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.

 

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Well said!

 

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Right on. It is hard to change with an artist that you admire. Especially if that artist is someone tht you consider essential to your identity in some way. But artists, like art, must change an adapt. When a rubber band ceases to change and adapt it gets brittle, and will not stretch and encompass anything. Xoxo

 

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It is a catch-22 with fans, isn’t it? If you do something the same thing too long and they consider you a “one trick pony”, and if you do something different they say “I liked her old stuff better”. The trick is to maintain a thread of you even throughout the change. I agree with you that Rush sounds very different today than they did, but there is a thread in their new music that is so very very them. “Finding your own voice” makes a lot of sense in this context, though I would argue what makes Rush sound like them is NOT just Geddy Lee’s distinctive voice. I mean the structure and mood of the music…the choices they make within each individual song…

Bottom line? I would be disappointed if you stayed the same, m’dear. Being able to express who we are right now is part of what makes any art powerful.

 

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Another thing about Bob Dylan is that fans appreciated him for being “different”, but when they booed him at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965, they were basically saying, “Be different in the way we want you to.” In the interview footage I saw, most everyone was saying something like, “He’s just like all the other pop stars now.” Only one person was open-minded enough to point out, “What pop group sounds like that?” So I guess what I’m saying is that ultimately, if you are authentic in your art, some people will turn on you for it. I think there are always fans who are living vicariously through an artist, or using that artist as a model in forming their own identity, instead of being true to themselves. When the artist grows, it pulls the rug out from under those fans and makes them doubt themselves. It’s threatening. When watching the No Direction Home documentary, I was struck by how many prominent people in the ’60s counter-culture seemed almost desperate to identify Bob Dylan with their scene or be identified with his (non-existent) scene. In reality, he wasn’t a part of any “scene” at all.

Your article is inspiring because you’re so right, and saddening because being very new to bellydance, I didn’t realize so many fans might have this attitude. I suppose I should have known. :/ I started out loving Turkish Cabaret because of its passion and energy, and I still love it, even though it looks like I’m moving toward more of a Classic Tribal style for myself. I don’t feel like I have to stick to any style in particular though, and I wonder if it’s even a good idea to do so.

I think it’s easier to form style “cliques” when American dancers in general don’t know their roots, the history of bellydance in this country. I’m surprised at the number of people who don’t know who Jamila Salimpour is (it’s really just a fluke that I’m familiar with her this early on, I think). I think things might improve if more dancers really understood (I mean really understood) that the history of bellydance in America doesn’t begin with Fat Chance Bellydance (with no disrespect meant to Fat Chance or ATS.)

Anyway, just some thoughts from a newbie. Great post! (and yay Rush!!)

 

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COOL! Another Rush fan signing in (possible 2010 tour YEAH! Hopefully at The Gorge again!)

I agree with all said here. I think finding your own identity as an artist is a process that takes years. There’s just so much out there that influences our learning process and what we produce, that it would be nearly impossible to shove ourselves in a style box so early in the journey.

Last Sunday I went to a Dave Matthews Band concert for the second time. I am not familiar with ALL of their songs, but, they have this distinctive style that you can identify as soon as any of their song starts. With Rush, well it has been a 30+year journey together through fun and tragedy thick and thin that their sound and their identity is just unmistakeable.

 

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Total coincidence- had a similar identity crisis lately;discovered that I was *not* a bellydancer, but would really like to be one. lol

I have noticed that lately, as a trend, a lot of tribal fusion dancers are moving back to Oriental music or themes. Just sayin’, and I personally love the trend. Labels are sometimes useful, but mostly silly.

 

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What an inspiring post! I definitely agree with you on, well, everything. I’m taking one of your workshops on Dark & Tribalicious in Gothenburg in October and I have to say that this article makes me feel very certain that I spent my money well!

Putting oneself in a box might be helpful for some but I would rather not do so myself and it is always interesting to see that others feel that way too. I believe that honesty (this includes being true to oneself) is, or at least should be, the most important aspect of creating art no matter what field one works within. I might never become a pro dancer and I don’t really know whether I would want to either but this doesn’t mean that I’m willing to compromise my integrity. Growing (as an individual, as an artist, and so on) isn’t optional, and in that sense there is no room for listening to the voices that demand us to act in certain ways…

 

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For what it’s worth, I think the Asharah of 2 years ago carried all the ingredients of Asharah now. One of your darkandangry phase performances made me cry, it had such a delicate & tender quality to it. I bet many – most, even – of the people who hire you are responding to your passion for the dance more than any surface quality, and they’ll be moved by whatever you bring them.

 

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Hello!

It is true that fans that truly can appreciate your work is those who can accept you moving forward.

I myself have had an ongoing crisis in ” what am I”.

When dancing different styles people often ask you “and then, what cind of dancer are you exactly?”. That answer shouldnt have to be straight “bellydancer”, “Jazz dancer” or “ballroom”…

Today I am a dancer, and I coose to show it off with a variety of different dance styles. I dont want to be any cind of dancer first of all, just a dancer.

Its nice to know that there are other people thinking of these kind of things.

Hopefully your fans can appreciate the different layers you can put on, I think most of them will. I will be most deligthed to se what cind of “different” dancing you will create. It wont even have to be different at all.

The most exiting thing in this world is that we can choose to do exactly as we want, you dont have to do as others think, right?

Hugs and love from Gothenburg!

 

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We all loved you two years ago, we all love you now, and we will all certainly love you in the future. It’s not about style or music, it’s about how you express your inner self, which you are fearless enough to pull out again and again for us. Thank you so much for continuing to be true to yourself and to work hard for your dreams.

 

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I definetly agree with Erin and the others. And i was thinking about this a few days ago. I’m gonna attending your workshop in Gothenburg (Dark & Tribalicious) in october, but I’am not at all a so-called Goth or a Gothinspired bellydancer. I feel like I’m something inbetween… I love tribal fusion and ATS, but sometimes I also enjoy regular cabaret. So I’m kind of in a confused spot right now. But I was thinking that the best way to grow and develop as an individual dancer is to just take it all in. Because in the end I want to have the best technique possable, And I know that you, Ariellah and Morgana can give me that!
love from sweden!

 

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Yay! Rush!
Boo! Labels!
Yay! Being true to yourself. Hardest thing to do, but so worth the effort.
I think anyone who’s seen you dance (and I’ve only done so on DVD and YouTube) would recognise you as a highly expressive dancer – what you’re expressing may vary, but the skills and style you use to express yourself remain. And of course the person doing the expressing is going to grow and change – you’re human and I love it. I look forward to seeing what you’re expressing three, five, ten years from now.
You go, girl!

 

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