Evolve or ?

Nothing in life ever remains exactly the same.  With each passing minute things change and the present moment becomes the past.  As human beings, it’s our challenge to navigate the ever-changing landscape of our lives, and fortunately we’re well equipped to do so.

The ability to change applies to everything, including art and dance.  Bellydance, as a spontaneous, improvised art form, can be very instructive in learning how to adapt to the unexpected and unknown.  This is especially true when dancing to live music or music we haven’t heard before.  The lessons we learn in moving harmoniously and gracefully in the moment can be applied to other areas of our lives.

While most bellydancers accept the challenge of mastering the improvisational aspect of bellydance, some are not comfortable with the on-going evolution and changing of dance styles or the music that’s danced to.  They point to the ‘golden age’ of bellydancing and believe it’s the only true expression of the art and must not change.  Of course, even among these dancers, there’re different opinions as to when this ‘golden age’ of bellydance occurred (for some, the 1930’s & 40’s in Cairo, for others the San Francisco club scene in the ‘60’s, etc., etc.).

It’s true that popular and historic styles of dance should be preserved.  Learning about the music, dance styles, and expressions of different eras and cultures is fascinating and enlightening.  It’s important to keep this knowledge alive for our own benefit and for the benefit of future generations.  But it’s also important to realize that not all music and dance styles will have relevance to the needs of the present time or the future.  To meet current needs, a dancer must take the best from the past and adapt it to the present.

The trick to evolving bellydance while keeping its’ authenticity, is to preserve the most important elements that define the dance.  The most important defining elements of bellydancing are the core movement vocabulary and the solo improvisational techniques of creating movement motifs with infinite variation.  Other distinguishing characteristics like costuming or music styles can be more easily changed without losing the authenticity of bellydance itself.

Bellydance movements have been, and continue to be, assimilated by other dance forms (like hip hop, jazz, Bollywood, modern dance, etc.).   If we can’t maintain authentic belly dance styles that are relevant to the times, bellydancing will continue to be absorbed by other dances.  Then bellydancing as we know it today may become obsolete and gradually disappear.

Evolving the art of bellydance takes imagination, inspiration, courage (to withstand the nay sayers), hard work, and a fine balance between the old and the new.  I truly hope that this beautiful art form, which expresses so much heart and soul, will survive our changing times and be around for more millennia to grace us with it’s many benefits.  What is the alternative?  Just ask the dinosaurs.


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