Stepping Into Context

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Tammy's HeadshotI have a secret. I’m a nerd. A major nerd! I like to figure out how things and people work. When I go on one of my nerdy benders it becomes a no holds barred adventure. I want to know everything about a thing. I want to know about the conceptual thinking behind it. I want to know about its origins. I want to read books and watch the documentaries about it, and to talk to people in the know.

And of course, I am no different when it comes to bellydancing. In fact, I’m in overdrive with my passion. Since Etang and I have made a conscious effort to recommit and re-introduce ourselves to the dance, we’ve been particularly focused on immersing ourselves in the history, the culture and the people from which the dance springs.

We have learned so much from wonderful teachers like Ranya Renee, Ahava, Monica Berini and Amina Goodyear, who place equal importance on teaching context as well as technique. Why? Because a dancer has some significant choices to make, even when doing something as seemingly simple as dancing with a stick (raks assaya or cane dance.) Is this a community or stage version of the male Tahtib mock fighting game? Or is it daintier female performance? What nuances are there in the playing of an Egyptian style accordion that I should be aware of when dancing to a taqasim (improvised solo?) What is Shaabi singer, Hakim really talking about in El Hala Eh when he sings?

It’s our destiny. It’s our fate. After these long years let’s be happy. Forget our suffering. The years of longing are forgotten. Our happiness will last forever. It’s getting better.

Of course, Etang and I have picked up juicy tidbits about Golden Era bellydance stars and the nuances between various dance styles over the years. But somehow, post Arab Spring and our own personal revolutionary shifts; the ante has been raised around how we present this art form. For us it begs the question: Are we just learning about a new step combination or technique? Or are we consciously stepping into the full context of bellydance, understanding what’s behind, underneath and in front of that step. It makes a difference in how we presents the art form, especially to those in the general public who know little about its history or the people who created it. What we know and attempt to communicate to our audience is that our shimmies are grounded in centuries of struggle and joy. We wouldn’t have it any other way.

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