BY PRINCESS FARHANA
In the past few years, Oriental dance has been changing as rapidly as the rest of the world. Blame it on the internet, or increased interest -and more access to- recordings of various styles of ethnic music, but performers in the field of oriental dance are both appropriating and integrating a plethora of diverse dance forms. Dancers are studying the art of Arabic dance seriously, but are also experimenting with theatricality and playing around stylistically more than they used to. Sometimes it seems as though there have been more innovations in the past decade than in the thousands of years preceding it!
Today, one of the most popular belly dance styles is Fusion. Though Fusion can basically be described as mixing Arabic music and dance with other styles , sometimes Fusion can be downright con-fusing! The reason it is difficult to pin down is because it is not a specific style unto itself, but rather the melding of different styles. Fusion is an umbrella term that can mean many different things.
Of course, it could be argued that Oriental dance actually is Fusion, in that the genre itself is considered by many to be a pastiche of refined folkloric movements stemming from a vast number of regions blanketing the Middle East, North Africa and Central Asia. It could also be noted that the style we have recognized for years as “American Cabaret” is in actuality a mix of Turkish, Egyptian, Lebanese and Greek belly dance infused with a healthy dose of pure fantasy. However, American Cabaret belly dance, which has been an established style for decades, is not what most dancers or aficionados would call Fusion today.
Currently, what is popularly known as Fusion is Arabic dance movements intermingled with jazz, ballet, or modern dance. …or with American Tribal Style belly dance ( a unique, albeit more recent, genre unto itself) or hip-hop, East Indian Bollywood, classical Persian, Rom (gypsy) dance, Asian dance, even gymnastics…the possibilities are endless! But this cornucopia of mixed styles and malleable form is also where Fusion gets a little disorienting. For example: Flamenco- Arabic Fusion is not going to be at all similar to a Tribal/ Industrial Fusion piece; and neither of those dances will resemble a fantasy/theatrical Fusion number with performers swirling around to New Age music in Isis wings! Fusion can be as simple as throwing in a few modern “Western” moves during a Hakim song, or as complicated and high concept as an individual or troupe dares to go.
To clarify, Fusion is not simply wearing jazz pants while dancing to Turkish music, just as an Egyptian style dancer could not be called Tribal merely because she’s wearing a choli, a couple of bindis and has tucked her hair into a turban. These are just examples of inappropriate costuming choices which may go undetected by the average lay person , but will be noticed- and probably questioned- by other dancers or savvy audience members.
So where do we draw the line? How can we keep traditional and Fusion styles from becoming diluted, polluted or just plain sloppy? Here are some basic thoughts to consider:
Know Your Ingredients: This may seem ridiculously simple, but in order for your Fusion piece to work, you must be familiar with what you are fusing. No matter what styles you are mixing, you should, at the very least, have a working knowledge of the mechanics and basic steps involved in the dance styles you choose. The thing that makes a good Fusion number riveting is in the pairing of disparate, but identifiable influences. A piece incorporating, say, tap dancing and an Arabic drum solo is not going to translate to the audience if you know nothing about either discipline. In order to break the rules successfully, you must know them first.
Select Music Reflecting The Styles You Are Blending: Mixing hip-hop steps with Turkish or 1960’s Jazz with Egyptian? Let your music reflect it! You may be using a piece of existing music that will dictate the way you dance, but if you are working on a high concept choreography, you may have to use a couple of different pieces of music to get your “point” across. Whether you are recording it yourself or having it professionally done, make sure the sound levels are equal, and the edits seamless.
Costume Yourself Appropriately: If you were a ballroom dancer doing a tango, you wouldn’t wear a Seventies disco outfit, would you? If you were dancing to hip-hop, it seems doubtful that a floor-length evening gown would be your first choice in stage wear. Neither would make sense visually to the audience. So think about your dress as carefully as your musical selections. Make sure that however outré your costume choices are, they are easy for the audience to “read”. Also think about the range of motion – or limitation of movements-the costume provides. Secure that big headdress, and know that you probably won’t be able to use a veil while you wear it. Make sure your turban is twisted tightly, or that you can actually move well in those sky-high platforms. Make sure you do full dress rehearsals so you don’t encounter any “surprises” onstage.
Hone Your Stage Presence : Remember that when you are onstage, you need to be acting as well as dancing. Your facial expressions help clue the crowd in as to what your stage persona is. A beauty-queen perma-smile may appear to be robotic or false, but it is better than a look of terror or uncertainty! Make sure you feel comfortable onstage- if you seem unsure of what you are doing or what emotions you are projecting, you will distract from your own performance- the audience will begin to feel nervous, and that will take them out of the mood you are trying to create. Make sure you wear adequate stage make-up, otherwise, under harsh stage-lighting, your face will appear blank and washed out. A slightly crazy (but accurate) measure of stage make-up is that if you look like a cross between a hooker and a clown up close, you will simply look like a pretty girl from beyond the footlights…for real!
Represent Yourself Accurately: Many people have no idea what Arabic dance-or for that matter Fusion, is. Though it may seem impossible, there will probably be audience members who have never seen belly dance performed live, and have a plethora of misconceptions or negative stereotypes about the art form we hold so dear. In order to continue the education of “civilians”, whenever possible, make sure that your program notes (or spoken announcement) reflects that what you are doing onstage is a Fusion or concept piece, and not a traditional Oriental dance number.
Last but not least, make sure to warm up well before you practice or perform. Then get out there and enjoy yourself. If you are having fun performing, your audience will have a great time watching you!
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