all day."

If that's your excuse, you'll always be a bellydancer.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

The Dancer

I just finished watching The Dancer, a documentary following Swedish ballet dancer Katja Bjorner as she trains to become a professional ballerina. Apart from yet another confirmation that most people don't know how to film dance, the documentary was very interesting and informative.

Dance is something that can sometimes look effortless, and most non-dancers have absolutely no idea what dancers have to go through in order to achieve that level of skill. There were a lot of scenes of Katje at the barre, going through simple ballet exercises. One of my favorite scenes was one where Katja was doing a combination of steps, and her teacher kept making her do it over and over, with changes to her hands and feet and the way she turned each time. To my eyes, I saw no difference in the way Katja was dancing, but it was clear from the teacher's tone of voice that every time, she did it a little bit better.

There was also an interesting scene where they showed Katje's pointe shoe fitting, as well as what goes into making a pointe shoe. I'm a little obsessed with feet, so these scenes were gold to me. The foot strength of ballet dancers is absolutely mesmerizing. I loved watching them go up on pointe, come down again, curl their feet to stretch them, spin around--even watching them go on pointe barefoot was amazing. And for all the stories about how ugly a dancer's feet look, I saw nary a bad foot in this documentary.

One of the things I enjoyed most, though, was listening to Katje and the choreographers talk about how to present a dance. I notice that in belly dance, you don't hear too much about the acting and theater part of it, but the reality is, you're interpreting music and a story for your audience. The joke among my fellow dancers is that the photographer always catches you making a weird face, and lucky for me, my default performance face is a great big smile, but what I really want to learn the theater aspect of it, too. There is acting going on during a dance.

The documentary showed a prima ballerina practicing with her partner, and her expressions and even the way she held herself were beautiful. It was clear what she was expressing, and for a performance art that has no words to tell the story, it was most effective. I've missed some of the workshops on theater and belly dance because I've told myself I don't really need them, but now I regret it, and I hope to find another one again soon.