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.


Desirée said...

I think you've presented some very solid advice without becoming preachy or too harsh. Most of the things you mentioned were things I already kept in mind and were nice to see articulated. I have these great ideas in mind about performing to certain songs or exploring certain themes, but I know that at my skill level it would come off as posturing rather than as awe-inspiring.

I also sympathize with with you comment about the crazier forms of fusion :) I'm all for creativity and experimentation, but at a certain point it's no longer accurate to call something bellydance fusion when the bellydance influence is barely perceivable.

Amy said...

Thanks for the feedback! I was afraid I'd stray into RANT territory and it would be all over.

Do you know I'm the person who bought Modern Orientalism from you? I'm decorating a frame for it (around all the sewing and knitting projects) and then it will hang in my dance/craft room.

Desirée said...

Really? Haha....silly me! I had no idea you were the same person who bought Modern Orientalism.

I'm glad she has a good home and will be well appreciated!

Urvashi said...

Hi cutie!

hmm...I think many beginner+ dancers are still in an experimental phase, trying to find themselves, trying to express what they feel inside and limiting a beginner dancer in saying that she should not perform with a dramatic prop or music I personally think is sad and very discouraging; speaking for myself who considers herself still a beginner+ (almost 4 years end of this Sep 08) and recently posted a performance on YouTube to non trad ME music with big veil fans... Rather or not her performance was expressed directly in her body or through the use of a prop, she felt it and expressed her art.

If the dancer is labeled as a Pro dancer, or feature dancer, then that’s another story. But if she is requested to perform along with other students and or rising stars, then I say go for it for there is nothing but experience to gain from it.. be it good or bad.

I think it would be wonderful to provide that constructive criticism to the dancer that was spotted on YouTube or elsewhere to help her/him out ;)

We all start from somewhere, and we shouldn’t forget that :)

See ya soon!


p.s. I took mine down a few weeks ago because I wanted to upload the higher res. Though it may not be great to some(not saying that you are speaking of me directly..just sayin') I enjoy having it documented so my journey can be shared with others :) My solo journey is completely new to me still, having been an ATS troupe dancer for a few years. *wee!*

Amy said...

Urvashi -

Thank you for your feedback!

I think what I was saying here piggybacks on Asharah's post a few weeks ago about why are new dancers so concerned about developing their signature style. Sure, we all have something to say in our dancing, but learn the basics, hone your craft, and then you'll be able to speak with your dancing clearly and with power.

And as I stated, I'd really love to know what teacher's are telling their students. It's one thing to see a student dancer testing her limits, trying out new things. It's another to see someone going hog wild with an idea when they don't have the skills to back it up and the whole thing looks like a hot mess. That's when a good, tactful, and supportive teacher comes in, to guide the dancer so she had the ability and tools to make her ideas shine.

Anonymous said...

Hey lovely,
Came to this post via Asharah's blog, and wanted to say "kudos". Really well written. Thanks for sharing your thoughts with the world. I wish more articulate, confident, knowledgable dancers would speak up about these things. I feel like a broken record everyone just wants to smash against a rock. Need more backup like yours! :)

Sara said...

Thanks for such a well-written, well-considered post. I couldn't agree more with your points about fusion. You don't sound ranty at all!
I found your blog through Asharah's and I think I'll be reading it more often!