Friday, September 23, 2011

Authentic-ness of Self

Photo by The Dancer's Eye (Carrie Meyer) at TGNESE
(More thoughts spawned from the MassRaqs panel...)

The question was asked, "So say you've been studying this dance for a long time, but you're not of the culture - how does one make it authentic and how much ourselves do we bring into it?"

One of the answers provided was "You need to study more."

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Some mighty indignant crickets over here from my corner, I must say.  I'm rather tired of the false assumption that if someone is performing fusion, then they must be too lazy to actually learn anything "real."

I will be the first to say, YES, there are "fusion" dancers out there who have no idea WTF they are doing, and YES perhaps some of them are lazy.  Some of them don't know any better, and haven't spent enough time studying.  But there are just as many non-fusion dancers doing the same thing.  6-week wonders, belly bunnies, whatever you want to call them, every performance art has them. But these individuals are NOT in the majority, and most of them do go on to learn more and grow.  The majority of professional fusion dancers that I know, all have studied and continue to study the roots of the dance.

I think it needs to be spelled out for some people that dance is not black and white - that it's either "authentic" or "traditional" or it's not.  What is "authentic" and what isn't comes down to the viewer and their familiarity with the subject matter and what the dancer is presenting.  I think those who want to see the dance in black and white look at it as something that can be placed over an individually wholly and cover them like a giant paperbag.  You either wear the paper bag or you don't.

But I digress.  What I really wanted to address was authenticity of self, combined with expression and style.

I think some people look at traditional dance, get obsessed about replicating it, becoming a part of "over there", that they totally lose themselves in the process and discount their own addition/involvement.  I hear "it's THEIR culture and we need to honor it."  Yes, that's true to a certain degree.  One honors the dance by researching it, studying it, learning about the culture it comes from, and why it is the way it is.  But dance is an art-form, and art doesn't rest in stasis. It is constantly changing, evolving, shifting, growing, touching-base again, and taking off.  And really, when we're talking about dance, we're not discussing some inanimate, non-changing object - we are discussing something that is performed by individual living beings, with their own dreams, personalities, and biological make-up.  When we discuss legends of the dance, we're not really talking about how well they replicated the dance, but what they each brought to the dance.  It's who they are/were, their personality and how it was expressed by the dance that made them legendary. Not perfect replication of someone else or a static idea.  It is this essence of self that creates what we call style. 

Truly great dance must have essence - that something else that takes it beyond a combination of steps done to certain music, even when re-creating historic pieces.  It comes from inside the dancer. Studying the dance and its culture helps to unlock the deeper portions of the psyche, so that the moves become something else, the expression is more strongly channeled and brought forth, the music best interpreted.  But you don't study the dance to become a static being.  You study the dance to become a more complete, active being.  And you will continue to study it your whole life, if you so desire.  There is no set amount of hours spent in a classroom or in a foreign country that can determine that yes, now YOU can dance.

The goal is, no matter what, to bring YOU to the dance, as best you can.  It will be a balancing game of tradition and self.  I don't see the point of trying to be something you're not.  If you're not from "over there", then that is NEVER going to change.  You can do your best to respect and honor the roots, but you will still be you and of your culture no matter what.  I believe you can simultaneously honor both the roots of the dance AND yourself, by respecting your own contribution. 

So, that's part of why I do what I do when I dance.  I am of so many cultures, I cannot just be one thing, no matter how hard I could try.  I study the dance, I love the dance, and I dance the dance as the entity that is me in body and spirit.  It may not be to everyone's taste, but that's not my goal anyway.  You can't dance yourself AND satisfy everyone.  Start from the inside out though, and you will truly dance authentically as you. 


  1. The gal who said that is someone who has been studying Egyptian dance for as long as I've known her, so I think what she was really saying is - "Is it really possible for me to portray this culture respectfully?" I liked the answer - "you study more." GREAT - that means it's achievable. I'm not cursed to fail due to my country of origin. at the same time, it seemed a bit disrespectful to her, because it assumed she hadn't studied - it wasn't treated as an honest question.

  2. If I remember correctly, it was also paired with the great metaphor she made about architecture - do you try to replicate something exactly out of context, therefore making it seem more artificial then authentic OR take inspiration with respect and breathing your own life into it, making it more authentically you?

  3. I'd look at it as: is it art or is it an Egyptian history demonstration? If it's the latter, then it should be culturally authentic - to the point of having the performance venue as much like the venue would have been three thousand years ago.

    If it's art, then one looks at the artform - an artform designed to communicate something to members of a culture that died thousands of years ago - and artfully *adapt* it to the culture the art is communicating to now.

    If it's art being danced by someone who people may specifically want to see perform, then the doors open wide for personal interpretation *even if it seems anathema to the original culture*.

  4. I'll take my paper bag and put my feet in it first so it isn't covering my head, thank you.
    I want to see what is going on and what I am doing.

    That said, the paper bag analogy was a great one.

    If I really sit and think about the dancers who have worked with the likes of Twyla or Martha.. yes, they move in the way they are directed. But, what happens when they are no longer in those stables?
    These dancers, don't stop dancing... they keep going and have put their own twist and ideas into what they've learned. (or so we would hope)

    Why can't it be the same in bellydance?
    In the last 10 years, we have watched the face of ATS change.. But yet, those dancers who are still in FCBD stable, stay true to her teachings and her movements..
    We have seen some incredible dancers come out of that barn and go on to put their own style, twist and taste on it... furthering their learning and adopting things that suit their personalities.

    It doesn't make what they do... less... it makes it more IMO- as we are seeing them as individuals.. which... beats the whole regurgitation process.

    eh.. what do I know..... I'm "just" a fusion dancer.. *smirk*