Beg, Borrow or Steal……Moves

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Beg, Borrow or Steal......Moves - Leyla Najma's Belly Dance BlogYears ago when I was in Egypt I was watching TV and was overjoyed to see belly dancing on many of the channels. As I settled down and started watching the dancing something came to my mind. The dancer who I was watching was Nagua Fuad in all her glory. She did an amazing dance but I could have sworn I had seen it somewhere or something similar. I couldn’t put my finger on it so I kept on watching her dance and than bingo; I remembered where I had seen it. The performance Nagua Fuad had performed was from around the 60’s or early 70’s and a performance that looked similar to hers was done by a dancer in the later part of the 80’s. Since I was in my infancy of learning belly dancing at that point I didn’t know if it was ok to imitate a well known dancer. The moves were different but the essence of the dance was definitely from Nagua Fuad. It made me wonder about choreography and how our dance is actually passed down from dancer to dancer. Taking it a few steps further, I wondered about themes in dance, terminology, and styles. With so many dancers in our community, how can we actually know if moves are original or taken from other dancers? Does it matter?

So I started to look at choreography taught in classes and workshops. With so many workshops happening and so many wonderful dancers teaching their choreography should they copyright their moves? Is this even possible, necessary or practical? Actually this would be futile because there is no way to really say a move is yours unless you are a famous dancer and your style is well known. What about the wonderful dancers that are not as well known who teach their choreography locally at workshops? What happens when their choreography is taken and danced by others? If a dancer takes a specific group of moves and performs them in a show out of state and than says they are hers there is no way for anyone to really know if they are or aren’t. So my question is, should we as dancers share the wealth of information and tell others our secrets?
We are all inspired by various dancers and it is logical to assume that most dancers go to workshops or take classes locally for the choreography. But what happens when another dancer takes information taught in a workshop or class and starts to teach and dance it as her own with no credit given to the original teacher? Is this stealing? So this led me to another question regarding “borrowing” another dancer’s style of eloquence. Again if a dancer is not well known, her style of speaking along with her dance technique can be stolen. How would any dancer prove this? With our dance community the way it is, this would be impossible. So the responsibility lies within each dancer and her duty to give credit where credit is due. There are two types of dancers; those who want all the glory for themselves or those who are willing to share the glory. You just have to figure out which one you are.

So let’s now talk about a topic that I find very interesting, the workshop “double up.” How many event coordinators have had other dancers schedule in workshops on the same weekend? We have all heard stories about this happening. I can’t quite figure out how this happens. Do you know how many days there are in a year? Think about it, it’s pretty dumb of a dancer that knows there’s a workshop happening on a particular weekend to go ahead and schedule in a workshop on that same weekend. Scheduled dates should be respected and honored because to me it’s like stealing money from your own community.
The Bottom line is that for a certain amount of dancers this is a business. Yes, competitive but since when are we just like Corporate America?

I have friends who have taught for years and have their own formula that they created throughout their dance years of trial and error. To understand this right of passage takes years of training but unfortunately for younger dancers this is a hard lesson for them to understand. This right of passage takes years of training because the best way to teach is through experience. You can give your students not only the choreography but the memory of performing it. This skill cannot be borrowed because the authenticity would only be a weak imitation of the original.
So how can anyone teach another person’s style and not give them credit? I can remember when I started out dancing it never occurred to me that I would get to where my teacher was in a short amount of time, I always knew my place. There are no short cuts in this dance. You can’t take what you don’t understand or appreciate. And to me taking what you have not worked hard for is just plain stealing. Could you imagine if you were at work and someone went to your desk and said, “Sorry, I’m taking over your job”. It’s the same thing.

What about great ideas and themes for shows? Have you ever had an idea for a show and mentioned it to another dancer and before you knew she put on a show with your idea? I had this done to me years ago and realized that I just plain and simple had a big mouth. But what about the dancer that ran with my idea? What was her responsibility to me? She should have asked me first, period! To me she stole my intellectual property. When it comes to productions and shows it is so important to respect the themes and ideas that dancers come up with. If you know what a theme of a show is ahead of time respect the time line before you do something similar. Last year I was blessed to put together a theatrical production with a close friend of mine Rozana Al Jinan called “Cleopatra’s Court”. It was an achievement that we are both still proud of today. As we were putting together ideas for the theatrical production which included the theme and name, this feeling of needing to protect our ideas came to the forefront. The bottom line for both of us was to make it an original production. We wanted to make sure that our production was able to get off its feet before we spread the word. But I have to tell you I was really worried that someone would steal our idea. This means either two things, that I’m paranoid or that my dance community is the kind of community that would run with the idea. So I decided to settle on being paranoid.

Today’s dancers are in the age of instructional and performance DVDs and most dancers find it easier to purchase them and view them in the comfort of their own living room. We can also view old videos of famous dancers and combine many different styles. So can a dancer today really say “This is my move”? I have an instructional DVD out and I welcome dancers taking the combinations that I teach and using them. I am the end product of many teachers so I feel I am sharing with dancers what my teachers taught me. In a way we are all combinations of many teachers and dancers who influenced our careers. So when we learn a move and perform it we keep it alive. I guess what I’m getting at is that when a seasoned dancer has nothing to prove in her dance but only to dance for the pure joy of it, she than becomes the essence of the dance. This can’t be copied or stolen because the essence of each dancer’s spirit is unique unto herself. If each dancer keeps her dance a definition of who she is than the bottom line is she won’t feel the need to take what is not hers. So did it matter that I saw a performance that was imitated, you be the judge. I saw two slightly different versions of a similar choreography that both dancers performed well. And in the end they were both memorable. I’d like to share a poem from Ruth St. Denis with you because in the end we never stop searching for the perfect dance, the perfect move or the perfect meaning to our creativity.

The gods have meant that I should dance
And in some mystic hour I shall move to
Unheard rhythms of the cosmic orchestra
Of heaven and you will know the language
Of my wordless poems and will come to me
For that is why I dance.

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About Leyla Najma
Lifelong professional Belly Dancer dedicated to providing "Belly Dance Instruction That Is Easy To Understand And Learn That Connects The Dots"

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