I think that there are 2 items that are sometimes forgotten when it comes to belly dance performances: it’s DANCE and but let’s not forget also that it’s BELLY DANCE.
I’ve seen a number of performances where the dance is out the door. What I mean by that is that the performance ends up being a mechanical and automaton-like stringing of moves one after the other… it’s almost like exercise on stage.
There is indeed a place and time for the mechanical aspect: that’s in practice and/or in class when you are drilling moves. You do them over and over again mechanically to get the hang of doing the moves. But there comes a time when you need to depart from the straight up metronome version and flow from one move to the other. Definitely, you should follow what the music is dictating and flow with it… not fight against it! And you should be able to do that even without music! I mean, there should still be a nice flow even without the help of music.
For the heck of it, I was looking at the Merriam-Webster definition of ‘dance’ (which is not really helpful, by the way) and it said ‘generally done to music.’ That is, dance can happen without music! You can look at Onca’s 3rd Coast performance from this year to see that. You can also give it a try in your practice. I found that enlightening personally.
In a way, having such defined moves as we have in belly dance is both good and bad. It’s good because it gives you a strong framework to work with. It’s bad because the framework can end up confining you if you let it. Last weekend, I was watching Step Up 2 The Streets and it dawned on me that, in hip-hop, modern dance and all that, while they do have some framework now, if you go back to how it started (or even if you analyze the dance), it’s a flow of moves... of limbs and body parts doing something. (Actually, a strong parallel could be drawn to the early days of belly dance over here before we catalogued it all.)
The point here is to remember that it’s dance and not be too attached to the metronome numbers.
And, yes, it’s applicable to ATS/ITS
While ATS/ITS has a framework that needs to be abided by (more so than other genres of belly dance), you can still flow with the music… or at least you should attempt. We most certainly have slightly modified some combos before for them to fit with the music that we were going to dance to. In general, if you do your homework and do your home practice to the piece you will be performing ATS/ITS to, you will find that some moves/combos will fit better to some music and others you will naturally censor because it just doesn’t work well.
You can also ensure that you start something at the start of a phrase. That will go a long way in respecting the music. You can even slightly customize the tempo of the move to fit with the music. And, believe me, dancers WILL follow you. There are still some rules to follow, of course (like starting the move/combo on 1 and not on 2) but you still have some wiggle room… and that makes the performance so much more interesting.
It’s Belly Dance!
I don’t know if, in an attempt to do something different, to try something more creative or artistic, or for whatever else reason, but there have been performances I’ve seen where, really, it was entertaining, it was dance, but it wasn’t belly dance. If you will label your piece as something that is belly dance, there needs to be more than just 1 chest circle. There is a misconception that the lack of belly dance is only seen in fusion pieces. I’ve seen it in all subgenres lately.
So, although I encourage everyone to be more dance-y, please remember to keep your belly dance movements in… and in control too. You should be able to name more (or show if you don’t know the name) more than one move for your piece. I strongly recommend everyone to assess their piece for this. I do that all the time. I love to mix in more dance-y and flowy items but I always ensure that it’s still belly dance.
Over the years, I’ve seen this debate of what constitutes belly dance on like tribe and other message boards. Well, belly dance, if you notice, will use your core a lot. A lot of the moves originate from somewhere between the top of your chest to below your hips. If these portions of your body aren’t moving much in your piece, you’re probably not doing enough belly dance.
This art form is beautiful… don’t be afraid to showcase it in a dancer’s manner, using musicality and, yes, your core belly dance moves!