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I first came to Music, as a teenager, through the arts of Dance.
This has been, and remains a delightful mystery to me, today: how the Human mind responds to messages within songs, piano sonatas, or Oratorio pieces.
Whenever exposed to well-written music, be it Arabic, West-Indian, Operatic, or Latin; I regularly observe a shift in mood, often accompanied with accrued brain activity. The effects will last for hours, or days after the encounter.
Being quite creative, of course, I will then take to writing, sketching, choreography.
It is a mind-blowing realm, one in which many civilisations across the Globe, created Musical and Movement Languages, often over centuries of hardship, life experience, wars, seduction and love-making...
I find the subject as fascinating as observing that of Linguistics, for it is much the same.
Through various traditions of Belly Dancing, unfortunately much exposed to prejudice, I was thrilled to discover so many connections between one culture or another. Many of the movements involved in this dance originally from Egypt, were found on every continent.
Whilsts countries are at war with each-other, over money, race, or political matters; the art of dance unites so many of those ennemies, that one could dream that this would be part of the solution.....
I do love to analyse the mathematical sides of dance steps (this including not just feet, but movements of the whole body), and it has also occurred to me that some dance forms from economically/politically-undermined lands were far superior, in psycholgical inputs, mathematical precision, anthropological accuracy, etc....
I would most gladly welcome comments, but please bear in mind that I am just starting this page, and still updating it....

Samara Brazilian Samba/ Gafieira dancer

The many steps and actions a dancer's mind and body go through are subliminal equivalents to patterns of behaviour belonging to the character portrayed; with the logical psychological consequences.

The journey of a dancer is likeable to that of an actor, in many ways: undertaking, consciously or unconsciously, the emotions and emotional background of a protagonist, hero or anti-hero.

Should a change personality develop henceforth? It is most likely, if only up to a point...
One can, as the portrayal progresses, notice a trait of character which could be beneficial to ones personality, or situation; and decide to copy the attitude or reaction the subjetc might have had given the same circumstances.
Indeed, it is very common for stage artists to pick a role which will correspond to their own psychological traits.
Playing or dancing the part could be therapeutic, in various ways...
First, it could help them to explore their own character, and be reconciled with aspects of it.
Secondly, as stated above, it should put them mentally in a position here they are artificially, hence with less exposure to hazard, facing a problematic conjecture they might not be able to face in real life.
On this safer level, they can subconsciously project themselves onto the situation, as also lived by a stage persona who happens to be, say much stronger, or more equipped than themselves.
The result might not be felt consciously by the dancer (or actor), but it will manifest itself in confidence, in his/her life on and off the stage....
Some dance movements are also obvious extensions of everyday gestures, and as many obvious expressions of Joy, assertiveness, self-defence, etc...
When copying those, one automatically relates to their emotional message.
A fine example is the much-publicized choreography "YMCA" song, by Village People.
Of course, the pumping and affirmative beat are one thing, but the outstretching of arms towards Heaven, the definition of individual space, the power-asserting jerking tensions and releases, are one fun way of being uplifted. Incidentally, it is also an opportunity to embrace a symbolical micro-society, whilst expressing allegiance to ones people, by echoing each-other's moods and body language.

 

 

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It is known a well-known fact, that the image of Women in the Passista tradition comes from the 1950s prostitute, in a society where poverty was so common, and where a lot of Brazilian people had to sell their bodies, steal, live a life of criminality, in order to survive...
However, even with that in mind, it has to be noted, that the great Carnival culture, whilst keeping most of the nudity image for the female, has brought not only visual satisfaction through the sight of a woman's body; also enables great statements about the woman's personality, and strength. Whilst the dancer will be moving in very revealing outfits, it is quite clear that she is also a great stage artist in her own rights... She has learned pretty complex dance steps, has developed her bodily appearance, and is wearing something of a masterpiece in both sociological and aesthetic assertion.
The female is actually quite empowered by taking much of the lead, and having the male (malandro), "begging" her for attention. She is somewhat "worshipped" by the man, and parades around like a (female) peacock...
Feathers, glitter, gemstones, over-sized head-dresses, as many distractions from the primitive, basic aspects of her anatomy.
It is clear, in the way she masters the choreography, and commands the audience, that she is in charge, somewhat.
It is a stark contrast, in my view, with today's female rappers, or R'n'B singers/ models in such videos. The latter are often seen girating with the sole, only too obvious purpose of exciting the male, and wearing hardly anything more than a wet bikini, or underwear. Wearing no elaborate ornament, offering no entertainment than their own bodies, and with no personality statement, they are often "Sex-objects", titillating men; who in turn often vilify them, insult them, pour liquids over them, whilst somewhat looking down on them.
I hate to say, the Western society we currently live in, led by Media influence, is echoing a lot of those cliches; be it in the work place, in relationships between men and women, etc... The sex industry has now become a main-stream one. What was unacceptable when I was growing up in the 80s, appears now to be just another vocational option, for a young girl to do when she grows into adulthood...
The "Art" of "Burlesque" (What a Euphemism!!...) manages to pretend that parading and writhing in ones undies, or even topless, is JUST another "Dance Form".
To my trained feet, and mind, it is a grotesque insult to any movement tradition which also happens to be called "Dance", anywhere across the Globe.
Take any ancient art, or modern form, in Africa, Asia, Europe; and why not put them on the same level as "Burlesque"??!!...
Just because there is a great market for Sex-based stage expressions, does not automatically mean that one should grab an excuse for taking a French word which originall refers to Carnival, Vaudeville, and Pantomime; and use it to disguise Brothel-based seduction activities moved on to the Stage.
French CanCan was one of those tradition, but needless to say, it was a lot less "in your face" that today's "Burlesque"; more dynamic and more humourous...
The female Sambista, so I should know, is also a lot more elevated than that on a Human level, because most Brazilian dancers I know have a lot more elegance, dignity, beauty, showmanship, and dance skills, than the "Burlesque" Showgirls I have seen.
Whilst it is true that some of the "Burlesque" artists are extremely skilled dancers, the fact remains that the principle of their stage craft actually contradicts the very essence and principles of "Dance", anthropologically-speaking. The art of Movement can express many things, but it often does represent sexual seduction... Take Tango, some African-based traditions, for instance... Even then, it is first and foremost an Art form dedicated the very Games of Seduction. This means in turn, and in theory, that something would stand to be obtained, something has to be desired, not actually laid-out for consumption; which would defy the very purpose. Throughout Human History, Dance has often been a "Courting", let alone "Foreplay" theatre. And it has to be noted, in subjects such as "Burlesque", that there really is nothing of the such; but just pure and simple titillation. One opposite example, in my view, is the beautiful art of Traditional Hindi Dance. There is an obvious courting roleplay, as a constant feature, in choreographies, where women are pursued by men, who desire their beauty and qualities. Techniques are very elaborate, and costumes are of course, incredible. The "Chasing games" are in turns amusing, dainty, displays of creativity, and skilled footwork.
The greatest "crime", in my view, of the former-mentioned mass-marketed modern, outwardly-sexualized forms, is that they also taint, in the Collective Consciousness, the images of many more elaborate, more intricate communication "manoeuvres", such as Belly Dance, Latin dances, etc.
They go on to portray them as tacky, whilst mixing some of the skills in the latter, within their own shows.
The general public, in their ignorance of the matters, will swallow that arranged version as the "Real thing".
I have met many people who actually think that Belly dance is simply a sexual seduction dance, with a woman moving her hips and shaking her buttocks.
Wrong, very wrong; it is a great art which was first devised for Women as an ante-natal science, and takes many years of practice to master as a performer.
And this I should know, too... There is always more to learn, about Belly Dance, as an artist; and many many various forms within that Eastern tradition; with half of them in fact being not even sexualized at all.
A lot of the Egyptian dance art for women is based on claiming power (here's that word again...) from the men, mimicking their sheperding activities (Saiidi), and mocking their fighting antics (Sword). It is also a claim of power, in the sense that the female is in charge of her body; instead of appearing weak, vulnerable, or in the slightest way unskilled. She makes an utter mystery and awe-inspiring machine of her body, whilst male spectators are sitting by wondering how on earth she could produce one deep-muscle movement, or another...


My first encounter with "Real" Belly dance was at The "Planet Egypt" Hafla, in London, a few years back.
I witnessed there the full extent of Raqs Sharqi's versatility, from fully-covered, Burka-wearing dance act, to lycra-adorned, belly-fluttering, split-expert Gemma.
There was also the revelation of Hula dance from the Pacific Islands, itself also based on similar hip figures; a very very skilled business altogether...
Any doubt? Youtube "Khaleegy", and discover fantastic displays of lovely women in full, oversized embroidered kaftans, moving their shoulders, feet and hips in rhythm; and bringing a breath of exhiliration. See them swirling their hair in rhythm with other women, and producing one humourous, joyful, glorious spectacle.
Search also dancers Like Sara Malik/ Nawarra/Ann White, in England; or Didem/ Sadie (her Drum Solos are the best), across the Globe... The latter-mentioned performers can be sometimes very seductive, and sexualised in their art; but I am sure you will agree that in no instance do their sensuality over-ride their incredible skills...
Then there are also the "Tribal" belly dancers; Tribal being a modern style from America, very much on ondulations, and with some inspirations taken from Flamenco techniques. Rachel Brice, from the Belly Dance Superstars, is one of my favourites, but there are many more... This latter form is really based on isolation skills and ondulations, and is more "Earthy".
Sword Oriental dances are also very impressive, so are Gypsy fusions...

 

It is a great pleasure to learn those aspects of culture, and also to encounter the worlds of those people who made them...
It is rather like travelling through a Foreign land, learning about their landmarks, ruins, languages, eating habits, etc...
Belly Dance, like Flamenco, has also its "Duende", a Soul, a strong core potential for self-expression.
One can also paint Tragedy through Samba. In the great Carnival in Rio, for example, people in the "desfile" portray many aspects, painful or joyful; their society's history or actuality.
It is a pity rather, that most spectators however, should choose to focus on the "Flesh" aspect of just about anything.
I was told many times by native Brazilian dancers, that they deplored the "voyeurism" present in European and North-American countries; whilst they felt much freer to express themselves fully amongst their own...
 

 

Anthropology of Dance
London belly dance fitness classes
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© 2010-2019 All text by Sandrine Anterrion, London writer.

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"The general plea, in my opinion, is the universally-urgent need for a deeper examination of an increasingly-ailing, and increasingly-estranged Self."

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