Friday, September 16, 2011

What's Bellydance?

I've noticed a disturbing trend among bellydancers. It makes me really sad sometimes, especially since bellydance in general is a very misunderstood artform, and we already have to fight for some modicum of respect.

Some bellydancers refuse to acknowledge other bellydancers.

In fact, there are some belly dancers out there who claim that their fellow bellydancers aren't real bellydancers.

With the current generation of bellydancers exploring what they can do with the dance and the creative ways they can update it, modernize it, or just make it their own, the old school dancers and their protegees are refusing to claim some branches of tribal bellydance as part of the overall tree of bellydance. There are even some tribal and ATS dancers out there who insist that what they are doing isn't bellydance. Why would they say that?

A Brief History

There are thousands of resources out there that explain, in detail, where belly dance came from. For the CliffsNotes version, the origins of belly dance are found in the Middle East, the Mediterranean, and North Africa. So right away we don't even have a specific area to work with. And, like most things that have have developed and evolved along with the human race over the centuries, it wasn't a single culture or race that came up with the idea.

Eventually, belly dance moved over to the United States, via the The Chicago World's Fair of 1893 and the many iterations of Little Egypt. Some of the burlesque dancers caught on, and so did Hollywood, and of course, everyone put their own spin on it. This lead us into the 70s and 80s, where the folkloric aspect of belly dance started spreading to Renaissance Faires and the Society of Creative Anachronism, which eventually led to Jamila Salimpour, Masha Archer, Carolena Nerricio, and the creation of FatChance BellyDance and American Tribal Style. From there, ATS dancers began taking some of the FatChance moves and spinning them into their own style, and tribal fusion, improve tribal style, alternative tribal, urban tribal, gothic tribal, et al., were born.

The one line that sums it up: It's all bellydance.

That's right. From your restaurant cabaret dancer to your Egyptian dancer covered in sequins, to the tribal troupe wearing kuchi jewelery and plain cotton skirts to the fusion dancer wearing yoga pants and minimalist accessories, it's all bellydance. Like it or not, we all came from the same place. We evolved from the Ghawazee dancers who inspired raqs sharqui, which became bellydance when it moved to Europe and the U.S.

What's not Bellydance? Well, you've got your hobbyist dancer who wants to learn a few moves to look sexy. Or the woman who takes six classes and decides she knows everything she needs to know about bellydance. Or the dancer who calls herself tribal fusion without ever learning what she's fusing. Or the bellydance that is so far removed from the basic movements that it's basically modern dance or hip hop.

None of us are performing "true bellydance" because there is no true bellydance. We evolved to avoid becoming extinct, like Ghawazee style, the knowledge of which is now mostly contained within the Banat Mazzin family in Luxor, Egypt.

It all comes down to respect

We spend so much time asking for respect from the general public, that we don't even realize we're crippling ourselves by infighting and refusing to change. It's true that tribal fusion, alternative tribal, and other kinds of tribal are the most popular styles right now, but tribal wouldn't have existed if it weren't for the women before us who evolved the dance, who asked, "What can I do with this?"

As long as you recognize where you come from, and respect the men and women who came before you, you're a bellydancer. And what you do is bellydance.

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