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.

 

Comments: 18

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Sounds like you had a long weekend at a festival recently! :-)

 

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[…] great article from Asharah Schtick it out __________________ Work of Art […]

 

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OMG. Amen. Especially about the drunk-bellydancer schtick. Not only is it culturally insensitive, it’s so overdone!

 

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Frankly, in some of the videos from this year I have seen very accomplished dancers, who would be memorable and lovely just plain DANCING, who were doing major schtick which frankly distracted from their *skill*.

All the schtick, and props-for-props’-sake, and gratuitous fusion…it’s all so inauthentic and grasping, and I find myself wishing they would just BE THEMSELVES AND DANCE!

The culture that tribal bellydance has been fostering lately is so reminiscent of high school, where everyone is vying for Most Popular. It fosters not only inauthentic living/dancing, but creates an atmosphere of cliquishness and even subtle competition.

I was just in hte middle of composing some thoughts of my own on the fest this year. Will be posting in a few over at my blog http://thetribaldancer.blogspot.com/

I would rather see a less skilled dancer dancing their heart out than a highly skilled dancer doing bad acting and adding some ridiculously inappropriate prop/fusion.

 

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*Applause*

I began dancing seriously because of seeing some YouTube clips of an old TribalFest. Since then, I’ve been working hard to become a better dancer whilst seeing the schtick, the number of bad dancing clones, and gimmicks increase more and more. I have a sense of humor, but I don’t get why so many find it acceptable to use these things as replacements for good technique and thoughtful creativity.

 

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Hear hear!

 

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WOW!!! I couldn’t of said it better myself! This was posted after TF so I can see wherest you refer to….I’ve always been a queen mugger, proud of it, but not so much schtick but i do see that sometimes that song from “Guys & Dolls”….ya gotta have a gimmick if ya wanna get ahead…..is still true today esp. in the tribal scene. There is definitely a fine line between schtick & experimenting/stretching the boundaries, or as jazz musicians call “stretching out”. Thank you Miss A!

 

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You took the words right outta my mouth (but I already knew we thought alike about this.) I’m sick of the schtick! If I never see another pirate, vampire, hobo, gorilla or drunk saloon-girl on stage it will be too soon.

One another note, I am growing bored with dancers who have great technique and showmanship but no soul. It’s slick and pretty but with no emotional content, no sense of who this person is or what they are trying to express beyond, “Hey, wasn’t that cool? Yeah, you’re impressed. Aren’t I cute/sexy/fun?” Of course Suhaila’s Level III work has ruined me for these kinds of performances. I suppose I should be grateful that there are dancers who do actually have such great technique and showmanship, but I’m greedy. I want more.

 

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I certainly agree! I admit I was disappointed to see The Indigo (and in particular Rachel Brice) drinking alcohol as part of their performance this year. Does that really need to be an element?

 

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I remember one day in art school where the teacher had us do some light-hearted abtract drawings. After we were done with the drawings he told us that we were now going to take turns presenting our art to the class along with a schtick we made up to justify it. He told us that as artists we had to have a schtick. When it was my turn I told everyone was that my schtick was not having a schtick (there was no dark, brooding, highly intellectual or lofty concept behind by drawing – I was just enjoying the process of working with line, color, etc.). They did not take that very well. Schticks are everywhere it seems.

 

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Give me authenticity, or give me death!

Instead of trying to dig deeper into the music, the dance, the expression, the easy route is being taken and there’s a focus on new/outlandish fusion. And those who aren’t doing that are riding on the coattails of the current bellydance fad.

So tired of props being the main focus of a dance, and not dancing. Isis Wings went through this period for a while about 5-7 years back. Inexperienced dancers who had not perfected their dancing found they could wow an audience with wings and turns, and soon, everyone and their mother was using these wings, without a hip movement anywhere to be seen.

It’s one thing if the prop has a cultural/folkloric aspect. It’s another if it’s just glitz.

I have to say, though, that comedy has been in bellydance (and dance) for a very long time. It’s just the ways that it is coming out lately that aren’t very successful.

 

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THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU and I just can’t thank you enough! I often wonder if other art forms so easily fall victim to schticklers. It seems like everybody’s a professional bellydancer these days. But in the end the real dancers will prevail.

 

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I was starting to think that I was the only one who had a problem it! So tired of gimmicks and people falling back on props because they really just can’t dance. If they’d practice dancing more, maybe they wouldn’t have that propblem.

 

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Love ya for saying this. I had the experience this year of being unable to fully enjoy a really -good- burlesque fusion act because I was so tired of just seeing it, period.

 

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I enjoyed reading this as well as the other blogs on TF. Not getting to go myself this year I have been watching videos where I can and have found myself really inspired by multiple performances. I enjoyed reading this and I do agree with a lot of the sentiments. I have to say I don’t mind a bit of theatrics in performances. There are some dancers out there that I feel really tell a story with thier performance and take on a character…BUT…thier performance is chock full of dancing. Good, talented dancing. Not shallow theatrics. I’ve seen this recently actually…not comedy but a troupe of girls who had a particular theme and costumes and props that followed with such. I saw all the effort they put into thier set up and costumes and I was excited to see what they would bring, then promptly disgusted when it turned out to be nothing but running in a circle and crawling on a floor.
In saying all of this though, I will say I do like some of the vaudeville / antique kind of look. I myself had an idea for a dance, built around a specific song, that would of had slight touches of a circus theme…with a bustle belt. I know it’s overdone, but the song inspired me and besides a little flair to my costume, everything else is about the actual DANCE i’m going to do.I’m all for people expressing themselves and having fun, but this is an art form! As Asharah said..it’s belly DANCE!!! THE MOST important thing should always be…learning and mastering the DANCE!!!

Sorry for the novel!

 

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Thank. You. Sister.

I thought the same thing after seeing this year TF vids. Shame. Such disappointment. Too much froo-froo-frills for froo-froo-frilling sake.

 

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im scared for what might happen to this beautiful art form… especially that sashi girl ruining and bringing people from the goth punk scene who are doing nothing than satisfying their own ego by prancing around in lame costumes all the while they ruin the dance and what it truely means. we seriously need to put and end to this, its getting out of hand, and take this from someone who is a tribal fusion dancer and grew up goth!

 

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i am new in tribal world and i have to admit, i haven’t thought about using any props or schtick :) in my “home based” performances. I’ve been reading your blog and i like it very much. This is one of your articles which gives you the motivation to dance honestly and to do it as a professional. The meaning of the dance in the first place is to feel good in your skin, not to try and look good to everyone else. Showing what you’ve got is the next stage, but you have to master the first on first :)

 

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