Belly Dance History ~ An American Odessey
Jamileh in “Belly Dance Live”
Despite its size, the USA nowadays has the feel of a single confident community, united and excited by the sense of their own continuity and development. The days of being geographically divided into divergent factions of opposed interests are long gone.
Rather there is a strong sense that the US dance community now celebrates their diversity, rightly viewing it as strength. Each dancer has the opportunity to learn the key skills of a wide variety of styles if they choose and, via the Internet, seek out like-minded people from across the world. Their art is not replication it is re-invention.
When the dance was still thriving in its native lands, the fact that there are fabulous dancers in the US might have only been of academic interest. But all is not well anymore. We’re all aware of the spread of fundamentalist Muslim repression of their own culture, the rejection of foreign dancers, that wealthy Islamic men are offering bribes to dancers to abandon their calling and take the veil. Add to that the fact that due to the political situation the tourist trade is dropping catastrophically, with knock-on effects on the opportunities for a career in dance and it all suggests that the dance is dying on its native soil. If this talibanisation continues soon all that might be left will be sanitized folk dances for tourists, a pale shadow of past glories.
If this trend continues, America may soon be passed the torch of ensuring that this dance form continues as a living, breathing art form. This narrative shows that the dance will be in safe hands; as in dervish symbolism, one palm raised to embrace the hopes and future of the art, one palm down rooted in respect for its roots and traditions.
In an interview recently the historian Simon Scharma said that “history is not authoritative, it is argument”. What has been so fascinating about the research for this article is that often there is no definitive version of events or trends. Indeed the USA is so vast that what is true in one place can be patently untrue in the next city, let alone between the coasts. The task of trying to weave these strands into a single narrative thread has been “interesting” at times.
Exaggerations, mythologies and fakelore abound and I am indebted to Morocco, Serena, Anaheed, Zahra Zuhair and Carolynn Ruth amongst others for their patience in trying to ensure that I did not perpetuate certain of these misdirections. Despite their help, this will remain just “A History..” rather than “The History..” This is my version and as far as I know it is true, but it will remain forever one new fact away from complete revision. The Truth remains elusive.
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