Entertainment and Art
One of the things I think about often is the constant battle between entertainment and art in bellydance.
On one hand many of us paint ourselves as artists, as on par with the dances found in theaters and concert halls. “Belly dance is just as valid as ballet or modern,” we say. We say, “belly dance belongs on the stage next to other high performance art.”
On the other hand, we struggle with being entertaining. Those of us who dance in restaurants and nightclubs must be entertaining. The clientele isn’t paying for high art; they’re paying for a fun night out with their friends.
So… what are we? Artists or entertainers? Do we have to make a decision? Or is it a matter of knowing how to be both, and being able to present an appropriate performance depending on the venue and crowd. But if we tailor our performances depending on the client, are we compromising our art for the sake of entertainment? Where do we draw the line?
For me… I consider myself more of an artist than an entertainer. But, in being an artist, I can’t forget that I’m also a performer, and performance is entertainment. How entertaining an audience finds a performance depends on the person and their expectations of what they’re going out to see. But I won’t perform a piece solely for the purpose of entertaining the audience. I don’t perform in order to elicit positive reactions from my viewers. I have to love the song, the performance, and the piece itself. Personally, I also no longer dance at private parties or do regular restaurant gigs, because those weren’t the right environments for what sort of dance I want to do. Those audiences want to be entertained and to have fun, not to see something they might not understand. I’m glad that I have taken those gigs in my early days as a working dancer; for one, they were great experience in dealing with apathetic and some times even rude crowds. Those gigs also taught me that I’m not meant to be a bellydancing entertainer. And I don’t see anything wrong with those performances or the dancers who take those gigs. They just weren’t for me.
I feel most at home on the stage, in a concert hall, or at an event populated by other dancers. Sure, this narrows my reach, but if I were to perform my style of bellydance at a private birthday party, hired by someone looking for a bellydancer, I think they’d be quite confused. The private parties and Middle Eastern restaurants are not where I’m meant to perform.
I think it’s important for us to think about where on the spectrum between entertainment and art we want to sit. We don’t need to choose a single point on this scale. We can move between the two sides, and ideally, we should aim to find a balance between both that doesn’t compromise our personal vision.
How have you tried to balance art and entertainment?