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. :)