For the research and academia-inclined bellydancers: I was the feature alumni story in the annual newsletter for UCLA’s department of World Arts and Cultures|Dance Department. This newsletter is an interesting look into the department’s happenings -in addition to the bellydance spotlight.
Below is a text version of the interview:
Tell us how your education and research in UCLA’s World Arts and Cultures|Dance department has informed your practice in bellydance.
WAC brought into my field of vision the many issues imbedded in my practice as an untypical American bellydancer: issues of cultural appropriation and the inventedness of tradition to name a few. I learned to investigate histories, contextualize and challenge assumptions, and pluralize any simple answers to complex questions. WAC also empowered me to recognize and talk about the very real role that bellydance plays in my and others’ striving for selfhood and strong communities. On top of my historical and ethnographic research on bellydance, I learned the tools of choreography composition in my five years at WAC. I learned how to translate an idea to an audience through dance and how to ask myself questions through dance-making. I gained historical and practical understanding of where bellydance comes from and what it accomplishes in the lives of practitioners, as well as how to use the choreography of bellydance to explore and present a deeper, more complex understanding of the form.
What are your scholarly and research/practice goals in regards to bellydance? What are you hoping to accomplish for your field in the next 5 years? or overall?
Through choreographic work, lectures, and articles I would like to encourage my community to look critically at the history and political issues around bellydance. I am lucky enough to be invited to teach and perform in many countries around the world and all over the States, giving me a platform from which to speak, dance, and write. I give lectures on bellydance history, teach basic principles of choreography, and perform dances that are informed by these two elements. I am currently writing articles for a popular bellydancer-focused publication and an academic journal. I want dancers and academics to acknowledge bellydance’s beautiful and harsh messiness rather than give into the temptation to oversimplify and polarize the debate over the form’s origins and definition.
What misnomers would you like to address for the reader in regards to your practice…please educate us a bit.
In a dance with such far reaching local and global influences –from pre-colonial Egyptian and Arab performance traditions to the world’s fairs, vaudeville, burlesque, early modern dance, Cairo nightclubs, Hollywood and Egyptian cinema, and the 1990s modern primitive movement– there is a lot of seemingly disparate histories to navigate when searching for the answer to the question “what is bellydance?” Practitioners disagree about who has the right to practice, how bellydance should be practiced, and what the dance should be called. While the name makes some cringe at its colloquiality, “bellydance” is my favorite title because it accurately reflects the dance’s hybridity and constructedness. Some people prefer the names “Middle Eastern dance”, “raks sharki” or its English translation “oriental dance”, while others who practice less Arabized versions call their dance “tribal fusion”, “theatrical bellydance” and a host of other titles. The many different names are useful to denote style and reference specific lineages of the dance, but tend to paint a picture of authentic versus inauthentic bellydance: a dichotomy, I think, we need to disrupt and discuss.