Thursday, February 25, 2010

Osama Bin Laden and Belly Dance??? REALLY?!


Recently, Jesse Waters- one of the producers of the “The O'Reilly Factor”- attended a belly dance competition in LA. The purpose of his investigation was unclear in his interviews and commentary, but of all the conclusions he could have come up with, the point he decided to stress was that 9/11- and Osama Bin Laden in particular- is responsible for the rising popularity of belly dance in America. The clip- along with dozens of comments from outraged belly dancers- can be found on you tube, face book walls, and various websites.
The outrage felt by belly dancers at Waters’ and O’Reilly’s comments is understandable. I don’t know any dancers who took up belly dancing because 9/11 made them curious about Arabic culture. Usually, women take up belly dancing as a way to get in shape, to express themselves, to connect with other women, and a myriad of other reasons. Classes contain a diverse mix of ages, ethnicities, and body sizes, and it follows that the motives for belly dancing are just as diverse.
Furthermore, if anything, 9/11 has caused an increased ignorance of Arabic culture, rather than a curiosity about it. Bill O’Reilly proves this himself during the interview when he says that a woman "would be behead if she did that in a Muslim country”. Obviously, O’Reilly is more ignorant than curious, because if he was curious than he would be interested to know that belly dancing is very popular in countries like Egypt and Turkey, where both Islam and belly dance co-exist peacefully.
A friend of mine and prominent Egyptian dancer, Sausan Molthen, has observed that there is a boom in belly dance roughly every ten years. Trends ebb and flow, especially in the dance world. Also, part of the rise in popularity is due to the emergence of tribal belly dance in the 1980s; from which a number of belly dance genres have sprung forth. From the 1990s to present day, dancers have seen an explosion of belly dance styles, including American Tribal Style, Tribal Fusion, Gothic Belly Dance, and Belly Dance Theatre. From these have emerged a variety of fusions, as well: belly dance fused with ballet, modern dance, hip hop, jazz, Turkish Roma, and so forth. Belly dance has become popular in America not because of 9/11, but because so many dedicated teachers and dancers have been working their asses off to spread and promote their art.
The ignorance in Waters’ and O’Reilly’s segment was truly astounding. Waters seemed shocked that there were children in attendance at the competition and O’Reilly followed up by saying that belly dancing should be reserved for ages 16 and up. My jaw dropped on that one. In some cultures, children start learning to dance before they can walk. And the way a child belly dances is very different than the way an adult dances. Children look adorable when they belly dance, not sexually indecent like O’Reilly implies. Certainly, this clip shows that even a five year old girl can belly dance- without losing any of her innocence. Besides, children are often better belly dancers than adults because their bodies are so flexible. There are two boys I know in Costa Rica that can do better belly rolls than any dancer I know- even better than Rachel Brice!
It would be great if Waters and O’Reilly had developed a curiously about Arabic culture after 9/11, rather than the ignorance that they continue to show. Or maybe they should both get their asses to a belly dance class and learn what it’s all about first hand- because men can be belly dancers, too!

Friday, February 19, 2010

Let's Duet

Belly dance isn’t often thought of as partner dancing, but duet troupes are quite common. Sometimes, I forget that people often don’t know this, and I get strange looks when I mention my dance “partner”. Then they think that maybe they’ve misheard me and that I’m a ballet dancer instead of a belly dancer. It’s a slippery slope from there!
I’ve had a belly dance partner from the beginning. A dancer named Julz was my first partner. She was the one who dragged my ass out to classes and got my interest in belly dance sparked. I was such a novice at that time, and Julz was a great teacher. She taught me how to balance a sword, showed me floor work patterns, and introduced me to all sorts of music. Most importantly, she taught me how to choreograph as a team. As in, how to choreograph without arguing and biting each other’s heads off. It can be a challenge to compromise on your creative ideas, but the payoff is choreography that is often times much more interesting than what you would have come up with on your own.
Presently, I have a duet company with Alodiah Lunar called “Carousel Belly Dance”. Alodiah is another gem of a dance partner. Both she and I were at approximately the same skill level when we met, and due to our amazing temperaments (pat on the back), we’ve been able to work together on a pretty much equal basis. We have a natural symbiosis that results in an equal input of song and choreography ideas. Also, we have a tendency to feed off of each other’s momentum when we’re choreographing. We’ve choreographed whole songs in a matter of days! Now that’s team work. Another bonus is that we both like belly dancing to old jazz music. It’s made for some cute little numbers!
Last year in Costa Rica, I had the experience of being the teacher and working as a duo with my student, Molly- very much the reverse of Julz and I. Molly and I performed together at Chili Rojo-one of the local restaurants- and it was so nice to have a dance partner again after performing solo for several weeks. Seeing Molly grow and improve as a dancer and collaborating with her was so rewarding. It hit me that things had come full circle for me.
I flew into Costa Rica a few days ago, leaving Alodiah behind in San Francisco and Julz in Los Angeles. But I’m looking forward to seeing Molly again. After a year’s time, I’m sure she has become a completely different dancer. And I have a feeling that we’re going to put on some great shows.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Surfing the Couches!

Two weeks of couch surfing and my blog writing has suffered. Zero blogs in two weeks! My cheeks are burning from the shame. But when you’re a traveling belly dancer, sometimes sacrifices have to be made.
For those of you who have couch surfed, I’m sure you can identify with the chaos that ensues when you are living out of your suitcase and transporting yourself from place to place. It doesn’t seem like it would be much, to live out of a suitcase for two weeks, at a different house every night, but it can wear on you.
And yet, couch surfing allows me to reflect on all the wonderful people in my life who have offered a place for me to rest my head. All of my friends were more than happy to have me as a house guest. Feeling loved certainly eases the discomfort of not sleeping in my own bed.
Why all this couch surfing? I’m on my way to Costa Rica and I had to sublet my apartment on the first of the month in order to find decent renters. In fact, the renters are even watching my dog while I’m away, so the early sublet was a good decision.
Last night I stayed with my friend, Julz, who lives at a dance/music studio. There was something truly enjoyable about waking up in the morning, opening the bedroom door, and walking out into a room with giant mirrors, harem d├ęcor, and luscious Persian carpets. Submersion into the dance lifestyle is exactly why Julz lives at this space, and just one night there had me understanding the appeal.
And that’s the other thing that couch surfing does for me; it gives me a glimpse into homes created by people I care about. Of course, I have stayed over at friends’ houses before, but when you’re couch surfing, their home becomes your home, even if just for a second.
*All the pictures are of people who were gracious enough to offer me their couch