Yes, my dear Skirt!istas, I just got back from the International Bellydance Conference of Canada in Toronto, an entire four days devoted to dancing, talking about dance, watching movies about dance, listening to lectures about dance, buying dance clothes…you get the picture.
I didn’t get to go for the whole four days, actually, because my flight got delayed on account of the Icelandic volcano ash cloud. But fortunately I did get there in time to deliver my presentation on the belly dance community in Second Life (yes, I think it’s weird too, but how interesting, eh?)
I was presenting as part of a panel of academics writing about belly dance and community issues, particularly globalization. I can’t tell you how wonderful it was to be around people who understood both the academic and the dance parts of my research. Most of the time I’m either trying to explain terms like ‘hermeneutical’ and ‘ethnography’ and ‘trope’, or trying to explain why yes, actually, it is important to study dance, even this particular kind.
Because of this the other dance academics and I bonded pretty quickly. It’s not often we get to have such wide-ranging conversations, especially when followed by truly world-class dancing. Unfortunately several of the performers and teachers who had been planning to come over from Egypt got turned back on their way through England–I was the only one who made it past the volcano cloud, it seems!
My favorite evening was the closing-night party. The gala showcase at the Ryerson Theatre had been very beautiful as well, but I always prefer belly dancing in a smaller setting, because for me a big part of what makes performances special is individual interaction with the performers–a gesture, a facial expression. The spontaneity of responding to the crowd. It’s very difficult to have that on a traditional proscenium stage. Plus the whole crowd was able to get up and dance at the party, and in a theatre the best you can do is squirm around in your seat a little. My colleague from New Zealand summed it up when she said how thrilled she was to be so completely surrounded by inspirational dancers from all corners of the globe–some of whom complimented her on her style!
Personally, when I’m in a room full of skilled belly dancers, I have a hard time feeling comfortable dancing myself. I tend to feel more like a chunk of granite surrounded by diamonds. The atmosphere at the IBCC was very friendly and there wasn’t that sense of competitive rivalry that is so often found floating around large groups of performers. I think part of me feels like my credibility as a dance researcher will be undermined when dancers, the community that I research, see that I’m just not up to the professional standard that they are. I am sure this is a matter of internal perception rather than objective reality. Plus, from the beginning of my getting involved with belly dance I always, always knew I didn’t want to be a professional dancer, so it isn’t really fair to hold myself up to that standard anyway. (Why not? Mainly because for me, dancing was always a retreat from my daily life. If I made it the thing upon which my livelihood depended, I knew I would feel it had become a chore rather than a joy. To be honest, some of this crept in during my PhD research anyway–I loved my research, and I still love dancing, but I didn’t get to the end of a day writing about dancing and then want to go to dance class. I’m done writing about it now, though! Until I publish my thesis, anyway…)
In any case, the performances were absolutely stunning on both nights. My favorite thing was exchanging cards with a new researcher who is about to start her PhD in Performance Studies–the pool of belly dance research experts just keeps growing!