'Yes, But Is It Art?': Musings on Art, Fame and the Evolution of Dance

So I have been very silent on my blog as of late due partially to some very good, and very bad events in my life. This combined with the ever present responsibilities of school, dance, personal relationships has made me unable to dedicate the time to write anything here, or think of a topic.

Today, however an old topic I meant to write about a long time ago has resurfaced in my mind and that is on dancers and the issues with fame, success and the pursuit of all sorts of happiness and art. Bellydance is not my first dance form and is definitely not my last, and never have I seen such blind grasps at concepts of fame then I have seen in this dance. What is also bizarre to me is how fame is defined. Now I know what I’m going to say isn’t the popular consensus and I really do mean no disrespect, but being famous amongst your niche aka bellydancers, is not actually being famous. You know who’s famous? Dina, Didem, Dina Jamal, people that the chefs at my restaurants have a knowing smile on their face when I say their names. You know who isn’t famous? Last year’s winner of Super Ultimate Bellydancer of the Cosmos and Known World Champion.

Tein the ultimate guru of art with a capital "A"

Tein the ultimate guru of art with a capital "A"

 Not that I’m saying someone isn’t necessarily talented that wins a competition nor am I saying because you are famous you are necessarily talented. All I am saying is being well known in your niche doesn’t mean you’re famous and furthermore, why do you care about being famous in the first place? If you are, as I venture to say every single bellydancer I have ever spoken to in life, trying to be authentic and artistic dancer and pursue a career preserving the beauty of this dance you love, why are you so obsessed with being famous? (and despite being snarky please realize I mean no disrespect especially to my friends who win competitions or are in the process of trying to win, it is just my opinion on the establishment not your own personal dance or goals)

This brings me to another topic, art. Dance is art, it is also work. Not every dance you perform will be art, especially if this is your livelihood, some will be just entertainment that brings a paycheck. But deep down inside, your dance is always your art, even when you’re sick as a dog dancing between tables in a busy restaurant. Art, and what is art is perhaps the most cliche topic there is but I will tell you one thing. Art which is only seen by other artists in their niche is not effective. The pursuit of art is to reveal your perspective to others the whole reason for art is everywhere movements, like Art in Public Places, FlashMobs, etc is to bring art to the masses so they too can have the opportunity to be effected by art. This is not a new concept, Shakespeare did it too, writing for both the elite and the groundlings so everyone could enjoy the play. Not only did this ensure ticket sale and make him famous, it also allowed his stories to be heard by literally tons of people, and continue to be heard and revamped for modern day. Art not seen is arguably not art because it has no opportunity to move people. Art is everywhere, give your audience some credit and take a chance to move them, even in a restaurant. A restaurant show is only a restaurant show if you allow it to be.

Along with the endless pursuit of fame comes the constant downplaying of anything that doesn’t fit into one dancer’s view of dance. If a certain dancer or subdiscipline of bellydance doesn’t approve of some move or song or whatever then it isn’t “bellydance” or “authentic”. I always find this particularly amusing since 99.999% of bellydancers are in no position culturally, geographically, historically, linguistically or training wise to state what is real or authentic or bellydance, if you really want to get technical. They also fail to see the so called inauthentic behaviours in their own style. Complaining about ballet lifts and styling or modern props has no place if you are dancing the new South American Egyptian aka Tango fused bellydance or if you have ever used a veil, sword, or isis wings just to name a few. Again, there is nothing wrong with this and I have no problem whatsoever with a dance evolving. In fact, I openly embrace evolution. Dance evolves, culture evolves, period. It has to happen to remain relevant, the moment something stops evolving is the moment it starts to die both figuratively and literally. A lack of evolution means a lack of relevance and a lack of caring within the society the dance resides. But just because a certain evolution of a dance does not work for you doesn’t mean it isn’t real or authentic or it can not be performed for so called authentic audiences. So many times I have been chastised for use of fire or modern props by dancers and have been told I am unmarketable for an old school crowd but guess what? Fire is fire, new is new, and humans are humans and humans relationship to fire and novelty is ancient and the attraction undeniable. Modern props, when used with respect to the dance and culture are fun and effective for all audiences.  And even the most old school, 90 year old Egyptian is going to be entertained by fire or isis wings or swords especially when combined with culturally sensitive dance and music. If you as a dancer are not attracted to this, guess what, you don’t have to dance like that. And I am 100% positive you can still entertain the most old school, 90 year old Egyptian just as well as I can. It isn’t a contest, there can be more than one, please relax.

So where am I going with this sorta rant? It’s this, respect yourself, respect your fellow dancer, respect art and respect the culture of dance and its evolution and respect your audience. Take time to reflect in yourself on why you have set the goals you have set to find your motives. Look at the larger picture of the world and find your place in it. It’s not a big place but it’s yours so be mindful how you decorate it.