Where is the world of Cabaret Belly Dance headed? Why do traditional dance classes seem to be getting smaller and Tribal and Fusion classes grow in popularity? Why are there fewer young people learning the dance? –something to think about.
I was at a haflah a couple of years ago and struck up a conversation with another dancer. We got along well and laughed. At that point neither of us was in costume and we didn’t discuss the style of dance the other did. Later I overheard her speaking to her troupe mates, a very talented AT troupe. She was blasting Cabaret dance, saying that it was degrading to women; pitting them against each other, intolerant of plus size dancers and fueled by patriarchal dogma. Unlike the tribal dancers who where communal and embraced womanly curves.
Wow, I thought. I knew that there was a bit of a rift between Cabaret and Tribal dancers but, I didn’t know it was that intense. So one could say, “Can’t we all just get along?” and chalk it up to cattiness. But, I think there might be some bits of truth in what she said.
It easy to see how Tribal would be appealing for a young woman starting out. Tribal is earthy with poised movements and ethnic costume. In AT dancers mainly perform as a group. They must constantly communicate with each other since the leader gives cues and instructions throughout the dance. The energy is strong and feminine and all sizes and shapes are welcomed. It’s an American invention so there are no ethnic or political questions. A simple costume consisting of a choli, 25 yard skirts, tassels, turban and tons of jewelry is affordable for most dancers and looks good on all body types.
Cabaret is elegant and graceful. Its origins are buried in pre-history from foreign lands. Soloists are the norm. To do this well the dancer needs to draw the audience in –all eyes on the dancer. As one learns the dance it’s expected that you’ll begin with the student troupe then eventually graduate to become a soloist. Dancers are expected to be young, thin and “commercially attractive”. The standard costume consisting of a sparkly bra/belt and skirt can be stunning yet expensive.
Being an Egyptian Cabaret dancer can be challenging. As a 5’1”, size 10 dancer, finding a flattering costume is nearly impossible. Plus size dancers and those looking for modest costumes, also have a really hard time. Strangely enough, even though I am of African descent (the continent that originated this form of dance) I’m questioned about being a dancer all the time.
Don’t get me wrong I love Cabaret style. It’s my foundation in technique, I love its history and that has served me well. But, I do think that there are some issues that need to be addressed. So let’s think about –talk about it. What do we need as dancers to thrive and are we getting it? What can we do to change that? The more we talk and are willing to grow, the happier our dance world becomes.