Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Consume or Create?

"If we focus more on the end result - the product - more than we do on the process, we teach ourselves and others how to consume instead of how to create." 

The quote above is a thought that came to me yesterday while discussing visual art, but it is applicable to all art forms, including dance.

It's not entirely accurate to say that bellydance originated from folkloric social dances that became stage dance much more recently. I think if we consider what the emergence of dance in civilization looked like, we would find the revelation and emotion of movement - the pleasure of not only doing it, but also watching it. And when most of your waking life is dedicated to surviving, time to dance often becomes relegated to times of celebration and sacred rites - and in some cultures, combined with fitness and combat training. In these situations, being a dancer wasn't a hobby or pastime, but more about a valued profession that helped to sustain the culture.

As we gained more time for leisure, and economic structures changed, dance as performance became entertainment that was available to all of society in many places. (Dance as entertainment for royalty and the very rich emerged much earlier, as they achieved that leisure first.) Dance became more about being a means to make a living for general performance: for putting on a show without the strict context of celebratory or sacred rites.

I think in the last few decades especially, there's been a distinctive overall shift in how we consume bellydance. It's moved from a market as a show for the general public to a "by dancers for dancers" market. And while there has always been famous bellydancers (often recognizable by non-bellydancers), personality cults emerged, with more and more focus on performing, and especially the glory of being the performer, emulating and imitating the icons. Selling the image and opportunity be like, look like, dance like the star.

As we built events for ourselves, the festivals became centered around the opportunity to showcase one's performance - not to the larger public, but to other dancers. Hours spent trying to call-in to get a precious spot at a big event for a few minutes on the stage - or hoping to get the best spot at the applied event so that a career may be launched. Crafting and calculating what would make you stand out or catch people's attention. So much stress, focus, and importance pressed upon a few minutes that could mean everything or nothing at all. Or did it?

I'm not dissing performing here - if you've read my blog at all, you'll know that I believe that powerful, beautiful, and amazing things can happen in a performance - for both the dancer and the audience. But as I said in my last post, so much focus on the ego aspect, and not the growth suffocates the art. We're talking here about the artistry of the dance, not the artistry of ego-stroking. Worship of ideals and personalities leaves many in the dust, questioning their inspiration, their bodies, and their emotions.

I am also not talking about glorifying the process. Spending countless hours in the studio and many many dollars on certification only matters to the clock and the bank accounts in the end. It's not the consuming that solely makes the dance, it's the dancer. Education and practice are vital for growth, but it's not the completion of them that guarantees the success, but the desire to keep growing and not having a specific end-game.

 So back to my quote. Is it more important that we learn, or more important that we perform? Of course, in order to really perform well, we need to learn - but how much are we valuing and understanding the importance of continuing education? By selecting classes not just because we know the teacher's names or they are our friends, but by choosing topics that will challenge us, and finding new ideas presented outside of our circles. Do you go to a festival to show off and maybe be spotted by so-and-so star, or do you go to grow and to find yourself? Are we teaching our students that performing is the end-all, be-all? Are we focusing more on fame than function, form, and substance? Are we watching dance to be inspired and find our own voice, or as a fantasy to be that other person on stage?

The true beauty and art of dance is not about accolades over a specific moment of performance or marking time in the studio, but the ability to truly create dance as you in every moment of your life.

Some performance thoughts:

What is Your Dance For?
A Captive Audience: Understanding the "Performing" part of Performing Arts

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