Time is the Only Critic without Ambition

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gloria reid

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May 11, 2009, 10:13:11 PM5/11/09
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This particular subject has attached itself to every belly dancers hip
since the beginning of time. So let's start looking into this topic
with one of my first questions that has plagued me for years; are we
entertainers or are we dancers? Interesting question because so many
women through out the years have commented to me that to be a dancer
is better than to be an entertainer. And some dancers have given the
opinion that we are entertainers up on stage that dance. So here we
have two different opinions and that is what makes our world go round.
Even more so we will have a specific group or person say one way
"their way" is better. This is understandable because no one can walk
a particular dancers' path for them or in their footsteps. With
experience comes opinions and with opinions come life statements of
what works and what doesn't work. Is this the building block of
criticism? What happens when we create a community that is critical of
specific dance groups, dance styles, dance ability and dance venues?
How healthy is the air we breathe in our environment when we
contaminate it with criticisms and censorship? Is this necessary or
does it do the opposite which is to clear the wheat from the chafe?
As time progresses along two things happen for dancers, either they
keep up with the changes or they look around scratching their heads
saying, "Where am I"? If you are lucky enough to be in the group that
has kept up, I'm sure there are changes that have occurred that you
may not care for. To tell you the truth I'm a little bit of both
groups because I kept up and than some how got left behind. But
sometimes when you get left behind you can hear the echoes and
whisperings of those walking ahead of you and it's really interesting
what you can hear.
I'll never forget a dance acquaintance of mine that said most of the
shows that she had seen recently were just horrible. Since I was in
most of these shows, she got me scratching my head wondering if this
was a round about way of insulting me or if she just wasn't thinking.
Ah huh, well lets just say I let it slide but what was interesting was
that the producer of these shows is a friend of hers but I'm pretty
sure she didn't tell her what she thought. Actually I'm wondering what
it was about me that made her confide in me. Sometimes to be oblivious
is a good thing.
Experience has taught me that looks especially packaged in a beautiful
body can create a disadvantage when it comes to equal consideration.
The world reacts differently to beautiful people. I experienced the
other side of this coin when I was rehearsing with a friend for a show
we were doing together. She is very striking and the band catered to
her and kind of forgot about me. After awhile of dealing with this
predicament I had to laugh because the musicians were crowding around
my friend chatting with her. Before I knew it they were all getting
ready to leave and we didn't rehearse yet. My dance friend didn't feel
like rehearsing so everybody decided to go home. From back in the
abyss I told them in a loud voice that I wanted to rehearse and we
weren't leaving. All of a sudden I became visible again and everyone
realized that I too was in the room. As women do we look harsher on
beautiful women because we feel they have an advantage over us? Or do
we help them become successful because we want to see the symbol of
our dance in a beautiful woman? Is our dance form really women
friendly? When I say women friendly I mean all types of women. Do we
as women censor our belly dance image?
Many women want to be well known but can they handle it if a dance
friend gets there first? Women gage how they are doing by other
dancers that are at their level of success. This is where I have seen
criticism lurk. You know what I mean, the eyes roll, side glances
occur at an alarming rate and that look of total antipathy comes
across the face. At this point even if a dancer did well the blur of
aversion would keep another from seeing a performance well done. Who
at this point is at a disadvantage? This especially occurs when the
dance style is different from what a dancer prefers. Is there rivalry
amongst dance styles? Let's be honest here, yes of course there is.
With the different styles follows change especially in the belly dance
costume. Our belly dance costume is almost like a rite of passage for
women especially when they wear their costume for the first time. Does
the costume state who we can hang with? When dancers perform together
the saving grace for all of us is that the audience can see how
diverse we are. So maybe the shows that I performed in showcased other
dance styles than what my dance acquaintance preferred. How can we
educate our audience on the diverse elements of our dance if we can't
accept the changes that are taking place in our dance world ourselves?
There have been occasions that I felt like a fish out of water. I was
performing in a show this past year with all the dancers on stage
together and it hit me just as the curtains were about to open that I
was the only cabaret dancer on stage with tribal dancers. I looked to
my right and than to my left and was overwhelmed by this kaleidoscope
of color. It was the most amazing site I can remember seeing and I
could only imagine the gasps from the audience at seeing the array of
color unfolding before their eyes. I knew from this particular show
that our times were changing. The troupe dynamic is very popular now
especially with the edgy tribal vibe. Todays'dancers are willing to
take more risks and push the traditionalists' boundaries. Each
generation has to make their own way and as they do there will be
dancers wanting to keep the old ways in tack by pushing back. Solo
performing for me has always been an art because it takes tenacity and
bravado to get out infront of people and perform. So you can imagine
going out and performing after the stage was full of dancers
performing in unison with grace and perfect timing. Your soul has to
be willing to take up the whole stage. But I came to realize that
dance is dance and if we don't put censorship on it and try to define
it than we can allow it to grow in the way that it needs to.
My next question has been on the front burner for awhile; how will the
nightclubs deal with the new styles of dance becoming so popular?
Music has changed too so this does help with the variety of dance
styles occurring in our midst. Where does tradition and change exist
together? I think this is where the stage comes in. It's the one place
where dancers won't criticize each other at least until the end of the
show. Creative expression is usually judged harsher by our own
insecurities but than I've heard stories of inappropriate choreography
in shows. Since we live life in so many different ways it is bound to
happen that creative expression gets caught in between individual
principles and values. Shock value isn't usually what people go to a
dance show for especially if they are bringing family and friends. I
remember being a part of a show where a dancer had a flashlight and
her dance was created around turning her flashlight on and off. I
didn't get it and neither did the audience but she had a really good
time which I have to admit was disconcerting for me. So even an idea
can cross the line of the bizarre and make an entire audience scratch
their heads. One time I was dancing at a restaurant and my skirt was
tucked into my underwear (by mistake). And I danced part of the first
song with my right cheek saying hello to everyone. I did feel a breeze
but than I was doing turns so I thought it was normal. The waitstaff
cracked up laughing and one of the waitresses came over and pulled out
my skirt, thank God! Just so you all know the owner of the restaurant
was yelling at me through the bathroom door that my music was
starting......ugh! But I did start dancing on time with my music even
though I was giving the customers a show I never intended to give
them. Fortunately there were no dancers for miles to giggle at me or
give me that "Oh, I'm so embarrassed for you" look. The waitstaff was
enough. Life can be a comedy where the jokes on you.
If we all pull together and create a community that makes each and
every one of us feel safe than our diversity will make sense not only
to our audience but also to ourselves. Self creativity that is selfish
or blind to the comfort of others is the real issue here. We live in a
world where we want to toot our own horn but we need to understand
that we also fit in with a community that symbolizes all of us. So we
have to understand that our new generation of dancers are bringing in
their views of the world.
There are also world views that have been around for years and if we
can bring together the old and the new than our future will be a
potpourri of ideas and styles that compliment each other without
clashing. There's a quote that says; a critic is a man who knows the
way but can't drive the car.
Sometimes we drive and other times we sit in the backseat. But either
way the goal is to get to our dreams and aspirations all in one piece
together. We represent a culture that reflects the realities of us
dancing and working together every day. In a way we have always been
diverse maybe we just didn't know it. It seems to me diversity is the
one thing we all have in common and knowing this makes the view from
the back of the car or the drivers seat that much more beautiful.
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