Dance For Life! - Covid Edition
This might be my one and only blog, but I needed to write down some things. I have had thoughts swirling in my mind due to some conversations I had recently. Here are some random thoughts as I wait to hear about new lockdown measures…
I had the opportunity to speak to an out-of-town belly dance sister this week. She shared with me that she had considered giving up the dance due to attacks about appropriation. I still cannot put into words how I felt when she shared this with me.
What I can share is this, this is the dancer that my Egyptian friends have been excitedly waiting to see perform again. This is the dancer they felt imbued the dance with Egyptian feel and style. A beautiful, respectful dance artist. Fortunately, I was able to share the excitement and anticipation of my Egyptian friends. Due to Covid we were forced to cancel the 2019 show, so it has been a long wait. I wish she could see how their eyes light up as they remember her performance. I wish she could see how energized they become!
At one time I joined an on-line group supposedly about promoting and uplifting the dance. I was shocked to find only judgment and hatred. When I expressed the notion that my Middle Eastern friends loved and enjoyed our dancing, when I shared one of their comments “if you feel it, dance!” I was told by a North American dancer that “they didn’t know any better”. This is the height of privilege. To decide that you know better than the people of the culture. To decide that you as a North American get to sit in judgment.
I had a friend tell me I could not legitimately discuss appropriation because I was a belly dancer and the fact that I am means I am appropriating the art form. This is someone that will play the blues despite its roots.
As a dancer that has taught at studios teaching hip hop, jazz, ballet etc. and as someone that has attended many yoga classes run by non-Indian instructors, I am puzzled as to why belly dance is considered appropriation while this is not. I am not talking about authentic folklore and regional dances I refer to belly dance as a whole.
I remember sitting in an audience raptly listening to Mahmoud Reda founder of the Reda Troupe speaking about his life and career. He talked about the dance and the art. About how creativity has no bounds. About attempts to restrict him as a dancer and an artist. About how he studied ballet. He encouraged us to not allow ourselves to be restricted as artists. His audience was mostly made up of North American dancers. To this day his choreographies are performed in Egypt and the Reda Troupe exists.
I love this dance. Not the over sexualized, over the top, sensationalized stuff. I love the dancer that digs deep. The dancer that dares to show you who she is when performing. That moves to the music in a way that shows a connection and understanding of the depth of this dance, culture, and history. I love the new dancers discovering themselves and the rhythms. I love the sounds and the layers. I love the intricacy and I love the simplicity. And I love, love, love when the light comes on and they ‘get it’. I love when the thirst for knowledge kicks in and suddenly it is not only about the dance anymore. It becomes about people and culture, about sorrows and hardship and joy and life. It becomes about communication and extending a hand in friendship.
My final thought is this… if you love this dance keep going. Do not let the naysayers stop you. Listen and engage with and learn from the people of the culture. When you know better, do better. Accept that every time you do something great and not so great, every time you step out on that stage there will be critics. The question is do you love it enough to risk it? Do you love it enough to leave your heart out on that dance floor? I can promise you this, the right people will recognize the gift. Keep dancing my friends. Dance for joy. Dance for sorrow. Dance for life!
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Karen Elizabeth aka Na'ema of Aaliyah Dance
I began oriental dance when I was 15. I love everything about it. It made me who I am today.