Tuesday, January 19, 2010

IBCC gets nearer

I've been periodically checking the IBCC website and finding it unchanged, but got a message on Facebook saying the performer lists were now available. I went to the site and lo! Not only is that information there, so is the list of speakers, including me! Amusingly, they've just lifted a reasonably OK photo of me from my Facebook and my bio from my Facebook fan page - which says a lot about how we use the internet for research! Thank goodness they picked a reasonably nice photo and not the one of me looking exhausted while smoking shisha or some really hideous picture tagged as me!

It now seems much more real. I already know that I will give my presentation on the Saturday (April 24) as part of a globalisation panel, but don't know yet which workshops will run at which times. Obviously once it's all up and established I will be able to plan my days around workshops, panels and movies I want to see. Then, it appears that in the evenings, there's the open stage performances, followed by the main stage ones. So it will be bellypalooza.

My main job, apart from doing my presentation obviously, is going to be keeping my energy levels good enough to do as much as I can. I look at the teacher list and I want to study with... all of them! Obviously that's not going to happen, so I'll have to pick wisely nearer the time.

Right now, I'm looking at accommodation options. It will be good to have that planned and out of the way.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

In more shallow news:

I have dry skin. My legs, in particular, would be ashy if they weren't white (well, mottled purply capillary colour, to be accurate). The state of the skin on one's body is, of course, of vital importance to the performing belly dancer, and finding the right moisturiser is an ongoing concern. Really thick creamy ones are great but seem to take an enormous amount of effort to get rubbed in. Who wants to waste precious minutes rubbing cream into one's legs when the gig is in an hour and your face isn't done? Not me. Oils and butters, like the marvellous Palmers, are marvellous but their moisturising properties don't seem to last - they sit on the skin and the skin beneath soon seems to dry out again. Plus, Proper Old-Skool Palmers is greasy and Nu-Style Palmers oil is oily, so your costume wants to stick to it for the longest time. Great for slathering on before an early night, not so great when you're prancing about in a split circle skirt in half an hour.

I am, therefore, totally telling the world about my new and exciting discovery: Aveeno daily moisturising lotion. This stuff is GOOD. Unlike every moisuriser I've ever used in my life, it feels not like a protective layer on top of skin of variable moistness, but like something delivering moisture. It's a lotion but it feels almost like applying a gel at the same time. In fact, it feels exactly like when you put a cream or lotion on your skin while it's still wet from the shower. Even if you haven't been in the shower. Amazing. It does have a slightly greasy feel on top of that, but it's not unpleasant, and it really does seem to deliver on its promise of moisturising for 24 hours.

What are your favourite moisture treatments for the body?

Monday, January 11, 2010

Seeking something real

Nearly six months ago I quit my teaching job with a large local belly dance school for a lot of reasons that I don't need to go into here. But the quitting allowed me to become more upfront about my growing frustration with belly dance as a product and the changes in the way it is marketed and sold.

When I started belly dancing in 1998, there was still a lot of fantasy attached to it. Bad, restrictive fantasy in a lot of ways - some of you I'm sure know the deal and can recite it by rote. "By women for women"/"ancient goddess worship"/"harem dance"/"Indian gypsy dance"/"exotic"/"sensual not sexual" and so on and so forth. Despite these discourses, or myths if you like, though, belly dance teachers continued to attach it to the Middle East and students learned that they were doing a Middle Eastern dance. Dancers may have cleaned up the gritty and unglamorous reality of how professional belly dance is viewed there, but they were up front: it's Middle Eastern. It wasn't necessarily presented as pure, but it was definitely not from around here.

Latterly - and the rise of tribal and tribal fusion is partly responsible for this - globalised belly dance is increasingly disassociating itself from those places of origin. People are no longer making up fantasies about their dance's roots - or rather, they're creating new origin stories that seem more honest, more true. Tribal is defined as American. American Cabaret is also promoted as American *solely*, not a recontextualisation of a bunch of Middle Eastern and North African dance moves and attempts to evoke the Middle East, which is what it was. Belly dance as a hobby has also shifted from being centred largely round personal expression and fantasy to fitness, and fitness only. It's become a workout. And, more than ever before, a product that we consume not by watching, but by doing. Specifically, we buy classes/DVDs/workshops etc. We must learn (read: buy) ever more complex combinations, new kinds of prop, different technical approaches, drills, other dancers' "moves". For those of us who still like ME dance - and in my neck of the woods, that's not many - there's the need to learn how to dance like "them", how to do baladi correctly, how to do shaabi, how to handle tarab, how to speak Arabic... As Hadia writes, belly dance as an industry has become oversaturated with these kinds of products, and for a dancer it's overwhelming. It's even worse for a teacher, especially one for whom belly dance is only a part, albeit a big one, of a fairly balanced life. The pressure to attend every intensive, buy every DVD, learn every new style and prop and travel internationally grows ever higher. Ultimately the dancer with the most time/energy and money to spend on belly dance sets the bar for everybody else. And there's little pleasure in that. Unless of course you are that dancer.

Academically, I find the proliferation of media and other products within globalised belly dance, the connectivity, the integration with other industries like tourism, and the recontextualisation of belly dance as a personal expression that does not need to be tied to fantasies of an Orientalised other fascinating. But personally I'm appalled at some of the attitudes and sense of entitlement I see within globalised belly dance, particularly locally. For every Kiwi dancer who thinks deeply about what it means for us to use and represent a Middle Eastern dance form, there seem to be half a dozen who think they can and should do whatever they feel like with belly dance because this isn't the Middle East. Strap on a hip scarf and wobble about, for it is party time, and who cares about the Middle Eastern bit because Middle Easterners want to take away our votes and swathe us in black from head to toe, dontcha know. (As for the black, these chicks should visit Christchurch or Wellington some time. We don't need no stinkin' jihad to get us dressing this way.) Or, at the other end, there's belly dance as workout/body sculpting, like zumba but with stage presence and, usually, sisterhood, or like burlesque with muscles. Belly dance is reduced to moves, completely disassociated from its cultures of origin and repositioned as reflective of a new separatist culture that draws, depending on its mood, from gothic/steampunk/"alternative"/BDSM/this week's "edgy" trend.

All of this is really interesting. Really interesting to study. But as belly dancer I'm just aghast, sometimes. Where did the belly dance go? Where did the thing I fell for go?

Right from the time I started there were always novelty pieces. Because we belly dancers knew that our dance was Middle Eastern and we had certain rhythms to consider and Arabic lyrics to work our way around that 90 percent of the time we couldn't find a translation for, and conventional ways to interpret certain instruments and so on, we liked occasionally to cut loose with something easy and funny, like a dance to Tom Waits' "Temptation" or the Red Elvises or Actual Elvis Presley, or the Hollies. Or something arty and serious, like a presentation of the descent of Isis to something vaguely Pharonic with lots of synth and thunderbolts. Today, though, belly dance shows seem to be 90 percent novelty act. When a belly dancer looks around her in confusion when she hears an Orientale intro because the dancer hasn't entered yet, when a belly dancer says "oh sorry I stood on your big T-shirt thingy" because they don't know what a thobe is... I wonder what the hell is going on. I wonder if too many BDSS DVDs (not ones with khaleegy, evidently) and too much Rachel Brice love at the expense of learning about the *reality* and *breadth* of belly dance with all its grit and sweat and ungainliness and complexity and yes, Middle Easternness, have produced a generation of dancers who can produce a tidy hip drop but who wouldn't know Suhair Zaki from Lady Gaga. They'd rather BE Lady Gaga. Lady Gaga is sort of like a belly dancer, right? She wears false lashes and is sexy!

When I quit regular teaching I retreated, briefly, into a retro folkloric phase when all I wanted to do was cover myself in assuit and spiky wrist cuffs and become the Ethnic Police. Just get away from all that babble. I withdrew into a personal harem and created occasional events that were 100 percent Middle Eastern music and dance, NO tribal, NO western music, and only a little bit of performance. In a way I wanted the old fantasies back. I still do. Despite my transculturalist position and continued insistence that there is *no such thing as authenticity*, despite my full knowledge that when I say "100 percent Middle Eastern" that's a lie and a fantasy too, a kind of authenticity is what I crave. I want to get back to the real. I want dance that is up close, not on a stage, I want Om Khalsoum and shisha and dancing because it is beautiful and pleasurable and for everyone. I see a little hope in the growing interest in Turkish dance and oldschool American Cabaret, even though I'm too old and big for all that bouncing, myself. I want Cairo and Istanbul and hell, San Francisco 1973. I don't want to see you waggle your butt with a burlesque bow, calling yourself edgy. I don't want to see you lock and pop in a bikini with a dreadlocked sporran on top. I don't ever want to see a fan veil again.

I want to see you *belly dance*.