What are you saying?
In my time as a dancer, I’ve gone through a lot of phases, and I expect to go through many more. I remember when I was still a relatively new dancer, and I relied mostly on technical ability and “tricks” in my performances… but now, as I look back, I realize that those performances were blank and said nothing.
Recently, I’ve seen a few performances that seemed to be more about the dancer showing off a series of “tricks” than actually dancing, expressing, and emoting. You know those performances… the one where the layback/backbend into a drop is gratuitously placed in the set, or the dancer does several drops in one performance (and I’m not talking about FatChanceBellyDance, or the other master dancers). Or the one where the dancer is ticking, locking, and popping all over the place, but lacks any sense of expression or grace. Or the one where the dancer shimmies her way through a 10 minute set when she could be accenting her very interesting music in very beautiful ways. So, you can move your body in fascinating ways, but what about that makes you a dancer and not a contortionist, acrobat, or just another entertainer?
Now, I’m certainly not saying that a dancer shouldn’t have a few tricks up her sleeve. I love showing off my backbends, belly flutters, and shimmies. Those moves are crowd pleasers, and I’m totally aware of that. As dancers we also must entertain, and frankly, it’s fun to show off our tricks. But when the performance becomes all about the tricks and less about the dance, then I begin to wonder, “who is this dancer? What does she have to say? And why isn’t she showing us what’s really inside her?”
I think the use of tricks indicates a few things about the dancer: She’s afraid to dance as herself, and she’s hiding behind her “Wow Factor”; she’s not aware that dance can be an emotional outlet as well as a physical one; she believes that the tricks will gain her more recognition, praise, and attention (which, sadly, is often true). What really bothers me is that after seeing a performance composed mostly of tricks, there will be a host of audience members lavishing praise on that dancer, telling them how amazing they are. Seriously? Is that what this dance, particularly in the vein of that which we call “tribal fusion”, become? A series of crowd-pleasing movements set to electronica or neo-Balkan brass? I certainly hope NOT.
I ask of you, dear readers, that the next time you find yourself out at a bellydance show, ask yourself, “is this performer really dancing, or are they relying on their tricks?” And a few tricks are fine, and some take great skill (balancing and layering, for example), but don’t let yourself be tricked by the tricks. Each of us has so much to say when we’re on stage, and I believe that we must start saying it, even if that means that we won’t be as “impressive” to the layman viewer. Dance is not a series of tricks set to music. It is moving art, and moving art can also be dynamic entertainment.