How far can you go?

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Amulya

Moderator
Ok, I'll risk being called a bitch, but as I belong to the BOB I'll risk it.

Yesterday I went to a Eastern music festival. It included ME and Indian music and some belly dance as well. Now the belly dancing was rather bad, other dancers agreed with me, but there was one thing in particular that I like to discuss.
There were tribal dancers as well, but they were dressed up in such a mish mash it didn't look quite right. Next to me there were 2 Arab ladies sitting and they were all the time giggling and seemed very amused by it all. They were trying to get my attention as they seemed curious what I thought of it all, so I smiled at them and they knew what I thought. Worse they were most amused by a dancer who was brought from another state to dance to this festival and teach a workshop. This dancer had the most ridiculous way of teaching how to belly dance. The movements she did were rather strange and the way she explained it too (holding your navel, plucking apples). The other dancers who were there did think it was strange too, but it is such a pity that belly dance was shown like this to the general audience.
This made me think: how far can you go with crazy made up combinations, where does it become funny or even insulting? I am all for fusion, I really like it, but this and a resent experience at a gig I had made me think. This gig was a Bollywood theme and the people at the party were dressed up so weird that my husband was greatly insulted.
 

Aisha Azar

New member
How Far can you go

Dear Amulya,
I think there are people who would label you a BOB for what you described in your post....but I think you told the truth. I have spent so much time around Arabs who have the same exact response as the ladies that you describe, or even stronger, but many people will refute your observations, as they have done mine. It DOES get very frustrating when you are trying to make people aware that this dance has cultural roots and that people can get pretty embarrassed, insulted, etc, when it is misrepresented.
In my mind, this does not make you a BOB, but a defender of the dance. If only people would understand how important it is to correctly label what they are doing!! wish there were thousands more like you, who are willing to speak up!!

With great respect,
A'isha
 

Aniseteph

New member
Interesting topic! I’m relatively new to all this, and not having roots anywhere near the ME I’m very aware of being adrift in an alien culture, and a bit bemused by some of the arguments about “true” belly dance that I see on the web. People can get quite opinionated.:eek:

But (as you always hear before someone displays their appalling taste and philistine opinions), I know what I like!... and why I love belly dance. It’s what happens in class when we stop concentrating on new moves and it’s just a bunch of women dancing around for themselves and each other, and we are all allowed to be glittery and gorgeous or feisty or mysterious or elegant – it just makes me smile. I can’t think of any other dance form that works the same way… don’t know whether it’s the universal nature of the moves or what, but I bet (or maybe would just like to hope…) that if you strip away the competitive showbusiness stuff and the primadonnas you are left with much the same spirit wherever you are in the world. Convey the same spirit to an audience and how can it be offensive?

So, here’s me adrift in the alien sea, trying not to offend anyone, and hoping I am doing it right,

Veiling my inner BOB as befitting a newcomer,;)
Aniseteph
 

Yshka

New member
Good thread Amulya. I agree very much with A'isha that you are not really a BOB because indeed you tell the truth.

I think it is difficult to say whether something can be insulting or not since this is different for everyone. However I feel it does become insulting when the dance is being ripped outif it's cultural context and used in not-so-flattering ways (like strippers who wear bd outfits, and things like that). I also think when ME culture is being misrepresented, THAT can be really insulting, or like when the cultural background is being mocked, made fun of (like Amulya described what her husband felt about the Bollywood kind of thing).

Originally Posted by Aniseteph:
Convey the same spirit to an audience and how can it be offensive?
I however do not agree with Aniseteph, for MED is not only about a competitive, showbizz'ish dance that is just there for bringing the spirit the dance evokes to the audience. What about it's rich background? Sure, ofcourse ths wonderful dance brings us a lot of joy, feelings of sisterhood, it makes us feel great just dancing with and for eachother and it gives us so much freedom in expression and feelings, that I absolutely do agree with, but I strongly believe cultural context must not be left out. I will try to explain for I'm not sure how to say this right.

It can be offensive, even if some people like what they are watching. It becomes offensive when culture is being mocked or misrepresented. If misrepresentation and/or mocking culture would be put in a performance that is brought to the audience in a lively and fun way would that still be ok? Just because it is put on a stage nicely and with the aim of creating a pleasant show which brings a pleasant atmosphere to the audience?

For example, I saw/heard some awful things about Kaya and Sadie performance at Rakassah this year. They apparently incorporated sex positions into a MED piece:eek: There were still people who like the performance a lot, it was a showy thing and it was supposed to be pleasing the audience (I assume, as are most performances) but I find what they did extremely insulting to the ME culture and to the dance itself. They destroy what we are trying so hard and sincere to portray.

I hope I made it a bit clearer.
Forgive me for BOB'ing, but I just had to get it off my chest.:D

Iris
 

Aniseteph

New member
I however do not agree with Aniseteph, for MED is not only about a competitive, showbizz'ish dance that is just there for bringing the spirit the dance evokes to the audience. What about it's rich background? ...

It can be offensive, even if some people like what they are watching. It becomes offensive when culture is being mocked or misrepresented.
Oh no, sorry Iris, I must have come across all wrong :eek: ! The showbiz competitive stuff I don't like. OK, for any professional performer it is part of the deal, but I've had too many experiences doing amateur theatrical stuff where you're supposed to be doing it for fun and it all gets bitchy and nasty. :mad: I'm too old to be bothered with that.

What I was getting at was that there is something underneath the showbizzy performance stuff that the rest of us ordinary mortals can touch (unless it's just me being delusional. It just makes me happy..). And I thought that that aspect/spirit would probably be recognised by the ordinary mortals of other countries and cultures. Conveying that is not offensive and I think if you can do that, or are trying to learn, it does show respect.

But... that is of course not all there is to it! The wish to convey any sort of spirit or artistic vision doesn't give you licence to cause offence or make yourself ridiculous with any other cultures' art forms, neither in private nor (especially) in public or in a performance. Nor does the fact that some of the audience might like it - I absolutely agree with you on this. By making yourself offensive (or ridiculous), apart from being objectionable and giving others a bad name you will fail to convey anything to that section of your audience other than your lack of taste/respect/knowledge.

I really must go to bed now!
Dancing regards and hoping to have made myself a bit clearer
A xx
 

Amulya

Moderator
Glad to see there are people sharing my opinion:) . I do like experimental belly dance, but we have to be very careful not to offend anyone. For example the pierced wings performance or Kaya and Sadie's performance, I think that has gone too far.
I really like tribal* and the costuming, but some part in me tells me that it can look very strange to some people. For example if my mother would show random avarage tribal dancers costumes (of dancers like we have here) I know she would burst out in laughter (so I better don't show her any pictures :p ) So that is probably how it looked for those Arab ladies.

*not the old school, but the thing Rachel brice is doing :)
 

Yshka

New member
Hi all,

Aniseteph, thanks for clearing that up, I must have misunderstood a bit, I just get all "don't mess with bellydance" when it comes to cultural aspects of it:D Guess it's just my BOB instinct lol.
I does show respect that we are trying to learn the dance and trying to convey the wonderful spirit it brings us, but I think this also has it's limits, for example in case of Kaya and Sadie performance, they also learned and try to come off as a pleasing performance, but then again it was also very much offending. Ofcourse this is not the case on most occasions, but I'm just saying it IS possible to do both at the same time.

Anyway, ofcourse it is a wonderful dance and we should definitely try to convey all the happiness it brings us to other people, but also in a non-offending way. If we are sincere about our beloved dance, that is not an issue at all :) .

Amulya, you're right. I think performances like those are really just offending, however I have my doubts about the pierced wings thing. I think Kaya and Sadie were totally off, totally wrong in what they were doing, but I still feel the pierced wings performance was not "completely" offensive, can't make clear why, I do think it was kind of inapropiate, even for what is called 'experimental bellydance', but still some part of me says it wasn't as insulting as the Kaya and sadie sex thing.
When I find out how to explain exactly I'll post back here:)

Iris
 

Yshka

New member
* by the way, I love Rachel Brice:p , but I agree tribal can look weird to Arabs or any ME people.

Talking about Arabs, I once performed with my troupe for a mostly Arab audience. I had a cane dance solo in which I wore a long dress and headscarf. Before that, the others in our troupe performed a group dance.
They did ok but they were not properly dressed for a performance like that (will not go into details). People in the audience were visibly uncomfortable with it and at some point I heard some people yelling "Haram".
After that is was my turn to perform and they were a great audience. I'm not trying to say I dance better than the rest of my troupe, or that I'm trying to brag in any way, but I think the issue there really was the costumes.
Which brings me also to the fact that we must be careful in our choice of dance wear not to insult or offend anyone. This is IMO a very important factor, especially when it comes to audiences that are familiar with the dance, folkloric dances that require a certain type of folkloric outfit, family venues etc.
 
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Aniseteph

New member
They did ok but they were not properly dressed for a performance like that (will not go into details). People in the audience were visibly uncomfortable with it and at some point I heard some people yelling "Haram".
I feel really sorry for anyone put in a situation like that - what can you do if you are part of a group and have to go along with someone else's costume choices? It would have been nice if someone with a better understanding of the prospective audience could have educated them and explained how their costumes might appear :(
 
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Aisha Azar

New member
How far, etc.

Dear Aniseteph,
This is just one of the many problems that arise when people start teaching or performing the dance before they have enough experience!! The person who perpetrated the situation that Yshka described was either not educated enough to know what the audence expected and knew to be right, or she did not have enough respect to care...either way it is awfully arrogant.
I was on another List where we discussed how soon people should consider teaching and we mostly felt that 6 or so years of dance experience is a good place to start as a general rule.
This gives people time to move beyond the dance as mere movement and begin to understand some of the finer points of both performance and instruction.
Regards,
A'isha
 

Yshka

New member
Dear Aisha,
I do not think it is a case of arrogance or disrespect on our side. I can only say that I strongly suspect the organisers of this event didn't have a clue what MED/bellydance is about.
Besides, our troupe came to the event expecting a totally different audience.
Our costuming was chosen on what the event organisors told us the audience would be like. When we got there, the audience appeared to be mostly Arabs, which for us came as a surprise.
Our costuming IMO looked very nice for a troupe performance for the audience we were expecting to dance for, but I think the main reason the Arabs didn't like it was because it looked a bit tribal'ish and not quite what is expeced by Arabs in an Oriental dance performance.
Ever since we have been dressing in ways appropriate for all audiences, with an eye on looking positively representative of MED.

What you say further in your post I very much agree with. Six years of experience at least is definitely a great place to start. We see so much crappy dancers and teachers out there today it just makes me angry!
It's so sad to see so many uneducated and below-average dancers misrepresent the dance and screwing up the sincerity and truthfullness in dance we are trying to portray.

Iris
 

Yshka

New member
Originally posted by Aniseteph:
What can you do if you are part of a group and have to go along with someone else's costume choices?
This was just the point, we carefully chose our costuming to what the event organisors told us the audience would be like. We were misinformed.
Usually our outfits fit the occasion like they should. Also, our other performances there that day went well and without problems.
 

Aisha Azar

New member
How far etc.

Dear Yshka,
I am not quite sure that I understand about the costuming issue...should costuming not bew chosen to enhance the dances that are being performed and not on something having to do with thne audience?? Costuming is very much about enhancing a character, or a dance, in the case of dancing. It is not about dressing for an audience as much as it is about dressing to bring out the very best in the dance that is being performed...???
I am a professionak theatrical costumer as well as a dancer. In learning about how to costume, one learns that costuming is a tool for the performer to bring out the best in the character that is being playedofr in the case of costuming an entire production, what best enhances that production. In dance this means that whatever will best help the dancer to do the dance and portray it truthfully, is what should be worn, regardless of the audience. For example, if we are dancing Tunisan, we do not wear Ghawazi. There is, of course much more room for personal taste in belly dance costumes, but even then, should the costume not reflect the style of dance that is being performed? I do not mean to sound like a BOB, but I am confused...????
Regards,
A'isha
 

Yshka

New member
Originally Posted by Aisha Azar:
I am not quite sure that I understand about the costuming issue...should costuming not bew chosen to enhance the dances that are being performed and not on something having to do with thne audience?? Costuming is very much about enhancing a character, or a dance, in the case of dancing. It is not about dressing for an audience as much as it is about dressing to bring out the very best in the dance that is being performed...???
Dear Aisha you are right, you're not confused, I think I should have explained differently. Ofcourse costuming must enhance the dance and bring out the best in the dance, but I think it just has to be appropriate for the audience as well, with this I mean not offending and certainly appropriate for the type of dance, I think I just used the wrong words.
I think we simply cannot wear tribal'ish outfits in front of an arab audience, as you cannot do the half-naked-too-revealing costume thing in front of families with little kids involved.. this might sound a bit weird, but I don't know how to explain it any other way.
I don't wish to put my troupe up for discussion so I will try not to go into as many details, I just used them as example to clarify my point about costuming being important in portraying the dance as truthfully as we can, and yes, it certainly must enhance the dance an bring out the best in the dancer and the performance.

In this case the costuming might have been a bit experimental, but it went pretty well with the performance in our opinion. The audience however, disagreed, and I just think it is about the fact that it was not quite the sort of costuming you would expect in an Oriental dance performance in front of Arabs. But then again we weren;t expecting an Arab audience.

I hope this clears it up a bit, I hope you know what I mean now, if not please tell me and I'll try to explain again, and no, you're not a BOB for that, you're in fact a very knowledgeable person and I agree with you very much on what you say in your previous post about costuming. It just came out all wrong.

Iris
 
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Hadassah

New member
Yshka - you bring up a very good point. Costuming can be very offensive to Arabs. You never wear cabaret outdoors in the middle east - at least in Egypt! You could get shot, or arrested! When we perform(and being that we perform Egyptian-style raqs sharki), we wear conservative ankle-length dresses trimmed with coins and a hipscarf to match, or a traditional beledi or saidi(assuit) tunic. We nearly always do folkloric for the general public.

However, it is entirely appropriate to wear the cabaret bedleh indoors at a party, restaurant gig, or stage show, and we do. But never outdoors. It's tacky, and extremely offensive to arabs, thus the cries of "haram!" your troupe members experienced.

BOB point - if an instructor cannot instruct her students in the cultural mores of ME dance, perhaps she should rethink her role. My teacher has spent extensive time in the ME, knows the culture and people, and honors them through her art. Perhaps it is snobbery on my part, but to me it's akin to wearing blackface for an afro-american audience if you ignore the moralities and ethics of your arab audience. Don't expect them to sit back and take it. rant complete.
 

Yshka

New member
Thanks Hadassah. That is exactly what I mean.
I think also that the costuming was just a bit too experimental for an Arab audience, I think that was the point, I talked to some Arab friends of mine who were there and they said something of that sort too.
As for your BOB point, that is absolutely not snobbish. I think you are right.
We shouldn't have tried it, it wasn't recieved the way we expected it to be, but then again my teacher does really know her stuff, so I truly believe she was not the one to blame, after all, we have a great say in costuming for our troupe as well, and we went for it too, thinking it would be suitable for the occasion, (at the same time, and this I think was also wrong in this case, as to what I've heard from some friends, trying out a different style of costuming instead of original bedlah)..
And if you know me I'm BOB as hell when it comes to cultural aspects and what to think of on grounds of culture in a performance lol.

Mistake I guess, we've at least learned from that bigtime ;)
 
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Aisha Azar

New member
etc.

Dear Yshka,
Thank you for clearing up the situation. I have found that Arabs at weddings, etc, are not as uptight about the costuming being brief as are Americans and other westerners, no matter who is in the audience. They generally tend to be more free about discussing sex in front of the kids and grandmothers, too...
Regards,
A'isha
 

Yshka

New member
Dear Aisha, I see your point. I've never had problems like that with Arab audiences before either, It was just a weird situation.
Usually the Arabs here aren't very uptight about the costuming issue either, but I guess there are exceptions in this as well.

Iris
 

da Sage

New member
However, it is entirely appropriate to wear the cabaret bedleh indoors at a party, restaurant gig, or stage show, and we do. But never outdoors. It's tacky, and extremely offensive to arabs, thus the cries of "haram!" your troupe members experienced.
I had never heard this. This is why I love this forum, I am always learning something new. I know that it is correct for dancers to always be fully covered, except during their performance. But I assumed that bedleh was perfectly appropriate for any non-folkloric/non-tribal performance, indoors or outdoors.

Is the rule the same for tribal short cholis that show the belly, or different?

And is this a general audience rule, or just in case there are arabs present?
 

Yshka

New member
Originally Posted byda Sage:
I had never heard this. This is why I love this forum, I am always learning something new. I know that it is correct for dancers to always be fully covered, except during their performance. But I assumed that bedleh was perfectly appropriate for any non-folkloric/non-tribal performance, indoors or outdoors.
Me neither! I knew it was appropriate to cover up too but I didn't know about the outdoors thing. It's good to have all these lovely dancers from all over the place share their knowledge in this cool forum:) .
 
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