Monday, August 23, 2010

Roots & Shoots: The Almighty Tree of Style

I see a lot of people - students as well as pro's, struggling with their identity and classification as dancers regarding style. They feel that they must choose one specific path, that they can only be this or that. And if they're this now, then they must revoke all associations with that. Almost like becoming a new religion - finding Jesus, Buddha, or Bob, and all other paths are wrong.

But I'm here to say, it doesn't have to be that way.  Today I bring you the good news from the Gospel of the Almighty Tree of Style!

What is the Almighty Tree of Style? Well, it's the concept (theory, belief, idea) that a tree starts as a seed.  And when that seed lands in a spot that's right for it, it puts down roots, and sends up shoots - because it needs both to live.  The roots provide stability, strength, they collect sustenance from the earth, and support the shoots above.  The shoots expand to help collect water, sunlight, and create power for the tree.  They create fertile spots where the essence of this tree can merge with the essence of another tree, and create seeds for more trees.  And both the roots and the shoots grow in tandem, in balance with each other, sometimes paralleling growth patterns, sometimes counter-balancing them.  If one exceeds the other, the tree is in jeopardy of failing - too many shoots vs. roots and it will fall and too many roots vs. shoots, it can't grow and thrive and produce.

So what does it mean and especially what the heck does it have to do with bellydance?  Bellydance has roots - the traditions that originated "over there" - folkloric traditions, performance traditions - Turkey, Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Persia, Morocco, etc.  And both "over there" and elsewhere around the world, it has sent up shoots: American Cabaret/Vintage Oriental, Modern Egyptian, American Tribal Style, and other "Fusion" styles, as well as shoots working in earnest to pattern the roots.  The roots are the traditions, the shoots are the innovations, growing from the traditions and creating new life, yet also bringing energy back to the traditions.  And in some cases a shoot merges with the fruit of another tree, and they make a new seed that may grow into a new tree, but the fact is, it still comes from the original trees.   They all exist in the same forest, and tradition and innovation need each other to thrive.

You still following me?

 Now, let's consider YOU as a tree.  Your roots are where you come from, your shoots are where you are going.  You can pay homage to your roots at any time, and you can expand your shoots in new directions if you wish.  Your experiences will sculpt how you grow and change over time, which is what really identifies you as a dancer - as a whole.

So if you dearly love a traditional style and you love a fusion style, there's no reason why you can't perform both. You want to do Classic Egyptian and you want to do Gothic too? Go for it!  Tunisian this week, and Tribal Fusion next week? Sure! Just as long as you take the time to honor both (or several) directions (i.e, study them, practice them, and understand them - aka watering, feeding, and processing in our tree metaphor), then you can do it! And to be perfectly clear, I'm not saying you have to go and fuse them, I'm saying there's no reason why, if you have done your work, why you can't perform several styles individually. What's that? People expect you to only do X or Y? Why are you wasting time worrying about other people's expectations of what you should or shouldn't be.  This is YOUR dance journey! You're allowed to grow and change, and you're allowed to be out of the box if you want to, and being as close to tradition as you can possibly get.  (Just as long as you don't belt out something unexpected like if you were HIRED to perform X, and then you bring out Y instead - that's a whole other issue...)

Just take the time to grow properly and nurture yourself, keeping balance with your roots and shoots. Enjoy the journey.


  1. "You want to do Classic Egyptian and you want to do Gothic too? Go for it! "

    Okay, I will! ;-)

    Very good article, every word is true.

  2. Yeah, this is pretty much where I had no choice but to end up. Well said =)

  3. Fabulous and so very true. I've come to this over a long a slow road, but I'm seeing that as long as person has a firm grounding in the core vocabulary of belly dance, they can then adapt and use it well with any other style, or can choose what to do when. I certainly do! Love this article - you should talk to Amy Smith at Belly Dance New England - she may be interested in re-printing on the Belly Dance New England site!