Recently a student discovered a YouTube clip of Ranya Renee doing a great beledi interpretation. This sparked an interest in beledi which she initially asked me about. I love beledi – it is my favourite style. But I was overwhelmed by catching up after a week at the Winter Warmup and had a huge pile of exams to mark. So my response was a little brief.
No problem. She then started an internet search and came up with a range of information. Some accurate, some suspect, some off. The email correspondence that followed really got me thinking. The first issue was simple – “why do you think your information is better than X or Y’s?” Because I got my information directly from Egyptian dance teachers who lived, worked, and studied in Egypt – such as Raqia Hassan, Yousry Sharif, Denise Enan, Dr Mo Geddawi, Aida Nour. Yasmina and Lubna Emam. Although one or two may have grasped the wrong end of the stick – I cannot believe all would have.
I should have anticipated the next question “then why can’t I find any information by them on the net?”. Maybe because they have better things to do with their time? Maybe because they are professional teachers and are not inclined to give away huge hunks of information for free? Maybe because neither English nor the internet is familiar to them? Maybe because they have difficulty in putting into words what they know through years of living in a culture? Maybe because when they hear a mawal they just know that this is how you move and this – but not that?
The third issue is a little harder. “Beledi” is a big concept. It has many levels of meaning. There are numerous associated music and dance styles which change over time, place and society. A good explanation isn’t a one liner. It isn’t even a whole webpage. It is a book. Yet, so often, it is expected that a couple of paragraphs will cover it. The ‘net encourages a very superficial gloss over of complex topics.
Finally there is the expectation that you can learn anything on the ‘net. You can learn a lot about some aspects of dance through the written word – if you share a common language – but not all. Video clips and DVDs also provide another tool. You can (usually) see what a dancer is doing. You can try and copy their movements. Many people have a gift of being able to do this. Many people struggle. Many people fail and don’t even realize it.
But belly dance is more than a string of movements. You need a context. You often need to ask someone about something which is obvious to them but a total mystery to you. “Why do so many beledi improvisations sound familiar?”, “Why do you wear that crochet thing on your face?”, “Who is this Fifi you keep talking about?” Often the student is unaware they even are missing something, which is where a live teacher comes in.
Experienced dancers and teachers know this. Less experienced dancers may take longer to learn – and in the meantime they are reading websites by those often with more confidence than knowledge. Then horror or horrors, they get their own website and repeat all the crap.