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?

 

Comments: 8

Leave a reply »

 
 
 

Woohoo! It needed to be said. Great post.

 

Reply

 

Thank you for this! I’m really interested in belly dance fusion but your post has encouraged me to step back a bit. I should know more about what I want to fuse with belly dance before I start dancing. Knowing more about that dance style will allow me to decide whether it will work will with belly dance or not.

Btw, can you provide excellent examples of fusion belly dance?

 

Reply

     

    Corinne – thank you for your reply! If you’re interested in learning belly dance fusion, go ahead and start taking dance classes in other disciplines, or take belly dance in a different style than you’ve been studying. I choose to focus on fusing oriental and tribal style because I love them both, but that’s not a limitation that others need to follow! :)

    I’ll be posting fusion that I love in a second as a new post.

     

    Reply

 

Totally. And when we showed our bhangra fusion to our bhangra teacher, we were a little worried about what she’d say, but she loved it, because what we had done was fuse an essentially social dance with another social dance. The structure and repetition of social bhangra (as opposed to competition bhangra, a whole ‘nother beast) lent itself well to fusing with tribal improv. And we started down that road inspired by Gypsy Caravan’s Indian stylings.

I should probably wait for your next post, but some fusion that I really loved and that inspired us were Domba’s African tribal fusion and of course Unamata’s Polynesian fusion, both of which came out their originators having studied the forms they fused.

 

Reply

 

As a classical Indian dancer, I have to admit… nothing annoys me more. Also I’d like to add to “well-researched, deeply-studied, or solid” that “technique” is key. Studying deeply helps this, but to elaborate, even if someone hasn’t studied a dance form for 10 years, respecting and seriously working at technique (in *all* the fused dance styles) can go a long way.

As a sidenote

 

Reply

 

Yes, and the same goes for incorporating modern, jazz, tap, hip-hop, etc – I’ve been wondering for several years what sort of reception “fusion” dancers would get if they presented these pieces at those kind of events. I get the feeling from what I have seen, that most dancers bring this sort of stuff to bellydance festivals to be different more than to really innovate. When it works, it works b/c you can clearly see two forms seamlessly integrated because both have been studied and considered carefully. I’d rather see something well-done and well-thought-out then something “new.”

 

Reply

 

Renee – I actually thought of inFusion’s bhangra/ATS fusion, but I wasn’t sure where to find a good video… and do you know if there’s any good video of Unmata’s early Polynesian fusion?

And I TOTALLY forgot about Domba’s African fusion! That was some good stuff.

 

Reply

 

Well, this isn’t the one I was thinking of, but here is some seriously vintage Unmata
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tilyhoGw8IM&feature=PlayList&p=25FDAD3136DC48FB&playnext_from=PL&playnext=1&index=37

and here’s us doing bhangra improv. Unfortunately it looks a bit like someone smeared vaseline on the lens…
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AT8ZrC_nZYA&feature=PlayList&p=6583EAB93AAD3C28&playnext_from=PL&playnext=1&index=3

 

Reply

 
Leave a Reply
 
  (will not be published)