Monthly Archives: December 2014

Lose the Label

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Zahra_Holidays_1When did we start dividing oriental dancers into categories? Why is it so important to pin down her (or his) bellydance style, and put it in a box and put a label on it?

With so many genres under the vast umbrella of “bellydance”, we have to identify what it is the person is doing these days, I guess. I don’t mean regional folk styles of Middle Eastern dance, or fusion dancing, I mean the style of bellydance. What ever happened to being just a good old bellydancer?

I am, and will always be an Oriental Dancer. I worked for decades in Arabic, Greek, Turkish, Armenian, and Persian restaurants and nightclubs – AS A BELLYDANCER. I didn’t suddenly become a Greek bellydancer because I was dancing in a Greek restaurant with Greek musicians, and so on. A good dancer has to be versatile and understand the audience she is performing for, and the style of music she is dancing to. The music determines how a dancer feels. The music guides your movements, your emotions. The music is what is driving the style in which the dancer is dancing.

For instance, if we compare famous Egyptian dancer’s styles, such as Samia Gamal, Naima Akef, Fifi Abdo, Aza Sharif, Dina, Camelia, Dandash and many others through time, they all have very different dance styles, but they are all Egyptian dancers. It’s their feeling for the music, and their background in dance, for instance some have, ballet, and folkloric training, etc. Their style is their own personal style.

Trends come and go also. The popularity of a dancer can influence up and coming dancers to imitate them, causing more dancers to follow the trend, in not only movements, but costuming, mannerisms, and so on. Dina and Rhanda Kamal’s styles are both a prime examples of this type of copy cat trend by foreign dancers. Westerners are especially compelled to copy famous dancers, even down to their postural quirks, thinking they are being “Egyptian” (or Turkish, or whatever). It’s embarrassing, people!

Regional folk dance styles as well as traditional folk music also influence the bellydance styles in different countries, for instance Lebanon’s folk dance is Debke. Debke is very rhythm driven, with stomping, and jumping type steps, and many Lebanese dancers have a very fast, rhythm driven, jumpy style. However, not all Lebanese bellydance styles fit that M.O. Here again, we have the box with the label on it. Check out the famous Lebanese dancer, Dina Jamal on youtube, her style is what I would call Classic Oriental. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gDl4isGxQEE

By the same token, Turkish dancers are known for having a “wild, fast and crazy” bellydance style, but check out the lovely Turkish Oriental Dancer, Nesrin Topkapi, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6vFGh83m4r0

Again, regional folk styles can affect a dancer’s personal style, depending on their background, for instance, many Turkish bellydancers also have Romany background.

One last thing…what the heck is American Cabaret? I understand it refers to an older style of oriental bellydance show that was more popular in the 1970’s, but, the word “cabaret” in the Middle East refers to a low class place. You would never call yourself a “cabaret dancer”. You would be telling people you are a very low class dancer and work in low class places. They might think you are a prostitute.

I understand we are in America, and we use different terms, but I am a dancer from the 1970’s and I never heard that term till recent years. “American Cabaret” is just an older style of bellydance show, it’s not an American innovation.

Educating oneself is very important in personal growth. Continue to train, developing good oriental technique, and personal style. Let’s stop the copy cat syndrome, and lose the labels.

Glitter and Gratitude

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Zahra_Holidays_3I’ve been staring at my dog, Indigo (“GoGo”), for the last 10 minutes. She’s sleeping on the couch by the Christmas tree and there’s a tiny sprinkle of gold glitter stuck to her sweet, jet black, Labrador face.

It’s not unusual for glitter, sequins, and various other kinds of bling to be stuck to my dog, my husband, or anywhere else in my house. It’s normal, I hardly notice anymore, but tonight as I look at GoGo’s peaceful face, shimmering in the glow of the twinkle lights, I couldn’t help but feel so grateful. Grateful for all the obvious blessings in my life, my husband, wonderful family, good health, a roof over my head, and all the things we take for granted in our everyday, busy lives. I am grateful for all my students past and present, teachers, mentors, dancer friends, and my workshop sponsors over the years. I am so grateful for a life of glitter.

Maybe that sounds funny, dance is a lot more than putting on a costume and applying glitter. It’s years of hard work and dedication. I guess that goes without saying…or does it? Oriental dance is not a fantasy world of playing dress up, it is a cultural art, the dance of a people. It is a beautiful dance form that can be enjoyed by anyone of any ethnicity, whether for exercise or just for fun. Middle Eastern music is rich and deliciously intoxicating, truly transformational. No wonder so many women and men from all walks of life, from all over the world are drawn to it!

These days with such mass global appeal, and so many uneducated teachers, desperate attention seekers, and the need for instant self gratification, it’s easy to get swept away by the masses, and lose sight of the true art. If you want to learn an art form from another culture other than your own, respect the art and the culture it comes from! There’s nothing wrong with having fun, we all love fun, just don’t let the glitter blind you.

I am grateful I have had the strength to stay true to my art. Through blood, sweat and tears, I’ve forged ahead. It can be a lonely road sometimes, but I don’t mind. This Holiday Season as I venture into the New Year, as always, I will will vow to stay true to oriental dance. I will wear my glitter like a badge of honor, because I earned it.

Stay strong my friends. What are you standing up for in 2015?