Epiphany moments cannot always be found in chiffon and coin belts!

I love debate and discussion. I suppose I am thinker. So more than just turning up every week engaging in the practicalities of teaching dance I also like to ponder its different components.

This last week brought me into a wonderful discussion generated by Anne White’s article on  

What draws British women to learn Arabic belly dance?  The link is 😦http://libertymagblog.wordpress.com/2014/01/12/contemporary-art-what-draws-british-women-to-learn-arabic-belly-dance/)

 Please go read as  Anne’s involvement in the UK dance scene is much longer and greater  than mine. A key dance mover and shaker both as a dancer ,teacher and events’ organiser  in London I can always rely on her for interesting and insightful views on our own dance scene. What  I have recently confirmed though is that the  London inner city dance scene Anne is part of and the dance scene of the  rural community I live, teach and perform in are different experiences. At some point we shall endeavour to capture our late night discussions,  long phone calls with cups of tea and  wild creative  women Facebook posts in messages into some coherent thought!  

  As I move into my tenth year of teaching it is time for me to reflect on where I have come from to make some decisions in 2014 of where I am going in my next decade.  As a belly dance teacher  culturally I have always felt a bit of fraud. I have never been quite sure how a girl from Devon who ended up in Shropshire via London with a background of ballet and contemporary dance ended up teaching a Middle Eastern dance form?  Anne asked  a similar  question to this recently on social media and I was fascinated by the answers. For some it was a slow drift into a dance form from a culture they were already familiar with and for others it was an epiphany!    So this blog is considering whether I indeed ever had any epiphany moments in last ten years and if so what impact has this had on me as a performer and teacher?

 

I look back at my first belly dance and an epiphany it was not. The teacher had little or no cultural reference to what she was teaching nor understanding or knowledge of music she was dancing to. She was just sharing what she had experienced elsewhere and the few moves and dressing up opportunity she had experienced. To be honest I cringe slightly at my early days of belly dance. It was the nineties and  I had left London and become a small town girl. Whilst wafting chiffon and jingling coin belts was getting back into dancing and performing  deep down my conscience was nagging me to seek  more knowledge and  cultural references about this dance form.

 

 Flick flacking my veil and dancing with chiffon scarves  made me feel uncomfortable and to be honest fake. In London I had danced as my alter ego “judeetee” who was a parody of all dances ( think judeetee does high art Pans People)and here I was in the hills becoming her! It was however not all bad.  I was new to Shrewsbury and I was struggling to find any dance class that would challenge and this one was fun. I can remember laughter and sisterhood and friendship many of which have stayed with me over the years. The dressing up and performance opportunities for one who is such a show off as judeetee was also a bonus!

 

 Moving onto another teacher I realised she had more than just the one music tape and had travelled to both Egypt and Turkey . She had seen other dancers and also referenced dancers she had watched on video. It is hard to imagine a dance scene without internet , iTunes, YouTube and the belly chitter chatter on social networks but that was how it was back then. We were at first dancing in a belly bubble beginning to create the Shropshire belly dance scene. Happily dancing away to Arabic and Turkish pop we believed we were presenting and delivering something culturally unique to the UK. We are so joined up now as you read this on the net you will laugh at this thought; I wonder on the beginning of the noughties how many UK dancers ( including you!) were considering their unique creative outputs regarding an exploration of Tarkan’s greatest hits? No? Not for you? How about Shakira then?

 

Anyway I am rambling! Back to big epiphany moments. If one is looking for cultural context for Middle Eastern dance then it was not to be found in Shropshire. Attending the  Jewel of Yorkshire festival was like a door opening to a new world. A sudden realisation that there were like minded souls dancing across the UK may possibly be an epiphany dance moment. Looking back though excited about classes and teachers  it was where I could find music, buy CDs and videos and watch other dancers dance.

The other realisation of a great truth was watching ( on my newly bought video ) the likes of Samia Gamel and Fifi Abdou . It was the simplicity of their dance. Just being with the music and dancing with their heart and soul.  This was intensified when I saw Yasmina and Randa dance on a Farida UK tour.  There is no cultural connection from chiffon scarves in a cold hall in Shropshire to the hot powerful emotion of Randa’s dancing. It blew my mind! This dance maybe about technique , standards and posture but also it is about a dance deep from your soul, an expression from your heart.  Randa connected with me like no other dancer had done before.

 

The first time I visited Cairo I touched the pyramids, shopped   in the Khan and visited the museum.

But the very being there, sitting drinking tea was a quiet moment of epiphany. Sitting in the  hustle and bustle of Cairo life , listening and watching gave me  the cultural context of  this dance.  A tired dancer in a cheap Lycra costume also revealed another truth . Belly dance was not some high “Isadora orientalist fantasy” here. It was a sleazy and disrespected way of making a living. Also there would always be a challenge of cultural context from this world of Cairo and my land of small town on a river and church hall haflas. Epiphany indeed!

 

Music brings with its own epiphany. The connection and emotional experience as Middle Eastern music for me has been deeply personal  and not something I can put into words. The musical journey I have been on means that this epiphany has been a slow realisation of music that was so very alien to me that now touches my soul. The realisation that I was able to then dance my story was the most exciting and wonderful realisation and something that came slowly rather than in one dramatic moment.     

     

  

“Mistakes are the portals of discovery” so says James Joyce. Perhaps the inappropriate stick dance to simply wrong music and skidding on nylon veils had to be done. So without internet perhaps my  dancing road  had to include (and dancers of my generation had to dance with chiffon and coin belts) to reach our own epiphany.  So I suppose perhaps it is time to step out of the closet dodgy CD ( or indeed tape) of Arabic pop in hand, coin belt, harem pants and chiffon skirt all on and dance like nutters remembering the good old days when you didn’t know what you didn’t know!

 

Also with no internet or fb to record those big epiphany moments over time in a brain such as mine they become hazy and blurred …. Just saying!

 

 

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5 thoughts on “Epiphany moments cannot always be found in chiffon and coin belts!

  1. “The good old days when you didn’t know what you didn’t know” – sometimes it seems that the more you learn the less you can be sure of. In another context I’m becoming almost paralysed by the constant new research that’s coming on line, where I used to be the one who had done the research (as much as one could from the resources available) & who “knew what she was doing”. In the dance context I feel it’s my body & I’ll move it how I want to (or can), I’m doing Middle Eastern inspired moves but am not trying to pretend that I’m part of that culture. And in the unlikely event of a group of Egyptian or Moroccan women forming a troupe to dance Gathering Peascods or Parson’s Farewell, then good luck to them!

  2. thanks for the mention and the welcome comments you make. It would be wonderful to be better informed of the Uk scene and I welcome such a debate. this dance is for everyone and is not owned by anyone though it is connected to arab culture as you point out jude and as Jill says above there is freedom of choice and representation. There are no Raqs Sharqi police lol. Individual creativity, participation and context are personal choices that we make. The dance scene has evolved so much from when I entered it in the UK in the 1980s. My knowledge really is quite limited to London for that time but on my travels at national events I see how it has blossomed and been infused with so much else. Its really inspiring too… Lets keep the dialogue open Jude…… lots of love and many thanks anne xxxx

  3. Whilst I agree that learning more about the background of dance is a great way to learn about the dance itself, I do feel that it’s not everything. You imply that without understanding Middle Eastern music and dance you cannot ‘dance deep from your soul, an expression from your heart’…but I disagree. Anyone can dance from the soul, even if they are only wafting chiffon in a drafty village hall. As for choice of music itself…surely that’s a very personal thing? Ok, maybe I don’t use traditional music for my choreography, but does that mean I’m wrong? I guess I’m just not a traditional dancer. I learn from other dancers…with the wonders of Youtube etc. it would be silly not to! But I then make it true to ‘me’ and that might involve unconventional music (think Eurovision, Disney and yes, even Shakira) and non-traditional steps…but I still dance from deep within me. Coin belts and nylon veils and all.

    • It was never my intention to imply that anyone is wrong or indeed cannot dance from their heart. I was just trying to write personal experiences about my epiphany moments and my emotional reactions to dance and music. I love watching the wide breadth of dance that everyone has to offer and indeed everyone’s individual take on belly dance. For me though the cultural understanding of where the dance had come from was very important for me in terms of my “epiphany” moments. This is personal reflections about my dance journey and it is never intended to disrespect or questions other dancers journeys xx But OOOOOOH how I love the discussions x

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