I am a belly dancer.
No. Really. I am a belly dancer.
What you might not know about me is that this summer I have been facing a bit of an identity crisis. The Asharah that you might hire to teach and perform in your city or at your festival is probably the Asharah of two years ago. Angry and dark, and fighting. But that Asharah has changed into someone softer, more delicate, and less discontent with the world. What happens when you hire the Asharah two years ago and gets the Asharah today? Do you appreciate the Asharah who is in your city now, or do you lament the fact that “she’s not what she used to be”?
At the end of the day, I am a belly dancer. And within the genre of belly dance are a multitude of influences, styles, music choices, and costuming choices that I want to feel that I can explore and perform. I want to feel free to change, evolve, morph, and experiment.
Like a rock band who has changed throughout the decades, playing different sounds, and eschewing popular trends, I want to feel as though I can follow my artistic convictions without being called a sell-out, or without my audiences thinking that I have betrayed them.
For if you are a true fan of an artist, you will change with them. You will accept their evolution. You will learn to appreciate and love their artistic explorations. The Beatles of the early 1960s were not the Beatles of the late 1960s, but that does not negate the fact that I find all of their music entertaining and solid. And of course my favorite band, Rush, sounds so different today than they did in the 1970s… and yet I love all of their work, partially because they have allowed themselves to change and mature. (Not that I think that I am nearly as popular and amazing as the Beatles or Rush… far from it! But hopefully you get what I’m talking about…)
I would like to state for the record that I do not consider myself only a “fusion belly dance artist.” At the end of the day, I am a belly dancer.
Behind me I have years of training in oriental and tribal styles of belly dance. If I choose to dance to oriental music, or a belly dance drum solo, don’t accuse me of “going cabaret.” I have not “gone cabaret”; if you look beyond my costuming, you’ll see that I’ve always been cabaret (probably more cabaret than tribal, really) and I have always blended styles to create what I want to be. I want to dance in a way that comes the most naturally and organically to me. What comes most naturally to me will change from year to year, as it should. A true artist is never satisfied with their current state. As Bob Dylan said (he’s another artist who changed through the years), “He not busy being born is busy dying.” So true, so true.
I refuse to be stuck in a box, or to keep myself in a box. I draw inspiration from so many sources, so many dancers, so many artists, and so many musicians, and I want to feel free to pull from all of them when performing. To call me a “gothic belly dancer” or a “tribal fusion belly dancer” is to confine me within a certain paradigm, a certain expectation. And I don’t want to feel like I must live up to anyone’s expectation of who I am as an artist.
And… at the end of the day, I ask for you, dear readers, to do the same. Feel free to change and morph and evolve… because that is how great art is made.