Why embracing the cultural ideals of belly dance will bring joy to your dance (and how to do that)

We’re all a little overwhelmed by the craziness of the political scene these days. The president’s recent attacks on House members is just the icing on a grim, angry cake. “Go back to where you came from” is a vicious epithet. I’ve been deeply saddened reading the stories of many friends hurt by these words throughout their lives. 

However, I do suggest that we dancers go back to where our dance came from–to understand how it nests within its cultural context–what the dance’s originators value, and why it might be to our advantage to value these things as well. 

mysterious east-flying carpets and minarets? Improvisation!
The mysterious east–flying carpets and minarets?
What are these cultural values? 

When I wrote Midnight, certain things came to the forefront as essential elements of the cultural dance.

  • The feeling in the moment: literally, the pleasure of the physical movements themselves as well as the emotional timbres of the music. The dancer shares their emotional and physical enjoyment of the dance.
  • Different every time: micromovement and improvisation are key! The dancer brings a fresh experience to each dance, though he may dance to the same song. 
  • Bring the joy: our dance is flirtatious and fun! The dancer shares her joy with others–her family and friends in social dance, or her guests if she is a performer.

These qualities are at diametric odds with the Western dance values most of us have internalized, including choreography, stylization, and a separation from any guests. Because these are our defaults, we have to carefully take the time to understand, embrace, and internalize these very different principles. 

Why do that? 

We all like our own ways of doing and understanding. It’s uncomfortable to change. It’s difficult and frustrating. Yet when we do a dance from another culture, and don’t bother to learn it as it is supposed to be, we harm the dance. If we were to learn Japanese Tea Ceremony, we would learn it with all its cultural nuance. We owe belly dance the same respect.

Besides, when we embrace these cultural ideals…

All of a sudden, the dance becomes this joyous stress-releasing, healing balm, infused with wonder and delight. Its expressive, fun, and self-affirming, giving us confidence, pleasure, and self-respect, for we learned to do something rewarding and helped bring the world a little closer to joy. 

So it in our own best interests, as well as those of the dance, to understand these principles, to learn them, teach them, and promote them to the greater dance scene. 

How do we do that? 

One of the best ways is learning to improvise. Improv is a core skill for belly dance, deeply connected to musicality, expression, and and the ability to dance with live music. As I’ve studied Oriental dance improvisation, I’ve found some valuable methods. I include these in the course Effortless Improv (for which there are still a few early bird seats left), but I will also be sharing some of them in the BDBA’s upcoming webinar, How to Teach Improvisation.

We will 

  • Examine the cultural values of Oriental dance and learn how to engage them in our dance
  • Learn how to develop student confidence, musicality, and interoception (an awareness of the interior of the body), with specific exercises for each element
  • Discover how to structure a class to maximize improv learning, and share resources on skill development and talent acquisition.
  • Practice low-stakes, in-class exercises that help dancers quickly become adept at improvisation.
  • Have a Teachable site for post-webinar coaching and support.
And when all of us can improvise? (and believe me, we can!)

It will be GLORIOUS!

And maybe, as we transcend our own fears of something new, as we develop our own confidence and compassion, as we embrace our dance’s ideals, we can also embrace the wonderful kaleidoscope of folks from other cultures who enrich our world and make it so very marvelous. 

This is my wish, my hope, my prayer. Our dance is a conduit for love and understanding. Let it fly!

The webinar is here. Please do share with any teachers you know, or anyone who would like to improvise with flair and joy. Thank you!

BDBA webinar, How to Teach Improvisation.

As a special treat, there’s a clip from a recent show included on the page–all improvisation!




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