How can someone who does not enjoy dancing enjoy watching dance so much? I have never enjoyed dancing myself and yet throughout my life I have come across so many people say that everyone can dance and the impression seems to be that everyone is expected to enjoy doing it. I have found over the years that watching dance at every level can be rewarding and entertaining when you are watching people who have a passion for it. The great thing about the belly dance community I have found in fact is that there is no pressure to join in, in that it is for the ladies who enjoy to perform and for those who are happy to watch. Men of course do belly dance but they are far and few between and I have not yet personally seen any in person (although Valeria has trained a few times with Khaled Mahmoud) and I have no plans to become a male belly dancer just yet.
I guess as a spectator of an event, someone who enjoys watching rugby or football but would not dream of playing these sports (as they may enjoy watching them but not playing them), experiences the same appreciation of the spectacle that I do at the dance events I get to go to. I used to have so many people explain that they would help me to learn to like dance and yet my offer to teach them to play football in return has never been taken up. I have always loved sport and when playing football the need for great balance and movement is perhaps shared with dance. I would never try and drag Valeria onto the football pitch to play football and she never tries to drag me onto the dance floor.
Since meeting (and eventually marrying Valeria) over the last ten years, we have seen a quite diverse range of performances and some of the best shows we have been to for me have been the dance performances by the beginners and intermediate dancers because of the sense of community that exists at the shows. Some of the professional dance shows have though been well worth seeing and the list of events (professional and not) has included the:
The agreement many years ago as we sat in a bar in Seoul, Korea, where we were living at the time, was that Valeria would join me at a sport event for every art and dance performance I went to. Several years later, an uncultured lad from Plymouth, Devon, has been to the ballet, opera, watched several classical concerts, been to tonnes of other dance shows, trudged through dozens of museums and art galleries. Alas, Valeria has now been to a rugby World Cup game, an international cricket match, England games at the European Championships (in Lisbon), watched horse racing and visited a baseball game (both in Korea). The list goes on. Certainly though the result has been a great range of experiences and I’m waiting for the next dance show.
I do not consider myself an expert in any way on belly dance but I do prefer traditional Raqs Sharqi style rather than more modern fusion styles, tribal and other forms. If anything, I think it is the music and the style which the traditional sharqi dance offers that most appeals to me. Styles such as tribal fusion are still fun to watch but I love the movements that come through traditional Egyptian belly dance. Even Turkish and Moroccan styles I realise now are really quite different and I like Egyptian style over any other styles (to watch and not to dance to of course)!
I had an interesting discussion a few years ago with a feminist and during which I expressed that I am a feminist i.e. I strongly believe in women’s rights (I believe in fact in everyone’s rights though additionally) and the equal rights for all, but I was told I am not allowed to be a feminist because I’m male. That debate aside, I love the independence I see belly dance gives women, the passion it instils in those who dance and the power it gives them i.e. when dancing on stage, the power is firmly embodied in the dancer (I mention women as the majority of belly dancers I know are women but this point is valid for male performers too). It is a power which is neither the panopticon (Foucault, 1991) (where one hidden person views the many) or the synopticon (Mathiesen, 2004) where the many view the minority and have the power. The power is in the viewed dancer and with the belly dance community what makes it quite incredible is the way in which everyone supports everyone else. Despite the various levels of dancers, the desire to improve always seems to be a healthy one i.e. supportive rather than competitive.
As a husband I do everything I can to help. From helping to guide Valeria through setting up this website, to driving her to events when I can, to sitting in the audience when I can, through to encouraging her to train as much as she wants to and helping to pay for her trips to Egypt (and next year Morocco). If you love belly dance I would strongly recommend one of the holidays (see Valeria’s Egypt report) given the great pleasure I see it gives a dancer going on one of these trips. Studying intensely for a week or so and immersing yourself in the culture, seems to really be worth the cost of these trips.
The one part of the shows I do feel a little uncomfortable with is filming and photographing Valeria as she dances. Valeria finds it invaluable to be able to watch her own performance back on video, to see afterwards how she can develop as a dancer i.e. what moves she most needs to work on and also to see what she did well. At some events though there are very few guys and sat there alone videoing the dance, I do sometimes feel out of place. The truth is though that the events I have always been to have been great in that everyone is always really friendly.
One thing I have noticed though at some dance events (although normally non-belly dance shows) is that photography does become a problem. At some events guys acting on behalf of the organisers have been stood in front of the stage with cameras flashing away to the point whereby even as a spectator, I was more focused on the flash going off every few seconds for a whole performance and not the dancer/s. At a couple of event the photographer has even partly blocked my view of the stage as they stand right in front of the stage. I am curious to know how as a dance the photographing and videoing is or perhaps is not a problem. As a dancer do you find that trying to capture the event is becoming at the expense of you as the performer and the performance as it happens live? Would love to hear your comments below.
We do go to other forms of dance sometimes, the most recent performance being in the Wales Millennium Centre to see the National Dance of Wales group. ‘Water Stories’ is a piece they are presently showcasing and certainly worth seeing and I personally found quite inspiring. I have found though with so many contemporary dance performances that they seem to be based on the negative! Such a high percentage of contemporary dance routines are very serious, with little smiling and with often sad background stories. Is this negativity really so necessary in contemporary dance? Or am I perhaps not really understanding what I see? When I see belly dancers on the other hand, I love the passion, the ability for dancers to smile and look as though they are enjoying themselves. I find watching a performance so much more enjoyable when I sense that the dancer herself is having fun. Even where a dance tells a story which reflects the society in which we live, surely there can be more positive elements to the routines?
I wonder if perhaps it is in its history and the foundations of belly dance in which the reasons for the positive attitude exist. Hula dance and Brazilian samba are other dance forms I have seen live and it seems as though these forms of dance are impossible not to smile for, when trying. Other dance styles such as tango and some forms of ballroom dancing on the other hand, seem so serious and perhaps once again, reflect the historical nature of these dances. Tango with its connection to social struggle perhaps explains its serious nature and this is understandable.
Anyway, I look forward to seeing you all at future events and please do NOT ask me to dance. I am a great spectator but not a great dancer!
Written by Paul Symonds – the husband!