Out of context and out on a limb.
Here’s something I’ve been thinking about quite a bit, but I haven’t really talked or written about it much.
In the world of tribal fusion belly dance, dancers have been taking every possible dance form and trying to “fuse” it with tribal style belly dance, or at least with belly dance. I’m not sure why, but I suspect that most of this fusion is driven by a desire to come up with the next “new cool thing.” (Of course, I could be totally wrong!) We, as tribal and fusion dancers, almost take it for granted that we can take any other dance form in the world, mush it into a choreography, and present it at a fusion dance festival or show. But what if we took our fusions to the dance communities from which we are pulling?
Because, I have to say it: Many fusions I’m seeing aren’t well-researched, deeply-studied, or solid… and I wonder why some are created in the first place because they just don’t seem to fit together well. Some fusions I’ve seen are like watching a fish trying to ride a bicycle; sure it would be a cool sight to see, but why even try?
There. I said it. Sue me.
What if we took a half-assed fusion of, say, Hawaiian hula and belly dance and took it to a respected hula festival? What if we took our “interpretations” of Indian classical dance and showed them to an audience of respected Indian gurus? What if we took our strange blend of vaudeville, cabaret, and vintage dance and performed it for an audience of true stage performers and actors? I might be going out on a limb here, but I suspect that those communities would react in several ways: They would probably be offended, confused, and might respect our already ill-respected belly dance community even less. They might ask, “what on Earth do they think they’re doing?” They might also laugh at us. (And this is not to say that all fusion is bad fusion. There are some remarkable blends of belly dance with other world and Western dance forms.)
I’m not sure what the solution or approach is to mitigating this issue. I understand that as artists we reserve the right to experiment, play, and try new things. I’m not calling on people to stop having fun. I am, of course, a fusion dancer: I consider my primary fusions to be tribal belly dance, oriental belly dance, and a bit of modern club dancing. I’m currently in an ATS basics class; dancing regularly with two amazing breakdancers; and continuing my study of oriental dance, music, and culture. And I will say this: my fusion has been a completely organic process. I haven’t tried to force any sort of styling into my dance for the sake of being “cool”, “different”, or to gain attention from the wider belly dance community. And I’m not saying that all fusionists blend dance styles just to get noticed, but that certainly does happen.
I’ve been saying this for a while: there are some fusions that work and others that don’t. To put it another way, peanut butter and chocolate might not appeal to everyone, but for the most part, it’s a really good blend of flavors. Peanut butter and anchovies, though? I’m not sure that’s a fusion we really need to have.
We have a responsibility to truly respect the cultures from which we are pulling when we fuse. What I feel like I’m seeing in this community is a lot of, “Oh that’s cool! Let’s blend that with belly dance!” and not much more consideration before putting that new fusion on a stage. Maybe, just for a moment, think of how members of that community from which you are pulling will react to your fusion. Will they ask, “What on Earth are you DOING??” or will they compliment you for your tasteful blend of something that’s near and dear to their hearts with something that’s near and dear to yours?