Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Oriental or Orientale Dance?

Lale Sayoko
 - a real Oriental Dancer
The term “oriental” comes from the French – Danse Orientale – which means the same as raqs sharqi in Arabic – “dance of the east”. I’m not sure which term came first (by 1926 raqs sharqi was being used in Egypt) but either way it is east of Paris – not Cairo.
So, here’s the first difficulty. If you say “oriental dance” to the General Public (especially in New Zealand) most will think that it is something from the far east – China or Japan. By using a word they are familiar with in a different context you are confusing not enlightening them. Those with a little more knowledge use it as evidence that “belly dancing” came from India – after all is called “oriental dance”!
The problem is it isn’t a straight translation. It has technical context - like plié or jeté. Not good examples as they have simple translations. More like pas de boureé - it does not just mean step of a traditional French dance - it means a specific way of moving the feet.
This is once reason I prefer the French spelling and (an attempt at) French pronunciation – “Orientale”. This clearly signals I am not talking about “oriental” in the normal English sense. I am using a technical term to describe a type of dance. The other reason is I have been told, by a number of Egyptian dancers, is that this is the term they use – rather than raqs sharqi or belly dance.
When used in this context, Orientale is a specific style of dance (from professional entertainers in Egypt/Lebanon etc). It does not include social dance - unless they are trying to dance like professionals. It does not include beledi. It does not include shaabi - or in most cases dancing to pop music. It does not include any folkloric dance. All of these are part of most belly dancer's repertoire and are not Orientale.
There is also a tighter meaning , which refers specifically to dancing to the complex, layered, orchestrated music such as was popular in films and shows in Egypt’s Golden Age and Classical Age.
However, it is not a synonym for the American Seven (or Five) Part Routine. Although many people would call this “Orientale” under the looser definition. An Egyptian Orientale for instance is not put together as one song after the other moving from veil to a drum solo. Some may include many styles – but the “parts” may vary from a few bars to full songs – and there will be repeats and changes. However, some may be one long piece all in a similar style.
But what it certainly does not mean is anything that is not Tribal! There are many other styles of belly dance that are valid – but not Orientale. For stage presentation (Urban) Beledi is the most obvious. None of the folkloric styles are Orientale – just the opposite.
I think part of the problem is people want an umbrella term – that isn’t “belly dance”. Maybe we just have to live without – or adopt something completely different such as the Hungarians did when they finally adopted tanc as a noun that would cover a range of different dance styles.

1 comment:

  1. I have seen some dancing here in Wellington that is very 'army' with lots of graceful hand and armwork, and slow hip movements. I don't like it, I want to slap the dancers because it looks like pretending to dance, but technically it is very good and the dancers are very experienced. Is this some kind of orientale? It's so different from the well earthed, textured dance we did.