Anyone of us could have been born in another place or time with a vastly different set of life circumstances. Perhaps we get trapped and rigid in who we think we are and the role we play everyday having no idea that we are really much more vast and interesting.
When I get to experience the joy of witnessing a dance artist that touches and moves me, almost always I find that she/he has delved into the study of at least one folkloric style of dance. It is a idea that I have always known but has really been circling my thoughts lately after recent travels and witnessing dance artists in Egypt, Delaware, Vancouver, Minneapolis and this past weekend in Ottawa. I have come to notice a discernible difference in a quality that is either evident or not in a dance artist. The common denominator is time spent exploring the lessor traveled roads where sequins and bare midriffs are not the feature. Maybe it is Tunisian, or Dabki, Baladi or the Zaar. Each one of course offers a unique set of riches and I think offers the Raqs Shaqi artist or Bellydancer depth; something more to leave the audience feeling nourished.
Learning to fill in a template with a costume style, music and steps is not what I mean by learning a folklore style of dance. Much more important to me is answering the “Why” to these characteristics and why the dance style exits in the first place and who is performing it and/or its originators. Some sense of history leads us there but ultimately, we need to channel or get in to the originator’s head and heart. Every time we do this, we discover a part of ourselves we did not know was there.
Anyone of us could have been born in another place or time with a vastly different set of life circumstances. Perhaps we get trapped and rigid in who we think we are and the role we play everyday having no idea that we are really much more vast and interesting. In watching a dance artist perform, this is often revealed. By stepping into someone else’s sandals for a while, not just physically but emotionally, can help us to become bigger and more interesting.
I have been around long enough to see so many students blossom and evolve into great professional performing artists. I have also witnessed the trap many get sucked into (myself included) of learning a new flashy step, getting a fancier costume and the newest music but it is still the same dance artist, nothing really new that holds my attention. However, when she/he grows as a human being with a new awareness of the world and who she/he is in it, that is when the dance artist make s a leap and evolves. That is when my heart brims over if I had the privilege of witnessing this growth. That is when the dance artist becomes fascinating.
I have seen much folklore in the Middle East and of course replicated around the world by many an ensemble and soloist. Just when I think folklore has little more to inspire me with, I witness a dance from some region I have not yet explored. The steps, costuming and music are very similar to a region I have already studied. Then somehow I am thrilled and inspired all over again because it is a completely new dance. Why? Because of the spirit and character are from a different story and persona.
So I urge all of you aspiring Raqs Sharqi artists and/or Bellydancers, widen your horizons, learn some folklore. Go beyond the Westernized version of Middle Eastern dance. Go beyond what is familiar and easy to access because it is so close to the world you already know. Explore new horizons and uncover more dimensions of yourself in order to realize your potential.