Saturday, April 30, 2011

THE THINKING GAL'S GUIDE TO BELLY DANCE STYLES PART FOUR: FUSION & FANTASY







This is Part Four in a series of articles I am writing on identifying the many styles of belly dance. As with the past three pieces, I will offer the disclaimer that in no way is this intended to be a comprehensive view of oriental dance in it's myriad styles...just a thumbnail sketch. It is my intention merely to provide a frame of reference for beginning students, and also a jumping off point for curious dancers of all styles. At the end of this article, I have mentioned many dancers who are specialists ( and/or authorities) in the various styles discussed, so you can do more research on the subject if you choose to.

FUSION: This is a category that is difficult to describe because there are so many variations under the umbrella of belly dance fusion, running the gamut from styles that can readily identified as some form of oriental dance to those that would leave an uninitiated audience scratching their heads and wondering what, exactly, it was that they were seeing.

Even though it’s probably the oldest dance form on earth, belly dance has a very hazy history. The fact that in Arabic, belly dancing is called Raqs Sharki (“Dance Of The East” or “Dance Of The Orient”) points directly to the idea that nobody is exactly sure where it came from. However, it seems that most scholars and dance historians generally agree that the basic movements of oriental dance were spread by nomads (the Roma or “gypsies”) picking up indigenous folkloric dance steps in different countries, adding them to their practice or repertoire and carrying them along from place to place. This would definitely support the argument that the genre of movements we call belly dance today- with or without Western influences- is just one big piece of fusion.

But in modern times, the term Fusion is usually not applied to classic or traditional belly dance from any particular country. Today, Fusion is a category unto itself. A kind of mash-up of one or more dance styles mixed with traditional belly dance, the popularity of Fusion has grown due to the “globalization” of ethnic music- for example: Flamenco-Arabic fusion combines Spanish style dance with oriental dance, and is performed to music that is similarly blended. But fusion can embody mixing Middle Eastern dance elements with just about anything from Ballet to Bollywood, from hip-hop to contemporary jazz technique, or basically, any other type of dance or athletic practice. One of the earliest proponents of Fusion was Dahlia Carella, who created a style she called Dunyavi ( loosely, "world-wide") Gypsy, which combined mixed elements of Arabic, Spanish and Rom styling into a beautiful, passionate pastiche.Today we see Fusion encompassing combining belly dance with gymnastics, contortion, ballroom dance, Poi-spinning, Asian fan dances, and the like. The possibilities are endless…. and the results can range from a stunning and seamless fusion of styles to, for lack of a better description, a total train wreck.

Tribal Fusion has grown as a genre unto itself, with much mixing and melding of the “classic” Tribal styles known as ATS (American Tribal Style) and ITS, or Improvisational Tribal Style dance with other types of dance forms. Those practicing Tribal Fusion can be soloists or perform in a troupe; they can work improvisationally, or be extremely choreographed.

Costuming for Fusion is not by any means set in stone, but usually takes its cues from the types of dances that are being fused together. Under the umbrella of Fusion, costumes can range from those with wild rock and roll and high fashion influences to dress reflecting the ethnicities the Fusion style is co-mingling with. Some forms of Fusion costuming seems to have absolutely nothing to do with belly dancing at all and looks almost generic, such as bell bottom pants and midriff-baring tops that call to mind Seventies style modern or interpretive dance.

Increasingly popular right now are the recent genres of Fusion which feed freely on melding belly dance with retro-style burlesque, using large feather fans, and wearing costumes that look like they’d be more at home in a Victorian bordello than on a stage, and Raqs Gothique, or Gothic belly dance, a style attributed to “The Goth-Mothah” herself, Tempest. Raqs Gothique blends a dark, rock ‘n’roll and Gothic sensibility with either cabaret or tribal style belly dancing…which leads us directly to the next genre…

FANTASY: Often high-concept, fantasy belly dance is similar to Fusion, in that it utilizes the movements of Arabic dance- but that’s where the similarity ends. Fantasy belly dancing is oriental dance that is strongly flavored with something else that comes purely from the artists’ imagination and fantasies. The dancer can perform ANY style of belly dance combined with some element of visually and/or dramatically portrayed fantasy. Again, this type of dancing it doesn’t necessarily have a distinct technique, standard look or readily identifiable costuming, because it is a dance performance that has been dreamed up by the dancer, a performance not based in any sort of specific discipline or ethnic genre. Two “classic” examples of Fantasy pieces would be a dancer performing as a snake writhing out of a basket or a genie popping out of a bottle, but compared to what’s going on today, that seems very old hat!

Some good examples of current Fantasy belly dance include performances incorporating imaginative and previously un-traditional props such as masks, Isis wings, feather boas, and fan veils; Pharoanic-style performances, as the movements were never actually documented except in two dimensions on the walls of tombs; Pirate Belly Dance (oh, that there ever was such a thing!) Zombie Belly Dance, Fetish Belly dance, even Cowgirl Belly Dance. The wildly popular Steam Punk Belly dancing is practically a genre unto itself and would require an awful lot of explaining to a non-belly dancer, not the least of which could be what do wearing goggles and jewelry made of broken watches have to do with oriental dance? Pure fantasy, that's what! Many fantasy dancers portray ancient myths or legends, tying them in with belly dancing. More fantasy dances have featured belly dancers performing as a troupe of dolls, as Mata Hari, as silent movie stars or as mermaids; a dancer singing Opera while belly dancing, and belly dancers wearing gas masks, Darth Vader outfits or impersonating Michael Jackson! A few years ago, at Tribal Fest, Sashi of Ascend Tribal caused jaws to drop and tongues to wag with her fairy wing piece, by employing aluminum "wings" which were literally pierced into the flesh of her back!

In 2010 at Gothla UK, I saw a Victorian-flavored belly dance piece called “Tea Time At The Asylum which featured sexy, corseted nurses, at another UK show I saw dancer Akasha (Heike Humphreys) perform with gigantic bat-wings to a Marilyn Manson song. In 2010, MECDA’s Cairo Caravan featured an entire stage devoted to belly dance “Sideshow Wonders”, such as Steven Eggars as the “Half Man, Half Woman”, among many other oddities. Also in 2010, at the Las Vegas Belly Dance Intensive, I performed a Fantasy piece (and lived out a childhood fantasy of my own!) by getting sawed in half retro-magic style during the middle of my set with the help of Tanya Popvich and Sascha Biondi. Luckily, I was “fused” back together!

More fantasy specialists are dancer Jindra Payne, a bona fide ballerina, who was the first oriental dancer to perform on toe-shoes (this has now been taken up by Sabah, and both performers were trained by Halla Moustapha) and what may be one of the most quintessentially “out there” fantasy dances of all time: Dondi’s comedic parody act where she performed as a raks sharqi- dancing Marilyn Monroe.

Just some of dancers (all extremely different from each other) who excel in the blended realms of Tribal Fusion, Fusion and Fantasy: Rachel Brice, Zoe Jakes, Heather Stants, Ariellah, Blanca, Neon, Unmata, Suhaila Salimpour, Zahra Zuhair, Mesmera, Samantha Riggs, Sherri Wheatley, Kristina Nekyia, Michelle Manx, and of course the people mentioned previously in this article.



Top picture: Tempest, Gothic Belly dancer
Second picture: Samantha Riggs , Pirate Belly dancer
Third Picture: Belly Dance Fantasy

3 comments:

  1. That is a GREAT post, Your Highness!

    "This would definitely support the argument that the genre of movements we call belly dance today- with or without Western influences- is just one big piece of fusion."

    This is absolutely true for belly dance, as well as for any art form: none of them are created in a vacuum. I think the difference is whether there's an intent to fuse.

    I use "fusion" to refer to intentional fusion: i.e., when a dancer or a community says "hey: let's see what we can create if we mix elements of these two genres". (That can be an equal-parts mix, or intentionally intentionally flavoring one with the other.)

    Most of what we don't label fusion is what I'd consider unintentional fusion. A classic example is the evolution of american cabaret: nobody said "hey, let's create a new style!". Instead, (as I understand it) dancers and musicians from different countries (including Americans) were thrown together in the same venues, so they naturally influenced each other, and since they had to please an audience made up of people from different countries, new conventions and stylings evolved.

    The intentional stuff comes primarily from inside the dancer (her preferences & imagination), while the unintentional stuff comes from external pressures (like a mixed audience). And of course, there are external influences and inspiration in both cases.

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  2. good guide over bellydance steps ..
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