Wednesday, May 27, 2009

By Jupiter!

Went to see the Be11ydance Sup'rstars the other day with eleven members of my troupe. Jeepers, what a spectacle. As a dancer I could appreciate the amazing skill level, but a few things really dampened my enthusiasm.

First, it was too Vegasy. It was so overproduced. Even the facial expressions felt choreographed...there was no spontaneity and little joy. The tribal fusion dancers were an exception - very intense and connected with the audience. However, even that started to wear a little thin.

Which brings me to my second point - WILL SOMEBODY PLEASE HAND THOSE GIRLS A SANDWICH. With fries. I mean, come on! BELLY dancing, people! Let's see some bellies! If I wanted to admire skin stretched over muscle fibres I'd have gone to the bloody World Bodybuilding Championships or whatever.

And, my third point - I think they should come out with a Bellydance Superstars Over-35 Division. These girls were mostly in their early twenties - hard to tell for sure through all the makeup though - and I feel that bellydance is an art form best interpreted through the lens of life experience. Everybody on that stage was so damn smooth, it was depressing.

Now - I'm glad I went, certainly. It was an amazing show and I was zaghareeting my head off along with the many other dancers in the audience. It's just that over the entire 90 minutes or whatever it was, everything acquired a plastic sameness. The dancers all looked alike - excepting any distinguishing tatts - and honestly it resembled nothing so much as a Mattel aisle at midnight when all the Barbies magically come alive to dance for their lightning-bolt-wielding warlock sultan overlord. (Which, right there - great idea for a themed choreograph. Possibly though it would end up being more adult-film-industry and less ethnic-art-form.)

It's a great show, purely from a "dazzle me" standpoint. There's a lot of impressive fitness and beautiful moves, not to mention really stunning costumes. But if you are an earthy type, like I am, who appreciates the more subtle beauty of Reality, you might find it a tad shiny for your taste.


Dave Hingsburger said...

I was watching a belly dancing competetor on Britian's Got Talent and without question the only thing missing was the pole. It didn't look like belly dancing at all, I felt that she had taken an artform and made it yucky.

kate said...

I love this. And love you being an Earthy belly-dancin' Momma.

lizbon said...

Heh. Funny how we use virtually identical phrases to describe a too-skinny girl: Somebody get that girl a sandwich, stat!

I've never seen skinny belly dancers, and the very image is all wrong.

carlarey said...

I saw a belly dancer a few years ago who was about 19, so blonde and pale she was transparent, and could not have weighed more than 98 lbs.

It was just not right.

Gwen said...

Love the choreograph idea. You should send it to Pixar.

Anonymous said...

I always find comments like this interesting as they miss one very essential point. There is plenty of opportunity in the world of bellydance to see older and larger dancers strutting their stuff with great joy in haflas, and even events sponsored by the BDSS like Raqs LA, Britiana and America. That is part of the beauty and charm of bellydance. I hope it is always there as an essential part of the dance. What there is precious little of is a competitive show out there in the mainstream taking major Ballet companies, Riverdance and other top of the line dance shows on-head on- and showing that bellydance belongs in that arena too -- AND it is NOT just an art form for women with large tummys but also for the dancer who practics many hours a day and then performs under pressure in the most competitive arts world out there.
There is one sad fact that we older people have to face, and I am one of them, we cannot do what we did when we were 25. If I wanted to start the suggested troupe of over 35s I would 1. find it hard to find quality dancers free from commitments (husband, children, job) willing and able to leave home for months on end, 2. not be able to do enough shows a week to financially sustain such a show on the road given the stamina needed to do what the BDSS does on a consistant basis. 3. If I could find dancers as recommended in this blog they would soon loose their tummys with all the work and excercize, or pass out from exhaustion. That is just the fact of life we can all bitch about but must face if we want to compete in the real world with the likes of Ballet.
One has to remember, the BDSS have added an element or platform - to the art of bellydance that for the most part did not exist before; a competitive show of full time professional bellydancers accepted and indeed respected in the mainstream arts world. To do that we understood from the very beginning we could not please all the people all the time and we definately could not represent all aspects of bellydance nor should we try to. We had to choose what would work in the arena we chose to compete in. We also knew we would bare a large amount of initial rejection, if not downright ridicule for attempting to take this art form to a level it had never been to before. It has not been easy.
What is funny is no one would say to a ballet company that they should have older dancers as older dancers have more to say due to life experience, or that they should eat more. To say that to a bellydance company says something about bias and steriotyping. That is not meant to be critical but to simply make a point that critique must take into account what one is trying to do and that may not be exactly what you personally like in its entirety. ~AND if I followed the advice offered I would have far more critique coming from the other direction. Like I said, you cant please everyone.
Meanwhile I do not choose dancers based on age or size, but on talent. Some are over 36, most are not. Some are larger than others, none are as skinny as the average ballerina. Long live diversity. Miles Copeland

Gwen said...

"We also knew we would bare a large amount of initial rejection..."

Now, that mis-spelling made me laugh.

swoon said...

hey let's be kind,
I have a friend who is thin or petite with a slight frame. In fact I know quite a few. This woman told me how she has been treated cruelly because she is thin.

And who on this planet is happy with their body-far to few. When I talk about art I try to keep my comments positive. It is much harder to build than destroy any one can come up with nasty little comments. I really doubt that any of the woman who belly dance are bad people, deserving sniping. If you haven't some thing nice or beautiful to say about anther artist, (note I used the word artist not arch villain) than why note keep it to yourself.

I try to use love and truth as a motivator in my life. And when ever I point my finger I find that finger pointing right back at me

peace and love paul

Shan said...

Okay. I know where you're coming from, Paul. And your friend: I know women of all sizes are treated cruelly because of their bodies - every woman I know has experienced it.

In that context, it's interesting that you say I should keep my opinions to myself unless they are nice or beautiful. I totally disagree. I feel that it may be helpful to women who have seen the BDSS, to hear me say that I'd like to see some larger dancers. I think a larger belly dancer could easily feel discouraged by seeing the BDSS, by how glossy the dancers are. Maybe she will read my review and be a little comforted by it. God knows the world could use a few more words of comfort towards women of size.

I understand your reprimand of my review because, read a certain way, it seems so negative. However, I stand by my opinion, and I argue that my remarks towards the artists themselves were mostly - not entirely - positive. My criticism was directed at the production of the show, not the dancers. Specifically, my criticism was directed at the choice of thin young women for a bellydance show. (That being said, Miles Copeland, if indeed it was he, made a fair point when he said in the comments that a large woman, if chosen for the BDSS, would soon not be large at all due to their gruelling practice regime.)

You say you doubt that any of the dancers are "bad people, deserving sniping". No argument here. I'm sure they're great people. I never met them in person, though, so all I can assess is their presentation as professional dancers. I certainly don't mean to equate fitness, thinness, or youth with badness - any more than those things should be equated with goodness.

Again it seems I am running into the issue of criticism as a valid statement on something that has been put into the public domain. There are many sides to the question, and people seem evenly divided between the two main camps - either "What's out there is open to criticism" or "Don't be negative."

I have published quite a few outspoken pieces on my blog. I always hesitate before posting them - sometimes I feel guilty for being negative. And I get a lot of criticism - some by comments but others by email - about my reviews, and that's okay, because I put them out there. They're fair game. As far as it's possible, in this way I think I live by my own rules.

I agree with your position about using love and truth as motivators in your life. Hearing that, it makes me wonder something: do you think if I had written that review in a more gentle style, couching my criticism in ambiguous terms and not addressing specific things that bothered me, it would be more acceptable to you?

Is it my style that offends, rather than my position as critic?

I suspect that it might be so. And if, in fact, it IS my style that is so hard to swallow, I can only say that I write partially for myself, and partially to galvanize my audience into response. And it certainly does spark debate, as often as not.

All my arguments aside, your comment is fair, in that it reminds me to be what the Holy Scripture says to be: "as wise as a serpent, and as harmless as a dove."

Gwen said...

I used to play a lot of classical piano, and I remember one adjudicator telling me not to play a certain song again until I was over 35 -- he said that my technique was flawless, but that I didn't have the life experience to feel it yet. It was good advice, and I think akin to what Shan is saying about some of these women: they look fabulous, they're excellent dancers, their technique is beautiful -- but they haven't yet experienced the hard knocks of life that make artists able to connect with their audiences. She did not say that those skinny bitches sucked. She gave a fair and balanced critique. She did not destroy anyone. She did not, in fact, write anything that would have grievously offended any one of those dancers. We all have our own ideas of what art looks like, and I think this was a malice-free expression of Shannon's.

As Mr Copeland (?) said, above, "Long live diversity."

Anonymous said...

I have no argument with choosing smoother, younger, fitter dancers..nor with the 'glam' aspect of the whole presentation. Only that it would not contain at least some semblence of [authentic] middle eastern aesthetic and cultural artistic value. Why no dancers of Arabic/Middle East descent? Too hard to find any that would agree to questionable terms? Like so many other forms of cultural ethnic & racial explotiation, this type of show isn't any exception. It does not truly educate nor does it inspire. In actual fact, it is just plain insulting to Middle Eastern people. But somehow, I get the feeling that this is intentional.

Shan said...

Anon: Insulting to people of Middle Eastern descent...interesting thought. In terms of ethnic dance, bellydance as practiced in North America (and in Egypt as well if my sources are correct) is a far cry from traditional Middle Eastern dance. Descended from, sure, but is every Irish village rocking to the stylings of Riverdance-level choreography every Saturday night? A show of this nature doesn't have much to do with tradition.

Do you think if the show featured some women of Middle Eastern descent, it would be valid for you? Or would that simply make those dancers sellouts?