The Mystery of the Missing Hip Work

In my time attending “fusion” belly dance festivals, I’ve seen quite a few powerful, creative, and moving performances.  Many of them have taken inspiration from modern and contemporary dance, touching on emotional themes and other issues. Others have been inspired by grand stage productions with larger-than-life props and costumes, and great overall dance skill…  but sometimes I am left wondering, “Where’s the belly dance?”  If these performances are being presented at fusion “belly dance” festivals, then I am left expecting presentations with more belly dance in them.

Asking “Where’s the belly dance?”  is different from asking, “Is it belly dance?” That question has been asked over and over again about emerging stylizations within the belly dance genre, and it’s one that I’m not sure I can answer definitively for all of us.  Belly dance is often (arguably) in the eye of the beholder.  But here I ask a different question…

Asking “Where’s the belly dance?” prompts me, for the sake of this post, to define what I mean.  To me, for this post, it isn’t necessarily the imitation of movements done by dancers “over there” or that certain indescribable Middle Eastern quality that so many master dancers bring to their art.  No… I’m talking purely about movement.  Specifically hip work. Vertical hip work (glutes, in my world), twists, pelvic locks (front and back), figure 8s (vertical and horizontal), interior hip circles, interior hip squares, and all the other wonderful permutations thereof.  Belly dance is partially defined and distinguished from other dance forms by the sophistication by which we are able to isolate the pelvis and articulate the muscles around it as we travel around the stage, often separating these movements from the rest of our bodies.

Sometimes when I watch a performance, I do see hip work, but most of the time it is performed while the performer is stationary.  Other times, I’ll see articulations in the upper body, such as torso undulations and rib cage isolations, without much more hip work throughout the performance than a stiff shimmy or a “hip drop”.

A few “shimmies” there, a “hip drop” there, and an undulation over there do not a belly dance performance make.  It’s not even fusion.  Fusion would be taking the footwork of, say, a modern or a jazz routine, and putting the hip work on top of it.  Or, taking the upper body articulations and arms of another ethnic dance form and integrating in the distinct hip articulations of belly dance into those movements.  And yes, such endeavors are difficult.

This phenomenon of missing hip work is not new… Recently a video of the famous model Juliana, who graced the covers of George Abdo’s classic 1960s belly dance recordings, surfaced, and she strutted around the stage beautifully, posing with gorgeous body angles, and looking fabulous, and even playing finger cymbals… with barely a hip movement to be found.  From her photos, she looks like the quintessential belly dancer, with her chain maille costumes and her hourglass figure, but after watching her dance, I found little actual belly dance.  What a shame.

Today, “fusion” presentations continue to suffer from a deficiency in hip work.  But hip work is the great defining element of our dance.  Yes, other dance forms use pelvic articulations, but not with the same degree of definition that we do.  Why abandon that very element that sets us apart from other dance traditions?

Here’s where the sticky issue lies:  I’m not sure why the hip work is missing from so many otherwise accomplished “fusion” presentations.  It might be that people want to experiment with new movement vocabulary, or maybe it’s that more “traditional” hip movements within steps (such as, say, “Basic Egyptian” or “3/4 Shimmy”) doesn’t fit their vision for a contemporary choreography.  If a dancer is worried that putting hip work on their dance might be viewed as too “traditional” or “cabaret”, then maybe belly dance isn’t the genre in which she/he should be participating.

Or it might be that they just don’t have the skill or the training to put hip work on their contemporary traveling movements. And why work to do so when you can present a choreography with a few hip drops and undulations and still receive a standing ovation?  Because it’s hard. It’s damn hard. I’ve been training for thirteen years, and I still struggle with putting hip work on top of foot patterns.  I’m not sure I’ll ever stop struggling.

What I would love to see is the fusion community of dancers take this dance to the next level by integrating more belly dance movements into their choreographies.  It’s work, and it’s challenging, and it takes dedication and time.  And the resources are out there.  With the advent of online classes and touring workshop instructors, the training is easier to find and use than any time in the history of this dance.  It’s just up to us to take it.

 

 

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That’s definitely something I’m working on in my own dance. It was apparent to me when I had it in my brain to layer a choo-choo shimmy with traveling in a spiral pattern across the floor. Putting it in action sucked, and I noticed how awful my choo-choos are.

I do acknowledge that a huge part of my lack of doing hip work comes from a piriformis injury. The good days are fine, but with the bad days doing any sort of hip work hurts…

 

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Very good points made Asharah. Fusion is quite possibly the most difficult thing I have encountered and seen as a belly dancer.

On one side you want to showcase both, on the other you want to completely break free of any “boxes” or “restrictions”. It is difficult to pull of and I have seen both gorgeous an example, and nothing more than animalistic gestures with veils from another. ugh!

Very true, where are the hips? Loved this blog thanks for posting!

 

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And along with the missing hip work, where the frak are the zills?

 

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I was in a show last weekend (and sure, it was a Halloween show, so I wasn’t expecting straight up bellydance) and even as a fusion dancer, I was wondering where the hips were.

I’d love to see some examples, anyone got any videos with fantastic hipwork? i love hip work, but I tend to do it stationary, and would love more resources to look at that have it traveling.

 

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Very interesting. I would go further and ask why ATS eliminated hip circles from the dance. I think the key is somewhere in there. It is also very easy and lovely to do travelling hip circles, and variations with arms and upper body, a particularly lovely move is to drop the upper body and come up while lifting your hair. Also, the hip circle can be turned into a corkscrew move by alternating it with chest circles. It is also particularly lovely varying it with small omni circles.

 

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I love good hip work too and have wondered the same thing about some fusion pieces i have seen. Many, many years ago i admired the work of suraya hilal but as she aged the hip work disappeared and the style does very little for me now.

 

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I think what is lacking in the Juliana video (besides the obvious lack of any apparent knowledge of the culture and how that song should be treated) is the use of upper and lower portions of the torso, in all directions and texture (percussive AND flowing) to accent the music. She is mostly locked into an upright, solid torso that screams NOT A BELLYDANCER. To me that is what bellydance has over most dance forms (I qualify that statement because the modern hip hop and pop/lock dancers of course use flow and percussion in all directions too). Here is a vid of Kami and Zoe doing BELLYDANCE and they still look like Fusion dancers http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K97Wjs4DUdM

And I will say the controversial “I don’t think integrating hip work into your dance well is HARD, I think it is BORING” as in there are many of hours of drilling in order to make it a seamless part of your dance. It feels like WORK when you are doing it. It means taking the leap from dabbling/hobbyist into a dance form that requires lots of training.

 

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    Ziah – That is one of my favorite of Zoe’s choreographies, and one of my favorite fusion performances ever… because it’s TRUE fusion and still SO belly dance.

     

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      Ziah makes such a great point about how being able to weave hip work beautifully into fusion dance takes actual Work, which is not “fun” and a big portion of the performers i’v met are dabbling/hobbyists who dance for “fun” and aren’t interested and/or don’t have the time to drill enough to integrate hip work into their dance. Many of the ones who try to take dance seriously (and want to spend time drilling) find that they have to keep their day job and spend a lot less time on dance … i remember reading a research paper about the amount of time people put into practice of a musical instrument and whether or not they became soloists, teachers, or hobbyists; and only the ones who put some ridiculous number of hours eventually became soloists. Practice makes perfect and dance requires a lot of drilling to perfect … people who have a lot less time to practice still have to accumulate dance hours over a period of several years before acquiring the level of skill that Zoe has, and not many keep their interest in belly dance burning for that long.
      i am working at perfecting my dance so i practice for two hours every other day, i also search online resources for clips of new combos and other stuff.

       

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        i want to add that i don’t go to the really huge events with seasoned fusion dancers (so there’s a lot i haven’t seen) … but i prefer to categorize ‘fusion’ belly dance as ‘modern dance’ (instead of strict “belly dance”) because of how it is a modern phenomena (some older dancers tell me that fusion was absolutely unacceptable back in the day) and modern dance is a constantly evolving amalgamate of styles, and notions that usually emphasize emotions and theme over dance tricks.

         

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I sonetimes think this about my own routines! There seems to be a bit of bum wiggling, a bit of walking around and then a bit more stationary wiggling. I love it! Don’t get me wrong, but I wish I knew how to put together something a bit more traditional. I think we have all gotten a bit too carried away in doing something different, we have all lost actually belly dancing

 

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