Friday, April 23, 2004

Doing a blog or blogging or whatever the unattractive word is for an interesting activity quickly becomes an obligation. I put up this thing announcing that I would soon vent about everything that had annoyed me into leaving the web--I'm sure you've all been checking eagerly waiting for the spew of invective that would surely pour out-- only to realize that writing is more difficult than haranguing buddies on the telephone.

And harangue I did. Those of you who called up to find out what had happened to BDNY know what I mean. Those of you who emailed got an abridged version but invective was not absent. For everyone else, well, let's start with events leading up to the eclipse of Belly Dance NY...

It was around the end of January that this website disappeared. During the two weeks prior to its disappearance several bits of belly dance sewage floated by causing me no end of aggravation. They probably won't sound like much to you but to me, after a couple of years of increasing discontent with the direction the dance scene had been taking, they were just too much.

Let's start with the Graham Norton Show. Remember how cold it was in January? Bone chilling, teeth rattling, sub freezing, instant frostbite, arctic air mass cold Somewhere in the middle of a two week spell of highs below 25ยบ F a woman with an posh accent called from London enthusing that it would be "brilliant" to have some belly dancers standing outside in costume at an identifiably NYC location waving and yelling "Hello from New York! It's the Graham Norton Show!" In other words to make complete asses of themselves on two continents for what she assured me would be little or no money. But it wouldn't take long. The camera person and the producer didn't want to linger outside. Could I please find her some dancers? Really, it didn't matter if they could dance; it would be "brilliant" just to have them wave. To my everlasting shame I made a call to an amateur performance group thinking they might have some fun with it. They were too smart to take the date and I gave up, wincing over having gotten sucked in to this stunt at all. For those of you who don't know but might care, "brilliant" has replaced "smashing".

Meanwhile across town at Macy's a couple of extremely youthful newbies were assisting in the debut of a cosmetic line by wriggling out of context but in full cabaret at the counter. At least I didn't have any part in arranging this and I didn't see it, but I did hear about it from the person who booked the date. She regarded it as a good thing. I muttered something unkind, "side-show" if memory serves, and got off the phone before I lost a friend.

And what else? Oh yes, the great Letterman non-event. This one is too complicated to condense. Suffice it that a lot of people were inconvenienced and wasted irretrievable hours of their lives on something that never happened in which once again dancers were featured as figures of semi fun. The deal was Dave was supposed to enter through them to open the show. The casting call said that appearance mattered more than dance skill but at least here the chosen ones were supposed to be able to dance. And would be paid union scale. Punch line: Dave decided the whole bit was a non-starter.

At this point probably far too many of you are probably asking what I found unpalatable about the above. After all, the dance or at least dancers were getting exposure and as Barnum famously noted, there's no such thing as bad publicity. That's okay: ten years ago I probably would have wondered, what the big deal was myself, Actually it's very simple--the dance and dancers were being treated as a joke at worst and cute bits of T & A at best and no one was complaining. We'll discuss whether belly dance, raqs sharqi, dance oriental, whatever is a high art at another time but for now let's just say that many of us have worked hard to learn how to dance well and devoted significant time to studying music and cultural context. While we may function as public entertainers facilitating other peoples' good times we don't entertain by being ridiculous. A person in a cabaret costume should not evoke the same reaction or expectations as someone wearing baggy pants, a rubber nose, and floppy shoes or someone in pasties and a g-string. And yet, as demonstrated by the three instances above, we clearly do. And what's worse, too many of us gleefully line up for our turn in the unlovely limelight.

Or have I, after 20 years in and around the biz and 8 years of efforting with Belly Dance NY, lost my sense of humor? After all, Itzhak Perlman not only played for the Muppets: He was willing to be a total klutz on a cooking show sloshing scrambled eggs all over his stove. When asked by friends how he, the great Itzhak Perlman, could stoop so low he said, "It's all one show business."

But is it? Stay tuned...