When the passion has gone, what are we left with?

I am writing this in response to this post by Emma Chapman on her blog – http://emmabellydancer.co.uk/one-thing

This has left me feeling very sad, not just for myself, as I love her beautiful and expressive, emotion-filled dance but also because it is such an indictment of what is wrong with our dance community today. I have seen my worst fears realized – that competitions would not encourage higher standards, better performances, etc. instead it would become more about a ‘look’ than the actual dance itself. I have seen this firsthand at the first ‘modern’ competition I watched at a big London event a couple of years ago where the performances were mainly cold presentations of effortless technique, superb costumes and pretty faces – no emotion at all. It was all so very sterile with a large proportion of the competitors wafting with ease across the dance floor without making any attempt to connect with the audience or judges let alone the music! There were just a tiny handful of dancers whose performances commanded the stage, full of expression and passion – those were the dancers who didn’t place.

It is a great shame as, yes there is a place for polish, good technique and a well thought out choreography but without the passion for the dance and the music, what are we left with – bland and as Emma says incredibly boring.

This is not something that has happened over night. I have seen its insidious creep into our dance over the past 7-8yrs or so, influenced to a certain extent by not just by competitions but the ultra-polished and yet often emotionally lacking performances in some international touring shows. It’s not going to get any better until we try to get back to our roots. In many ways I would love to see choreography tossed out the window in favour of listening to the music and reacting to it instead. I have seen and appreciated some beautifully realized choreography over my long career but they had a passion to them, something that seems very lacking today. What is the point of spending hours working on technique and a choreography when the end result is that you’ve sucked all the emotion out of it? What is presented to an audience then leaves them with the impression that there’s more passion and feeling in a piece of Blu Tack!

We don’t just dance for ourselves, we dance for the audience. We are entertainers who should connect with the audience whether that’s with some soulful Om Khalsoum or a bit of wacky shaabi. 🙂 If you cannot manage to draw the audience in, you are lacking a big component in your stock of dance skills, arguably the most important one of them all. Not everyone is naturally gifted with a large dollop of old-fashioned charisma but stage presence can be learned with stunning effect and it seems to me that many modern dancers are completely overlooking this very important skill in favour of presenting their technical skills and a pretty face instead. The end result is painfully boring and an excellent cure for insomnia!

Perhaps we should be going back to the real basics and ask ourselves what it was that drew us into our dance in the first place? I’m pretty sure that it wasn’t a desire to learn good technique and put on a sparkly costume (well okay maybe the sparkly costume! 😉 ), it was because the dance made you feel something, it stirred something in our hearts and souls in a way that other types of dance/fitness didn’t. It resonated with us on a deeper level and sadly I feel that we are in serious danger of a major disconnect between looking and feeling the part of the dancer.

There is a breathtaking synergy born of the dancer and the music coming together, regardless of level of experience. In fact it can be more entertaining to watch the enthusiastic amateur dancer because they are still connected with their passion for the dance – they wear this passion on their faces and bodies, lighting up the dance floor and audience alike. Anyone who doubts this should see the performances at Celebrating Dance Festival‘s Delegate Showcase – so entertaining on every level, not a bland performance in sight! This also true of our Gala Show – I carefully vet our teachers to be sure that they know how to connect with an audience and are prepared to wear their hearts on their sleeves. This, for me, is real dancing and it’s becoming more and more of an endangered species.

A very famous Egyptian dancer once said to me that a good dancer is one who feels the music and lives inside it. Forget the steps she said and placing her hand on my heart said “dance from here, it is the only place that counts”.

Am I an ‘old fogey’ unable to move with the times or have other dancers also noticed what is going on and are worried by where it may lead?

Most importantly of all – what are we going to do about it?




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