Schtick it out.
Ask yourself: Are you using schtick to compensate for mediocre or average dance abilities? And if you are, why aren’t you working on improving your dance abilities?
The Yiddish word schtick means a comic theme or gimmick. The word schtick, having been applied to show-business and the entertainment world for over a century, has a connotation of a contrived and often-used act—something done deliberately, but perhaps not sincerely.
I’ve been in the performance world since I was six years old, and believe me: I’ve seen a lot of schtick. Most of the time this schtick is used to gain the judges’ or audience’s attention by using something other than technical or dramatic skill. Schtick is also often used by performers to cover up a lack of mastery of the main skill being demonstrated, a distraction from the fact that the performer is really only mediocre or just not accomplished at her craft. This might mean flashy or strange costuming that doesn’t fit with the performance, unusual props that the performer hasn’t mastered, the act of stripping off an article of costuming (I admit, I did this once as a figure skater: I removed a big fake mink stole as I skated to “Take Back Your Mink” from the musical Guys and Dolls).
Why are some belly dancers using schtick? One reason is that I think it’s to cover up the fact that they’re only average dancers and performers, and they feel like they need something else, something extra, something that no one else has… but more often than not, these little extra things have nothing to do with bellydance. What does stumbling around on stage with a wine bottle have to do with bellydance, a dance form that comes from an area of the world where the main religion, Islam, bans alcohol? (Think about that one for a bit.) What do fishnet tights, short skirts, and ruffly bustles have to do with bellydance, a dance form from a region with plenty of rich textiles and jewelry in which we can find much inspiration? Why must a dancer don a plain costume, only to strip it off and reveal her beaded and sequinned costume underneath? Is this what bellydancers have resorted to in order to be noticed by the event producers in order to be offered a coveted teaching position at next year’s event? And you all know that I am not the ethnic police, but I’d love to see more deference to the original art form that we call “bellydance.”
I also suspect that many of the performances that use what I call “gratuitous fusion” (fusion for fusion’s sake, not because the elements being fused work together or should be put together) are a way for the dancers to act out their unfulfilled fantasies, and belly dance is just one means for them to be something they’re not in their day-to-day lives. There are times and places for people to act out their fantasies, but I really don’t think that the stage at a bellydance festival is the place for a dancer to pretend she’s a can can dancer, saloon girl, or burlesque dancer… unless she’s fusing some damny good bellydance in with that routine, and performing whatever she’s fusing in an accomplished, respectful manner. Unfortunately, more often than not, accomplished dancing is noticeably lacking in such fantasy performances.
Of course, professional dancers with years and years of training can get away with a little schtick. But even they get bored with their own routines. And frankly, I’m bored with the schtick, particularly schtick labeled as “fusion”. Seriously, ladies (and gentlemen):
- You don’t need to imitate Vaudeville routines. Frankly, you shouldn’t unless you’ve had some serious acting training.
- You don’t need a gimmick. If you think your dance alone isn’t memorable, maybe you should work on finding your voice as a dancer.
- You don’t need a costume that cost you more than you spent on training in one year. In fact, I highly recommend you spend more on your training than your costuming. Otherwise you’re just a pretty girl on stage.
- You don’t need to dance with the latest prop, and if you do use a prop, be a master at the prop. Don’t bring a sword, veil, water pot, snake, basket, fire, or anything else on stage with you unless you really know how to use it. Frankly, I’m not impressed by the mere presence of the prop on stage with the dancer. I want to see that dancer really integrate that prop into her performance so that she is one with that prop, whatever it might be.
This isn’t belly fashion, belly comedy, belly acting, belly gimmicks, or belly schtick. It’s belly dance. So, please, for the sake of the future of this dance form, go learn technique, culture, and history; master your craft; and master your dance if you’re going to continue in the belly dance world.