In the Belly of Nuit
Dance Artists Trying to Raise Funds
Part Two - Am I Still a Bellydancer?

Am I still a Bellydancer?

After 34 years, I have decided not to be a Bellydancer anymore.

Actually, I am probably more of a Bellydancer than I am a Canadian or that I have blue eyes. I can never deny everything that has made me who I am since the age of 20 considering it has been my full time passion and career 24/7 for 34 years. However, I am not sure if I feel I belong in the prominent scene we call Bellydance (Belly Dance) as I see it in Egypt and around the world today.

What is Bellydance anyway? Where can I find myself  in it? Is it a social expression in a living room, a festive event at a banquet hall, dance studio or community centre, is it a flashy expression at a corporate event or wedding, is it a mother goddess or natal celebration, is it an expression of classical Egyptian music or disco beat driven or any non-Arab music, is it snakes, feathers, veils, double veils, circular veils, fan veils, square veils, is it coins, sea shells or beads, is it an engaging theatrical experience, is it joyful or morbid, is it for fleshy or skinny people, is it empowering or demeaning, is it athletic or emotional, is it burlesque or folklore, is it competitive or art, is it pelvic centered, pointed toes, leg kicks, shimmies, posing, twerking, back bends, hair flips, a belly roll, a camel? I could go on and on, but I am sure you get the picture.

The one thing I am sure of is that it inspires a fountain of creativity and that is why I love Bellydance.

However, I find myself not being able to relate anymore to the onslaught of yet another application I do not see myself or my 34 years reflected in. I thought it might be my age. Perhaps I am getting narrow-minded. But that can't be when my last Arabesque production was very innovative and anything but "traditional" or similar to what my predecessors produced. What I am planning for the future production is really off the wall. There are many Bellydance artists the world over that I enjoy, love and admire, "traditional" and "non-traditional". I feel like that pool is getting smaller in the Middle East and globally and the bulk of activities in the name of Bellydance is not where I want to be aligned. I am finding everyday, more and more, I am not alone with these sentiments, from the seasoned veterans to the young and fresh.

Back in the days when Bellydance was aligned with stripping or amateur fantasy fulfillment, I did what I could to inspire a deeper awareness of a rich culture and tradition considered respectful art. I no longer worry about these misconceptions anymore and no longer need to explain that I am not a stripper. So I am not complaining. There is some cool stuff going on in the name of Bellydance these days but in general, I feel it is losing substance and meaning that is rendering it non effective as an inspirational tool.

I have decided not to call myself a "Bellydancer "anymore.  My company and school no longer perform or teach "Bellydance". The last Arabesque production "Sawah" this past April never used the word in any promotional material and media releases. The Arabesque website is slowly being adjusted to reflect this new positioning. The agency sells zaffeh, some folklore and definitely Bellydance, so another entertainment company is taking the reins of promotion and bookings to run the agency.

What on earth do I call what I express and teach?

For now, I will call it "Arabesque dance art" since it is "Arab-like" dance and is certainly rooted in Arab dance. I have a new studio with white bare walls where the seeds of Arabesque dance will blossom. Our new tagline is "the future of the world's oldest dance". Should be interesting.  :)

Sawah sawah - Peter

Comments

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Janet Pelley

Yasmina, I love your new tagline, "the future of the world's oldest dance"! I thoroughly enjoyed reading this post. It made me think beyond the convenient label of "bellydance" and by doing so, I realized that labeling what we do as "bellydance" is so limiting. You also mention that "There is some cool stuff going on in the name of Bellydance these days but in general, I feel it is losing substance and meaning that is rendering it non effective as an inspirational tool." What do you mean by that? Could you give an example? Thanks! JP

Yasmina Ramzy

Hi JP,
Simply, perhaps it is the journey from grassroots to mainstream that has changed motives. When I get asked how to make a successful biz more than the meaning of the art, I realize something has changed.

Michael Menegon

Ah, 23 years later and I see that a true artist has emerged from the once fledgling dance company. I never considered or saw you as anything but a person with a vision that was not limited by conformity. I wish you all the best in your future visions and hope that our paths cross again in the near future. I admire your straight forwardness and perseverance and am proud to have been a small helping hand along the way.

Yasmina Ramzy

Love you Michael and yes your welcoming of Arabesque in the early 90s at the Fringe Festival of Independent Dance Artists was instrumental in starting us on our way to be part of mainstream dance.

Nota

" ...in the name of bellydance" says it all. I understand exactly what you are saying, Yasmina. I, too, am not comfortable calling myself a bellydancer anymore. I create dance art using Arab movement. "Arabesque", I guess! But then, look who my mentor is, lol!

Yasmina Ramzy

Ah Nita, miss you. XO

Adel Said

i am agree with u
in all what you wrote
it was my question be for 10 years ,,,when i am thinking this dance for where going ,,, where the future of old`s dance ? my answer it is :
going to the THEATER ....yes Yasmina ,
oriental dance theater this mt project

Z-Helene

I have always thought outside the box for 37 years now. Since belly dance is my "base," I call myself a belly dance fusion performance artist!

Zahra Zuhair

I enjoyed your article so much, Yasmina! I no longer feel aligned with the term "bellydance" also, and have stopped using it. I know many people who feel the same. Good luck to you in all your artistic endeavors. All the best!!

Angelica

Read this today and it reminded me of your blog... :)

"Buddha says: Durangama - be available to the beyond. Never remain confined to the boundaries, always trespass boundaries. Make the boundaries if you need them, but always remember you have to step out. Never make imprisonments." - Osho -

Thank you Yasmina xoxoxoxox

Asmahan

I loved your article Yasmina, it brought forward an issue I have always struggled with in my dancing career. I called my dance "Belly Dance" from my time studying with Jamila Salimpour and performing in an arabic club in San Francisco. When I came to London to dance and was introduced as "Raks Sharqi" I never wanted to be called a Belldancer again. Using this word was too difficult for the West, so I called myself an "Egyptian Dancer." For my web page I had to use the meta tag as belly dance to be successful. When I started teaching I still used the title "Egyptian Dance." The Bellydance Superstars brought their tribal bellydance which is now massive in Europe. I was so delighted that I had separated myself from the "Bellydance" category. Now I do not recongnise what this word means. Most of these dancers do not even using Middle Eastern music. I have taught what I know, Raqs Sharqi....female solo dancing for a Night Club show to traditional Arabic Music. In the Middle East the dance is not on the theatre stage, it is on glorious stages with the orchestra on the stage and you are surrounded by the audience. This is what this dance is in it true essence. I love theatrical productions which use the choreography and staging of ballet for huge casts of dancers doing Oriental Dancing. I love your work and wish you all the best. Keep on doing what you do and let us keep asking these questions and defining and developing this beautiful magical dance.

Rick

By the sensational tag line of your story - I thought you were giving up dance - but I read to the end to realized you are not. You are just evolving one more time - and since the 90s when we met - you have continually been evolving away from the tradition to create your own vision, a world vision of the type of dance you danced. For you to quit dancing would be a shame, for you to shake (pardon the pun) the shackles of the term "Belly Dancing" is something you have been doing since I met you.

I miss the times we shared, the so many variations of dance you shared with me and others, your passion and your joy and I am glad to hear you are embarking on yet another curve in your illustrious career.

Keep dancing, keep young and I hope we can get together sometime soon - I missed that smile and giggle of yours - it reminded me of the eternal hope and optimism that is the core of your dancing - whatever you choose to call it. You must come to our house - I think you will like the spirit in our garden - and hopefully I am able to inspire you like you inspired me!

Zaia Hadiyya

"In the Middle East the dance is not on the theatre stage, it is on glorious stages with the orchestra on the stage and you are surrounded by the audience. This is what this dance is in it true essence.” I like what Asmahan is saying. This is how I know this wonderful art form and feel sad that it is being lost. With what we see today there is just no Tarab. No emotion and feeling. What is belly dance today? Going to many festivals, workshops and shows there is such a variety of fusion taking place under the label belly dance. I am afraid I am a bit of a purest and have always referred to the art form as Middle Eastern Dance or Oriental Dance. I have never liked the word belly dance - too degrading.

Traci/aka Zahira el Hayat

My sentiments lie with previous comments, and I resonate with much of what you said Yasmina. I stepped back from dance for a few years for a variety of reasons, but importantly to re-assess my part in it, my vision, what the world is doing with "bellydance", and how I want to continue in it, if at all, or align myself with the term itself. I have to say, I miss the "mystery" of the dance, and the richness which I feel has been watered down. I am pulled between feelings of inadequacy as I try to portray the dance as "authentically" as possible, desires for innovation, and fear that I will also be watering down what I so respect and value.
What I have come to, at this point anyhow, is that no matter how I move forward in dance, expressing the music with as much feeling as I can is the most important. When I moved to Egypt many years ago, it was to gain the essence of the dance, which I found was all about feeling/emotions, joy and pain, life and loss, love and passion, and letting ones body express it all. That is what I am sticking with now, as I step back into the fray, and am content with calling it "Egyptian-style dance".
Happy you continue to create and inspire us all!

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