Dance Without Borders
"You do not dance like an Egyptian." This phrase, perhaps more than any other, drives many of us dancers crazy. The first time I heard this was in l977, in Cairo, Egypt. My sponsor's last minute push landed me a first place trophy and a bunch of disgruntled colleagues in a competition to live music at the Cairo Sheraton. One of the musicians recognized me in the elevator. He added that with a little bit of work, I could be more authentic. I listened very carefully and realized that I didn't have the nerve to tell a native that I was not interested in dancing like an "authentic Egyptian dancer." Recently on the MED list on the internet the thread of whether well known Egyptian dancer, Dina, really did say that Americans will never be able to do the dance as she does no matter how many workshops we take. She may or may not have said this but I do know that this is a common idea.
Of course we will never be able to dance like a native Egyptian! If you have not grown up in the culture you will never really be able to dance like a Lebanese, a Turk, Egyptian or even Australian or Italian! Ones dance will always have a quality that comes from knowing your own culture best---the language, eating the food, walking the walk and even hearing your local music in the womb. I am proud of my heritage---a Mestiza (Spanish and Indian mix). As a dancer, I use elements of my background, my culture to interpret this dance not copy someone else's idea or someone else's culture.
As an instructor, I am concerned that students know the origins and the difference between Raks Sharki and Rock-N-Roll. Imagine an Egyptian dance student performing a version of American square dancing! Imagine how comical it would look to us if she hadn't taken the time to costume correctly and used odd music, like a sound track to a Walt Disney movie. Even if this student adopted correct moves, music and costume, she or he would probably still dance like an outsider. If you decide to follow the authentic dance, you may always be a very good fake---a good copy of an original. With this in mind, why not take the path of admitting you are interpreting an ancient dance? It is important to discover who you are as a performer or as a person interpreting this dance. Self is first. Express yourself. This is the only real original thing you have to share with others on this planet. To search your own soul and to share a dance with the world as an individual and not as a passport- carrying native of a certain region on this earth is a noble, artistic goal. Isn't it time that we move forward in making this ancient dance a universal statement of joy, beauty, and bliss? . . . a dance without borders.