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What Defines a Dance Art?

Imagine flamenco without castanets, foot work, guitar, cahon (flamenco drum), Mantons (the shawl), the bata (skirt tail), pitos (finger snaps), the singer whaling away – the slow Solea; the happy Rumba… get the picture. It wouldn’t be flamenco. It might be interesting – even fabulous, but it would not be the art called flamenco.

Well, that is what belly dance is without finger cymbals, veils and veil work, taksim – standing work and floor work – the oud, the nay and dumbek and the drum solo. It ain’t belly dance. Sure, you can do belly dance movements to another kind of music - techno music or hip hop or burlesque - and you can do taksim ad infinitum in bell bottoms and dreadlocks – but it still is not belly dance – not in the past, not in the present and not in the future. You can take the movements out of the art, but, you cannot take the art out of the movements and still call it the same art.

Like flamenco, belly dance took centuries to evolve, and, in that evolution of course, it changed. In the 19th century it adopted new, more glamorous costuming for cabaret shows. Dancers expanded on the extant taksim adding more floor work; they added more veil work; they improved the drum solo by using the complex, polyrhythmic Egyptian-style drum solo. They improved the art by adding and modifying it to make it grander and more difficult. Not simplifying it and making it easier by using Western music, dropping out floor work, drum solo and veil work. They took a dance art that took centuries to evolve into the grand art it is today, and made it grander.

Belly dance – like flamenco and Indian dance is an ancient and complex art form. Yes, it is much easier to learn and execute without a veil, finger cymbals, floor work, drum solo and Middle Eastern music; yes, it is perhaps easier to learn and dance to by using Western music, instead of Middle Eastern music. But, by doing that it disappears as belly dance.

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