Tuesday, July 8, 2008

On Music. Possibly my first truly controversial post.

I did promise music posts, right?


So, I was thinking about music (as I often do)...

I have pretty strong feelings about the use of music in dance, particularly when it comes to performing to music to which you've already seen someone else dance. I'm not talking about coincidental use of music that someone else has used, but more along the lines of "Ooh, [Insert name of Famous Dancer or Dancer on YouTube] used this song, and it's great, so I'm going to dance to it too!"

I understand that not everyone agrees with me on my beliefs about music usage. Some people believe that music, regardless of who you've seen dance to it, is fair game. I don't. (And I understand that might not be a very popular opinion, but this blog isn't for popular opinions... Hehe...)

To me, it's an issue of originality and hard work.

I believe music is so inherently part of this dance that the music to which we choose to perform is an extension of our dance and our identity.

I feel that the music a dancer chooses is a part of her because it speaks to her on an emotional level, and she has chosen to use that music to express an intimate part of her emotions and expression. That dancer's music therefore becomes a part of her physical self for that performance (and probably for longer), and she probably worked very hard to find that music, most likely sampling hundreds of songs and purchasing dozens of CDs. Learning a new song takes time and dedication. Finding music takes even more time and probably a good chunk of change.

Music is a financial and emotional investment. I feel like when a dancer performs to a song that she's seen someone else perform to on YouTube, she's not putting in the same investment into her dance that the original dancer did. I also feel that if that dancer performs similarly to the dancer who originally used that music, the dancer is selling her own creativity short by imitating someone else.

Unique music has the power to bring out unique elements of your personality, style, and expression.

There are, however, times when I don't think using "someone else's music" is a bad thing. I've determined that it's OK for you to use music someone else has used if...

  • You've asked permission of the dancer using the song if it's OK if you use it as well.

  • The music is ubiquitous within the community. For tribal bellydance, ubiquitous artists would be musicians like Helm, Solace, Gypsy Caravan, Raquy and the Cavemen, Maduro, Beats Antique, and Pentaphobe. As more dancers perform, more songs and artists are becoming "standards" of the genre... songs that come to mind are "Proper Hoodidge" by Amon Tobin and a recent new addition to the scene, "Ongyilkos Vasarnap" by Venetian Snares (although as recently as 2005, this song was not a tribal bellydance "standard"). (I believe that it's important to be aware of who these artists are, as many of them make music for dancers or at least with dancers in mind. Give them a little love.) For oriental and cabaret dancers, there are far more "standards" such as "Shashkin", "Alf Layla Wa Layla", "Aziza", "Mishaal", and many more.

  • Your performance is VERY different from the dancer who originally danced to that particular song. This generally means that you'll be dancing a different style as the original or using different props.

  • The original dancer taught a choreography to that music in a workshop and gave the students permission to perform it elsewhere with credit to the choreographer.
I feel like we owe it to ourselves and our community to find unique pieces of music to which to express ourselves and our dance. We owe it to ourselves because the music we choose to dance to is intrinsically linked to the movement of our bodies, and by association our own identities. We owe it to the community because every new piece of music, every new expression, helps to enrich this dance form and push it forward.

Sometimes it may seem safer to dance to music you know that another dancer has used successfully... That music is already audience-tested and approved. But you'll grow more as an artist if you take a little risk and perform to music that you've never heard anyone else use. Chances are your performance will be a little more heartfelt, and it will certainly be a unique expression of YOU as an artist and dancer.


Anonymous said...

Oh god, I feel a rant coming on.

I think it would also be nice not to use the ame piece if you're running in the same area/circuit, and ESPECIALLY the same shows. I did a solo last year to a new Amon Tobin song that nobody else was using. Not too long afterward, at least two other soloists in the southeast who were at that event were using the solo. A LOT. I taught a workshop and was the featured instructor in the show, only to hear that solo piece used by one of the dancers three slots before I went on to perform it (there was a technical snafu involved, so it wasn't entirely their fault. The show CD stopped working and they had to throw what they had in their dance bag on, and it happened to be my solo. Delirium had to play our set from our ipod hifi). I went to another event recently and they used it again. I ended up switching pieces and doing something else for my slot. I don't mind so much that they're using MY SONG, as I figure I don't really own it and it's inevitable, and I really like the dancers and what they do for our community. But it sucks when we keep turning up for the same galas using the same piece. I'm finding I have to move on from my solo pieces more and more frequently now because people keep stealing them. I have a feeling my two new solos are going to be stolen as soon as I put them out on the market, which sucks because I'm obsessed with them at the moment and I've worked really hard on these, so it will be harder to let them go.

I do use pieces that other people have performed to before. I'll admit I begged Kami Liddle for her solo piece from the Raqs A show because it was seriously speaking to me, but I think I'll use it as a fire duet piece so it'll be completely different. We did use Caravan by Raquy after Zafira did their difinitive choreography but we did it with sword and we hoped it was enough of our own creation. I have to be really careful because I carry choreography so strongly in my head, my brain keeps going back to what's been "done" effectively before. There are also a lot of times when we'll use "somebody else's song" or "style" for our local art bar shows, just to explore them, but we don't take them out to the bellydance galas. For example, we sometimes do vaudeville for our layman community shows, and we do a lot of ATS, but we did a completely new and orginal unpublished tribal fusion piece for Tribalcon because we weren't going to out-Indigo Zoe or out-ATS Devyani. So I guess my point is, know your show.

Elisabet Roselló said...

Oh, I think this blog I'll read a lot :D Very interesting.

Well, I'm agree ^^
I, at last, begin to perform with Mike Oldfield music. Why? Apart tribal fusion I think allows to dance with a lot of kind of music, Mike Oldfield is my musical "Maestro". I love it and I FEEL the music, and his unique world. I love feel how the music enter through my skin, my flesh, my bones, my brain, my heart, etc. and become a "communion". It's for me like a shamanic experience.

The "general" music for tribal (I mean the music with oriental touches, with or withour the electronica) is good to essay, practice, or do a choreography if the feels are propitious, why not.

There are a lot of people I've seen that not have a great musical culture, and not a good knowledge about that. They need to know through the utube, for example, names of artists, to have new choreos. For example, with a tribal bdancer I discover a synthpop group I didn't know :)

I've a friend who uses for example Black Label Society or Type O Negative. She is known like a tribal bdancer in Spain, but at the moment not other girls used the same songs -'Cause her videos perhaps not are so famous.

But I saw a vid from a canarian group of girls doing a similar choreo with a same song from the Indigo. Originality? 0 --and they say "inspired in indigo..."

I think the problem is the people doesn't worry about understand all the facets of the dance, particularly the expressivity. They go to the easy. And the feels... I saw too a lot of dancers with 0 transmission of feels. What is art??

There are a lot of artists that have done versions, for example, of "Las Meninas" by Velazquez, like Picasso. But in his own style, and with her own vision, it haves a big meaning, so different from the original. And it isn't a lack of originality, the opposite. A dancer will have a knowledge or base about creativity and psicology. I've understood that in some good schools of contemporary dance have this part of theory.

It's a little fight I have (I'm bored, perhaps XDDD). I'm doing little events with a concrete topic (for example, my first is about burlesque, and I not admit choreographys already played, hehehe) trying to wake up creativity... Uhh, I hope this runs :P

That is my opinion.

Amy said...

Mmmm, I think that's a slippery slope into everyone rushing around constantly trying to to find the NEXT NEW THING and eventually the dance and the music are so divorced from it's origins it's like, "Uh, what was I supposed to be watching here?"

We've used "other people's music", though we try not to use it in the same way. We will also contact other dancers in a show to make sure we don't overlap music (like I've been touching base with Sammati for the Zafira show this weekend). Actually, we also made sure to pick music that we hope won't overlap with what Zafira uses, because though we like a lot of it we don't want to look like we're imitating them. One thing to do is what Natalie mentioned, transferring music to a new movement form so you still get to use it but it's yours in a new way.

Some things are classics, though. There is no way I'm going to skip dancing to "Country Dance" just because FCBD's used it a billion times. I love it! And I'll use it at dance performances because it's classic!

So yeah, I'd say using the same music as someone else and dancing in the same basic style? Dumb. Grasping at anything that seems like it might work or constantly trying to have the next new thing? Also dumb. Being inspired by music and working to make your dance to it your own? A-ok.

Abigail K. said...

Amy - You definitely have a point about people wanting to try the "next new thing"... that makes me want to write about how important it is to know the "classic" songs of bellydance, regardless of what style you choose to perform. And building on that, I would consider albums like FCBD's Tribal Dance Tribal Drums to be a "classic" for tribal style.

But you also mention a really good point in that you respect other dancers by not using music that you've seen them use if you're going to be performing in the same show. Some people don't exhibit that same respect or consideration, and that bugs me.

Hmmm... New blog fodder.

Anonymous said...

I think the ATS movement and the Tribal Fusion movement are two completely different, and in some ways opposite, animals.

ATS is strictly defined--moves, cues, formations, zils, even costuming and music. Carolena is pushing right now to codify and solidify, so that dancing to specific songs isn't just ok, it's encouraged and even expected. And as Carolena has tightened the movement and the reigns, you pretty much have to be a copy of Fat Chance to be considered ATS. My troupe, Delirium, started out ATS in the n.o.madic tribal tradition because that's where I came from and that's what I knew. And like my teachers, I put my girls through the Country Dance and Derwood Green paces because I felt they were classics that my girls "needed to know."

Tribal fusion is a wide open field, and a style that is still in the early developing stages, and this is where copy-catting becomes a problem. Cammie Vance said something to me a few years ago that stuck with me. She said Tribal solo (though I think this applies to Tribal Fusion troupe work, too) is such a new thing, nobody knows what to do with it yet. There are so few innovators striking out and forging new paths because making new art is a difficult thing, so many beginner and intermediate dancers are taking the path of least resistance and copying Rachel Brice. Or you see a lot of dancers going through a Zoe phase. Or whoever is hot at the moment. I will come out and admit to being entirely guilty of this as I've progressed as a dancer. I think the "borrowing" in tribal fusion goes across several lines. Yanking a song, choreography, the new hot costuming or hair idea, style, moves, etc. Tribe and youtube are both a blessing and a curse in that regard. The good news is, it keeps us informed of what's going on elsewhere. The bad news is, it keeps us informed of what's going on elsewhere.

Off on a tangent, we're finding that collaboration with other artists is really driving us to find our own voice as a troupe. My brother wrote an avant garde digital music and percussion piece for his senior recital and asked us to perform to it. At first we were stumped, because it was unlike anything that had been done before, and we were struggling with what to do with it. Turned out to be a blessing. We couldn't do ATS. We couldn't copy the Indigo. We had to come up with our own solutions, and we discovered a lot of our own style in the process. It was pretty whacked out, yeah, but we loved it so much, we took it to Tribalcon. Bonus: since it was an original piece, we knew nobody else would have it. Or ever copy us.

Desirée said...

Since I'm still a baby dancer and have yet to truly delve into serious performances, I suppose I never looked at the idea of music from the type of perspective you describe, but I do understand where you're coming from.

Ultimately, I think people should dance to music that *moves* them (no pun intended), and if a piece truly moves them then it is bound to be a unique and non-derivative dance. If someone has to resort to self-consciously imitating another dancer in order to perform to a certain song, then it has not directly, deeply inspired them. Perhaps they were actually more inspired by the other dancer's performance and not by the music itself. With that being said I think it is acceptable for multiple dancers to use the same music as long as they are in fact being individually inspired by it. For example, my teacher's troupe recently danced to a Beats Antique song that I adore, and even as I watched them live I knew that if I were to dance to the same song I would express it and accent it in a completely different manner.

I do think, of course, that in the context of a bellydance show/festival/hafla, etc. dancers should definitely show consideration to each other (and the audience) and not dance to the same songs.

Unknown said...

funny...i feel the same way about using music that you've seen other dancers use, but i wonder if it's actually been a little bit of an obstacle for me...i have a running list of songs (in my head) that i have some kind of connection to, all from different genres, and i'd like to think i'll get around to working with these songs at some point...it's happened more than once that i've seen other dancers perform to songs from "the list", which immediately prompted me to cross it off...but i wonder: if i've really got an emotional connection to that piece, am i being fair to myself when i make that song off limits? or am i just making an excuse because i'm scared of what's living in my head attached to that music?...

still working on what i think the answer to that is. :)

Alicia Foodycat said...

I'm a baby dancer, so I haven't really had to deal with this with my own music choices yet. But I did attend a showcase a couple of months ago where they allowed 2 groups to dance the same piece. They had to submit their music months before! I think the organisers were a bit unprofessional letting that happen - luckily the styles were very different! But why would you want to dance the same piece as *dance legend* and draw the inevitable comparisons?