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  1. #1
    Advanced BHUZzer Elibelinde's Avatar
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    Eastern influences on Middle Eastern Art

    I thought for purposes of clarity it would be better to separate this topic from the "Belly Dance Community" thread, because it took off in a different direction.

    Here's the link to this discussion which as you see got into a conversation about the influence of outside cultures on Middle Eastern dance. There were many good comments including a quote from Disraeli about living dangerously..l;,

    http://www.bhuz.com/forum/belly-danc...community.html

    As I stated in my final comment on that thread I want to show what I mean by going outside the dance world.

    Here's an example of the direct impact on a Turkish work of art - a rug - from Chinese iconography - specifically the dragon and phoenix design:

    The von Bode Dragon and Phoenix Rug

    There are many other such examples.

    This was not a spontaneous creation but rather reflects the influence of one culture onto another, from China to the Middle East. How it got there is open to conjecture. More on that later including the interesting problem of the dragon, who appears around the world. But THIS dragon, with his companion bird, is a Chinese icon.

    Meanwhile, a comment was made in the original thread concerning the idea that that the lowest members of society (in that discussion, the Rom, whom I credited with influencing Middle Eastern dance and music as well as Flamenco) wouldn't be able to influence the art of a more powerful culture.

    However, consider this: in tribal and village communities woven arts were women's art.

    Women are anything but powerful in many of these cultures yet they are culturally influential if you look at what they have done in weaving, embroidery, music and dance.

    Therefore I'd argue the opposite: the most powerful members of a community aren't necessarily the most creative and by the same token, people of low status are often artists.

    Further, because Eastern arts like this are often anonymous, the most beautiful and powerful works of art don't have the individual signature of their creators AND they are often community projects - rugs are worked on by whole families of women and designs are passed from mothers to daughters, evolving slowly over decades and sometimes being carried over long periods of time from tent to tent until the dragon and the phoenix wind up on the Mediterranean.

    This model of artistic creativity is quite different from the way we see things in the West and therefore we tend to ignore or undervalue it. But it fits in very well with what we're doing here on Bhuz if you think about it.


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    A journey of ten thousand miles begins with a single post. Zumarrad's Avatar
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    Re: Eastern influences on Middle Eastern Art

    Artistic creativity and completely altering the structure of society are two different things.

    For sure, I an fond of hegemony approaches wherein there is always a tension and flow between what is dominant and what is not, and the nature of both is influenced to some degree by the other. But I would reiterate that if you are doing something for money and you have to appeal to patrons, which is what artists have done for generations, you have to provide largely what they want. Of course you might incorporate a little thing of your own here and there.

    To this day, the people who produce creative works for popular consumption - screenwriters, directors, etc - have to bend to the whims of their producers. It happens all the time in television and film. If your producer wants your heroine to have a puppy, she gets a puppy and you rewrite everything to accommodate the damn puppy.

    People making rugs and embroideries and dancing socially for their own consumption are not the same as people doing it for a crust. For sure there will be some overlap. But you can't discount commerce and social controls. Romantic notions of women's history in rugs and dances are really lovely but they do not exist in isolation from wider social events and controls.


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    Ultimate BHUZzer *Shira*'s Avatar
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    Re: Eastern influences on Middle Eastern Art

    Quote Originally Posted by Elibelinde View Post
    Meanwhile, a comment was made in the original thread concerning the idea that that the lowest members of society (in that discussion, the Rom, whom I credited with influencing Middle Eastern dance and music as well as Flamenco) wouldn't be able to influence the art of a more powerful culture.

    However, consider this: in tribal and village communities woven arts were women's art.

    Women are anything but powerful in many of these cultures yet they are culturally influential if you look at what they have done in weaving, embroidery, music and dance.

    Therefore I'd argue the opposite: the most powerful members of a community aren't necessarily the most creative and by the same token, people of low status are often artists.
    By comparing the role of Rom in European society with the role of women in Middle Eastern society, you are comparing apples and oranges.

    The Rom are an ethnic group which was considered OUTSIDERS in many places, particularly Europe. An ethnic Hungarian would balk at the idea of their son or daughter marrying a Rom.

    However, a Middle Eastern woman is a MEMBER of her society, an insider. And I don't think you can say that a woman is of "low status" simply because she's a woman. Her status tends to be that of her husband. If her husband is of high status, then you can be sure that their daughter will be viewed as a desirable potential mate by other families of status.
    Last edited by *Shira*; 09-01-2010 at 12:13 AM.


  4. #4
    Advanced BHUZzer Elibelinde's Avatar
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    Re: Eastern influences on Middle Eastern Art

    Quote Originally Posted by zumarrad View Post
    Artistic creativity and completely altering the structure of society are two different things.

    For sure, I an fond of hegemony approaches wherein there is always a tension and flow between what is dominant and what is not, and the nature of both is influenced to some degree by the other. But I would reiterate that if you are doing something for money and you have to appeal to patrons, which is what artists have done for generations, you have to provide largely what they want. Of course you might incorporate a little thing of your own here and there.

    To this day, the people who produce creative works for popular consumption - screenwriters, directors, etc - have to bend to the whims of their producers. It happens all the time in television and film. If your producer wants your heroine to have a puppy, she gets a puppy and you rewrite everything to accommodate the damn puppy.

    People making rugs and embroideries and dancing socially for their own consumption are not the same as people doing it for a crust. For sure there will be some overlap. But you can't discount commerce and social controls. Romantic notions of women's history in rugs and dances are really lovely but they do not exist in isolation from wider social events and controls.
    I have to respond in two parts:)

    I understand what you are saying about "doing it for a crust" because I have performed and created my art for many decades and believe me a crust is often what I've lived on. And, my parents were commercial as well as fine artists. Personally I have resisted commercial pressure as much as possible.

    But - I think you're misunderstanding me here. I'm not inventing some fantasy. This is well-researched art history.

    I don't really think you can make an analogy between the demands of Western commercial art or the sharp delineation between fine and commercial art in the West and what I'm trying to discuss.

    The people in tribal and village settings were not doing it for fun or socially in the sense you mean. Creating textiles, pots, dowry goods, clothing, animal trappings, yurts – this was the stuff of life including trade goods.

    Despite Soviet and other intervention including wars and modernization, one can still see people living and working in village and tribal settings in Central Asia.

    We have our own indigenous cultures in the US where this is true. And here as well there's often no clear line between fine, commercial, ceremonial and applied art.

    Women of the Hopi and other Pueblo cultures make pots both for their own use and for sale to support their families; dance is used in healing and other important ceremonies. It also attracts tourists.

    So there is more than one level to the art. The tourists don't negate the power of the ceremony nor do they change it - this is not the same thing as the puppy analogy at all.


  5. #5
    Advanced BHUZzer Elibelinde's Avatar
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    Re: Eastern influences on Middle Eastern Art

    Next part in response to Zumarrad:

    And what about Navajo weavers?

    There is a striking difference between the Pueblo and the Dineh (Navajo): the latter were directly influenced by Turkish weavers. I can link some examples if you like.

    I reiterate: cross cultural influences are not an invention of mine, they really exist. And, women’s work, women’s art is more than important – it’s vital within their cultures. It certainly impacts our own - why do people resist seeing this?

    In one case, you’re correct: the work of Navajo women, the patterns you see today were created by commercial pressure. Their original blankets were simple stripes, not the well-known “trading post” patterns.

    On the other hand the Hopi designs are direct descendants of much older pots, ancient shards which inspired modern artists such as the Nampeyo family.

    These have iconographic and religious significance as well as beauty and commercial value. Hopi kachina dolls have numinous power. They and Zuni fetishes are part of a religious tradition, they are not merely decorative. Indeed Zuni people feed their fetishes.

    Another example of this type of art: parts of Morocco where despite commercial pressure one can still find traditional women's blankets and other textiles that have far more than a commercial purpose - some Moroccan textiles have animist symbols that, like sand paintings from the American Southwest used in healing ceremonies, actually have magic power.


  6. #6
    Advanced BHUZzer Elibelinde's Avatar
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    Re: Eastern influences on Middle Eastern Art

    In conclusion, the art I'm discussing art has both a commercial as well as an artistic, social, even magical or religious enterprise depending upon the circumstance.

    There isn’t necessarily a clear line differentiating them in the sense you mean.

    For example during times of stress, such as Afghanistan during the Soviet war, people would part with 100 year old heirlooms in order to survive. Dowry textiles were just that: they were art but they were also a form of wealth which if necessary could be sold and which also represented a woman's skill and value.

    Another aspect of the Afghan war: the creation of war rugs, replacing the traditional motifs with tanks, planes and guns:

    Afghan War Rugs: A Sub-group with Iranian Influence

    These are not only commercially valuable, they reflect what has happened to the people.

    So I'm not talking airy-fairy here. These are still living cultures and their art reflects it, reflects the richness, demands and tragedies of their lives.

    And their work has certainly impacted the rest of world, at least that part that's sensitive enough to see it.


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    A journey of ten thousand miles begins with a single post. Zumarrad's Avatar
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    Re: Eastern influences on Middle Eastern Art

    I reiterate: cross cultural influences are not an invention of mine, they really exist.
    You're preaching to the choir. My insistence that bellydance is hybrid is the very reason I find so problematic the tendency many dancers and writers have towards taking a movement here, a hand position there, and using it as evidence to support their origin myth of preference. When the reality is far more complex and multifaceted than that.

    And my ethical concerns that bellydance retain its association with the countries where it is culturally normative whether we like it or not is the chief driver behind my discomfort with the gypsy trail model, even though the gypsy trail model is more creatively satisfying and more reflective of the ways we operate within consumer and globalised bellydance cultures than some of the other myths we tend to circulate.

    Belly dance is hybrid but that doesn't mean it's something western people made up, that we can just use to hang our spiritual fantasies or sexual fantasies or creative fantasies onto. It has functions within its cultures (including the globalised one we're participating in right now), and those functions are current. What belly dance IS in Egypt or Turkey or Lebanon or Syria (or NYC or Toronto or Sydney or Tokyo) is IMO more important than what it might have been in the dim distant mists of time somewhere along the silk road.

    Of course it's interesting to speculate and to dig for clues and origins, but why might dance and embroidery be any more connected to ancient spiritual and/or cultural practices than than, for example, the way I make coffee in the morning?

    If a person in Turkey or Lebanon or Egypt tells you that belly dance is purely for pleasure and unrelated to spirituality, can you really stand there and tell them they are wrong? Is it on your street corner? Did you grow up with it on the telly? If an Egyptian dervish tells you categorically that tannoura, his family trade, is NOT the same as sufi dancing and not spiritual and only entertainment, does he have no right to speak about it because We Know Better?

    You can see my discomfort lies with the overlaying of things people tend to fantasise about, like Rom traditions and relationships to Indian spirituality. It might well be part of an individual dancer's practice but it does not follow that the whole dance is really a cypher for them. And even if it is, if nobody is using it that way, and instead using it another way, what does that mean? Clue: it's not that the dance is debased. (I am a cultural studies person.)


  8. #8
    A journey of ten thousand miles begins with a single post. Zumarrad's Avatar
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    Re: Eastern influences on Middle Eastern Art

    There isn’t necessarily a clear line differentiating them in the sense you mean.
    OK, I think you have COMPLETELY misunderstood my stance on culture. If you think that I think there is a clear line delineating high/low/east/west/insert appropriate binary pairuing here, then I've clearly failed to communicate with you. I am a critical transculturalist. I do not believe in purity or differentiate between high/low art and cultural output.

    I do, however, acknowledge the existence of class and race concerns.


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    Advanced BHUZzer Elibelinde's Avatar
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    Re: Eastern influences on Middle Eastern Art

    Quote Originally Posted by Shira View Post
    By comparing the role of Rom in European society with the role of women in Middle Eastern society, you are comparing apples and oranges.

    The Rom are an ethnic group which was considered OUTSIDERS in many places, particularly Europe. An ethnic Hungarian would balk at the idea of their son or daughter marrying a Rom.

    However, a Middle Eastern woman is a MEMBER of her society, an insider. And I don't think you can say that a woman is of "low status" simply because she's a woman. Her status tends to be that of her husband. If her husband is of high status, then you can be sure that their daughter will be viewed as a desirable potential mate by other families of status.
    I understand what you are saying and I did not intend to directly compare women and Rom.

    Obviously not! however I think it's fair to say that we in the West at least have a tendency to see art as the province of the powerful and/or the high status and similarly we ignore the impact of lower status people or groups.

    Women are not powerful in the sense that males are powerful and furthermore our art has been ignored or undervalued. Indeed it's often claimed that women have no ability to be great artists.

    By the same token people underestimate the impact of "outsider groups" on dominant cultures. For example the composers Brahms and Bartok both based "classical fine art" compositions on Gypsy music to name only two examples.

    In fact when it comes to performing arts outsider groups are very important at least partly because they are outsiders. We are the people who can work professionally without incurring a crushing social penalty.

    Finally, Oriental and other forms of folk dance and music directly influenced the great modern dancers as well as manifold ballets.

    This way, through art, so-called "little people", outsiders and women influence and actually change the dominant culture.

    Thus importance of women's art as well as the art of outsider groups cannot be overestimated.

    When it comes to inventiveness don't forget that women were working with clay and fire when the men were hunting - we surely made many important discoveries.

    Neither can we underestimate the impact of cross-cultural influences, for example on Middle Eastern dance.

    I hadn't actually realized this was controversial. Travel to the far East via the Silk Road began before Roman times.

    How can a crossroads like the Middle East NOT have been affected?

    The Middle East also influenced the Far East. There is oral history of Jews in China as far back as the Han Dynasty.

    Finally I don't understand why there's a resistance by women to recognize and honor the work of our sisters and our mothers.


  10. #10
    Advanced BHUZzer Elibelinde's Avatar
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    Re: Eastern influences on Middle Eastern Art

    Quote Originally Posted by zumarrad View Post
    OK, I think you have COMPLETELY misunderstood my stance on culture. If you think that I think there is a clear line delineating high/low/east/west/insert appropriate binary pairuing here, then I've clearly failed to communicate with you. I am a critical transculturalist. I do not believe in purity or differentiate between high/low art and cultural output.

    I do, however, acknowledge the existence of class and race concerns.
    I'm afraid I don't understand, forgive me - what is a critical transculturalist? I'm not familiar with the term -


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    A journey of ten thousand miles begins with a single post. Zumarrad's Avatar
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    Re: Eastern influences on Middle Eastern Art

    I should say my stance is informed by critical transculturalism, whiich is a term coined by Marwan Kraidy. Basically it bridges the gap between "globalisation is evil and crushes cultures under the mighty western foot of corporations, creating a horrrible homogeneity!" and "globalisation is a happy benign fluffy beast in which all participants are equally creative, creating lovely diversity, peace love and understanding!"

    So I recognise and celebrate the fact that cultural creation (and communications, politics etc) is at least a two way if not a many-way street, but I also recognise that there are significant power imbalances going on that can't be overlooked.

    Embarrassingly, I had to look that up again. It's been a while.


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    Re: Eastern influences on Middle Eastern Art

    This way, through art, so-called "little people", outsiders and women influence and actually change the dominant culture.
    That's right. But they don't come to rule it. And their influences are constantly reworked to serve the larger needs and wants of whoever happens to be dominant at the time. That doesn't mean they don't matter or that that they don't get to have something to say, nor that subordinate groups don't keep coming up with unruly activities to shake up their societies in different ways.

    WRT oriental dance, these days we are more and more recognising the pivotal role of some men in the creation of contemporary Egyptian dance. To an extent that is making some of us say, hmm, this is a largely feminine economy, are we giving these men too much weight, too much say? But it's a fact that modern Egyptian dance looks the way it does in large part because of Mahmoud Reda (et al, al including Farida Fahmy and other women... but still, Reda).


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    Ultimate BHUZzer Tourbeau's Avatar
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    Re: Eastern influences on Middle Eastern Art

    Quote Originally Posted by zumarrad View Post
    WRT oriental dance, these days we are more and more recognising the pivotal role of some men in the creation of contemporary Egyptian dance. To an extent that is making some of us say, hmm, this is a largely feminine economy, are we giving these men too much weight, too much say? But it's a fact that modern Egyptian dance looks the way it does in large part because of Mahmoud Reda (et al, al including Farida Fahmy and other women... but still, Reda).
    The only time I see this as a problem is when we give men credit or opportunities they don't deserve. Maybe you like Bobby Farrah's or Bert Balladine's artistic vision, and maybe you don't. In a different time, perhaps they might not have been as influential as they were, but the fact remains that their effects are still rippling through the dance community, even though their creative impact peaked decades ago.

    OTOH, when male dancers are given a pass just because they are a rarity, this is not so good. I've seen male dancers perform in shows where women have gushed all over them and asked them to teach workshops when they were really not much better than average, but the fact that they weren't women made them seem more significant. I'm not against elevating the smaller voices above the noise, but the idea that someone should automatically be advanced on some sort of perverse gender-biased, independent-of-ability affirmative action is not healthy for the dance community in the long run.

    I can't fathom what kind of dancer undervalues Mahmoud Reda, though. The kind that gabble through his workshops, I suppose....

    BTW, where were y'all to have this discussion when Andrea wanted discussion on her paper? Zum was the only one who chimed in and she just thumbs upped. http://www.bhuz.com/forum/rest-belly...atriarchy.html


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    Advanced BHUZzer caroline_afifi's Avatar
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    Re: Eastern influences on Middle Eastern Art

    Hi Tourbeau,

    I was thinking the same thing about Andrea Deagons paper and wondered where that thread had gone.

    I want to go back and read that paper again as I only flicked through it last time. It appeared to be a great paper with much to think about and discuss and deserves more attention.

    Thanks for highlighting it again.


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    Ultimate BHUZzer *Shira*'s Avatar
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    Re: Eastern influences on Middle Eastern Art

    Quote Originally Posted by Elibelinde View Post
    I understand what you are saying and I did not intend to directly compare women and Rom.

    Women are not powerful in the sense that males are powerful and furthermore our art has been ignored or undervalued. Indeed it's often claimed that women have no ability to be great artists.
    Here's where we differ: I don't agree with your premise that women are necessarily lower-status or powerless in the countries where belly dance comes from. I don't think women are necessarily "little people". Other cultures think differently than we do, and value different things.

    I can't comment on your statement that it's claimed that women have no ability to be great artists - that sounds like a comment from the visual arts world in the West and I don't think we can assume that it automatically applies to other disciplines, or to Middle Eastern cultures.

    Quote Originally Posted by Elibelinde View Post
    In fact when it comes to performing arts outsider groups are very important at least partly because they are outsiders. We are the people who can work professionally without incurring a crushing social penalty.
    I do agree with this. In the first half of the 20th century, many of the dancers in Egypt who performed publicly were Jews, Christians, and Nawari (Gypsies). One of the most famous dancers of the 19th century was Shafiqa el-Koptiyya, meaning, "Shafiqa, the Coptic Christian".

    But here's where we differ on this one.... these dancers weren't bringing their own minority subculture out onto the performance stage to influence the tastes of the mainstream. They were performing what the mainstream wanted to see: its own music and dance.

    Which goes back to my point that the Nawari did not significantly modify the music/dance of the regions where they lived. Instead, they performed what was already mainstream in that culture, and did it very well. They didn't carry belly dance from India to the Middle East and displace the dance that already existed there. Instead, they may have added a move or two (such as head slides), but the core essence of the dance was still the indigenous form that had existed before they arrived.

    Quote Originally Posted by Elibelinde View Post
    Finally, Oriental and other forms of folk dance and music directly influenced the great modern dancers as well as manifold ballets.

    This way, through art, so-called "little people", outsiders and women influence and actually change the dominant culture.

    Thus importance of women's art as well as the art of outsider groups cannot be overestimated.

    When it comes to inventiveness don't forget that women were working with clay and fire when the men were hunting - we surely made many important discoveries.
    I agree that women influence the cultures in which they live. They are PARTICIPANTS in that culture. I just wouldn't describe them as "little people" or "outsiders".


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    Ultimate BHUZzer *Shira*'s Avatar
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    Re: Eastern influences on Middle Eastern Art

    Quote Originally Posted by Elibelinde View Post
    I hadn't actually realized this was controversial. Travel to the far East via the Silk Road began before Roman times.

    How can a crossroads like the Middle East NOT have been affected?
    With respect to dance, I think I need to go back to the point I was trying to make in the "Community" thread. I don't doubt that the occasional dance move or musical concept may have crept into a local region's dance style from contact with outsiders. But I had trouble with your assertion in that other thread that the origins of belly dancing had something to do with goddess spirituality and martial arts.

    Quote Originally Posted by Elibelinde View Post
    Finally I don't understand why there's a resistance by women to recognize and honor the work of our sisters and our mothers.
    I don't see resistance in this thread to recognizing the contributions of women to cultural arts. I see a resistance to characterizing women as "outsiders" or "little people".


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    A journey of ten thousand miles begins with a single post. Zumarrad's Avatar
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    Re: Eastern influences on Middle Eastern Art

    Quote Originally Posted by caroline_afifi View Post
    Hi Tourbeau,

    I was thinking the same thing about Andrea Deagons paper and wondered where that thread had gone.

    I want to go back and read that paper again as I only flicked through it last time. It appeared to be a great paper with much to think about and discuss and deserves more attention.

    Thanks for highlighting it again.
    It's a wonderful paper but I'm just "yes, agree, yes, true, yes, this is a fact, this paper is saying exactly what I like to see!" So I can't really engage in any meaty way because I just think it's super good.


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    A journey of ten thousand miles begins with a single post. Zumarrad's Avatar
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    Re: Eastern influences on Middle Eastern Art

    But I had trouble with your assertion in that other thread that the origins of belly dancing had something to do with goddess spirituality and martial arts.
    THis was my concern too. I feel like the arguments in this thread are coming from a different person, almost.

    Which goes back to my point that the Nawari did not significantly modify the music/dance of the regions where they lived. Instead, they performed what was already mainstream in that culture, and did it very well. They didn't carry belly dance from India to the Middle East and displace the dance that already existed there. Instead, they may have added a move or two (such as head slides), but the core essence of the dance was still the indigenous form that had existed before they arrived.
    nods The bodily habitus is pretty ingrained. The context is quite different, but there are similarities in what happened when dancers trained in other genres - theatre dance, ballet, jazz, etc - became belly dancers in the 50s and 60s. There was always going to be something different about the way those dancers moved and certain quite unconscious elements to the way they placed their hands, etc. That doesn't mean, however, that what those dancers were doing or what similar dancers do today is "really" ballet or jazz because of a hand position or an arabesque.

    And yes, Jack Cole was influenced by ME dances to some degree but that doesn't mean that American jazz dance is really belly dancing.

    Belly dancing is belly dancing. People who do it often have an accent. Sometimes some of that accent is picked up as a charming variation that becomes normal. Sometimes things from other dances are deliberately added. It's constantly in flux. Yet there is a core that tells us it is BD, and that for me, as a disbeliever in purity/essence, is the tricky bit because by rights I shouldn't accept that there is an essential belly dance or belly dances. Yet, I know it when I see it.


  19. #19
    Advanced BHUZzer Elibelinde's Avatar
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    Re: Eastern influences on Middle Eastern Art

    Quote Originally Posted by Shira View Post
    With respect to dance, I think I need to go back to the point I was trying to make in the "Community" thread. I don't doubt that the occasional dance move or musical concept may have crept into a local region's dance style from contact with outsiders. But I had trouble with your assertion in that other thread that the origins of belly dancing had something to do with goddess spirituality and martial arts.



    I don't see resistance in this thread to recognizing the contributions of women to cultural arts. I see a resistance to characterizing women as "outsiders" or "little people".
    I do not see women as "outsiders" or "little people." I'm using this in terms of what power elites are prone to say.

    Incidentally this doesn't just affect the world of oriental dance. There's plenty of prejudice in the world of painting for example.

    I'd like to reiterate once again: I have not said that oriental dance came in its entirety from outside the Middle East.

    But - whether it is "just" a head slide or a hand gesture it does reflect influences from outside the immediate region.

    Those little gestures are important. In the world of rug scholarship a tiny detail can mean the difference between a very rare Salor Turkmen or a far more common Tekke.

    In a greater sense what about my dragon?


  20. #20
    Advanced BHUZzer Elibelinde's Avatar
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    Re: Eastern influences on Middle Eastern Art

    Quote Originally Posted by zumarrad View Post
    I should say my stance is informed by critical transculturalism, whiich is a term coined by Marwan Kraidy. Basically it bridges the gap between "globalisation is evil and crushes cultures under the mighty western foot of corporations, creating a horrrible homogeneity!" and "globalisation is a happy benign fluffy beast in which all participants are equally creative, creating lovely diversity, peace love and understanding!"

    So I recognise and celebrate the fact that cultural creation (and communications, politics etc) is at least a two way if not a many-way street, but I also recognise that there are significant power imbalances going on that can't be overlooked.

    Embarrassingly, I had to look that up again. It's been a while.
    Thank you, I appreciate it.

    I really hadn't heard the term before. The power imbalances are always part of this aren't they.


  21. #21
    Advanced BHUZzer Elibelinde's Avatar
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    Re: Eastern influences on Middle Eastern Art

    As to the goddess business: there's no question in my mind that animist and shamanist, pagan and other religious and cultural influences are alive in the oriental dance world if you'll permit that term.

    I don't like to dwell on this because it often falls into the treacly kind of thing that makes me nuts. It probably makes all of us nuts.

    In fact I was about to start a thread called All This Inner Goddess S Is About To Make Me Crazy...l;,..l;,..l;,

    In seriousness though I mentioned them because the influence of religion on oriental dance was being disregarded - we tend to look at the Middle East as though it's a monolith when in fact it really isn't.

    So I don't think these minority religions and cultures, Eastern and African influences and their impact on the dance can be ignored.

    It's true that the average nightclub performance may not include religious aspects and it's also true that the performer herself may have zero spiritual awareness.

    This does not negate the fact that aspects of oriental dance are performed in cultures and subcultures and by people who are either performing rituals or otherwise are engaged on a spiritual level, whether it's cultural or personal.

    There is a very interesting book on oriental carpets which proposes the majority of professional village weavers were Armenian Christians and that their iconography is present in a very large corpus of woven art. I will have to dig up the exact title and also see if I can find links to a huge argument we had that touched on this topic in the rug world.

    This thesis was quite controversial when it was published; however, it's a fact that many weavers in the Turkish region, in Armenia and in the Caucasian region are in fact Armenian. Proving that the symbolism in the rugs is really Christian and not just a design element is more challenging. And, once you start seeing Christian symbols you start seeing others - Turkmen birds, Shamanist designs, Zoroastrian fires, trees and vases - indeed the prayer arch is said to have come from an earlier time.

    Other designs remain totally mysterious. Their meanings have been lost to us and even to their own weavers.

    This is a situation very similar to the influences seen in oriental dance - this or that hand movement, head slide, hip twist may have importance - in fact some rhythms, like those associated with the zar - are related to certain demons in their ethnographic setting.

    But, in a modern performance, they may just be what in visual art you'd call decorative elements, devoid of any real meaning.

    I guess to a great degree meaning in the dance is something created between a dancer and her audience?

    Of course "something" doesn't have to be there and most of the time, well maybe it's just lovely and fun and that's fine. But there are other levels.


  22. #22
    A journey of ten thousand miles begins with a single post. Zumarrad's Avatar
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    Re: Eastern influences on Middle Eastern Art

    Those little gestures are important. In the world of rug scholarship a tiny detail can mean the difference between a very rare Salor Turkmen or a far more common Tekke.
    So, are you suggesting that different varieties of the dance should be rated as more or less valuable depending on what "rare'" (or otherwise desirable) elements they contain?

    I'm not being belligerent - while I don't like that idea, I'm also thinking, well, we DO put value judgements on versions of the dance. What informs that? How do we determine what is valuable and what does that say about us?
    Last edited by Zumarrad; 09-01-2010 at 08:35 PM.


  23. #23
    Advanced BHUZzer Elibelinde's Avatar
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    Re: Eastern influences on Middle Eastern Art

    Quote Originally Posted by zumarrad View Post
    So, are you suggesting that different varieties of the dance should be rated as more or less valuable depending on what "rare'" (or otherwise desirable) elements they contain?

    I'm not being belligerent - while I don't like that idea, I'm also thinking, well, we DO put value judgements on versions of the dance. What informs that? How do we determine what is valuable and what does that say about us?
    I don't think you can translate something like that directly, certainly not in commercial terms - the Salor hanging might be worth 10 times the Tekke simply because of its rarity and that in itself conjures the history of the two tribes (the Tekke conquered the Salor in about 1832 CE) which adds a further intellectual value to the experience of touching it, holding it. You get to thinking about the people, what happened to the Salor -

    But esthetically or in terms of artistic impact it can be argued that a good Tekke weaving is just as fine as a good Salor.

    So that's where you run into trouble. Rare or expensive doesn't necessarily equal "good."

    Turkish dancers used to get put down all the time (Turkish and/or Turkish style). I don't know if this is still true but there was snobbism about the supposedly greater value of Arabic style dancers.

    Well, I think that's silly. They're just different styles. As far as I'm concerned it's all good.

    But I do think maybe we could start judging our dance, our own dances, whatever the style, a little more in terms of expression, subtlety and artistry - and what about creativity? It's kind of depressing to see people afraid of trying their own thing or being limited to what they've been shown or taught, or stuck in a set of rules, or slaves to the latest fad.

    Your comment about personal creativity on the other thread struck me - I think that is very important. It was an important statement and it's an important concept.

    It is a challenge to be creative within an old, traditional form but I think people respond to a dance that's really alive, you sense the dancer is really trying to say something with her art. So that's where those little gestures can really come into play - they have associations that may be subconscious.

    For that matter some aspects of the dance are working with archetypes. Certain arm positions - the wide swaying hip with arms over the head - those shapes and movements really communicate.


  24. #24
    Advanced BHUZzer caroline_afifi's Avatar
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    Re: Eastern influences on Middle Eastern Art

    Quote Originally Posted by zumarrad View Post
    It's a wonderful paper but I'm just "yes, agree, yes, true, yes, this is a fact, this paper is saying exactly what I like to see!" So I can't really engage in any meaty way because I just think it's super good.
    Yes, me too... but I highlighted a few things which I have felt for some time, but perhaps everyone else agree's too as nobody else wants to comment either! lol


  25. #25
    Advanced BHUZzer caroline_afifi's Avatar
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    Re: Eastern influences on Middle Eastern Art

    [quote]
    Quote Originally Posted by Elibelinde View Post
    In seriousness though I mentioned them because the influence of religion on oriental dance was being disregarded - we tend to look at the Middle East as though it's a monolith when in fact it really isn't.
    Agreed.

    So I don't think these minority religions and cultures, Eastern and African influences and their impact on the dance can be ignored.
    Which dance in particular?

    It's true that the average nightclub performance may not include religious aspects and it's also true that the performer herself may have zero spiritual awareness.
    If this dance is performed by people with zero spiritual awareness, then it could mean they dont need any to to dance ..unless they are Sufi?
    how do you classify personal awareness, is this not spiritual?

    This does not negate the fact that aspects of oriental dance are performed in cultures and subcultures and by people who are either performing rituals or otherwise are engaged on a spiritual level, whether it's cultural or personal.
    worldwide, Belly dance exsists in most cultures and an export.


  26. #26
    Advanced BHUZzer caroline_afifi's Avatar
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    Re: Eastern influences on Middle Eastern Art

    There is a very interesting book on oriental carpets which proposes the majority of professional village weavers were Armenian Christians and that their iconography is present in a very large corpus of woven art. I will have to dig up the exact title and also see if I can find links to a huge argument we had that touched on this topic in the rug world.
    I am struggling to understand the carpet connection here. I understand the discussion about infleunce, but many countries have a 'copy' industry and this has been alive for centuries. These days is maybe fake Amani's but years ago it was anything which was imported expensively from another country. This does not mean it was totally integrated into the culture and became part of it, it may have exsisted as it was. Some products/food have been totally intergrated into culture and this has happend over time.. it exsists everywhere and is not exclusive to one particular region.

    This is a situation very similar to the influences seen in oriental dance - this or that hand movement, head slide, hip twist may have importance - in fact some rhythms, like those associated with the zar - are related to certain demons in their ethnographic setting.
    Oriental dance is a combination various dance moves and steps as experienced and processed via an Egyptian cultural filtering/lens.

    But, in a modern performance, they may just be what in visual art you'd call decorative elements, devoid of any real meaning.
    or has a new meaning defined by the culture to which it is now placed.. perhaps the meaning was never understood or there wasnt one?

    I guess to a great degree meaning in the dance is something created between a dancer and her audience?
    any random dance..maybe. If you are talking about ME dance specifically, then it is related heavily to the culture from which it was born.. regardless of how it was conceived.


  27. #27
    Ultimate BHUZzer Tourbeau's Avatar
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    Re: Eastern influences on Middle Eastern Art

    I don't have anything against dancers who want to make spirituality a part of their dance, but other than a small subset of styles (e.g., dervish whirling and zaar), most of the religious connections to the dance, if and when they existed in the first place, are so unmoored from the current form of the dance that it's hard to see how they are relevant any longer. I've had more than one conversation with a native that ended with an exasperated, "But it's just DANCING! Why do you want to make it something else?" on their side. There is a substantial population in the Middle East that doesn't care if the dance has a basis in paganism, or transcontinental migration of minorities, or women using sexuality as currency in a repressed society, and they don't understand why we are implying they should. As outsiders studying the dance, it's valid to want to examine these ideas, but it's also important to keep them in cultural perspective, lest they become overvalued.

    If you are a religious person of any persuasion, and you bring a lot of spiritual consciousness to everything you do, it will be a big part of your dancing. It is also possible to be an emotionally deep performer with no religious aspect to your art, too. I think the two ideas can get confused because, as a general policy, we don't do a very good job of teaching students how to connect to their art at an emotionally elemental level. Dancers who come into their study with a high degree of religious mindfulness often have a better handle on tapping into themselves than someone who has never had any explanation or experience in the process of making an authentic internal connection to something, but it's not because the first group is more religious or spiritual. It's because they're approaching their performances from a different mind set that they learned as a technique within their religious practice. I think you see a similar phenomenon of success in students with a lot of previous theatrical training, especially acting. The richness that comes from "keeping it real" on stage is not about spirituality and religion. It's about stagecraft, being able to control the self-conscious chatter in your head, and the willingness to make yourself emotionally vulnerable to an audience.


  28. #28
    Mega BHUZzer Lara L's Avatar
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    Re: Eastern influences on Middle Eastern Art

    I personally don't think there is such a thing as a person who is not religious or spiritual- separating religious from a codified religion, it's just a set of practices you do regularly, spirituality being a deeply personal interaction between your inner self & the wider world- no matter what your beliefs, it will affect how you deal with your life daily, and we all bring this to our creative practices. Part of the beauty of dance & other creative forms, IMO, is that it CAN be practiced & reinterpreted by people of widely different religious backgrounds, & still maintain it's authenticity (provided the practitioners are interested in authenticity!)

    As far as importing dance from region to region vs. importing a more tactile product- it is much easier for me to see, feel & be inspired by something physically present. Rugs are a lot easier to transport, trade, leave behind, so I do think you will see a greater degree of mimicry, more borrowing of ideas, in something as tangible as a rug, or a book or scroll if you want to step into the realm of ideas. Even with books, even with religions, which are purposefully and methodically spread, ideas translate differently as they go outwards from their source. Look at the MANY variants on Christian beliefs and practices, or Muslim, or Buddhist etc. Now try to apply that to dance, which, until the advent of video and with a VERY limited number of written accounts, existed purely in the dancer's body. How do you transfer those ideas? Yes, migrant populations will help spread things along. Yes, there were cultural centers where ideas & dances could be shared, but I would argue that this is a much more rare and difficult form of transference. I absolutely believe that dances were influenced by many sources, evolved (& continue to evolve) with input from all over the place at many times. I was trained as a linguist, & I think of dance sharing/evolution in very similar terms.

    What utterly confuses me is the original plea of "why can't we incorporate the spirituality of this dance" which is how I interpreted the original line "In fact our dance overlaps with yoga, religion and martial arts, maybe we should stress some of that? " which is the comment which sparked all of this- I'm not aware of any one religion willing to associate itself with the origins of "this dance"- whether you date 'this dance' back to Egypt in the time of Badia Masabni, to the folk dances/Raks Beledi that preceded it, or the deep distant undocumented past. Part of that is because it IS a fusion, drawing from many different subcultures, even within a single country, say nothing of across the Middle East. There are groups that influenced certain styles more strongly than others, generally CLOSER to the place of origin than far distant China.

    The only overlap I am aware of with Yoga is the modern fitness industry's kidnapping of both Belly Dance & Yoga for it's own purposes, or the individual practitioner's personal habits & belief.


  29. #29
    Ultimate BHUZzer Tourbeau's Avatar
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    Re: Eastern influences on Middle Eastern Art

    Quote Originally Posted by Lara L View Post
    I personally don't think there is such a thing as a person who is not religious or spiritual- separating religious from a codified religion, it's just a set of practices you do regularly, spirituality being a deeply personal interaction between your inner self & the wider world- no matter what your beliefs, it will affect how you deal with your life daily, and we all bring this to our creative practices. Part of the beauty of dance & other creative forms, IMO, is that it CAN be practiced & reinterpreted by people of widely different religious backgrounds, & still maintain it's authenticity (provided the practitioners are interested in authenticity!)
    I personally have a difficult time finding a meaning for the word "spiritual" that does not include some semblance of "religion" or "soul" or "paranormal other-worldliness," and I want to emphasize the "consciousness" and "self awareness" of being a good dancer. The idea of "artist as sentient being" transcends religion, and as such, can apply to people who affiliate with traditional religions and also the hardest hardcore atheists. I don't care if the dancer was a temple priestess thousands of years ago or someone at a party yesterday--dancing is about taking in sensory stimuli and ideas, processing them, and presenting them back as movement and emotion. It doesn't have to be anything more than that, because doing that with complete sincerity of attention and commitment is difficult and meaningful enough.

    Many people seem to be fond of saying, "I'm not religious, but I'm spiritual." What does that mean? Normally, I get the sense it means, "I was raised with some sort of theological structure involving a deity or deities, but I've rejected a good portion of it, especially the trappings of the practice of established religion, so instead, I've kept the conceptual parts I liked and cobbled them together with some new ideas from outside the first tradition because I thought they suited me better." To me, "I'm-not-religious-but-I'm-spiritual" spirituality is not what dancing is about, but I don't know. Maybe the last part about cobbling things together because they suit one's fancy is exactly the sort of "spirituality" that the dance community has.


  30. #30
    Advanced BHUZzer Elibelinde's Avatar
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    Re: Eastern influences on Middle Eastern Art

    Hi everybody,

    I want to respond thoughtfully to all the wonderful comments but today is just crazy.

    So let me do some thinking about all this in the meantime!


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