Wednesday, December 29, 2010
Somewhere in the middle, the statement arises that "Goth" has nothing to do with Middle Eastern culture/dance - usually with one of the following two angles: that Gothic culture is Western/alien in concept to the Eastern culture, and that bellydance is all about happiness/joy.
Both of these views not only discredit and gloss over Arabic culture, but the very action and art of dance itself - not to mention, show a shallow understanding of what being Goth is about. And I'll tell you why.
In the past, as a tongue-in-cheek response to that sort of attitude, I have made the observation that you really can't get much more "Goth" than the Ancient Egyptians - can you really think of anyone more fascinated with death and obsessed the afterlife more than them? (Have I mentioned that I was enthralled by Ancient Egypt from about age 7 onward? So much so I used to be able to read and write hieroglyphics. My husband and I have a 4 foot tall by 10 foot long papyrus painting of the weighing of the heart scene from the Book of the Dead....in our dining room.)
But being cheeky aside, that thought sequence came back to me when I recently attended the Arab Dance Seminar in NYC. This particular session was about the depth of the Arabic language, especially concerning understanding the meaning of the lyrics in the context of the culture. And as we talked about the poetry of the lyrics, the culture from which they were from, who wrote them, who sung them, and how they are expressed with the music, I couldn't help but think "how Goth!" From the frustration of being marginalized in a culture unlike (or that is) your own and the pain/longing of the diaspora condition, to beautiful pain of unrequited/unattainable/secret love. Of course, we were just sampling a few songs from multiple Arab cultures, but you can't argue that these are happy/light topics, even though some of them sound downright peppy when you hear the music. And if you study about the people who wrote the lyrics, you will find that most of them were moody, marginalized artists who led difficult lives.
Which brings to mind a passage from Chaim Potok's "Asher Lev" books, where there's a dialogue between two artists about making truly great art (summarized), "Can you think of any great artist who was truly happy?" "Well, Rubens was happy." "And he painted happy paintings. Anyone else besides Rubens?" "Nope." "Because most great art is made through pain and suffering." The Asher Lev books are about the difficulty of being an artist in orthodox Jewish culture. That it is not considered an acceptable or respectable occupation. And while I'm sure some people will get huffy about me making the comparison, there is a similar mentality found in Arabic culture (which is NOT surprising considering the similar backgrounds and thousands of years of co-existence, so get over it). Any dancer who has done even a little bit of research will know that dancers, musicians, singers - while enjoyed by most of the community, they are still often looked down upon. They are marginalized.
So you may be saying OK, but what does that have to do with Goths? Well if you unburden yourself of the wrist-slashing, devil-worshippin', pastey white and dyed black stereotype for a few moments (or preferably forever), really what is at the heart of the Gothic culture is a love of the arts, the ability to see beauty in the tragic and the macabre, and a sense of being marginalized for not fitting within society's norms. And you may also be surprised to find that although the movement may have started in "the West" the people who make up the Gothic subculture are not from one place or race, but they are found throughout the world, on every continent. It is a microcosm that occurs within many macrocosms. What I am saying is that there is a mutual understanding here of the human condition from a dramatic perspective.
Further proof of this understanding is that there are numerous Gothic musicians/bands who not only incorporate Arabic instruments, maqams, vocals - but are Arabic/Middle Eastern themselves. If the roots behind these fusions were so discordant, it would not have been possible to successfully weave them together - as they have been, for decades. And with the music, comes the dancing.
Next up, happy happy joy joy and dance...