Mine is bigger than yours or my toy is better than yours – haven´t we all been there? Egyptian Oriental Dance is not an exception: it´s full of comparisons, childish competition, theories, opinions (informed and misinformed) and old battles.
This dance remained in the exclusive hands of Egypt and neighbouring countries for centuries in a row. Foreign hands have showed up in the picture only recently (20th century ahead); I may even risk saying that the evolution and widespread of this ancient art wouldn´t have been possible if foreigners from all corners of the planet wouldn´t have fallen in love with it and developed it towards what we have today: not a publicly recognized art form (we´re not there yet) but a growing industry that combines schools, festivals, all sorts of events gathering people for fun, self-development and healing (aside from all the shades of grey that draw most people to it).
Sure enough: quantity is not quality and there are more bullshit schools/dancers/theories than mushrooms in the woods. Nonetheless, we have to admit: Oriental Dance is going down the toilet in Egypt (and egyptian festival organizers have finally figured that out: they´re starting to move out of their comfortable & decadent Cairo cocoons and turning their focus to countries like China and Russia, two major markets for this kind of dance). The best teachers/dancers/festivals can be found all over the world and comparisons are on fire, more than ever. Oriental Dance has caught up with our global era – what an exciting and challenging time to be a dancer!
Egyptian dancers – who used to settle the CRITERIA for what is and what is not REAL Oriental Dance – have lost their mojo. I´m saying this for the 1000th time – yelling it in the empty desert where only wolves are listening; styles, sub-styles and pseudo-styles are invented on a weekly basis and no one seems to remember where is the BASE/ROOTS we´ve all started from. Where are the REFERENCES? Where are the ROOTS we can go back to in case of doubt? Egyptian roots are rotten, baby: they´re full of worms, self-corrupted mud and prejudice weeds: they´re on their death row and we might as well accept it: the world is changing and so is Oriental Dance, the concepts of home, centre, root, reference and Vision*
A beautiful dancer who studied with me in Chicago offered an interesting name to the phenomenon. When I asked about the reason why Egyptians defend foreign dancers can never do it as well as egyptians, she answered:
“We dance with an accent – we´re foreigners and there´s no way to disguise it.”
Fair enough. The question is: who said we have to disguise the fact that we´re not egyptians? Furthermore: we don´t have to be like egyptians or dance like egyptians (remember the interesting fact: Egyptian dancers are not dancing like “egyptians” anymore) – that would be Acting (presenting something we´re not) and this dance is all about being YOUR REAL SELF.
There´s no way a foreign dancer can compensate for the fact that she/he wasn´t born in Egypt (or in any other culture where Oriental Dance is culturally relevant), exposed from early age to the music, references, society, traditions, pace of life and mentality that Egyptians are exposed to. This exposure – in itself – doesn´t garantee that you´ll be a great dancer. Not every Egyptian is a talented dancer or musician.
From the other side of the coin, being a foreign dancer has its advantages: generally speaking, we´re more educated than Egyptian dancers (academic education); our culture doesn´t condemn dance as “haram” (forbidden by God according to Muslim religion) and we have a wide, open minded, sophisticated vision of all Art forms; we RESPECT this dance in ways no Egyptian I´ve ever met ever respected; we study it, take it seriously and professionally with standards no Egyptian I´ve met ever took. The list of benefits from both sides of the barricade is endless and my point is already made (I hope).
Of course there are many aspects of this dance that are deeply connected to the Egyptian character, culture and mentality – I always mention those in my seminars, on line private courses, articles and books (see “The Secrets of Egypt – Dance, Life & Beyond“). If you want to know EGYPTIAN ORIENTAL DANCE LANGUAGE in depth, you have to know Egyptian character in depth as well. Yet…that doesn´t mean you have to copy their ways of listening, reacting and co-creating to/with the music. All we have to do – and it´s not an easy job – is to LEARN THE LANGUAGE and all the knowledge of the people which is associated with it and THEN REINVENT IT ACCORDING TO OUR OWN PERSONALITY, SENSIBILITY, TASTE, BODY & SOUL.
I wonder for how long I will be singing this lonely siren´s song – signs that the world is catching up are everywhere but they don´t avoid an occasional sense of frustration. I cannot reach everyone and not everyone is open to this knowledge and consciousness. Still…I have to keep doing what I know it´s the RIGHT, HONEST, NOBLE thing to do and hope everyone else will get there (at their own time & rhythm). Eight (magical number) years of life and career in Egypt served me well on many levels and knowing exactly what I´m doing (and saying) is one of them.
” As soon as I launch myself on stage, my holly radar detects an Egyptian gentleman in the audience, mixed with my fellow Europeans.(…) I feel him and he feels me – there´s a common Language our Souls recognize.(…) I keep dancing, talking without words, opening the wounds and turning them into gardens (their aroma can be felt by everyone in that theatre and out of it, even in the loneliest nooks of the Universe).
He knows* what I´m speaking about. Everybody does. Just give them time – a little time – to remember.
Time has come. Amen!“
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