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?




Turn it off!

We’ve all seen it happening whether it’s from the stage or as a member of the audience – that sea of people using electronic devices during a performance. Have we lost the art of being courteous both to the performers and other members of the audience during a show? Not quite, but it’s not far off! I’ll talk more about general good manners later on but first I want to talk about how modern technology is having a detrimental effect on how we watch and enjoy shows of any sort.

This struck me particularly at the Shimmy in the City show the other weekend. Large numbers of people in the audience shamelessly filming performances or almost as bad, sending text messages. I was really irritated at the young girls sat immediately in front of me from part two – they spent almost the entire time sending texts!

I wanted to run round the theatre divesting all the offenders of their phones and cameras and then yell at them to “watch the show, you idiots!”

Please don’t get me wrong, I couldn’t manage without my mobile phone and I am an avid photographer but there is a time and place for these things and it is not during a performance. Why pay good money to see a wonderful show featuring so many fantastic dancers and then only watch it through the eye of your camera or phone?? Why did you buy a ticket if you didn’t want to actually watch and enjoy the show? Nothing can beat the experience of live performances whether that’s at your local haflah or a star-filled theatre production. Many organisers arrange for a DVD to be available at a later date but even if they don’t, just sit there and enjoy the show instead of focusing on making a poor quality film of it on your camera/phone.

Filming something whilst watching it puts you at a remove from the actual performance because of the barrier it places between you and the performer, greatly reducing  you being able to enjoy the subtler moments of a performance. I know this first-hand as I have been the videographer myself on many occasions. You cannot watch the show and fully enjoy it whilst trying to capture a recording of it at the same time.

Apart from anything else, it is extremely discourteous to everyone else to sit there distracting those around you with the light from your screen. This is particularly annoying in a theatre situation because with the house lights down it is even more distracting and annoying to see lots of small lights dotted all around the auditorium! One of the girls in front of me at the Shimmy in the City show texted someone saying “I’m watching Dina right now!” but she wasn’t, she was looking at her phone instead – what a waste!

Please everyone, turn off your mobiles and put away your cameras so that you can just sit back and enjoy the show.

Good manners cost nothing.

I also want to talk about how I have noticed a general decline in manners and courtesy within our dance community over the years. This could be a very long post if I talked about all the things that come under this umbrella so for now I am going to talk about it in connection with shows, haflahs and performance situations generally.

My main complaints are:

  • As mentioned above, the discourteous use of phones and cameras.
  • People talking loudly whilst someone is on the stage or dance floor giving their all to entertain you.
  • Late arrivals at a theatre who don’t wait until a break in the performances but instead noisily disturb everyone as they get to their seat and make themselves comfortable. Why is it that somehow this always happens when something quiet is happening on stage? At other theatrical productions the ushers stop people from entering until either a suitable break/change of performer or scene or in some cases late arrivals are not allowed to take their seats until the intermission.  Then there are those who arrive late to a haflah who, with no thought to those performing, noisily scrape chairs, say hello to friends etc., instead of making an effort not to distract the rest of the audience from those who are performing. 

    I am not saying that at a haflah one should sit there in silence, far from it. What I am asking for is a little consideration for the performers – by all means talk just don’t do it really loudly. It makes it seem like you don’t care about those who are performing and you should ask yourself how you would feel if it were you trying to entertain people who are more interested in chatting to their mates than enjoying the dancing.

  • People buying drinks at the bar and then walking across the dance floor to get back to their seat. It’s bad enough that they may have a spillage making the floor slippery but if they drop something all those dancing bare foot run the risk of having glass in their feet because it is so hard to ensure that every tiny piece of glass is accounted for. Then there are the very rude who, for whatever reason, thoughtlessly walk across the dance floor whilst a performance is going on! I wish this was a rare occurrence but I have seen many instances of this over the years.

These are just a small selection of things that I’ve observed in recent times, all things that are not only discourteous and disrespectful  but down right rude. They demonstrate a lack of respect for those doing their best to entertain you and the rest of the audience who are trying to enjoy that entertainment.

A plea on behalf of all performers and fellow audience members – please, think twice before you do any of these things.

Kitty Kohl

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