"Were these beautiful young girls going to miss out on something so precious and end up instead, being part of a new global cheerleader type dance form?"
It has been a year since I wrote the Blog Post called "Am I Still a Bellydancer? It is the most read, commented upon and shared piece I have ever written in any publishing venue ever. Whatever city I have taught in since, students whom I have never met will refer to that post, usually with a twinkle in their eye.
It seemed like I hit a nerve.
Since being published (parts 1&2) I have only written one other (Widening Your Horizons) which just made its rounds again this week to a new audience. Seeing an old blog post appear in my Facebook feed must have planted a seed to start my blog back up again. My father passed away shortly after that blog post. The will to write had left me. However, I have just recently returned from Egypt where I got reconnected with the art I love, on the terms I love, with people I love.
Judging from the worldwide comments on the controversial post from August 2014, my point of view was well received. It was interesting that those close to me at Arabesque were afraid I had committed career suicide and damaged the Arabesque brand. The fear came from a protective reaction and thus out of love for the most part. Some may have lost faith in my sanity. Although, they agreed with my point of view, perhaps they were afraid of taking an actual public stance and possibly alienate fans and students.
As I mentioned in the post, I too was afraid of alienating the community but could no longer let that stop me from expressing my truth. Now, I am ready to be even more candid.
It feels good to be honest and I do not have the energy it takes to pretend otherwise. Quite frankly, being honest has the very wonderful advantage of attracting like-minded people and repelling others. Thus allowing me to live a more authentic and fulfilling life.
The catalyst that got me to the keyboard today was watching a clip of very young dancers that I am assuming categorize themselves as Bellydancers in Taiwan I think. The skill of such young dancers was very impressive. However, it reminded me of when I told a young student of mine with a lot of promise that she will not really understand or express the Bellydance spirit and nuance until she becomes a woman. She admitted to me in later years that she realized the truth of my words and was happy to now experience womanhood in her dance but had been very angry with me at the time.
As I watched the young dynamic dancers in Taiwan, I marveled at their interesting choreography, their stage-presence and the evidence of being well rehearsed. They had a more polished and professional presentation than most adult Bellydance ensembles I have seen or directed. I worried though; was someone going to point out to them the profound, timeless spirit of Bellydance that has nothing to do with shiny costumes and well executed choreography.
Were these beautiful young girls going to miss out on something so precious and end up instead, being part of a new global cheerleader type dance form?
I like to believe all who are attracted to Bellydance are seeking a connection with an ancient feminine archetype that has healing and spiritual power. However, in the name of the all-mighty dollar and/or an insecure ego and/or sexual issues, students are often misled. Instead they find themselves on a path of shortcuts to a shadow of the real art. What a shame if they end up acting out someone's shallow presentation in the name of marketing.
What a shame if these young girls never find their way to the passion of the masters.
Now, I get to my real worry about the direction global Bellydance appears to be taking. The gap seems to be widening between the honest passion of the masters such as Tahia, Samia, Farida, Sohair, Nagua, Dina, etc and the shallow meaningless display of showgirl meets gymnast meets diva wanna-be meets sex without class meets empty marketing meets competitor meets ... you get my drift.
What does the latter have to offer anyone in the end except even worse self-esteem and body hating issues? I recently had a long two-part conversation with the wise Farida Fahmy who has come to believe that this dance form (she hesitates to use the term "Bellydance") has actual healing powers that she hopes some scientists will do significant studies on to prove. Of course I agreed and have believed this since 1981, so she told me to go and find the scientists to carry out the research. She feels it would be fascinating to know if it is based in hormones and chemistry - one day...
Every dance artist, teacher, musician I come in contact with in Egypt says the same thing; the dance is about the music and how to feel the music.
Maestros Bassam Bishara and Dr. George Sawa often talk of the ancient healing powers of different maqams. What a shame if all this wonderful magic is lost with the advent of competitions - lost in a race to the crown with the latest costume design, the latest gimmick prop or step (which by the way, none of them are new), the use of pop and house dance music or with speed and athleticism.
I always like to finish with hope. Here is to hope that more and more of these young dancers, despite their introduction to the art form, will eventually join the ranks of those who seek depth of meaning and honest passion, not pretend passion.
Thus our timeless art form will survive and nourish many in future generations with its healing powers.