Tuesday, July 1, 2008

You've Got Style

But you don't have to choose a style right now.

Bellydance is probably the only dance form where the dancers are obsessed with choosing a "style" in their first few years of dancing. I mean, what other dance form do you know that implies that the dancer choose her one and only style by the time she's been dancing for two years? How many times have you heard a new dancer say, "Well, I only dance Egyptian style" or "I don't like cabaret style, so I'm a tribal style dancer"?

Here I make the trite and totally overused ballet vs. bellydance comparison. In this instance, it works.

When you take your first ballet class, you probably aren't taking that class for a particular style of ballet. Every beginning ballet dancer does work at the barre, learns the basic five positions, practices her plie, releve, tendu, and degage. She aims to perfect the basic movements as much as she can. Her instructor isn't pressuring her to dance in a particular style; she's probably pressuring her to be more flexible or keep her back long.

When you take your first ballet class, you don't say, "I only want to dance in The Nutcracker." You don't spend your entire time practicing your movements just to be able to dance in The Nutcracker. You work on your movements so that you can perform any ballet, regardless of composer, era, or style.

In any other dance form, dancers learn technique first. Then they learn choreographies that apply the technique. They continue to work on their technique. They might dance with a company and perform solos with that company. They continue to work on their technique as they learn more choreographies to various styles of music, learning the nuances of dancing to different pieces. Then, maybe, after 15-20 years, does that dance start to really develop her personal style.

Somehow, this approach doesn't apply to bellydance.

Why not?

Why are we bellydancers feeling so pressured to choose a style even before we know how to dance? Why do we succumb to this pressure? Why do dancers who choose a particular style sometimes denigrate styles that are not the one she has chosen? What is it about style that has become so important to us that we feel like we need to choose just one style and stick with it?
Why don't dancers try more styles of bellydance before deciding that she's "tribal" or "cabaret" or "folkloric" or "Turkish" or "Egyptian"? Don't these categories just continue to separate the "fusionists" from the "traditionalists" and widen the divide between them?

And aren't the greatest dancers out there the ones who are masters of their dance, regardless of style?

I don't have answers to these questions. Maybe you do.


Anonymous said...

I get this all the time. First of all, people think I do Tribal style because of my posture. I don't dance in tribal regalia, nor do I use tribal moves, but for some reason, people think I do tribal dance. Then I get asked the question time and again, "What style do you teach?" and again and again I have to explain that technique supersedes style and with good technique, you can choose to interpret any style of music that hits your fancy.

I think maybe because people want to perform too soon, so they want a style that they can perform. I had a couple of girls come to one class once and the first thing they asked was "When do we perform?" I had to put a kibosh on that right away. They never came back.

Amber said...

While I feel that I'm not "allowed" to perform Cabaret because of my tattoos and piercings, I am currently learning American Cabaret Style along with Tribal Improv and Tribal Fusion. My first priority is technique, this is why I have the Suhaila DVD set and want to get certified with her, and it's why I drill myself in that style. It's muscle driven, in feels right, I'm not hurting myself. Stylistic differences should be added on top of that foundation, much like in any dance. I think it may also be that some people identify moreso with the cultural aspects of a style (gothic fusion, etc) so they choose that. Much like me feeling I "can't" do cabaret because of traditional rules I've encountered concerning it. I know they're sometimes broken, but it still makes me feel more unwelcome in that arena.

Amy said...

I wonder if thoughts about "style" comes into it because of the emotive nature of a lot of 20th/21st century belly dance. I'm not talking about folkloric styles as much, though they do have the emotions that play out within the dance (and sometimes stories they tell). I'm thinking more of the importance of not just technique but also the emotion behind it. How many times do you hear, "She's technically great but didn't seem passionate or engaged, so her performance didn't move me" about a performance? I know I hear and say it, because belly dance for me has that added element of working in the dancer's emotions.

What I am not saying is that other dance forms are emotionless. I'm thinking of the passion you can see in a flamenco performance, or a sassy jazz number. But there is something personal about belly dance that seems to tie the emotive quality of the dance right up with technique (I think I remember reading something of Suhaila's where she recounted being told as a young woman that she was good but that she'd be really good as she got older and had more life experience to convey through her dancing). Having a style, or dancing within a style, can often be in line with the emotions a dancer conveys.

On the other hand, I sometimes feel like there is almost a quality of oneupmanship in the belly dance community, especially in tribal and fusion styles. Who has the next costume idea, who has the next large production stage show idea, who has a cool new prop, who can fuse something that's never been fused before. I'd rather just see good, solid, well danced and well emoted belly dance.

Unknown said...

i dunno about your paradigm (and hell if i know if i used that correctly.) i don't know if ATS could be considered a style of bd any more than jazz can be considered a style of ballet. and i know there are dancers who consider a grounding in ballet necessary to all understanding of dance, but at the same time, you have dancers who pick up ballet as they learn modern, or jazz, or tap. it's hard for me to differentiate between 'style' and 'form'. and when you throw in 'technique' on top of it, it's a whole different story. because when does style get to override technique? (the best example being the 'rachel brice arms' that at least a Certain Teacher won't let anyone in her class do because it's 'bad form' but everyone's like 'but Rachel does it!)
anyway, i agree with you that there should at least be a grounding in technique, but i disagree that that technique is universal based on style. everyone should learn a bit of everything! then again, i'm schitzo like that.

Elisabet Roselló said...

I read this article very interested. I'm agree too in some things ^^.

One question.... Can I traslate your article to spanish and use to my own blog --always I tell the autor...??


Abigail K. said...

Voz de Cristal - I'd be honored if you translate this into Spanish. Thank you so much! :D

Elisabet Roselló said...

Ahm, I've a possible answer for your question/s. But is only what I've seen.

The big problem of belly dance is that belly dance not is a formal dance like flamenco or ballet, I mean that not have an official structure of studies. There aren't official levels -perhaps the more similar is the Suhaila School, but I'm in Spain, I dont know a lot about this center-

Then, there are some teachers that doesn't knows how to organize the classes, and they organize like the alumns want, they are hold to the "clients", 'cause the belly dance not is so recognized. There are another kind of teachers, teachers who have spent not enough years, or a lot of years, but doesn't have a good base or level -'cause there aren't exams to each level, and each person have their rythm to learn- and wants to performs, teach, and earn money.

A lot of people who begins belly dance, begins like a pastime, without a good reason -eah, I begin only why my mother was born in Morocco XD. And in a short time, some of this people, wants to take this advantage to believe be famous.

There are too the believe that in bellydance, tribal hates "habibi", and "habibi" hates tribal to be differents, not only in movements, very sad I find, and this is for me a mistery XD

And that not only happens in bellydance, or tribal, it happens in martial arts, or in painting -I met people who only wants to paint contemporary style, with not enough base of design-, and there are people, like in all, very shorted-mind, that only feels good being good with a thing, 'cause they think that they are ables for only one thing u_u'

That is my opinion :)
I begin to traslate ^^

Anonymous said...

voz de cristal already said what I was coming in here to say.

The biggest challenge our community faces is the lack of organization and establishment. Ballet has had a couple hundred years to evolve, codify, establish itself as an artform. There are studios. Structure. Traditions. Common practices.

Bellydance is new in our country, and though there are some great formal schools (Suhaila, Fat Chance), most of us, especially in middle America or down here in the Bible belt, are doing things on our own. Tribe.net has helped a lot in getting all of us in touch with each other, and that provides some guidance, but there is a very large section of dancers out there that are "living room" bellydancers. There are tribal troupes with no master teachers around for hundreds of miles that are putting things together on the fly from DVD's and youtube videos. There's nothing wrong with that, and I cheer them on wholeheartedly for getting out there and dancing for themselves. But we just have too many people who haven't had the benefit of going through a formalized school in ANY artform. As time passes and more of us get formal training and more people open up formal schools outside of the west coast, I think we'll see things settle down. In the meantime, our community and our artform are going to rely more on regular run of the mill social politics.