Dance Sociological Analysis
at Table 31, there do not seem to be
many new movements being developed in this timeframe. There are the oldest
kinemes, plus the more recent ones that have, by now, become part of the
movement vocabulary and various allokines. A new kineme, which I have seen Mona
el Said do during her drum solo, today is referred to a ‘belly flutters’, tiny
and fast vibrations of the upper abdominals in isolation.
Table 32 and Table 33 summarise the main themes emerging from this timeframe.
One of the strongest themes is how powerful the influence of economics, politics and taste can be for the survival of dance/heritage.
In the mid-1990s, almost suddenly, raqs sharqi shows disappear because of a lack of customers interested in going to the nightclubs where the dances were being performed.
This was due to political events and change in the taste of Egyptian audiences, as explained earlier.
A growing religious conservativism in Egypt did not help, but conservativism alone would have not been able to bring the industry down so suddenly.
Not even the social restrictions of a conservative father such as Mona al Said’s, who wanted to kill her for being a dancer, stopped her from pursuing her career.
It might have been different if the economic climate had not supported a career in dance. In this situation, economic capital seemed to be much more powerful than any other form of capital to support the arts and, therefore, the survival of this heritage.
This same financial capital aided the transcultural transmission of raqs sharqi, as clubs with Arabic music and dance opened in London.
This is significant for raqs sharqi, a genre aimed, from its inception, at catering for a section of society with higher than average economic capital.
Authenticity, Feelings and Attitudes
Regarding authenticity, in this timeframe, the idea of specific feelings and attitudes associated with raqs sharqi is still present in the discourse.
The feelings are the same, that is:
- sense of humour
- interaction with the audience
- minimalism and sincerity.
Additionally, the idea of charisma emerges, as Fifi Abdou is the quintessentially charismatic performer.
Through her embodiment of dance traditions, she drew the audiences in, fusing (Preston-Dunlop, 2010, p. 7) ‘all the participants in the event in a multilayered tangible process’.
Music and musicality are also central. It is possible to see this visually in the videos of dance we have, whether from movies, TV shows or live performances, as the musicians are very often present, playing a variety of instruments, accompanying the dancer and interacting with her in a very subtle way.
The importance of music for dancers and their embodied relationship to it, is stressed by Sedlmeier, Weigelt and Walther (2011, p. 303), who, during their research, pointed out how ‘dancing might increase the liking for the music one is dancing to’.
Body of Heritage and Raqs sharqi
In this timeframe, the body of heritage associated with raqs sharqi keeps consolidating.
One characteristic that seems now part of the raqs sharqi heritage is the dialectic between afrangi and baladi elements in the dance, with some dancers being more closely associated with one rather than the other influence.
For instance, Fifi Abdou is very baladi, while Lucy, even though she was born in a poor part of Cairo (the dancer’s own class background does not seem to determine her choice of dance style) is more classical and ‘elegant’, thus embodying the upper-class influences on this dance.
Mona al Said seems to be somewhere in between. In terms of movement vocabulary, in addition to the traditional kinemes, we see how new kinemes and allokines created by dancers over the years, are repeated by successive generations of dancers, becoming part of a body of traditions that grow as a living form of heritage.
Also, the reference to dancers of the past remains strong with, for example, Lucy comparing her arms movements to Samia Gamal’s.
Raqs Sharqi, Heritage and Tangible Artefacts
It becomes clear, in this timeframe, how heritage assumes a tangible form in artefacts, such as the new video cassettes with dance shows that are sold in and out of Egypt, or embodied in people, as famous performers from this era teach internationally when they get older.
The dialectic between traditions and change is not so strong in this era, as none of the most prominent dancers seems to want to innovate anything dramatically.
Each has her own style, but there is no strong desire to innovate. A trend started by Fifi Abdou in this era is mimicking the words of the songs and using gestures to express them.
She was the only one, up until her time, to do it, but it became commonplace later on, with dancers such as Dina and Randa Kamel following this trend.
Also, Fifi was the first to use the shisha pipe (smoking it in the midst of performance) during her show, which was a combination of comedy, music and dance.
The shisha did not become a very common prop in the raqs sharqi repertoire. Nevertheless recently, other dancers, such as Galit Mersand in the UK (Duran, 2010), have been inspired by Fifi and used the shisha in their own performances, causing the shisha to become part of the raqs sharqi body of heritage.
In this timeframe, there are some new elements that surface in connection with the Living Heritage Framework (3.7).
Kinaesthetics and Feelings
Firstly, feelings are still important and in particular, the term ‘charisma’ emerges in reference to Fifi Abdou, whereby she manages to transmit strong emotions and create a strong kinaesthetic empathy with the audience.
Secondly, economic capital comes forth as the most important capital for the survival of the Egyptian raqs sharqi tradition, which shows the influence of social fields on the fields of cultural production.
Also, taste is still very relevant as something that can impact on the survival of heritage or transform it radically.
This is not just the case for Egyptian raqs sharqi as, for example, Baghirova (2007) explains that Azerbaijani Mugham (a musical style) is changing from an improvisational style with meditative feeling to a style that focuses more on technical virtuosity, due to changes in the taste of its audiences.
Tangible Aspects and Embodied Feelings of Dance Heritage
Thirdly, the tangible aspects of heritage emerge strongly, such as for example the artefacts (video cassettes) in which the tradition is imprinted, or iconic dancers who start teaching and become personifications or embodiments of heritage.
Finally, a contrast has risen in this timeframe with regards to performers who embody feelings connected with different social classes: Fifi Abdou (baladi) and Lucy (afrangi).
Just as previously noticed, the dancers’ individual personalities may explain their inclinations.
It is less clear how their socio-cultural background might influence their disposition, as Lucy came from a working-class background (although she might have wanted to show her ambitions to social mobility through her dance).
However, in this timeframe, it seems more than ever that identifying oneself with one class or another is a structural resource used by dancers in their presentation of self-identity, to position themselves in the field.
The necessity to adopt a presentation of self-identity for marketing purposes seems even more relevant in this timeframe, as dancers have even more media at their disposal through which to present themselves: cinema, television and video cassettes (all of which can be accessed internationally).
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