When Goth and Bellydance Meet - Part 2By Frederik Sisa @ 1:00 PM October 05, 2007
An Interview with Ariellah Aflalo
In part 2 of our discussion, Ariellah and I touch on more technical topics related to her dancing, as well as some of the larger issues and controversies that surround bellydance.
Frédérik: Yoga also plays a large role in your dancing, as illustrated by your upcoming instructional DVD with World Dance New York, Contemporary Belly Dance and Yoga Conditioning with Ariellah. I practice yoga as well, so this makes a lot of sense to me: yoga and dance seem like the perfect partners, especially in terms of developing strength and flexibility. Can you explain in greater detail the relationship between yoga and bellydance? In particular, how does yoga enhance the unique physical elements that make up bellydance?
Ariellah: This can be answered in depth by an excerpt from my instructional video that I wrote:
"I believe that yoga, in any form, is incredibly beneficial to one’s belly dance practice. I believe that belly dance and yoga go hand in hand and are interconnected in their strengthening exercises, muscle breakdown and posture technique. Yoga incorporates stretching and strengthening exercises and postures involving chest, hips, shoulders, lower back, legs, and quads, which directly correlate to our dance practice. Yoga helps us with hip flexibility for shimmies, shoulder and chest flexibility for isolations, chest lifts, backbends, popping, and locking, and leg strengthening for level changes and floor work, as well as strengthening the obliques and lower abs in preparation for hip figure eights, chest slides, chest figure eights, and floor work. These exercises build and develop strength in our bodies and lay the foundation of our dance movement and dance posture. Yoga calms and centers us, enhancing our belly dance stage presence.
Broken down, yoga allows the chest to open and gain flexibility which enhances our belly dance posture and movements, for example modified bridge pose opens the chest, creating dynamic chest isolations; fierce pose, warrior poses and lunges strengthen our quads, which in turn, allows us to master level changes in our dance and increases stamina, for example when executing a hip figure eight while moving from standing to the floor, quad strength is essential; belly curls strengthen our abs and obliques which help us with our back bends either standing or on the floor. Developing strength in the abs and obliques allows us to use THESE muscles, rather than relying on compressing our lower back, which leads to negative health issues. By strengthening our lower and upper abs, we also learn to isolate them, layer movements, and have a wider vocabulary of movement from which to choose from. And strengthening these muscles also allows us to use them in hip figure eights and some chest work, which in turns allow our glutes and other regions to remained relaxed. Yoga strengthens our core in general, which allows our belly dance practice to evolve and grow."
Frédérik: I understand that’s there a bit of controversy surrounding fusion dance. In particular, I’m thinking of the kerfuffle that came about from Sashi’s “pierced wings” performance at Tribal Fest 2006 in Sebastopol. While the (beautiful, in my opinion) steel wings actually piercing the flesh of her back met with a variety of reactions, as one would expect, the more prominent issue seemed to involve the dance itself within the larger context of “authenticity” and tradition vs creativity and experimentation. I would even go further and suggest that the issue is also one of collective expression vs individual expression, and the perceived ownership of a particular dance art and it’s inherent culture. What’s your take on this whole controversy? Is it actually significant within the dance community, or is it more of a storm in a teapot that pops up every so often, creates a nuisance, then crawls back under a stone for awhile?
Ariellah: I believe that the overall controversy of tradition vs. creativity and experimentation is an ongoing issue, however the specific controversy over Sashi’s pierced wing performance was a once-in-a-while blown-out-of-proportion storm that reared its ugly head. In general it is a moot point, and ever present, though more and more, at least with my own style and my own presentation, I find more and more of the “traditionalists” opening up more to tribal fusion, gothic and other genres of belly dance. You will find some circles of discussions at events, panel discussions and such, some of which I have actually been present in, where there are very strong negative opinions from some of the old school traditionalists and it can be very hurtful. I only wish they could have an open mind and heart and see how much more positive our community could be without the separatist attitude.
In terms of the general clash of beliefs that traditional belly dance is the ONLY real belly dance; my thoughts are that ALL belly dance, no matter what genre, has its roots in the villages of North Africa and the Middle East. The dance form is ever evolving and growing, as with any form of art. If all art was the same as, say, caveman cave drawings, where would be today? What kind of art would we see? And how boring would it all be? For me personally, I tend to keep to the basic movements of belly dance and I don’t stray too far, except to bring in my own personal style and perhaps a fusion of other dance forms on top of the belly dance, but only very, very minutely. There seems to be many traditionalists or purists that shun any sort of non-folkloric or cabaret styles and I think that this is only harmful to our community. I believe that we should all support one another and we don’t have to like or love everything we see being presented, but we can, at least have an appreciation for the art itself, like when you go to the art museum, I am sure that you do not like every piece of art you see and you may not even agree with some of it and you may not find all of it inspiring or beautiful, but it IS art and you come to appreciate it. The negative energy that the “traditionalists” bring into our community is harmful and does not encourage growth or change or art…I have heard horror stories of how negative some people can be, to the point where it made a dancer not want to dance anymore. I believe this attitude only encourages stagnation and bitterness. I am not saying that I condone belly dance pieces that do not have any belly dance movements in them, because then, it should not be called belly dance, but I do encourage belly dancers to bring their own artistic element to their dance, while staying based in the basic core belly dance movements.
Frédérik: Then,there is sex, which is, of course, always controversial. In doing some research, I came across Kaya and Sadie’s massively controversial and provocative Tales of the Kama Sutra performance at the Rakkasah 2006 festival in San Francisco. While I haven’t seen anything other than the odd report and picture here and there of the performance (and plenty of forum discussions), it seems to have definitely created a mostly negative impression and re-energized a whole glut of conflicting interpretations involving sexuality and bellydance.
From my non-dancer perspective, the outrage seems symptomatic of bellydance as a victim of stereotypes brought on either by attempts to commercialize the dance (the old “sex sells” principle) or by philosophical and artistic disagreements rooted in gender politics – not to forget general misunderstandings regarding the history and nature of bellydance. Of course, it could just be that the division between sensuality and “uncontaminated” sanctity is artificial and variable given the visceral nature of dance. In your experience, what does this controversy about sexuality and bellydance mean both as a dancer and for audiences? We could also ask a more fundamental question, given that people’s exposure to bellydance may be limited to music videos or the occasional scene in a movie: what is bellydance?
Ariellah: This is a great question and I want to note here that belly dance, as it was explained to me by Jamila and Suhaila Salimpour, has its roots in being a dance for women, where they danced for each other on all sorts of occasions, whether happy, sad or just a general get together, for example on symbolic occasions, as in prewedding ceremonies or coming of age ceremonies…and some of the movements were trancelike, in order to help with psychological issues or physical belly undulations that would benefit pregnant women, or just general joyful dance to celebrate joyful occasions. Movements consisted of mudras, arm, chest, and belly undulations and much fast hip work. The dance was also very expressive of the woman’s emotions and feelings. And there was also the other spectrum of the dance, where yes, it was only done in public places for only men, and most of the women were seen as prostitutes. The dance was predominately done to please or benefit a man’s desire. However, over the centuries, this has changed greatly, primarily in the last two decades. Today the dance is done all over the world in public venues and has elevated to new heights and is beginning to gain its due notoriety of being a highly skilled art form. The muscle isolation and control that is perfected in this dance form is truly like none other. I have a 12 year or more background of strict classical ballet training with the Royal Academy of Dance from London where I was examined every year by the examiners from London, and believe me, I know about highly skilled art forms, and I beg the public to understand that belly dance, quite possibly, requires even more control than ballet. The muscle isolations and breakdown in belly dance cannot be mastered quickly and are incredibly difficult to execute. When I began my training with Rachel Brice and when we founded The Indigo, now one of the most world famous belly dance troupes in existence, we had a goal of educating the public and bringing an elevated awareness to them that this dance form is a highly skilled and developed art form that commands respect. We wanted to change the mentality and view of belly dance as just a simple dance of a woman for a man and I believe we have done this and continue to do this through our belly dance performances and our worldwide workshops, and no doubt by presenting the elevated technique and complex movements to the audience and the students. And I believe this consciousness is spreading, like a wildfire…
Many thanks to Ariellah for very enjoyable and informative discussion! To learn more about her art and upcoming performances, visit her website at www.ariellah.com.