Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Defying Definition Part II: Unburdening

Labels are heavy things upon our shoulders - let them slide to the floor and go down the drain, and prepare to dance liberated and free.  (a passage from the book of Tempest..)

In my last post, I talked about the time before the style-obsession/wars and previously I talked about the Tree of Style - and today I would like to talk about moving past that and focusing on the dance itself, which is something I believe that all students of the dance can learn from, whether you have been doing this 10 months, 10 years, etc.

On one hand, let it be clear that I am obsessed with information.  I love gathering it: finding out about history, culture, tradition vs. innovation, what causes changes, the effects of those changes, etc.  I love finding out what makes X "X" and Y "Y".  And I love sharing that information.  That is the main reason I created the Gothic Bellydance Resource - to document the developments, gather information, share it and explain it with others.   (And back in 2003-2006 I had the time to really grow it, now not so much, and it's in severe need of an update....but I digress...)  The result of its creation was the building of a definition of that genre/style in ways I could not possibly have imagined when I first conceived it.

That being said, I've never been one to color inside the lines and follow dependable paths and be true to stereotypes.  Not because of some sense of rebellion, desire to shock, or purposely be iconoclastic, but simply that's how my brain is wired.  I have always find the "weird" way to do things very natural, and I track my muses not unlike the errant knights of old - meandering, wandering, yet passionate.

Which translated means: I follow my creative/instinctive whims in all things, especially in dance and art.  Which probably has caused some confusion on the receiving end of things along the way for others.  In order to help others (particularly my students, but anyone who may be in a style predicament), I will share with you some of the hazards of labels I've experienced, and hopefully help you to avoid falling prey to defining others/yourself by them.

Here are just SOME of these confusions that have been shared with me (and that I expect other dancers have experienced in their own ways):

-That I do/teach/perform Tribal/Tribal Fusion dance. Nope, I have studied ATS/Tribal, but nowhere as much as I have studied cabaret/oriental/folkloric, and that has always been my main vehicle in my instruction and my performances.  I have been very much welcomed at Tribal events (Tribal Fest, Tribal Fusion Faire, etc) because I present non-traditional material that is applicable to all styles of dance, and for many years, that was the only kind of venue it was considered acceptable.  Things are starting to change, and that's great, because it opens up more people to what I offer, which really can be applied to all styles across the board.

-That people are afraid that I will judge their performances for not being "Goth enough." I don't own a goth-o-meter.  If you want me to critique your piece, I will in the context you present it to me in, and since Goth is such a large genre with so many subcultures, that there's a lot of room to play with.  But first and foremost thought is, what do you have to say with your dance? That is what is most important to me and can help me give you the best feedback if you want my opinion. Which brings us to the exact opposite of the same confusion:

-I don't fit your expectations/stereotypes of what is Goth. One of the most laughable reviews I have read criticized my appearance, citing I wasn't "freaky" enough because I'm not covered in piercings and tattoos (I have two tattoos, and I have my ears pierced, that's about it.) Anyone who has been a Goth through the last 10-20-30 years can tell you, it's not a look, it's a mindset, a way of thinking and perceiving the world.  I find beauty in dark and unusual things that most people don't see/care for/fear.  I'm not here to play who's the darkiest dark, ooky-spooky, stereotypical-looking dancer - I'm on a dance journey, and that doesn't involve satisfying anyone else's expectations but my own. I don't construct my performances seeking to satisfy the status quo.  Which pretty much means you never know what will show up, but it will be different and yet distinctly me.

-That because I do fusion, I don't care about tradition/culture/etc. Quite the opposite, I care very much about roots, tradition, and sacred concepts - and deepening my understanding of them.  Much of my art (dance and visual) is about my exploration of history, traditions, folklore, myth, and how that relates to myself, society, and everything else.  Frankly, I'm genetically engineered to fuse - I come from a very, very long line of people who married outside of their culture/faith/nationality.  I really believe I am hard-wired this way because I have approached everything in life with this perspective.  Ask my parents ;)

* * *

There are lots more (and if you have some you want to ask/want me to clear up, please feel free to comment!), but I think many dancers can relate to these points if you just exchange out some of the style names.

And it's not like I went out there and made any of these statements to lead people to believe these confusions. Quite the opposite, as I'm rather vocal in what I believe and practice. But it happened anyway.

Part (most) of the problem lays in preconceived notions, misinformation, and personal baggage.  People bring to labels what they know (or lack there of), and unfortunately a lot of people are quick to judge/dismiss, instead than saying "You know what? I don't know, let's ask or do some research?" I think it's out of fear - being afraid to ask, being fearful of showing you don't know what you're talking about.  But the thing is, you'll never know if you don't try or ask. You can't grow that way.  Don't be afraid to ask questions.

And if you hold yourself to your own labels (or those that are applied to you), you limit your experience.  It's one thing to ask yourself is a certain piece venue/audience/event appropriate, have you done your research and practice, does it all go together cohesively- and another thing to be afraid to move out what you've already done because of fear.  Fear of what other people may think, fear of misunderstanding, fear of being perceived as something else.  You can't control what other people think.  What you can do is to present the best you can to your ability and to frame it properly (does it have a write-up/introduction, are you presenting it in the best situation, etc), and let it be.  The first stitch in creating a pattern has to start with change - otherwise, it would be a straight line. 

And trying something different is not a lifelong commitment by any means.  Whether I paint in acrylic, oil, or watercolor, I'm still painting, and I'm free to use whatever resources I wish, given I take the time to learn the technique to use them. The same is true for dance. And it's totally ok afterward to say to yourself,"You know what? that style doesn't work for me."  But at least you tried it and expanded your experience and know more because of it. 

So don't let labels define you and your dance.  If you hold them too closely, you risk getting the most out of your dance and who you are, who you can be. Dare to defy them, let go of the baggage, and just dance.


  1. Great post! and I still want to see what a Goth-O-Meter looks like...:)

  2. Hmmm, that makes me wonder what it looks like too....

  3. It's frustrating when you run in spheres that seem to lump all fusions together, from ATS to modern/contemporary, and dismiss them all, when you yourself desire to stay true to the traditions, and also to work outside them. I totally agree with what you said and that's really all I'd have to add. And sometimes education works, but it's also easy to give up and want to walk away. I mean, if people sit there and have the respect to listen to teachings about Middle Eastern Culture and Oriental dance, why is dismissing other, more Western-originated fusions considered ok? To accept that a style isn't right for you personally is fine, but I think people also just adopt prejudices against certain styles without actually watching, observing and forming their own opinions.

  4. I do feel lucky to have come into my own as a dancer in a time where fusions are more accepted across the board, albeit reluctantly sometimes.

  5. "let go of the baggage, and just dance"
    I just love this! Thank you for another informative and inspiring post!

  6. Dear Tempest, Dancer and Knight,

    LOVE this! You just can't please all the people all the time, but you sure can help educate them - dancers and audience alike - and the best "revenge" is to dance with skill and passion. <3

    Of course the way to do this is to study - to learn - to research and then ultimately to create on your own terms with your combined knowledge and creative vision and feelings. We can all only gain from learning from a variety of teachers and attending (yes dancer, go to events to watch, not just to dance!) a variety of performance styles.

    Rah, rah Tempest!