One more thing…

I’ve stopped bellydancing. For now, anyway. I’m keeping this website and still following dancers who interest me in case I decide I want to be part of the bellydance community again, but for now my interests lie elsewhere.

That doesn’t mean I don’t still think about dance and guess what, I have opinions!

Since I am still (online) friends with dancers I see dance posts and I thought I’d watch a little. I gave up: not because the dancing was bad, or watching reminded me of what I’ve given up. No, I gave up because I was BORED.

The dancers were beautiful and had good technique but that was all they had. Some of them filled up every part of the music with their good technique! There was no room left for FEELING. Their dances were sterile. Superficial. Boring.

I think the value that dancers place on being beautiful and having good technique – especially when every photo and video, good and bad, will make its way online – has made them scared of feeling. People talk about the “ugly cry”, well, facial expressions are many and varied and noone looks like the Mona Lisa all the time! The bland pageant smile that is plastered on for the performance represents the merest sliver of the range of human emotions. I don’t care about beauty and so I have a wonderful collection of unflattering performance photos, but I also have an audience who FELT SOMETHING when I danced. If you are afraid that your beauty will be compromised then you will always be holding back and thus will never connect with your audience.

As an audience member this is all I ask: make me feel something. “She looks nice” – if I want to look at nice things the internet is full of kittens. Are you so in love that you have to shout it to the world? Is your heart breaking and you fear it will never mend? Be excited, be naughty, be unexpected, be crazy, be still. Breathe. Feel. Express. Make me happy. Make me cry. Make me afraid. Show me hope in the depths of despair and make me believe in love again.

Being beautiful and having good technique will take you a long way both within the bellydance community and outside it. It’s easy and safe. If that works for you then why should you care what an ex-bellydancer thinks? I’m probably just jealous after all. It couldn’t be that the overwhelming blandness of western bellydance has isolated me from an art I loved.

Come back to me when you’ve got something to dance about.


14 thoughts on “One more thing…

  1. Emma we came together as friends who love the expression and emotion of belly dance. I too am bored. I am stopping teaching for same reasons and am performing with my partner drumming as then I can express joy love and passion. There seems no place now as a middle aged woman who is not a bendy barbie to dance with emotion and passion.
    Interestingly I am getting more joy and fun and indeed emotion out of dancing in a tribal group now than anything connected to my more more traditional roots x I hope one day to dance with you again x

  2. If it wasn’t for the passion–the joy, the heartache, the bittersweetness, the longing–I would not still be dancing at 67. But those emotions are still there and as long as I keep performing I can show them to others.

  3. Oh Emma. I’m sorry you left the dance scene (for now) but I hear what you’re saying. Trouble is you are one of the more interesting characters and will be missed. I think that there are many dancers who subscribe to a particular “style” and can be somewhat precious about doing it “right” and following the rules. Dance should be about fun, joy, exuberance, innovation. Having never been beautiful and always of the opinion that rules should be bent, if not broken, whenever possible ( which has worsened as I’ve got older) I hope I still have joy in the dance. But I have to agree with the previous comment – drumming has the edge! The positive energy generated by a group of drummers is boundless. The swell of rhythm of more than one drum makes the experience bigger than the sum of it’s parts. And dancing to drums generates it’s own particular joy.
    Whilst I am with you on the feeling bored sometimes when watching some dancers, I can’t walk away. I’m not a good dancer and will never be “professional” but I like to have fun with my friends – do daft things, silly moves, and hopefully bring a smile to someone’s face.
    Be well Emma and find your joy in other pursuits. And then hit the dance scene again one day bringing that joy back to dance!! Or you could always start drumming 🙂

    • Well, I subscribe to a style (Egyptian) and I care very much about getting it right! It is not my dance and so I defer to the people who really know it. The one thing that Egyptian teachers have said over and over is the importance of feeling, of expression. What feeling is more important than fun and what is better than sharing that with others? 😉

  4. Emma, sweetie, you are/have been a great inspiration to me, every time I’ve met up with you BECAUSE your expression shines through your dancing. You call it feeling, I call it personality. The person that is Emma is the person that creates your beautiful dancing and I see your performances and the giving of yourself as an enormous compliment to your audiences. I still maintain that your ‘standing still’ workshop was the best I’ve ever attended. Sad that we may not be meeting up again for a while, at least. Be happy. xx

    • Thank you Geraldine. That’s one of my very favourite workshops to teach and I always love the transformation I see in the people who attend it.

  5. I hear you.

    I started writing a long comment, but it was basically a grumble, repeating most of what you already said. Suffice to say that what passes as good dancing (or even award-winning dancing) leaves me cold a lot of the time, too – especially ‘competition style’. I’ll admit that I’m not so good at actually *expressing* emotion in my own dancing either, because as a repressed English person, I have never really learned to express myself freely through facial expressions and body language in daily life, let alone in dance – so deep emotion tends to come out looking more like I’m experiencing mild discomfort :-/ but I do try…

    The thing I’m most saddened by is the lack of interest in Arabic music in the bellydance community. IMO the music is the source that everything else springs from. Arabic dance done by people who only listen to ‘bellydance’ recordings is doomed to be emotionally empty. And how many bellydancers do listen to ‘real’ Arabic music for pleasure? I can certainly think of some who I know do, but they seem to be in the minority. It’s depressing that in a world of bellydance enthusiasts, it’s hard to find people who I can share that particular joy with. But at least I can always go and listen to Oum Kalthoum alone in my living room 🙂

    I guess you probably already know about Alia Thabit’s current book project, which seems very relevant to this (I’m eagerly awaiting my copy…)

    • Well, you won’t like this advice – that you didn’t ask for! – but I’d listen to some Western music if you want to get some practice at letting your emotions out with music. Music you grew up with, music that provokes a response that you don’t control. For example: there is a song that I used to sing in a couple of choirs with my school friends. This year one of them got married and I listened to the Christ Church choir sing it in the chapel as she signed the register. It was exquisitely beautiful. I will never be able to listen to that song without a tear in my eye! I agree that you need to listen and listen and listen to Arabic music to get anything even approaching the sort of familiarity you have with the music of your own culture, but expression is a separate skill and like any other new skill takes time. Few people would learn to read from Shakespeare 🙂

  6. So very true. I went with a bunch of my troupe members to a performance a few weeks back and they remarked how good a particular dancers was.
    I didn’t like her as much as they did, simply because she had an entirely blank expression the entire time.
    I find myself guilty of this too, but I find I do end up having more fun when I’m facially expressing myself than when I’m being stoic.

    I’m sorry to hear that you’ve stopped dancing, but something a break is good for the soul. I hope you find your way back into it with love again. 🙂

  7. I also have a tabla. After reading all the posts, I think I might asign more time to actually practising it. I’ve been a belly dancer for 21 years. Not stopping yet. I prefer Egyptian style but also some of the folkloric forms such as Shaabi and Khaleegi.

    Regardless of the style I agree that the dance is not alive unless there is some emotion, some theatricality. Much prefer a dancer who can share that life.

    • I’ve travelled a lot for dance and seen dancers from all over the world and this is what I base my reflections on. I am not singling out any one place. My experiences with the dance community in Utah have been very positive. This wasn’t clear in this post and I am sorry that I hurt your feelings with this lack of clarity.

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