Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Elaboration: Fusion, performance and skill

I have been a part of a discussion on my personal journal regarding fusion performances. It was regarding an online video performance where the dancer, a beginner/intermediate level student, was dancing with a very dramatic prop and very non-BD/ME music in a fusion piece. I did not like the performance, because I found the prop to be distracting, and I thought that the prop and music choice were so dramatic that they took away from the performance because they emphasized not what the dancer can do but instead her limitations. That is, her prop and music did not contribute to the performance, but detracted from it.

I know that some of my future students and newer (to the) dance friends read my journal, so I wanted to clarify how where some of my opinions come from, and to emphasize that I am not bashing on newer dancers because they have less experience. Gods know my dance time is a mere blip of time compared to some dancers' long and rewarding careers, and I hope I get to keep dancing and keep growing. I admit I tend towards a more conservative view of belly dance. I love it for what it is, and I'd prefer if some of the crazier fusions going on would politely excuse themselves from the belly dance party and start hanging out in a different dance scene. With those points in mind, I'm going to expound of some of my thoughts.

* Dance honestly: Overall I am not fond of fusion that feels it is done just to do something different. It does not feel honest, it feels forced. There seems to be some kind of fusion one-upmanship going on where people are using weirder and weirder costumes, props and music that move further and further away from belly dance and into I don't know what. This movement doesn't feel genuine, it feels gratuitous.

* Match your ideas to your skills: I see dancers doing dramatic fusion pieces that are less effective because of their skill level. Does this mean dancers should never try new things, reach beyond their abilities in order to grow as artists? No. It means that when a dancer has a modest skill level but chooses to do a piece with dramatic costuming, props or music that over reach that skill level it can make the dancer look bad. Instead of the dancer's showing her strengths, the dramatic elements emphasize weaknesses. There can be stepping stones to a big dance idea, performances that build up until your skill level matches your dance plans and it all finally comes together. I have music and ideas I've had for a few years that I revisit to see, "Am I ready yet?" Some yes, some no. I don't want to waste my really cool idea on my current skill level, so I'm still holding it until I can pull that piece off. And I'm sure by that time I'll have something new I'm working towards.

* Teachers, you need to be honest too: On that note, I sometimes wonder if some of the dancers I see have teachers or mentors who are evaluating their students performances. I see some videos online that make me cringe at what people put on stage, and I ask myself, "Did her teacher not tell her that was a bad costume choice? Did her teacher not tell her that music was not good for that venue? Did her teacher not tell her she may want to work with that prop more before using it in a performance?." I feel sorry for these dancers because I hope teachers are putting their students on a stage looking and performing their best. My heart hurts for them. It's their moment to shine, whether it's a baby beginner hafla performance or a student about to go pro. Teachers can be tough and honest, but they also need to support their students. I don't see letting a student get on stage ill prepared, out of her league or way out of line as supportive. If my students come to me for help I hope I can evaluate them with fairness, tact and honesty. I want to encourage them and their creativity, but I also want to make sure they are growing into strong dancers. And I don't want anyone to cringe when they dance.

One of the best things ever said to me by a teacher of mine happened when I asked her what level she thought my class was at, and she said, "Advanced beginner". I'd been dancing for a few years and thought pretty highly of my skills. Her comment made me feel a bit deflated, but her evaluation wasn't mean. It was honest, and it made me committed to take an close look at my skills and then keep working on them. I knew that she always had my best interest at heart and that she wouldn't let us go out unprepared or unsupported.

* Sometimes you have to be encouraged to fly: Just a note to point out that I also think teacher's should push students who don't see that they are ready and prepared to take the next step in their dancing. That does not mean going pro. It means getting a student who is ready to finally do a solo, or to finally take the lead in group improv, or finally work on a dramatic piece to take that next step. Sometimes you have to push them out of the nest.

* Teachers are there for a reason, use them: On the flip side, students should be checking in with their teachers. This is what evaluations and private lessons are for, to work closely with your teacher. This can be anything from specialized classes to info on how to go pro or just brushing up your basics. I especially encourage students who want to start performing to run things by their teacher, as no teacher likes to find out a student is performing and the teacher had no clue what was going on (the dance scene is small, everyone eventually knows what everyone else is up to). Teachers have a lot of info to pass along about performance conduct, pricing, ethics, etc. Keep your teacher informed and I sure you will find yourself well supported for that next step.

So hopefully I have not bored or alienated anyone with my long opinionated list. I was lucky to have, and still have, supportive teachers around me. I also know what it is like to look back and think wow, I was not ready as a dancer to do what I just did. Thankfully I think there are no videos of those performances, because YouTube can be your friend or your enemy, one with a long long memory.

Monday, August 25, 2008

A very happy post

I am very happy to post this video of my teacher Lisa Zahiya. This is the same performance she did at Baltimore's Bellypalooza, and I'm happy I get to watch it again (and again and again). At around 4 minutes the camera changes so you get to see her up close.

Thursday, August 07, 2008


Let me tell you what an exciting evening we're having around these parts! First there was dairy dinner (grilled cheese and ice cream), washed down with a (ginger) beer. Now I'm making song lists for the class I'm going to be teaching. Yes, teaching. One of my troupe mates teaches a beginning level Tribal Group Improv class but needs to take some time off this fall. I'm going to pick up the class while she's out. The hand off is happening a little faster than I expected, so I have been working on my notes for what I want to cover, drawing up a syllabus, and planning warm up/cool down sequences. Now I'm making up some starter playlists: Warm Up Music, Easy Steady Songs, Zill Tracks and Fun Music.

Of course, all of this is dependent on me having a place to teach. Unfortunately the studio may have a class planned for our usual slot. I would rather not go an hour later, as I have MY class I want to go to that evening. I'm worried about changing nights, Monday's have been a really good time. The location is perfect, near my house, not too downtown for the suburban students but also in the city for those who need it. I've been doing some intense online web searching and I started calling some possible space alternates. I also have to get liability insurance, but I don't want to shell out a couple of hundred dollars until I know I have the class set (and as some places require insurance in order to rent a space this could become a big Catch-22).

So we'll see how it goes. The class may have to get pushed a few weeks, but I'm hoping something works out. I'd hold class in my living room but it's hard to dance around the cats.