lunes, 9 de marzo de 2015

Unraveling the ball of yarn

 By: Amir Thaleb

Translation by: Amar Lammar & Ian Els

Its very common since long ago, to listen to opinions about  the “Argentinean Style”, but what is the Argentinean style?? I’ll try to unravel this confusion and clear up the understanding by means of my knowledge, observations, experiences and journeys around the world. Maybe this way I can clear the panorama.
According to the experts on the topic, it’s been told to us that “All the ways that cross the boundaries of its own core, where it was developed, inevitably undergoes normal transformations. This transformation is a process in which it adapts to the new environment that rescued it, creating a new way over the old one."  I think it is a normal process of all things, for example to eat in a Mexican restaurant in any part of the world would not have the same taste as a restaurant in Mexico itself. A Mexican Restaurant in Mexico may be much more orthodox and traditional with its own local essences. But there are people that like this transformation, maybe because the authentic taste is stranger to them. This is a logical deduction  and just maybe we can implement this logic to the transformations of the art itself.
When we watch a famous Egyptian belly dancer in her own country, we get enchanted by this dancer’s movements, gestures and scenic dramatization. Even more so when this dancer is set in a unique atmosphere that only the air of the river Nile, the pyramids and orchestras of 40 or more spectacular musicians can create. It is like a dream but, … What happen when we see the same diva outside of her environment ? What happens when she must perform to an audience that expect more than gestures and charming smiles that only she understands. When she performs for an audience that yearn for the universal concept of dance that require technique, body plasticity and all that charisma that a diva must have? An audience that is not captivated by Middle Eastern atmosphere but only by the art, and nothing of this appear on the stage? It happens from what I’ve seen in many dance festivals around the world, where the audience stand up, leaving the Diva alone. Only those dancers whom understood the importance of adapting their shows into a much more understandable language for the people who weren’t born in Egypt, people who doesn’t speak her tongue and that posses another mentality, achieved success. It is important and necessary to adjust the dance  into a much more universal language, without losing the essence and without thinking that western people don’t understand anything. Many oriental belly dancers have made achieved success, and that’s why their names are in the higher pick of the  chandelier.
Oriental dance posses a great virtue, the virtue of adapting to any environment. This cause the dance to develop, acquiring colors according to the culture, society, daily living  and social manners where it sets.  It’s is exactly why there exist so many varieties of styles in many parts of the world: The Egyptian, the Lebanese, the Russian, the Iraki, the Greek, the Argentinean, the American etc, etc. Through history the individual Middle East cultures were free to each performer to explore beyond their social taboos and the culture where it sets and the technique itself, why? Because it is a dance that goes beyond a single culture, we could as well name it: The dance of all cultures.
Now, it is good to clarify certain points, if we dance a “tradition” we should respect the tradition and there’s no place for inventions otherwise we stop being traditional. The Baladi means ”from within” and is ethnic to the Bedouin, the normal woman who doesn’t make pountee, arabesques or battements. If it is Saidi, it is folklore and you must respect it! In the folklore there’s no place for innovations but there’s space for modernization in expressive language… but if it is oriental, it is free! In this manner, the dancers have created their own styles over decades. As foreign cultures adopted the styles of the dancers who succeeded, these dancers became legendary and left us their legacy.
Now, it is very important to separate the reality and ethnicity of a dance from the fusions, confusions, contaminations and fantasies that are created around the world due to the narcissistic need to “make history” even if it destroy the authentic component of a dance which represents a culture.  And this is where the door of “eternal discussion” opens controversy and criticisms to certain styles, among them the wrongly call “Argentinean style” which I will mention later.
 It is here where the belly dancers lose their path, believing that because oriental dance have freedom of expression they can jump the traditions and classic ways of this art without any information or consciousness. And these morphologies of the dance are taught to the next generation of dancers, falling victim to the belief that they are taught traditional dances. Today the belly dance is spoiled in many aspects, contaminated not only with expressions that are too far from this dance, but also with clones and coarse imitations of the Egyptians. An example of this is when we see a  German, an Argentinean, a Mexican, or an Asian posing  like an Egyptian. Even worse are the dancers without any personality that become clones of their Idol, making the same gestures, using the same steps and even in a very sick way, styling their hair in the same way as their idols. Belly dance is also contaminated by those “fault- finders” whom doesn’t know anything about dance, who cannot dance themselves, and dedicate their time to spoil the work of others who are able to dance. Belly dance is also contaminated by the tyrannical attitude of some Egyptian teachers  who have the mentality that  “nothing have value if you don’t do it as they tell you to”. These teachers will make you feel inadequate if you don’t dance in their festivals or buy their videos, out of their senile resentment to everything that is different. And many times their words echo in the western girls whom doesn’t even understand what’s been discussed. Nobody posses the absolute truth, even amongst the Egyptians there are contradictions. Nobody is the owner of this art, this art belongs to all, even if you are not Egyptian. We recognize the Egyptian style as the mother of this dance, we choose it because we like it, but be aware! Is not the unique nor irrefutable.

 The Egyptian teachers owe a great deal of respect to the West because even with its faults, the West praise this dance. The West adopted and have provided a better environment to the Egyptian performers than what many Egyptian dancers have in their own country. The West take care of them, recognize and admire them. We fill their  festivals and consume all their dancing proposals. But the Westerners should stop inventing “oriental dances”. Leave the fans, and learn more about the essence and meanings of a tradition. Om Khalthoum  shouldn’t be danced with feathers or fans, the Tarab should not be eaten with jam, oriental dance does not wear Tu-Tu’s. We should learn to respect each other. We cannot live without each other. What would we do without the source? And¿What would they do without our events in which they can display their knowledge? LESS CRITICISM from each side, because we are all ON THE SAME SIDE, less inventions and more knowledge.

This is how the wrongly called “Argentinean style” emerged around the 1990’s, in a place where belly dance wasn’t popular and had to somehow reach a massive audience. It could not be achieved by being orthodox, so we had to search for a language understood by everyone. For sure we over did it and others were responsible to trim and shape this dance even more. Each dancer should take responsibility of their own invention and the criticisms that comes with it. But the Argentinian style found a place in this world just as the Russian style and American style did by the hand of it’s great performers. The Argentinean style has lots of things to be corrected, and there is still time to rectify the path. The so called Argentinean style, is not my style, and I’m not the father of this creature. I do not  teach karate steps nor piques in my Baladi. I like to be faithful to the Arabic culture but not with a narrow mind. This is a dance that invites you to set loose your imagination and create new Styles in a coherent way when possible. In my Shaabi flashmob, the appreciation for the traditional dance was demonstrated with over a million and half views around the world.  In especially Lebanon and Egypt the Arabic people debated if my origin was Egyptian or Lebanese, that’s what it is all about! To be able to enjoy this dance without spoiling it. But it is important to take off our masks, this is not a sect, and even more, the one who criticize is the first one to copy the methods , the choreographies  in internet and more. Let’s be honest, all of us, lets respect the essence and evolve as the art itself evolves in the Middle East. I never met any fault-finding person who had succeeded in life, she spend too much time criticizing. 
                                        In this pic: Amir Thaleb teaching in "Pasión Arica 2015 "
It is time to exhalt the origins, take them as a starting point and let the own being be expressed without the killing the legacies.
Thank you for reading me and I hope this help to clarify the complicated world of all of us who practice this dance. A  wise philosopher said: “lets put in front the intelligence to the narcissism , the intelligence built, and the narcissism destroy you and everything you touch”. Hurray to all the oriental dance styles in all its shapes. If you don’t fancy one shape, there’s no need for you to clap, there’s no need for you to accept it, but also your critic is not needed. We are a free world, lets use this fredom in a wise manner.-Thank you for your Attention.-
Amir Thaleb.

Click the link to Amir's Flashmob on youtube:

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