Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Belly Dancers: Are We Getting in the Way of Progress?

Isis and Nefertari image from www.shira.net
Today's post in ALIT, "From Whence 'Authentic' Egyptian Literary Culture," presents questions Egyptian writers have about incorporating Pharaonic history into modern texts.  In this post, writer Tamim Al-Barghouti states:  "Pharaonic history, as it is currently understood, is not an organic part of Egyptian identity, but is rather an extension of colonialism."  This post ends with a section from Ahmed Al Aiedy's novel "Being Abbas el-Abd":  "You want us to progress?? So burn your history books and forget your precious dead civilizations.  Stop trying to squeeze juice from the past. . . No more trafficking in the dead."

How does this relate to belly dance? In some ways, directly.  While many western dancers have become less comfortable with labeling themselves "authentic" or presenting "authentic" material, some still do.  "Pharaonic dance" still captivates many dancers and lovers of dance with all of its blatant colonialist trappings.  I took a Pharaonic dance workshop in Egypt in 2007, taught by an Egyptian teachers (as with most dance classes in Egypt, attendees were only foreigners) and loved it.  I am taking a workshop with Pharaonic stylings as a focus in Boston in a couple of weeks.  Many instructors and performers draw on preserved drawings from historic sites in Egypt and admit that the dances themselves are "stylings" and essentially made up.  It's fun, after all.  

But what is the cumulative effect of all this fun?  Is admitting that belly dance is not "authentic" enough?  What is the effect of promoting a false image, even if it is a ten minute set in the back of a bar in the outskirts of, say, Wichita?  The call of Al Aiedy's narrator to other Egyptians, "You want us to progress?"  haunts me, I admit.  In  tiny ways, are we getting in the way or not? (The image comes from article "What is Pharaonic Dance?" on www.shira.net.)

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Mohammed Fairouz: "We Don't Live in a Post-Colonial World"

Mohammed Fairouz (right) and Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak
Katrina Weber Ashour and I recently attended a premiere of Mohammed Fairouz's Symphony #3 and a panel discussion, both at Columbia University.  The issues that came up at the panel, titled "Music, Literature, and Comparative Compositions: The Task of Translation" were heady and challenging.  What right does an artist have to put the prayers of other traditions on stage?  What loyalties does an an artist have to his or her own traditions?  Questions that can't, ultimately, be answered but lead to provocative conversation.  Panelists included Sinan Antoon, moderator Gayatra Chakravorty Spivak Michael P. Steinberg, and Jacqueline Rose.  Katrina and I wrote a piece for M. Lynx Qualey's Arabic Literature in Translation.  

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Writers on Belly Dance: Nabokov on the Shah's Dancer

Vladimir Nabokov with boxing gloves
Anyone who knows me at all, knows how much I love  Vladimir Nabokov.  In order: Lolita, Invitation to a Beheading, Tyrants Destroyed, Pnin......the list doesn't stop there.  In my posting of writers on belly dance on this blog, this one is admittedly a stretch.  It appears in the middle of Ada, or Ardor, which is one of my least favorite of his works.  Because it involves a dancer AND coffee AND Vlad, this section was earmarked and annotated long before I began this column.

In part 3, chapter 1, of Ada (written according to Brian Boyd around July 1968, VN (vaguely) references an oriental dancer:

"[Van] traveled, he studied, he taught.
He contemplated the pyramids of Ladorah (visited mainly because of its name) under a full moon that silvered the sands inlaid with pointed black shadows.  He went shooting with the British Governor of Armenia, and his niece on Lake Van.  From a hotel balcony in Sidra, his attention was drawn by the manger to the wake of an orange sunset that turned the ripples of a lavender sea into goldfish scales and was well worth the price of enduring the quaintness of the small striped rooms he shared with his secretary, young Lady Scramble.  On another terrace, overlooking another fabled bay, Eberthella Brown, the local Shah's pet dancer (a naive little thing who thought "baptism of desire" meant something sexual), spilled her morning coffee upon noticing a six-inch-long caterpillar, with fox-furred segments, qui rampait, was tramping, along the balustrade and curled up in a swoon when picked up by Van--who for hours, after removing the animal to a bush, kept gloomily plucking itchy bright hairs out of his fingertips with the girl's tweezers."

Monday, February 13, 2012

Egyptian Zar: Supernatural Tunes - Folk Arts - Folk - Ahram Online

Om Hassan (Photo from: Al-Ahram)
For dance students interested in the Zar, this recent article from Al-Ahram online gives an introduction. There is a reference to a crowd of people doing the Zar at Tahrir Square.  Was there something I missed?
Egyptian Zar: Supernatural Tunes - Folk Arts - Folk - Ahram Online
Also, on a previous link on the zar, I mention the same artist, who I saw in 2007 and offer links for dancers:

From "Hyphen" Mag: "MIA and the Real Bad Girls"

MIA from Hyphen Magazine post
Hyphen Magazine writer Thanu Yakupitiyage offers this smart critique of MIA's latest video and takes aim at stereotypes conveyed in MIA's latest video.  In this critique, she mentions the artist's capitalizing on the events of the Arab Spring: "But in “Bad Girls”’ depictions of the Arab world, I see a false, hyped-up misrepresentation of the region we now know for the Arab Spring. I’m bothered by M.I.A.’s reproduction of Orientalist tropes -- “Orientalist” in Edward Said’s sense, of a distorted lens through which Arabs are viewed and “experienced” by the West. “Bad Girls” is just a hipper, high-definition stereotype of Arabs as desert-dwelling, sword-wielding, horse-riding, and dangerous.  M.I.A. and the video’s director, Romain Gavrais, perform controversy for the sake of controversy and cash in on the Arab Spring. They aestheticize the recent uprisings while avoiding a precise political statement."   Yakupitiyage also questions the possibility that MIA feels she a right to claim kinship because she is "brown." There has been a lot discussed about the evolving brand of Orientalism slowly growing.  Disturbing. Read: "MIA and the Real Bad Girls."

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Saaidi Cane Dance at the Nile Group 2012

This clip shared on Facebook by Athens/New York based dancer Athena Najat shows a clean version of the traditional stick dance done to traditional Saaidi rhythm and music.  Though traditionally a men's dance, raks assaya (or cane dance) some of the music and feeling have made their way in to sections of even cabaret shows.  This dancer, Ahmed Rafaat, makes the smooth movements paired with the cane (assaya) look deceptively simple. 

"Orientalism in France" at Carnegie Hall

This classical music concert by the American Symphony Orchestra investigates the tradition and influence of French Orientalism on composers such as Saint Saens ("Orient et Occident") , Franck ("Les Djinns"), Ravel ("Sheherazade Overture") and others.  In the video clip (below), the director, Leon Botstein discusses the "West's" fascination with the conceit of "the other":   "We are aroused and bedazzled in a condescending way by that which is different."  The visual montage that accompanies his thoughtful if not exactly surprising riff begins with paintings by famous French painters and ends, abruptly, with seemingly white women in belly dance costumes imitating the "other." American Symphony Orchestra, February 10 at Carnegie Hall.  The program sounds beautiful....

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Mohammed Abdel Wahab's: Ibnil Balad

Photo of  Abdel Wahab from Wikipedia
We're working on a choreography in the NYU Level 2 class to Mohammed Abdel Wahab's famous: "Ibnil Balad."  For students newer to belly dance, Mohamed Abdel Wahab is absolutely a name you should know.  He was an Egyptian musician and composer who played and wrote for legendary singer Umm Kulthum.  We are using the version by Simon Shaheen on his valuable recording: The Music of Mohammed Abdel Wahab.  Also below is a link to an orchestra concert at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, playing Shaheen's version of the song.
Simon Shaheen's Music of Mohamed Abdel Wahab

Friday, February 3, 2012

Aakriti and Shely at Je'Bon on Feb. 1!

We had a great time last Wednesday at Je'Bon (Feb. 1).  The place was full, the live band rocked (thank you Carmine, Casey, AP, Ramy, and mysterious violin player), and both Aakriti and Rachel danced so beautifully.  For those of you who missed, Shely put the performances on YouTube.  They did great improv work.  Congratulations!  Sorry the camera's turned...Aakriti is above. Shely's debut to live music is below: