It seems that until recently, generally a professional Bellydancer's highest goal (outside of Folklore troupes in M.E.) was to be a soloist in an Arab night club in the West or Middle East. Much to the dismay of our young Bellydance sisters of today, they have to hear about the glory days of acoustic musicians, singers, and audiences made up of families of recent Arab immigrants still in touch with their culture while knowing full well that the reality of today's Bellydancer does not resemble this.
When I began teaching the Arabesque two-week intensive Pro Course 14 years ago, much of the course was geared towards a career in these kinds of venues. Increasingly over the years, I began to hear about the dismal situation of the Arab night club both in the Middle East and in the West. Six to 40 acoustic musicians have now become a CD or one guy on a keyboard with a drum machine. Audiences are often men with mistresses or even prostitutes. Performances that were once 45 minutes long and included folklore are now 20 minutes and no sign of folklore. Even more emphasis than ever is being placed on appearance and in particular explicit sexual attributes over talent and artistry. One night a week instead of three to six and on that one night, MAYBE one Bellydance performance. Another Arab night club closes every year with lack of clientele. Revenue per show is getting less and less as there are more and more Bellydance students eager to get on a stage without a care for income. How this phenomena happened is a whole other blog post. No matter what the causes, performing in an Arab night club may be a good practice arena but hardly an inspiring goal to work towards anymore. Now students taking the Pro Course are concerned with a different future and they relish the experience working with the Arabesque musicians only as a way to touch base with the roots of their art form.
There are hundreds of Bellydancers all over the world becoming pro everyday. What is the future for these hard working and passionate dancers?
Recently, Arabesque began an experiment in a city 5 hours drive away, in Montreal, Canada insitgated by one of their local dance artists Angelica Jordan. Over 5 months, training was offered specifically in the Arabesque technique, choreography and philosophy with the end goal of preparing some of the Montreal area dancers to join in Arabesque Dance Company & Orchestra's newest production called SAWAH. The experiment was well received and it has opened my eyes to the idea that the future for pro Bellydancers will be in companies like BDSS, Jillina's Bellydance Evolution, Bellyqueen, Amir Thaleb's company, Arabesque and many more.
And then it hit me, this is the future that aligns with my 30 year wish to establish Bellydance as a mainstream respected art form. Maybe I was not so crazy with my vision for Arabesque Dance Company in 1992. Maybe we are at a crossroads in the history of Bellydance. I am often sorry that my students can not experience the glory days of the Arab night club and it seems they are not coming back anytime soon. Maybe it is a blessing in disguise because it is forcing us to express our art in different paths. Maybe the future holds for us an Alvin Ailey type company or a Martha Graham Dance Company of Bellydance including the years of serious training that entails. This has always been my dream, but, for the first time, I realize it may be coming true.
1/ Pro Course students of 2005 hanging out on break - 90% have gone on to successful careers as soloists, directors of dance companies and schools.
2/ Poster for the first 4 day workshop of the Arabesque Immersion series in Montreal Sept. 21-24, 2013 - just finished the forth part of the series which included more workshops and auditions - Feb. 1/2, 2014
3/ Arabesque Dance Company & Orchestra at Fleck Dance Theatre in the Coffee Shop choreography (from the wings)