Let’s talk about fusion belly dance. To some in the belly dance community, “fusion” is a dirty word, met with eye-rolling disdain. Many claim that fusion dancers only call themselves fusion because they aren’t good enough to do any other form of “real” belly dance. Or they are looked on as invaders from other dance styles who throw in a couple of hip shakes and call themselves belly dancers. Or they are snidely called “artists” (again with the eye-rolling) because these dancers want to take belly dance in a non-traditional direction.
I’m a little biased, as I am a fusion dancer, but these responses are pretty disrespectful to those of us who work hard at our craft, spend vast amounts of money and time on classes, costuming, and performances, and love fusion with as much passion as any “traditional” dancer and her art. Yes, there will be dancers who really aren’t that great, or dancers who put on a purple hip scarf and black makeup and sell themselves as professional fusion belly dancers, but that’s true of all art forms.
I am also a “traditional” belly dancer, in that I dance Egyptian and Lebanese styles. While I know I’m not the only dancer that sits on the dual performer fence, I am one of the few that I know of that equally love both styles. Traditional belly dance changed my life. Fusion belly dance changed my life. Before I knew what fusion (specifically gothic belly dance) was, I enjoyed belly dance and had fun with it, but I had never thought about it being more than just an interesting (and slightly weird) hobby and a way to lose weight without going to the gym. But once I found fusion, I knew that was what I needed to be doing. Fusion belly dance is why I am where I am now. But I am always called back to the grace and elegance (and the sparklies) of the more traditional forms of belly dance.
So why I am writing this blog?
It’s time to educate fellow dancers about fusion. I know I won’t convince everyone of the value of fusion, but please, do take some time to read what I have to say about art and fusion and belly dance.
Belly dance is a folkloric dance with deep roots in many of the countries in the Middle East and western Asia. Therefore, it has a long history—and a murky one—but one that comes from many places. Belly dance as we know it is already a fusion, a distillation of these folkloric dances into what we know today. Do you really think Egyptian dancers were wearing sequined bedlahs way back when? Ballet was later incorporated into more modern belly dance, so most belly dancers today are already fusion dancers. I might be wrong, but I don’t think ballet is traditionally Egyptian.
It gives you something to think about, doesn’t it?
Since belly dance is a traditional dance and a part of several cultures, it deserves respect and preservation. There should always be dancers that peer into the past and try to get the roots of the dance. There should always be dancers willing to travel to Egypt and Lebanon (and elsewhere) to study with the “real deal” in order to preserve and promote traditional belly dancing.
Yet belly dance, like all dance forms, is an art. What is art? According to one dictionary, it is: 1. The expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form, and 2. works produced by such skill and imagination. There’s that pesky word . . . “creative.” And another pesky word . . . “imagination.”
I’m not saying that traditional belly dance is not creative or imaginative. But creativity and imagination don’t like limitations and will often burst forth violently when held too much in check.
That is what happened to me. As I mentioned before, I loved belly dance in its more traditional forms. But seeing fusion for the first time lit my brain on fire. After first watching Ariellah and Asharah dance, I spent one sleepless night planning, scheming, and imagining all the wonderful things I could do with an art form I loved but without boundaries, without fetters, without limits. I could barely contain the rush of creativity that burst forth from me as I thought about what belly dance could do for me, and what I could do with it.
Belly dance is an art. And art should never, ever be limited. Art should push boundaries, crash through walls of culture and class, and make people angry, sad, happy, horrified, thoughtful . . . It should unite us as humans, the only animal on this planet that creates art, and it should be considered precious. Art is what makes us well rounded human beings. It shows us our sensitive sides or our darker sides. It makes us uncomfortable while at the same time bringing us home and bringing forth our inner light. How awesome is it that we can communicate the deepest feelings we have without ever saying a single word?
Do you really want to limit something so beautiful and so precious as creativity? As children, our creativity is crushed under the heavy weight of school, responsibility, and growing up. We let our creativity die—or sometimes we kill it—in order to sanely work in sterile environments like cubicle farms or in jobs we detest. Only a few, who aren’t dissuaded by constant comments like, “When are you going to get a real job?” from parents maintain that creative spark and develop it to become the painters, dancers, and other artists we know.
I’m not willing to kill my creativity in order to limit myself to just one form of dance. And now I can almost hear those eye rolling in their sockets. “Oh, she’s just another ‘artist,’” you say sarcastically. Yep, that I am. I am an artist, and I will continue to belly dance to music you hate or to fuse belly dance and other dance styles in order to make you angry or uncomfortable. Or maybe it will make you happy or perhaps even inspire you. If I’ve made you feel anything, I’ve done my job.
Fusion belly dance is here to stay. Belly dance as an art form is going to grow and mutate and break its limitations whether you like it or not. Even traditional belly dance has grown and changed. We don’t live in a vacuum, and even traditional-style belly dancers will take movements they like from other dance forms, and, suddenly, everyone is doing it, not realizing that it really isn’t a belly dance move. Fusion dancers are just more open about it when “stealing” movements and styles from other dance forms.
This is not to say that we should completely discard the traditional. Tradition always has its place, and it should be honored because of it. But stay too hide-bound, and you stifle the very creativity and inspiration that developed the art form in the first place. Let art grow, but respectfully and in full awareness of the traditional.
I hope this at least makes you stop and think before you snort and wave dismissively at the next fusion performer you see (yes, I have seen this happen during a belly dance show). She has every right to take belly dance in her direction, just as you have the right to keep the traditional alive and well. If you don’t like it, then at least be respectful enough of those around you to let them watch an artist perform.