- To learn about the history and lineage of Oriental dance in North America, I often turn to dancers such as Artemis Mourat, a well known dancer from the East Coast of the United States who, alongside other 3rd generation dancers, has started to 'lift the veil' and explain away the misconceptions surrounding the evolution of the dance in Canada & the US.
Here is a must-read article for any bellydancer who knows the importance of understanding the evolution of this art form and her own dance lineage. Artemis Mourat gives a very, very good overview of the evolution of Bellydance in North America and I will share quotes from it thru-out this Storify story.
- I feel that one of the most basic concepts that needs to be understood is found in the following quote from the article:
" But by the1950s and 1960s, there were numerous ethnic nightclubs that were owned andoperated by people from the Middle East in large American cities like Chicagoand New York. They hired and in some cases brought musicians and dancers fromthe their homelands to perform in these establishments. The best documentedhistory of this era of the dance in America is from the New York dance scene.This was the most powerful precursor to the Oriental dance movement in America,so I will focus on that.
The majority of the dancers in the Middle Easternnightclubs were first generation immigrants:
Then, such dance icons as Anahid Sofian, Morocco, and Sabah Nissan andmany others learned from them. They were the second generation, only onceremoved from the source. They performed in the United States in the 1960s and1970s in the famous Eighth Avenue club district of New York City. Theirgeneration was well versed in many Middle Eastern dance styles ... Those dancers had to be proficient in different dancestyles in order to appeal to the diverse ethnic mix who frequented thenightclubs and restaurants. The patrons were right “off the boat” and the clubswere the one place where they could go and feel like they were in their homeagain, even for a few hours. The combination of different dance styles withinthe same show and even sometimes within the same song, was the beginning of thedance form that some people call the “American Cabaret” style of dance ... The second generation of dancers, taught and inspired my generation(the third) who learned and performed these dances from the 1970s up to thepresent era. The body of knowledge pertaining to this art form wasunsophisticated in America at the time because we were not directly from theMiddle East and we were, after all, the third generation. In the second andthird generation of dance, we did not know about the differences in style. Wesimply did what we were taught and mixed the genres as the clubs, musicians andthe audiences requested. This eclectic art form became its own genre and it hasexisted for almost half a century. It is sometimes mistakenly referred to as aTurkish genre but it is not. There were Pan Arabic and Turkish roots to thisart forms as well."
- Artemis Mourat
- Classic Vintage Oriental routines can have up to 7 parts and last 20 to 40 minutes.
1) Entrance (fast tempo)
2) Veil (bolero or rhumba)
3) Medium tempo tune
4) Taxim (with or without floor work)
5) Drum Solo
6) Finale (fast tempo)
"These days belly dancers usually do 3 part routines; an intro, slow and drum solo. Sometimes if time is tight it's only a 1 part routine."
- Suzy's Belly Dance Blog
Shems Dance has compiled a unique YouTube playlist of Vintage Oriental Dance that show a wide variety of routines & styles in a number of different performance contexts.
You can find whole list here : http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL22639040FF5048A2 …
- The music & the musicians where an important part of the evolution & expression of the style.
"If we go back to the 1950s and 1960s,we see where the Vintage Orientale show came from. The Turkish style was verypopular and it dominated the dance scene in New York. The dancers all learnedfrom each other and each dancers infused her own stylistic touches into whatshe was doing. In addition to this, there were culturally dictated stylisticdifferences between the Pan Arabic groups, consisting of Egyptian andother North African, Lebanese, Syrian and Jordanian dancers and the group whodid Turkish style. The educated eye could tell who was from where. They alldanced with the same musicians so they had to be able to perform to the samemusic. All of the dancers played finger cymbals, regardless of where they werefrom, because that was the way it was for oriental dancers throughout theMiddle East.'
- Artemis Mourat
- As dancers in North America, most of us have dancers in our lineage who was a Vintage Orientale dancer. The Artemis Mourat article gives up insight into who were the key dancers or the 1st & 2nd generation dancers in the style.
“In the sameway that we must understand the historic and ethnic lineage of the dance from othercountries, we must also understand the lineage of that same dance as it hassurvived in our country. We cannot understand the lineage fully withouta clear view of the dance scene in New York City beginning in the 1950s.
The best knowndancers from that first generation of the 1950s and 1960s were:
Semra who were all Turkish or of Turkish descent
and Najma (aPakistani Rromany woman)
and Beyba (a Moroccan woman).
... The second generation of dancers (who learned from thefirst) are
Morocco (a European Rromany woman),
Sabah Nissan (from Chicago),
Nakhla, Saida, I
and also Yildiz
andPandora (both of whom were my teachers early teachers in the early 1970s).
There was a parallel dance movement taking place on the West coast spearheadedby Jamila Salimpour and others. That too is another wonderful part of theVintage Orientale lineage.
Once the fewbut determined American dancers were established in the New York clubs in the1960s and 1970s, they wanted to learn more. The American dancers were crossingthe pond. They mostly visited Syria, Lebanon, Morocco, Egypt and other Arabiccountries to learn and dance. It is extremely important to note that Egypt wasonly one of the places where they went. These Americans from the secondgeneration brought back what they had learned. What emerged from this, in Eastcoast America, were two types of dance: Turkish and Arabic. Nobody did whatpeople call "modern Egyptian style" but rather, it was referred to as"Arabic style” back then.”
- Artemis Mourat
In closing, I will share one finale quote from Artemis Mourat's article in order to understand that although the rise of Modern Egyptian Style has made it one of the more popular styles of our day, it is only one expression of this art form and that learning and maintaining the older styles such as Vintage Oriental is important and valuable to the dance as a whole.
"The “ModernEgyptian” dance began to appear in the very late 1960s and early 1970s. Arabesque Magazine and Habibi Magazine were publishing academicpapers about other dance forms and differences in style. More dancers and danceethnologists started going to Egypt. ... Videos from Egypt and Lebanon begansurfacing in the United States in the 1980s. Some dancers in Cairo had theirown choreographers and many dancers in the United States studied and adoptedthis material. This was all influencing the evolution of oriental dance inAmerica. This was quite different from the dances of the cigarette smoking,zill playing, cane wielding Egyptian women from Mohammed Ali street in Cairo. Anew form was emerging in America and Egyptian elements (or what people thoughtwere Egyptian elements) were rapidly being incorporated into the newly named"Egyptian style of Oriental dance." The so called “Modern Egyptianstyle” of the 1980s is different from what many of the newer dancers are doingtoday. The Turkish style and the Vintage Orientale was slipping into obscuritybecause the New York night clubs were closing one by one so many of the dancerswent on the circuit or retired. This new Egyptian style of dance wasdominating. …
There is anunavoidable drift in styles of Oriental dance every one or two decades becausedance is an ever changing, every evolving art form. So, when people claim to beEgyptian style dancers, the only way to predict how they dance is by knowingwhere they fit in the continuum. Did they learn in the 70s, the 80s or the 90sand from whom? Did they learn in the United States, in Europe or in Cairo? Theultimate point is that no one style is superior or inferior within the EgyptianOriental dance lineage. This should be obvious but what is less obvious to somepeople is that no one style is superior or inferior when comparing Egyptian,Lebanese, Turkish or Vintage Oriental. We desperately need people to preservethe dance styles of each country and from each era within each country. Thenewer styles and fusion forms (such as American Tribal Style) are wonderful andthey have a right to be here. But the older styles become endangered when theyare not remembered, respected, documented and when they are no longer taught."
- Artemis Mourat