Our resident writer investigates - plus NEW SAIDI DRESSES 
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Welcome to February's Zameena! We are delighted to welcome, and introduce you to this year's resident writer, Sophia

Sophia (here on the left) a financial journalist by day is a dedicated student of bellydance in her free time! We are excited to present her first article on fusion dance which will surely spark some thought. She has also sought opinions from two top dancers/choreographers on this topic to share with Zameena readers so, please scroll down to read ...... 

Also, we have some new FOLKLORIC DRESSES in stock which we hope you will love, and news of events you can't miss ...... 
Check Them Out Here
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Fusion or Confusion?!

By Sophia Furber

Whether it’s belly-flamenco, belly-bollywood or jazzfusion, if you go to a hafla, stage show or student showcase here in the UK you are very likely to see bellydancers combining oriental dance with other styles.

Fusion is a topic that elicits some strong reactions in the bellydance community. On the one hand, there are purists who don’t believe that raqs sharqi should be diluted with other influences, and would see casual borrowing from other dance traditions as a form of disrespect. But on the other hand, we have plenty of dancers who see fusion bellydance as a legitimate way to innovate, experiment and express themselves.

I am in no position to judge whether it’s right or wrong to mix up dance styles, but I have become interested in this question: if you do decide to spice up your bellydance repertoire by performing fusion choreographies, how can you do it in a way that’s coherent, doesn’t confuse the audience and shows respect to both dance traditions?

The possibilities of bellydance fusion are endless, but so are the potential pitfalls. No dancer wants to give a performance that offends the audience by unwittingly using gestures from Indian classical dance that have a deep religious meaning in a totally inappropriate context, or simply confuses the hell out of them by mashing up salsa music with Palestinian dabke steps. Or put together a really sassy, sexy belly-reggaeton number but be completely oblivious to the fact that the Spanish-language lyrics of the song they picked have some misogynist overtones.

It’s also impossible to discuss fusion bellydance without talking about the thorny issue of cultural appropriation.  There is a fine line between taking inspiration from other cultures and cheapening them by picking and choosing the bits you like while ignoring context and history, or just out-and-out exoticizing them. This is something that is very important for bellydancers who are not from a Middle Eastern or North African cultural background (i.e. like me) to pay close attention to anyway, but it comes into focus even more sharply when we are talking about fusion bellydance.

I asked Charlotte Desorgher, one of Britain’s leading bellydance teachers and director of Company of Dreams, a bellydance company, for her opinion on the topic. Before coming to bellydance, Charlotte was trained in classical ballet, jazz and contemporary dance, and although she does not describe her style of bellydance choreography as ‘fusion’ in my opinion you can see the influence of Western dance training in her work (take a peek at this trailer from a recent production of Scheherezade at Sadler’s Wells)
Scheherazade and 1001 Nights, Company of Dreams
Scheherazade and 1001 Nights, Company of Dreams
“This is something I’ve thought about a lot. A good fusion is when you bring two dance styles together, for example, bellydance and flamenco, and you are fully proficient in both,” Charlotte told me. “Sometimes I wonder if people perform fusions because they have become bored with bellydance, but lack the technique and the movement vocabulary to do it properly. The question for a bellydancer is not whether fusion is right or wrong, so much as why they are doing it. You need to be sure you are dancing with integrity,” Charlotte said.

For Charlotte, “integrity” means having an honesty and openness about the fact that she is a white, Western dancer with a Western dance background, and being comfortable subtly incorporating those influences into her bellydance rather than trying to erase them in an attempt to pretend to be somehow “authentically” Egyptian (which she believes would actually be quite insulting to Egyptians!).

“Fusion” and “influence” it seems, are two different things altogether.

I also sought some insights from Nisha Halai, a London-based dancer and artist who has managed and choreographed for Bollywood dance troupes. Nisha has extensive training in Indian classical dance as well as Bollywood, and I was curious to hear what she felt about bellydancers using elements of these dance styles in their own choreographies.

Nisha suggested researching the origins of Indian classical dance before borrowing movements from it. In the case of Bharatnatyam, one of the seven classical dances of Indian, this art form has its roots in Hindu spiritual tradition, and was originally a form of worship, she explained. Kathak, a North Indian dance style that is distinguished by its spins, turns and percussive footwork, is less overtly religious and maybe even “a bit more seductive” she said. Both contain elements of religious storytelling that is communicated through intricate and graceful gestures. 
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“I wouldn’t say it is wrong for bellydancers to borrow the ‘storytelling’ gestures from Indian classical dance, but it’s probably best to square it off with someone from that culture,” she told me. “And if you are going to use movements that have a religious connotation, I’d suggest you don’t do it while wearing a mini-skirt and a boob-tube. But who am I to judge, really!”

One of the most interesting tips I got from Nisha was about facial expressions, which are highly important in Indian classical dance and Bollywood.
“Don’t forget about facial expressions! I’ve seen bellydance performances where the dancer only changes her facial expression once or twice, and that would look strange if you were doing a bellydance-bollywood fusion dance. In Bollywood, it’s all about telling a story- the narrative is key. You might be dancing to a romantic Bollywood song, and it’s important that this should really translate in the facial expressions.”

There are no cut-and-dried answers when it comes to fusion of bellydance with other dance styles, and it is really down to the individual dancer to make sure that they have done their homework. But if there were two things I learned in the past week while writing this article, they are that:

 1) it’s always worth getting on the phone or grabbing a coffee with a friend or contact who is a true specialist in the dance or culture you want to borrow from 
2) the magic word is “integrity”. Do you have the competence to pull this off, and are you pretending to be something you are not?

Just as some final food for thought, here are some clips of true fusion performances that I really enjoyed.
The first is a Jazz-Fusion number led and choreographed by Lana Celeste of the Fleur Estelle Dance Company. For me, this is the work of someone who has clearly devoted years of their life to studying both bellydance and American jazz dance, and has brought them together in a way which is fresh, innovative and sincere.
"Shimmy on Broadway" Belly-Fosse style by Fleur Estelle Dance Company
The second is a clip is of Canadian bellydancer and internet sensation Cassandra Fox performing a blend of soca and bellydance in her kitchen (look out for some feline guest appearances). I loved this because she dances with such confidence and fluidity that, as a ‘virtual’ audience member I felt totally on board with the fusion from the word go.
Cassandra, who herself has Jamaican heritage, gave a really interesting interview to Zameena last year that touches on bringing Carribbean influences into bellydance (and facing some of the challenges that come with it), and I highly recommend you check it out.

Afterword: I’m leaving tribal fusion out, firstly because it’s a totally separate branch of bellydance and really requires a post of its own, and secondly because it’s a style I don’t have the experience or knowledge to comment on.
A BIG Zameena THANK YOU to Sophia for a fantastic article on such a pertinent and hot topic - food for thought indeed!
We are already looking forward to reading her next article in May!
Meet Sophia on Facebook 

Check out these Folkloric Dresses
ONLY £46 + p&p

at Zara's Zouk, a range of sizes available.... 
Check Them Out Here

Using easy to find materials make a fancy dance cane OR just spray paint it any colour you choose!

See ours in the Folkloric dress photos above!
Zara will be performing DETAILS HERE
Zara will be teaching....
Workshops and Hafla - 11th OF MARCH 

How do you become a master of Egyptian bellydance? What is Egyptian bellydance? Why is the Egyptian style so definitive? 
This workshop goes beyond just the technical side of bellydance and takes a look at the concepts that underpin the Egyptian style. It then asks how those of us in the West can better understand and relate to them. We'll then work on drawing those concepts out of ourselves to explore a whole new way of approaching and mastering the Egyptian style - So come along, relax and release that inner Egyptian just wanting to dance!
Want to excel at Oriental and cabaret Bellydance? Then this is a workshop not to be missed. Zara Dance will be delving deep into the foundation techniques underpinning this beautiful style. You will then be guided through the delivery of a good oriental performance, to classic songs by Warda. 
This workshop will leave you with the want to go out and perform a show stopping oriental piece!
We hope you enjoyed reading this month's Zameena as much as we did.  It certainly provoked some thought!  Thanks again to Sophia!

Wishing you a wonderful and celebratory time - especially on the 14th!  Don't forget YOU are always worth celebrating so make time for yourself and the things you love!  

Love and Shimmies from Zara and Sandra xxx
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