Not long after I started learning to bellydance, I developed intrusive thought OCD. Under the direction of a psychologist, I had to undergo Exposure and Response Prevention Therapy, or ERPT for short. The gist of this therapy, which is also used to help people overcome debilitating fears, is to expose yourself to an anxiety inducing stimulus and, instead of allowing yourself to respond with your anxiety reducing compulsion, riding out the anxiety so that you retrain your brain, though experience, to recognize that the anxiety response is not necessary. Over time, you gradually increase how long you resist performing the compulsion or increase the magnitude of the stimulus (meaning, if you're doing ERPT to overcome a fear of snakes, you might start out with worms, then move onto small garden snakes, then just look at a big snake, then touch one, and eventually work up to holding a medium sized milk snake, for example).
I promise this is a post about bellydance!
You have probably heard the phrase "fake it 'till you make it", and when it comes to confidence this is basically a glib way to tell someone to do an (undirected, possibly non-therapeutic) form of ERPT. You get up on stage (expose yourself to feeling unconfident) and act like you are confident (prevent the anxiety response) and eventually retrain your brain to respond to the situation differently. Basically, you are proving to yourself that YOU CAN DO IT, and teaching your anxiety to take time off, because nothing bad is going to happen.
Now, I don't mean levels in terms of how skilled a dancer is, this post is about how zoomed in, or out, on the music you are. Each level of musicality corresponds to different skills you can practice. You've probably taken classes or workshops around these levels. Maybe you're about to sign up for workshops at a festival and are trying to pick from different topics, or maybe you are looking back a smattering of learning and wondering how it all fits together. Hopefully (and if you're in my class, I've sent this to you as part of your level 2 information) you're reading this ahead of time, so you can see how the things we're doing in class build into a whole.
Over-dancing is something like that awkward stage of adolescence, a development stage that most intermediate dance students go through. We know a lot of what to do, but that lack of experience leaves a certain immaturity to how we do it.
Some dancers never quite move out of this stage, instead treating it as a mark of skill to show off everything they can do each and every time they are on stage. There are lots of factors that have encouraged this in the dance world, but it is partially to do with the change in audiences. Native audiences and dancers are usually looking for a feeling: to experience tarab, or to feel connected to their culture or their community. The roll of the professional bellydancer as hostess and of a hafla as a social occasion is one part of why we want to avoid over dancing. But it also allows us to relax and enjoy our own dancing, and makes the performance that much more captivating for the audience.
Most of us, as new students, want to learn the right way to dance. We often want to know what the correct name for a move is, and how it is done. New dancers can get confused or frustrated when hearing different names of the same move, or will label one way of doing something wrong if it doesn't match up with they way our teacher does it.* We may even long for a standardized curriculum, especially if we grew up with more codified Western dance styles, like ballet or square dancing. I know it's frustrating to not have a single answer, but for this dance, it is very important to resist the urge to standardize it!
You might want to get it right so you have the confidence that someone won't challenge you on it. You might want to get it right to be respectful of the culture or to avoid offending someone, but actually, allowing for this shift away from standardization and to a different perspective on dancing, is the more authentic thing.
You see, within raqs sharki/oriental tansi (the Arabic and Turkish names, respectively, for what we call bellydance, both meaning Eastern/Oriental dance), choreography is something that was imported from the west during colonization. That isn't to say no dances in the MENAHT region used pre-set movement patterns, but the social dance, and the dance performed by the awalim and raqassas, this was an improvised art form.
In Arabic performing arts, performing something differently each time is highly valued. Alia Thabit (an Arab-American dancer in Massachusetts) has written extensively about this, including a chapter in her book "Midnight at the Crossroads". You can also see it in the ecstatic reactions of the audience to singers like Om Kalthoom, who would take a 30 minute (as composed) song, and make a 2 hour concert of it by riffing on a line, or even just a word, to milk the emotion from it. Or in a beledi progression, which has a general structure but no set composition because it is played on the musician's feeling. Bellydance is always the music translated into movement, so it shares this quality both as a result of the music being this way, and from the native cultural aesthetic applying to the dance. This is obvious in golden era videos, where the star is improvising and the backup dancers, doing choreography (again, an innovation that Sala owners imported from the West and chose to use in their own way) are each doing the choreography in their own way. This is not because they are unrehearsed or bad dancers, but because it is not their goal to be perfect copies of each other the way the corps dancers in a ballet are striving for.
Hello bellydance students! This post is going to list many of the folk dances of the MENAHT area. MENAHT is a short hand was of saying Middle East, North Africa, Hellenic (Greek), and Turkey. Thanks to the influence of various empires and the silk road I've also included Iran. Bellydance music and shows will often include references to many of these folk dances, sometimes in a tableau during the folkloric part of an Egyptian stage show, sometimes as a verse in an oriental entrance piece, sometimes in the name of an ATS move that subtly references one of the folk dances of that area. Knowing about the different folk dances and folkloric dances will enhance your appreciation for bellydance shows and MENAHT music. And who knows, maybe you'll even find a new dance that you want to learn to do!
Most of these dances are not dances I am familiar with, they are listed here because the goal of this post is NOT for you to memorize all of these dances, or to learn all of them. Instead, I want you to take away from this post that, although Hollywood or certain news outlets (or even certain historians-with-an-agenda) might portray this as a homogenous area, each section of that acronym MENAHT is diverse and each culture is a beautiful part of the mosaic.
Hopefully you'll find some dances, regions, and cultures you want to learn more about, but I really believe no one person could possibly do all of these dances, certainly not well. So for now, knowing that they exist, appreciating the diversity, and maybe finding one you'd like to start with is the main goal.
Welcome to bellydance class! If you're taking Farha's level one class, you'll want to add finger cymbals around the time you start your second or third unit of class. Here's what to look for, and how to get three different sounds out of your cymbals.
Bellydancers have come up with some incredible stories to explain the origins of our dance. And while we can know a lot about the past century, the further back we go, the blurrier the picture gets. In her article about bellydance urban legends, Shira asks "Why can't we accept that the earliest origins of Oriental dance are lost in time?" I propose the following, as a way to create some sense of resolution around this issue.
You are bound to come across some version of the phrase "bellydance as we know it today", which generally means raqs sharki as it has been performed leading up the golden era and recorded in early Egyptian cinema. This style was popular with the concert halls and it formed from the dances of the awalim and Ottoman court dancers.
As Dr. Deagon points out, we tend to want to simplify the past, conceptualizing it as straight roads, with no on or off ramps. Instead (and in light of the ancient tradition of trade, the legacies of empires expanding and falling, to say nothing of colonialism) I recommend thinking of the timeline of bellydance as a series of rivers and streams that merge and diverge, mixing together and forging their own paths. Liquids are made of lots of molecules that stick together, and are always moving. Think of it, you can never look at the same river twice.
The following is a reader's digest/compilation of three articles, "Fact or Fiction: Which Belly Dance Urban Legends Should You Believe?" By Shira, "'The Oldest Dance'? Really???" also by Shira, and "In Search of the Origins of Dance: Real History, or Fragments of Ourselves" by Andrea Deagon, PhD., as well as my own thoughts stitching them together. The water cycle analogy is also my own. I've combined and condensed them in an effort to make it easier for new dancers to get solid footing on the issue of bellydance's history, without feeling too overwhelmed. Enjoy!
If you have a circle skirt, or other very full skirt, you probably, understandably, want to avoid hemming it. There is a lot of fabric there, and it will clearly take a long time to do. The sheer yardage of it will also provide plenty of opportunity to lose pins, or wibble and wooble and end up with an uneven hem. You might even have beading at the bottom, or some other beautiful trim, ruffle, or design that you don't want to interfere with.
trouble is, you also don't want to trip over your skirt, or wind up with a filthy hem after just a few performances. This tutorial will give you a way to take up the length on any skirt that gets worn under a belt or hip scarf. Sortta a tummy tuck for skirts! This technique is also great for circle skirts that have warped over time, to take up places where the hem has stretched longer over time.
Post 11 of 11.
It can seem like an overly intellectualizing exercise to differentiate between many different styles of bellydance, and there are a lot of contentious discussions about what makes a style of dance and when something ceases to be bellydance anymore. While it is understandable why one would want to avoid that kind of conversation there are many reasons for learning about the different styles of bellydance. Selfish reasons, practical reasons, and socially conscientious reasons.
First, let's differentiate between bellydance and Middle Eastern dance. Many styles of bellydance, but not all, are Middle Eastern dance, and a fair few styles of Middle Eastern dance are bellydance, but far from the majority. Nadira has a wonderful diagram that makes more sense of in a smaller space than my rambling about it will. It's also worth noting that in order to talk about one style or another, you HAVE to talk about the time period you're referring to. Differentiating between Turkish and Egyptian style, at least as enjoyed by the upper classes, would be useless if you're looking during the Ottoman empire when fashionable entertainment was Turkish. But during the 1960's, for example, the two countries had very different styles.
Also, remember that there is no value judgement in differentiating styles. I advocate doing it so we can appreciate each style's unique contributions and beauty, not in order to berate anyone into a mold.
It's a good idea to learn to do more than one style, but there's a lot of them! At the very least we should all learn about all the different manifestations of bellydance. Now, down to the reasons why it's worth it!
As bellydancers, we do a lot of jobs that for some other performers would be spread out amongst a team. We are our own stylists and sometimes our own costume makers, wardrobe masters, dressers, our own hair dressers and makeup artists, our own web designers, copy writers, publicists, agents and negotiators, our own choreographers (loosely speaking ^_~), artistic directors, sound editors, prop masters, producers, and stage managers. Each of these jobs in a theatre production would have their own kit to bring with them to each show, the tools they need to ensure the show runs smoothly. Luckily, we don't have to haul all of those kits with us everywhere we go! So what are the most important things to have with you at a gig?
Some dancers I know take a single shoulder bag containing just their wallet, skirt, belt, veil, and cymbals with their costume bra already on. I am on the other end of the spectrum, having been both a wardrobe head and stage manager for theatrical productions I tend to be the one that can rescue fellow performers backstage if needed. More often, I can rescue myself!
For the TL;DR crowd, there's a list at the bottom ^_~
This post is less about what makes a professional, beginner, or advancing amature quality costume, and more about the options for unifying a group in different ways.
First, you have to decide how unified you want your dancers to be, and then by what means you will unify them. The level of unity and polish your costuming will need depends on the level of performance you're intending to present. Think about the level of investment your dancers are prepared to make, in time or money, and about the skill level of the troupe. In addition to the styles represented in the group, skill level, and performance/venue expectations you'll want to consider how the colors and costume styles will balance as the formations of the choreography shift. A quick list of things to ask yourself:
Congratulations on signing up for your first workshop! Workshops are different from regular classes for a few reasons: there will likely be more people than your regular class, the lesson will last longer, the information will probably be more concentrated, and there's a different teacher- which means different expectations. Here are some tips to prevent you from being "that girl".
Post 10 of 11.
Fusion (formerly known as Tribal Fusion) comes from ATS. As we know, ATS came from Am Cab ("as unromantic as it sounds to tribal bellydance historians, these dancers who hit the Ren Faires by day simply changed costumes and danced the night away at the restaurants. They were cabaret dancers in Ren Faire drag, if you will."-Shay Moore). From the original FatChance BellyDance troupe came Jill Parker, who created "Ultra Gypsy" and the start of "tribal fusion".
These days, to be more respectful of Native Americans, many dancers are dropping the "tribal" from the description, and even more have stopped using the G word. Each troupe has started coming up with terms that most closely represent what they do, and I have no doubt that from this a dominant term will eventually emerge organically, given time. I have included it in this intro so you know about the history, but we'll stick with some of the updated terms for the rest of the post.
Post 3 of 11.
Bellydance in Turkey: although it had long been a family folk dance in the Arab world, when the Ottoman empire expanded into Egypt and the Levant in the early 1500's entertainers like the Awalim were brought back to Turkey. (The harem-girl story came from Turkish odalisques who were trained in entertaining, although the female dancers usually performed for other women.) This of course had always been a 2 way street, with many Arabic instruments being perfected in Turkey. After the fall of the Ottoman Empire Turkey was focused on making a good impression with Western Europe, and downplayed it's Middle Eastern culture, bellydance was not a super popular form of entertainment and dancers from the courts left to find work elsewhere, including the Egyptian theaters.
Post 4 of 11.
Our next style goes by many names! Sometimes called "American Cabaret", or "Am Cab" for short, "Vintage American", "Vintage Oriental", "American Restaurant", "Vintage Restaurant", "classic American".... you get the idea. Each dancer usually has her preferred term but be aware that the term "cabaret" does NOT have a family friendly connotation outside the USA. So when speaking to someone from the Middle East, or Europe, it's better to pick one of the other terms.
Post 9 of 11.
The next chronological step in our styles journey, Improvisational Team Synchronization and ATS!
VERY recently a movement has begun to change the name of these styles, to respect the Native American/First Nations community. Previously, offshoots of bellydance were called "Tribal Fusion" and the T in ATS and ITS stood for tribal. ITS became Improvisational Team Synchronization. (ATS (American Tribal Style), which was trademarked by Carolena Nericcio. in the late 80s hasn't updated as of the last time I updated this blog post.)
Post 8 of 11.
We talked about the vintage American style a few posts ago and what made it look the way it did (does ^_~), but a lot of those situations don't exist anymore.
Farha would like to point out that the material in the links is authored as credited and is shared for your information, enjoy!
Resources on the Web