"Why not simply embrace (the myths)? After all, it COULD have been true - couldn't it? Well, maybe, but Oriental dance still struggles to gain the kind of credibility needed to obtain arts council grants.... (and) projecting our own wishes onto the dance form of another culture creates a distorted view of that culture." (Shira, 1) "When people ask us "How did this dance begin?" they expect an answer that is rooted in material fact -- the provable world we share. And this is the sort of answer we ought to give them. .... Sticking to fact -however little there is of it - is respectful to others, as it allows them to form their own interpretations of the dance without being influenced by "origin myths" that might not reflect their own feelings or beliefs. But even more important, this level of caution and truthfulness is respectful of the people of the past, whose lives we do not really know and should not describe as if we did." (Deagon, 3) "...In our ancestors' absence, we fall into habits of thinking that mar our search for the origins of this ancient dance. One is that we tend to see the past as more simple than the present, and to imagine that today's complexity is a development from something more primitive and unified. Another is that we tend to use the past as a justification for present view or practices-- we want to see our own ideas and practices as correct and natural." (Deagon, 3) "...most simple stories of the origins of Middle Eastern dance are essentially about what the dance means now Some of our "origin myths" emphasize sexuality and the dance as an instrument of seduction. Other emphasize its feminist, spiritual, and expressive potentials" (Deagon, 3).
"Today, scholarly thinking has changed. Anthropologists have recognized that technological progress does not make people more intelligent or more complex. ...... But we still have a tendency to think of the past as simple. ... So we try to explain the origins of the dance in simple, linear ways -- whether we point to the harems of the Ottoman kings or the rituals of the Great Goddess. " (Deagon, 3) Later in the piece, Dr. Deagon says "'Belly dance' -- an expressive dance which emphasizes complex movements of the torso -- is, quite simply, a folk dance of this area. It is a way of moving, and a way of understanding what dance is, that ranges far and wide. People of both sexes do it; it appears at many different kinds of functions in many different forms. The basic techniques of our dance, and the spirit of self-expression in which it is done, are spread out so broadly thought the area and throughout history that pinpointing any specific origin for it is an impossible task."(Deagon, 3). Shira asks "Why can't we accept that the earliest origins of Oriental dance are lost in time?" (Shira, 2) To this, I would add the following:
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 (especially given the ancient tradition of trade and legacy of empires expanding and falling, to say nothing of colonialism) I recommend thinking of the history 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.
So, if we keep following the streams up river, they turn into little creeks, and into places where it's just saturated groundwater flowing towards the creeks, until you reach the mountain top where the fog is condensing (you remember the water cycle from grade school science, right?). Shira's question could be posed as "Why can't we accept that the earliest origins of Oriental dance are lost in (the mists of) time?" I contend that when it comes to the origin of bellydance, it isn't lost to the mist, but rather, it IS the mist. All those little molecules that will make up the river are all of those little inspiration, movements, contexts, aesthetics, and so on that make up bellydance.
As an aside, it says something about how complicated bellydance's history is that particle physics is easier to explain than bellydance history ^_~
1. Shira, "Fact or Fiction: Which Belly Dance Urban Legends Should You Believe?", Shira.net. http://www.shira.net/about/fact-or-fiction.htm, accessed January 16, 2019.
2. Shira, "'The Oldest Dance'? Really???", Shira.net. http://www.shira.net/about/wishtory.htm, accessed January 16, 2019.
3. Deagon, Andrea, "In Search of the Origins of Dance: Real History or Fragments of Ourselves," Habibi 17.1 (Spring 1998) 20-21, 35-36. http://shira.net/about/origins-deagon.htm, accessed January 16, 2019.