Punter, dancer or creative soul?

I love to dance but I also love to go see dance and go to many dance events to dance, be taught and watch and enjoy other’s dance too. The journey of learning about dance, life and creative stuff in general should never end. There always something for folk to offer to share and to enjoy. I also enjoy learning new things and being challenged about my conceptions of dance. I have been to a lot workshops recently as is the way of things I have had a flurry of workshops. All I have enjoyed but to be honest I rarely do not enjoy workshops. I really like the coming together of likeminded women on a cold Sunday afternoon to ponder and apply a new hip drop or shimmy and a good prance about to music!

Now here is the thing. I am passionate about dancing. I have danced all my life and I dance every day. More often than not I have some new bright creative idea on the go. Some new dance I am attempting to develop or a wild idea for class. Dance drives me. It keeps me sane. If I wasn’t creating dance performances I would be back painting, making embroidered pictures, papermache, writing or some other such thing. I came to belly dance as I liked this free form dance style to express and tell my story and of late I have been feeling disillusioned and losing my way.

As an educated informed woman I very quickly in my belly dance world sought a need to move on from “WI does belly dance with sparkly curtains and foreign music”  to go seek an education in dance and “study” the culture and dance. In the rush to be “Shakira”  belly dancing in the noughties was an explosion of belly dance styles that often bore little resemblance from the belly dance of “Middle East” and to be honest was not very good in terms of safety, physical activity or as an aesthetic art form.  Very quickly there was a response to this to develop “quality over quantity” courses and workshops  and I  was happy to sign up and be a “dance punter”.

The move to “accredited” “trained” dance courses and classes began. Sold on the grounds of being

– Culturally accurate

– authentic

– respectful

-quality controlled

-professional

many dance associations, schools, dance leaders and teachers marketed and sold their “belly dance product”.  A mass drive to at least  improve the posture of a nation of belly dancers began. ” The “sisterhood” of quirky  belly dancers  positively encouraged being part of a group or a style and in the UK this seems to  have involved embracing rules and being told what and how to do stuff. Different rules for different styles. I am not disputing that this certainly improved dance standards in the UK.   Having structure in which to learn a new skill and indeed  new  and different cultures is helpful. Knowledge and experience from others is good too. Certainly my dance development was greatly improved by all this activity to make me a “better dancer”.

For many of us it gave opportunity and a world to connect with likeminded others and find appropriate teachers and mentors. The challenge for me when “standards are set” is that we engage in rules and regulations. There is a “way of doing things”, a feeling that you can only dance this way to this music, move your arms a certain way.  For many women this creates a sense of achievement and belonging. Surely if we are all shimmying to the right we must be doing it right?! Being told what music to dance to, how to dance to it and what to wear in the belly world is no difference really to the other world as women we belong.  But if you then set standards  this one and only “certain way” you do indeed set a base line for quality but surely this then restricts opportunity of inspiration creativity and innovation?

Let me now return to my  recent struggles with my belly dance world at the moment.  I love watching all kinds of belly dancing.  I actively engage in watching as well as participating in haflas and shows. The belly dancing I have tended to be involved in I would generally call “Egyptian style” but it is probably more broader based and  I am unsure what we would call this type of belly dancing in the UK. In the USA  they  differentiate the dance as “cabaret” or indeed make reference to Oriental.  I know I would consider I dance “Egyptian style belly dance”.  My search for cultural context and meaning and attempting to establish  links to the source of the dance felt that for me that it would make my dance  somehow have more integrity and respect. Layering up the intellectual knowledge, the technique, emotional response, musicality and indeed pure joy my quest to be the best “Egyptian style belly dancer” I can be has gone on and on.  Having spent hundreds of pounds  I  now feel I have appropriate skills and knowledge now to be a “respectable dancer punter” in the UK now knowing what is what in terms of the rules of music and dance! Opportunities to perform I feel is a whole blog for another day!

I love watching women dance. But here I am increasingly  watching more and more  UK dancers trying to emulate “Egyptian style”. Just like me seeking that “authentic” look  and many I feel attempting to become  the true “Egyptian belly dancer”. But why do we do this? Now I would say for I love the expressiveness of the dance, the opportunity to tell my story , the emotion of the moment in time. For others I suspect there are other reasons;  about the need to perform, to be perceived as an expert, to be exotic, beautiful, a host of reasons again a topic of another blog for another day!

I am a middle aged woman living in Shropshire. I am neither Egyptian nor will I ever have the cultural experience of being such a woman.   I have realised that endeavouring to “ dance like an Egyptian” lacks something in translation. I can learn the words, but shall always dance with my English accent.

Belly dance as a regulated dance activity with rules will not work for me either. It reduces dance to colouring in by numbers or indeed the making of a tapestry or quilt to pattern. Not to be discredited as these are all lovely activities in themselves. The  structured opportunity to hang out with women share experiences, dress up  and feel beautiful and dance can bring joy and real celebration of life.  But this will not meet my needs to be creative.

On reflection I have just realised that in being creative I never would follow the crowd. That is why I do it to make my own original mark on life my way. So do I carry on dancing? I have danced all my life, dabbling in many styles my dance vocabulary goes beyond the “Egyptian experience”.  If I talk of integrity and honesty then now is the time to embrace all that I know in my dance vocabulary, enjoy my English accent and dance as me. You know in my dance world we talk a lot of “the rules” and the belly dance “police”. Time to rip up my own rule book, remove my PC plod badge, enjoy my English accent, celebrate my experiences as a woman and dance as me!

Off to dance now

Anah x

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