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Alternative Belly Dance
June 19, 2009 11:27 AM   Subscribe

Explore the joy of American Tribal Style (1, 2, 3), tribal fusion (1, 2, 3), industrial, gothic (1, 2, 3), fantasy, heavy metal, punk raqs, ‘80s fusion, hip hop, new age, feminist, Star Trek, or tough love belly dance.

(Previously).
posted by velvet winter (20 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite

 
Took you long enough.

Just kidding. I can't wait to check these out when I'm not at work.
posted by lekvar at 11:42 AM on June 19, 2009


Next to my monitor at work is a picture of my then-new-girlfriend/now-wife belly dancing to Portishead's "Glory Box." It was a class exhibition, and all of the other women did traditional stuff, mostly in groups. The crowd ate that up--lots of clapping and ululations and such things. But as the to-be-MrsMoonPie walked out onto the dance floor as the music slowly faded in, then did her routine, the crowd was silent--they'd never seen such a thing, apparently. There was much applause and adulation afterwards, at least.

Over the years, it's been difficult for her to find new classes that aren't some specific style, though she's in a good one now. Her teacher is part of the combination belly dance/drag king show we're going to see this very evening.
posted by MrMoonPie at 12:05 PM on June 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


The 80's fusion belly dancing looks and sounds fun!
posted by nickyskye at 12:12 PM on June 19, 2009


Yay, at last! Thanks for putting together such a freaking awesome post, Velvet Winter.
posted by shiu mai baby at 12:28 PM on June 19, 2009


Also, there's the fairly famous Star Wars Belly Dance, which makes me smile every time I watch it. So incredibly great.
posted by shiu mai baby at 12:31 PM on June 19, 2009


Last week, I was re-watching Louis Malle's fantastic documentaries shot in India in the 60's. In one hour-long segment, they shot at a religious dance school in the south of India, where young students were taught traditional dances that had a 2000 year history (mostly Bharatnatyam). The dances were stunning in their intricacy and exactitude and beauty. Kids would often start at a young age, and practice for hours, every day, for years, and years, taught by masters.

The filmmakers spent a lot of time filming two girls who were the stars at the school (both somewhere around 18-20 years old). Watching the two girls dance in sync, was a breathtaking experience. It seemed scarcely possible for mere humans to move like that. They interviewed the girls, and there was one awkward moment, when the interviewer mentioned that in the West, we too have schools dedicated to dance - and they answered politely but with a degree of indignation, that for them, it is not really possible to compare the two, because they must have a deep spiritual connection with their faith while performing their movements, and that without that faith they would not be able to do certain things in dance, and so they rejected the comparison. Whether faith was the key ingredient or not, the results were amazing.

Now, since these were the 60's, the school opened their doors to international students, and started a class for grown-ups. There we had the opportunity to observe an American girl and a Japanese girl do the dance. It was very interesting indeed. Perhaps unsurprisingly, given that they did not start as 10 year olds, they were a world away from the skill the two Indian girls displayed. It was as if a different dance. Even the filmmakers remarked upon how impossible it would be for a grown foreigner to hope to ever achieve the same heights as the natives who practiced from a young age.

This is a long introduction to my main point. I wonder how many folks who attend these dances here in the states, have had an opportunity to experience genuine bellydance stars perform in the ME, with traditional music. As with the Indian performers, at the highest level, it is a calling.

And so, watching these videos, I was struck the same way as watching the American student perform at the school in India. The moves were sort of all there, but it was a world away - not even within the same class. I suppose for someone who has not seen the real article, it seems kinda exotic and awesome. That's fine. But it is disorienting to watch these, and hear the audience applaud moves which are so pedestrian you wonder what the fuss is all about.

Now, nobody says that BD idiom cannot be adapted or spread and re-purposed - and many of these clips show an admirable ability to do just that. Yay, for cultural influences. I'm all for it. In art, I am not a believer in "purity" for purity's sake. Mix it up, and let the best hybrid win, say I. It's all good.

That said, there is the experience of Russian ballet, and the jazzercise version at the local 24-hours. Just different animals. I guess, I thought I'd see more of the magic of top level BD technique and performances, and that was simply put, just not here at all.

Still, an amazing collection of links that must have taken quite a bit of effort to hunt down, and it opened my eyes to the huge variety of forms BD influence has taken - so thank you for this excellent post.
posted by VikingSword at 2:00 PM on June 19, 2009 [3 favorites]


Robot Belly Dance
posted by kyrademon at 3:12 PM on June 19, 2009


VikingSword ... oof, where to begin.

I have to say I found your post a bit insulting. I do not think that was your intent, but nevertheless. I think you are making certain assumptions which are simply not the case. I, too, have had the opportunity to see some of the stars of Middle Eastern bellydance, and I disagree with your poor assessment of performers from other countries in comparison.

I want to start by saying that the collection of links velvet winter posted are not, I think, intended to be the Best of the Best of the Best of American bellydance. It's not the purpose of the links, which was, as far as I can tell, to present a nifty sampling a variety of different bellydance styles people might not be familiar with.

While there are certainly some famous dancers in the mix, many are more obscure, none are shown doing their most famous performances, and some of the best known dancers aren't in the links at all (Rachel Brice leaps immediately to mind.) This isn't a complaint about the links -- that wasn't the point -- but comparing these performances to the Absolute Best Performances You Have Ever Seen isn't fair. You're essentially responding to the equivalent of a "some bands I think are pretty cool" post by saying "all American music apparently sucks."

Next, you seem to have somewhat missed the point that American Tribal Style and its descendants aren't TRYING to be authentic Middle Eastern dance. They are two very different styles, with different purposes, goals, and histories, that share a dance vocabulary to a large extent. It's like complaining that Modern isn't Ballet -- well, no, it's not.

And finally ... in regards to the comparison you made, I must simply disagree. The great stars of the Middle East are wonderful dancers, but they never seemed to me to be worlds beyond every other bellydancer I've ever seen. This may be simply a difference of opinion, but it's also true that Middle Eastern dance actually *isn't* taught the way Indian classical dance is, in general. It's much more of a folk dance tradition, with few if any formal schools of the "get them when they're ten" type seen in Indian dance or Ballet. Middle Eastern dancers are often wonderfully expressive, and many certainly gain a technical advantage by being immersed in a culture where that is the default form of dance, but I've never seen this amazing automatic massive technical superiority you claim to have seen.

And as to whether American bellydancers have A CALLING, and spend the amount of time practicing and dedicating their lives to it that such a thing requires ... well, I can introduce you to a number of them who will be very surprised if you insist to them that this is not the case.
posted by kyrademon at 4:23 PM on June 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


kyrademon, the proper focus here should be on the topic, and my defending myself from misunderstanding does not serve that purpose, so I'll only respond this once hopefully avoiding a derail.

You say:

"[...]you seem to have somewhat missed the point that American Tribal Style and its descendants aren't TRYING to be authentic Middle Eastern dance. They are two very different styles, with different purposes, goals, and histories, that share a dance vocabulary to a large extent. It's like complaining that Modern isn't Ballet -- well, no, it's not."

Rather than write up new paragraphs to refute such an interpretation of my post, how about I just repeat what I already wrote, since it directly contradicts such a misinterpretation:

"Now, nobody says that BD idiom cannot be adapted or spread and re-purposed - and many of these clips show an admirable ability to do just that. Yay, for cultural influences. I'm all for it. In art, I am not a believer in "purity" for purity's sake. Mix it up, and let the best hybrid win, say I. It's all good."

Debating quality of performers in the ME vs here is kinda pointless without seeing them side by side, so I won't engage in "but I say so". I merely report on my experience, having seen top level performers from Syria, Egypt and Morocco (mostly in the 80's and mostly in Morocco) - perhaps your experiences are the exact opposite, and I have no way to prove otherwise. Fair enough.

I think the source of the misunderstanding is here - you say:

"I want to start by saying that the collection of links velvet winter posted are not, I think, intended to be the Best of the Best of the Best of American bellydance. It's not the purpose of the links, which was, as far as I can tell, to present a nifty sampling a variety of different bellydance styles people might not be familiar with.

While there are certainly some famous dancers in the mix, many are more obscure, none are shown doing their most famous performances, and some of the best known dancers aren't in the links at all (Rachel Brice leaps immediately to mind.) This isn't a complaint about the links -- that wasn't the point -- but comparing these performances to the Absolute Best Performances You Have Ever Seen isn't fair. You're essentially responding to the equivalent of a "some bands I think are pretty cool" post by saying "all American music apparently sucks."


OK, I guess, I was expecting the best of the best on a website dedicated to the best of the web. If that was wrong, then I plead guilty. I didn't think the links were chosen at random. In many of these, the comments seem to suggest that these are famous performers. I thought I'd see famous performers doing their best. It was underwhelming, to put it mildly, which lead me to think back to the difference between an artist appropriating an idiom mid-stream (as is their right), and an artist for whom the idiom is their calling. Now, if these were just random links showing random performers doing middling work, and the purpose was only to show how broad the whole thing can be and still have a nominally "look, bellydance!" element in it, then OK, I completely misunderstood the point of the post.

Even so, I wasn't at all hostile or insulting in my post (I don't think), but genuinely appreciative, since I had no idea that BD influence has spread so far. I thought the OP made an excellent post that took a lot of work. I thought my closing sentence made that crystal clear:

"Still, an amazing collection of links that must have taken quite a bit of effort to hunt down, and it opened my eyes to the huge variety of forms BD influence has taken - so thank you for this excellent post."

Now, if this is insulting and somehow not sufficiently deferential for any and all eagle-eyed critics out there, then I will also additionally apologize (hope that will be enough! no?).

And now, I'm not going to derail this thread any further, so if you find some hidden insult somewhere or some other sin I've committed and for which my apology is just not good enough, you are free to excoriate me, without a further response.
posted by VikingSword at 5:00 PM on June 19, 2009


All I know is belly dancing makes my pants feel funny.
posted by tkchrist at 5:25 PM on June 19, 2009


VikingSword, kyrademon, all your words belie the fact that you know there's only one way to settle this dispute...

Dance-off!
posted by lekvar at 5:31 PM on June 19, 2009


Conversely, VikingSword, I bumped into an American woman in Turkey once who was complaining about the bellydancing...stupidly, I quipped something like "well, maybe you'd get into it more if you were a guy...?"

Turned out that she'd studied bellydance for decades, and could pick that the girls doing the touristic performances only had a few years of training up their sleeves.

That says more about touristic shows than about the top-class performers that you're talking about, but I thought it made a vaguely relevant anecdote.
posted by UbuRoivas at 5:50 PM on June 19, 2009


I didn't think the links were chosen at random.

Not at all. I chose a mix of famous and not-so-famous dancers (as well as photos from Venus Uprising, an interview with Sharon Kihara, and an essay on feminism and belly dance by scholar Andrea Deagon). As kyrademon mentioned, my intent was to provide a broad glimpse into the world of non-traditional belly dance, and also to inspire people who may not have been aware of the enormous diversity in the art form. I think the skill of the performers I linked is obvious - especially in the case of Carolena Nericcio of Fat Chance Belly Dance, who has achieved a certain level of fame as the creator of American Tribal Style - but of course I don't expect everyone to agree with me. I've only been involved in belly dance for a few years as a student and hobbyist, and I certainly don't claim to be an expert on the subject.

I love Egyptian raqs sharqi, classical Indian Bharatnatyam devotional dance, traditional Middle Eastern folk dances, the Bellydance Superstars, and a whole host of other styles. But my aim in this post was to expose people to more non-mainstream styles of belly dance, some of which are new and controversial.

I'd definitely be interested in seeing a post with a "Best of the Best in Belly Dance" theme, though, if anyone wants to put one together!
posted by velvet winter at 5:59 PM on June 19, 2009


VikingSword -- I think your last post and velvet winter's followup do pretty clearly analyze what the disagreement really stemmed from. No hard feelings, I hope, and I apologize in turn for misinterpreting what you said regarding stylistic choices.
posted by kyrademon at 6:23 PM on June 19, 2009


velvet winter, I see and appreciate where you are coming from and again, I found your post personally informative. We need not agree on all points, but that doesn't imply lack of appreciation (or worse!). For example "I think the skill of the performers I linked is obvious - especially in the case of Carolena Nericcio" I certainly couldn't say they have no skill, though I have not seen it in display in the particular links... I re-watched the first couple of links again, and that's the way I see it (maybe 100% wrong). The performers I have seen, are able to create the illusion of the belly moving totally independent of the rest of the body, though in harmony with it. In the links here, I see a limited range of motion, mostly lateral, but little in the way of the circular marvels I associate with the true masters. Now, a group showing doesn't allow the kind of focus a solo performer can command, so perhaps she's capable of a lot more, I don't know, I'm just going by what I see. Quite frankly, we can discuss a lot of elements here, starting with the physical, where a performer cultivates just the right amount of body fat and is lucky to have nature distribute it optimally for her art, but the topic is hard to discuss in words without actual demonstrations, so perhaps the best policy is the old "if you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all", ergo, I'll shut up now about the performances in some of these links.

UbuRoivas - absolutely, I've seen tons of bad performances in the ME (though I don't have much experience with Turkey or Turkish performers in that respect). Most recently, I've just been exposed to a real bad performance at a Georgian wedding that employed a belly dancer. Anyhow, bad performers, in the ME or elsewhere are a dime a dozen. Same thing as the dance performers in India who work the tourist trade - mostly dropouts and rejects from the dancing schools... no matter, tourists can't tell the difference.
posted by VikingSword at 6:42 PM on June 19, 2009


kyrademon, sorry I posted without seeing your last post, and in turn let me apologize sincerely for any snark that may have snuck into my reply (I was taken aback and hurt a bit - stupidly - because it was unexpected), but hey, I should take my own counsel and take a breather instead of flying off the handle. Yeah, no hard feelings, and I'll try to do better next time.
posted by VikingSword at 6:45 PM on June 19, 2009


VikingSword - glad you found something to appreciate, in any case, and I agree that outstanding dance skill is something to celebrate.

perhaps she's capable of a lot more

I think Carolena's pretty amazing in everything I've seen her do. Perhaps a solo performance like this, with belly rolls and flutters, would be more to your taste?
posted by velvet winter at 7:09 PM on June 19, 2009


Great stuff -- it's fascinating to see how a style (or is it vocabulary?) of dance has been appropriated, reused, and reinvented in ways both good and bad.

I think some of the criticisms comparing these videos to people at the apex of a long tradition is like criticizing an early punk band for not knowing more than four chords, and out of tune at that, and comparing them to a master of classical guitar. Sure, they are sharing something -- but they are doing totally different things, in different contexts, and with different resources at their disposal.

Give it more time, and if some of these newer forms have staying power, they will develop the richness and nuance of older styles. And even if they don't, they are still fun to watch, and the performers look like they are having fun, too.
posted by Forktine at 7:50 PM on June 19, 2009


That's a lot more range, indeed! Speaking of range, a completely non-traditional example, a bit more athletic than artistic for my taste, but certainly showing some range.
posted by VikingSword at 7:52 PM on June 19, 2009


The previously mentioned Rachel Brice, throwing in some yoga moves.
posted by small_ruminant at 11:38 PM on June 19, 2009


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