The Gilded Serpent presents...
When Comparing & Contrasting
by Shira
"I think American Tribal Style is repetitive and boring." "I hate the way cabaret dancers flirt with the audience." "I'm only interested in authentic belly dance from Egypt.  I don't like this fusion stuff."

It seems that at the drop of a sequin, many dancers are quick to criticize styles of belly dance that are different from those they prefer. 

Maybe it's time to wake up and realize that, artistically speaking, we all have different tastes and this dance community is big enough for all of us.

Often, people base their negative judgments of other styles on student-quality performances.  The intermediate student troupe performing American Tribal Style group improvisation at a local belly dance festival probably will be repetitive and boring - not because they're American Tribal Style, but because they're up-and-coming students who haven't yet learned how to present an exciting stage personality.  An equally inexperienced Egyptian-style soloist will probably be just as repetitive and boring. 

Stage presence is a skill that most people must learn through experience - it rarely comes naturally.

That's why we have haflas and festivals - to provide a supportive environment for students to acquire this skill!

Before we start attacking another style based on the performers we see in front of us, we should consider:

  • Are these students/hobbyists or professionals?
  • If they're students/hobbyists, is this environment appropriate for such a performance? If so, shouldn't we support them instead of finding fault?
  • Is it fair to judge an entire genre of dance based on the performance of students?
  • Is it fair to judge an entire genre of dance based on the performance of selected professionals who happen to represent it poorly?

There is a time and place for thoughtful analysis.  Just as critique has its place with ballet, Broadway, and other dance forms, so it has a place with the belly dance world. It is acceptable to discuss the pros and cons of particular performances.

But in fairness, we should take into consideration the advertised skill level of the performers we observe and the appropriateness of their skill level to the situation.

We should offer encouragement to students and save our judgmental comments for those who claim to be pros. We should not judge an entire style of dance on the basis of performers at events like Rakkasah or local haflas, where dancers of all skill levels are granted the opportunity to perform.

We also need to remember that when we see a self-proclaimed pro who dances poorly, that dancer doesn't necessarily represent everyone in that particular genre. 

The dancer in beads and sequins who writhes seductively and oozes pheromones at the men in the audience certainly does not represent all nightclub dancers. The American Tribal Style group that's too self-absorbed in their sisterhood shtick to care about whether their "performance" offers a satisfying experience to the audience does not represent all ATS dancers.

Before dismissing a particular genre, we should try to view the best that the genre has to offer, and, more importantly, view it with an open mind.

Interestingly, when many of us discuss our style preferences, we tend to do it by saying something negative about other styles.  If we like Egyptian style best, is it really necessary to snarl that American styles are not authentic?  Why not just say that we like the subtlety and intricacy of interpretation that Egyptian orchestral music inspires?  If our preference lies with American Tribal Style, is it really necessary to sneer that cab-uh-ray dancers seem to be simpering for approval from the audience? Why not speak instead about the sense of joy and belonging we feel when we can jump up at a party and join in a group improvisation led by people have not previously met?

As soon as we making negative comments about entire genres, we put the people who favor those genres on the defensive and move them to look for flaws in the style we embrace. Does this really elevate our dance form? Why not instead highlight the positives of the styles we enjoy? Why not explain what draws us to a particular form? If our comments revolve around why our preferred styles bring us fulfillment, maybe we can help others see these forms with a new appreciation.

Isn't that better than attacking someone else's style and provoking a counter-attack in return?

We're not required to enjoy everything we see. The arts are very subjective, and we all have different tastes. But let's try to discuss our differences with logic and civility. Let's make allowance for students who are still building their performance skills. Let's talk to people with tastes that differ from our own to understand why they appreciate other styles - perhaps we can learn something by listening to what they tell us. And let's share the things we love about our styles while refraining from attacking theirs.

Illustrations by Nila of 

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