MOTIONAL QUALITIES - type of force of movement
ABSTRACTION - symbolic interpretation
SPECTATOR - one who witnesses
PARTICIPANT - one who is included
GESTURE - descriptive or symbolic movement
UDAY SHANKAR - Indian male dancer of the 1920's
XENIA ZARINA - European dancer and researcher of Eastern dance of the 1930's
LA MERI - American performer and dance researcher of the 1930's
ISADORA DUNCAN - American dancer of the early 1900's
RUTH ST. DENIS - sometimes called Mother of Modern Dance
TED SHAWN - noted American male dancer, married to St.Denis
DENISHAWN - first school of modern dance with Eastern motifs in the U.S.
MAXINE ADAMS MILLER - innovative dancer in California in the 1930's
CRITERIA FOR OBSERVING EASTERN DANCE STYLES
The following concepts and vocabulary are useful in studying ethnic dance with the following as a guideline:
A. Basic elements of dance:
a. symmetrical - equal on each side
b. asymmetrical - different on one side than the other
c. solo vs. group - shape of combined bodies, juxtaposition
a. line - most important; connected, disconnected
1. direction travelling
2. direction facing - focus
3. 1 and 2 combined
b. levels - high, low, spatial placement of body
c. spatial relationships - relative use of area
d. volume - depth or intensity of space
a. dance time - moving to dance phrase, counterpoint between dancers or dancer and music
b. musical time - moving to rhythm
4. Motional qualities
a. burst - jumps, etc.
b. restrained - as if moving against a force, tension
c. sustained - no tension, lyrical
d. undulating - vibratory movement
5. Abstraction - almost interpretive meaning of the dance
B. Two general categories of dance:
l. Spectator or exhibition dance
This would include ballet, modern, tap, and some
ballroom or staged dance for example.
2. Participant dance
This could also be called social dance, such as disco,
folk dance, some ballroom dance for example.
C. Categories of ethnic dance
1. Recreational or participatory
This refers to dances usually done spontaneously at social gatherings.
2. Staged folk dance - traditional folk dances reconstructed in a performance situation
3. Theatrical or drama dances - dance dramas which usually depict some aspect of a culture through
storytelling using some style of dance in the drama.
This refers to dance which intentionally creates a spiritually elevating effect on artist and audience.
Not intended for an actual audience.
This information will help us witness dance in genuine
social context as well as those created for performance before any general audience. The similarities,
differences, some crossovers or shared aspects should be observed.
DIFFERENCES BETWEEN EAST AND WEST
Dances of Eastern nations are essentially gesture dance.
In many cultures, the human body became an instrument of gesture and symbolism, speaking for the spirit
in worship of a god. While, in contrast, the ancient Greeks who idealized man, made the human body a
crucible of energy. Thus, the dance in the West became an expression of action, whereas Eastern dance
focuses mainly on contemplation. This can apply to the classical temple dances as well as the peasant
or farmer dances since each originates with the purpose of pleasing a god, whether in pure worship or
to encourage agricultural benefits.
Western dance has become synonymous with entertainment,
either in the social or theatrical arena, and is designed to show the causes of man's inner conflicts
in relation to the world, but mainly as they reflect his being, therefore his dances are descriptive
because they are dramatic. Eastern dances are descriptive because they are reflective, therefore they
deal rationally with earthly conflicts and offer a stylized depiction of eternal and universal actions.
Dance in the East has never unbound it's ties with sacred or religious rites and many include ceremonious
rituals within or surrounding theatrical performances. Whereas dance in the West underwent a forced
separation of drama and dance during the Middle Ages when the church split body from soul.
The dances of Western man have been designed and shaped
by individuals and so they include a particular stamp of personality. In a steady stream of innovations
they have changed and have become representative of each new age, and often of a particular individual.
The dances of the East, on the other hand, have been shaped collectively and sequentially by dance masters
who avoided the stamp of their personality upon their art, and also avoided making current social statements.
But rather they endeavored to preserve and perfect the conventions of an existing style. However, by
perfecting their art, by preventing it from deteriorating or becoming sterile, they may well have contributed
unrecognizable, subtle variations into the art. They have delighted in mastering their art, this alone has
been their professional reward, free from personal aggrandizement.
Differences in approach and technique are witnessed as
predictable products of the two different worlds of East and West. While the West rewards individuals
for their personal innovations and creativity, the East maintains traditional form with an innate
controlling force. The love-sex aspect in Eastern dance for example, is always associated with a higher,
sacred love. Human love, abstracted into stylized gesture and facial expression, symbolizes love for
the divine. While in dance of the West this female-male relationship is shown fairly openly in a purely
human and earthly sense.
Western ballet history has developed with the idea of
conquering space, at grand use of floor design, where dancers interact and the ground is not only a
point of departure but also an active participant, most noticeably with the modern dancer's dominant
use of the floor as a new dimension. In contrast to the Western active and aggressive approach, the
Eastern dancer is not space-conscious; he does not conquer the ground but integrates it into his
dance pattern. This concept seems contradictory or almost ironic to the Western observer of a dance
so closely linked with spiritual purpose and elevation. With the tremendous emphasis on gesture and
facial expression, the slightest change in movement language indicates a whole new world of emotions.
To duplicate such a range of expression, the dancer in the West would require a more vast array of movements.
Technically speaking, the Eastern dance generally appoints
the role of interpretation to the upper part of the body. A central line, like a rod, runs through it, giving
the trunk a rigid appearance and providing a base for character and style. Each country has it's own unique
hand movements which are most often the foremost part of the dance or drama. Therefore, more than any other
gesture, the use of the hands reveals the country of origin, with head and eye movement next in order of
identification and importance.
In most Eastern countries the dance has retained those links
with religious faith that were once the mainspring of Western dance, but which have long since vanished.
Union with the earth is resolute in Eastern dance as is the stylized use of torso, head, neck, hands, arms
and fingers. In addition, for many Eastern cultures the stage assumes a symbolic aspect; representing the
world and even the universe, as it becomes an area upon which the dance may be used to invoke the beneficent
influences of heaven.. Within these technical and expressive gestures, and often simple and subtle staging,
lies endless symbolism, whose aesthetic effect and untold beauties extend beyond the obvious.
EASTERN DANCE IN AMERICA
Dances of Eastern cultures have been introduced to the
United States, and Western Europe, by many noted native experts. Following these experts are several
American and European dance researcher who have added to the general exposure of various Eastern dances.
The 1920's witnessed a sudden interest in "exotic" dances and at this time we see both traditional Eastern
dances emerging in the West as well as the application of Eastern dance motifs in ballet and developing into
the infancy of the modern dance genre. Therefore, many of these experts, both natives of the particular
culture as well as the alien student / researchers did not always present the dances in the original format
but also blended traditional and modern dance forms, oftentimes creating an entirely new product.
According to Eastern tradition, those who maintained purely traditional forms did not always earn recognition
and fame since their goal was not bringing innovations to the tradition, while those making major changes have
often gained notoriety. We should keep in mind that in the East, fame and personal aggrandizement was not the
goal; in fact, eliminating the ego (or nafs in Persian philosophy) would be of prime importance. Suggested
reading regarding most of the persons noted here is available in the bibliography since this section offers
a mere mention of their involvement.
We have native dance masters and researchers such as Mei Lan-Fang
and others to thank for saving the ancient dance forms from the world. To this list we add Uday Shankar who made
a huge impact on the world of dance with his enormous skill creating masterpieces based on traditional Indian dance.
Numerous Spanish dancers have encouraged the addition of Spanish characteristics seen in many ballets and this
affection for blending the two genres was shared by European and American dancers thereafter
Among the most noted American dancers who yearned for the spiritual
qualities of Eastern dance was Isadora Duncan, the barefoot dancer who in 1905 traveled to Russia and caused an
aesthetic explosion. Her impact on Europe was monumental, and found her loved in Greece and Russia as well. She
wanted to bury all tradition and erase the memory of the immediate past by going back to the simplicity of the
ancient Greeks. Isadora's technique was purely her own creation based on inspiration gained from her own personal
study and meditation. Her style, as seen in Eastern dance forms, was not so much a display of physical feats, but
an expression of human emotion to which all could relate. In it's simplicity she held firm, and it may be her
belief in her ideals which gained her so much acclaim. It has been said that Isadora's dancing was not of the
body but of the soul.
An American dancer who made a tremendous impact and is often called
the Mother of modern dance, was Ruth St. Denis who began her theatrical career in the 1890's and inspired the
future greats in modern dance through her courageous innovations. The story claims she was inspired by the image
of the Egyptian goddess Isis pictured on a cigarette poster and this commonplace experience led her to an interest
in Eastern art and philosophy. From then on she created oriental dances that she presented in a highly theatrical
and westernized form. In time she partnered and married dancer Ted Shawn and together with their dance company and
school became the ambassadors for Eastern flavor in Western dancing, creating major productions based on Eastern themes.
Ted Shawn 1891-1972, a dedicated creative dancer, offered the public
the male versions of the styles of dance in the East, but more than that Shawn was a master of emoting expression.
He studied and taught the Delsarte concept of translating emotion into movement and included this while adding Eastern
themes to modern dance.
Xenia Zarina, born in Brussels, studied Eastern dance from 1936-1947
at the royal courts of many Far Eastern nations such as Thailand, India, Java, Bali, Cambodia and Japan. A former
ballerina, Ms. Zarina dedicated herself to learning the true traditional dances, their histories, original motives
and assorted aspects such as costuming, makeup, props, and of course spiritual applications. Her research has been
invaluable in the effort to disseminate information, enhancing understanding of age old traditions.
La Meri (Russell Meriwether Hughes), born in 1898 was famed for her
contribution to Eastern dance styles, most notably in the field of Spanish dance. She has authored several books
including her experiences in the field of ethnic dance. La Meri performed with other famous dancers of the time and
combined her ballet and western dance knowledge with the popular and fascinating movements and themes of the East.
As noted above, Isadora Duncan was one of the first American dancers who
endeavored to recreated or represent dance of the ancient East. Ruth St. Denis also was enamored with Eastern dance and
attempted to present the mood and soul of those art forms in her performances. But they were not the only ones. Among
those who were fascinated with Eastern dance was Maxine Adams, a ballet dancer trained by Pavlova's partner, Michael Mordkin.
Maxine Adams, who operated her own ballet academy, had attended school in Florence Italy and was the first debutante
from the American West to be presented at the Court of Saint James. On May 25th, 1931, at the University of Southern
California, Maxine and other USC students whom she trained, presented a program of dance to poetry recitation. On the
program were items such as "Anklet Bells", "The Dancer in the Shrine", "The Greek Dance", "Indian Dancers", etc.
The program, which represented a first of it's kind in the country, received favorable coverage in the Los Angeles
Examiner. Of course, certain rhythmic lines by the Persian mystic poet Molavi have been used to accompany Sufi
movements or dance for centuries in the Middle East, so the idea was not totally new. But Maxine used the novel
concept of a chorus of reciters to accompany the dancers which included natives from India and Indonesia. In the
Examiner article, Maxine is pictured in a long full dress with a veil shawl on her head, a costume which could be
acceptable for Persian miniature dance today. In another photo, she is attired in an Indian sari, complete with
a spot on her forehead. One dance which Maxine did was an interpretation of the piece, "In a Persian Market",
which was a foreshadowing of her future when in 1958, along with her husband and children she went to live in
Persian (Iran) for two years. Her husband, Sherman Miller, had been invited by the Iranian government to set up
a college of business and met with the Shah. Maxine spent her time in Iran preparing a book on the country that
later became a best seller and was used as a text book in several schools throughout the country. The Shah awarded
her a medal of honor for the book which showed Iran in a positive light.
As we see, it is evident that authentic Eastern dance has been correctly
absorbed and understood by only a minute handful of Western performers such as Zarina. Most of what is titled Eastern
and more particularly Middle Eastern dance has unfortunately become a shameful sham degrading to the people of the
Middle East as well as those who misrepresent them. The case of Eastern music in America is not quite as grim.
There have been some laudable attempts by American musicians to absorb and adopt Eastern music. This is partly
due to a few centers affiliated with institutions of higher learning such as the Institute for Ethnomusicology at UCLA.
During the 1960's, Eastern instrumental performance was taught to a
large number of enthusiasts. Of the several skilled students of Eastern music, one of the pioneers in this field was
Lloyd C. Miller who went to Iran in 1958 for a year then to Paris to study Iranian music with master Daryush Safvat
and Vietnamese music and ethnomusicology with master Tran Van Khe. Miller returned to earn a BA in Asian studies
from Brigham Young University in Utah and an MA in Middle East studies from University of Utah where he initiated
performance classes in Eastern music. In 1970, he was awarded a Fullbright Scholarship to complete his doctoral
dissertation in Iranian music. Miller stayed in Iran seven more years, totaling 13 years study overseas. He has
mastered several instruments of various Eastern traditions as well as most jazz instruments in all jazz styles.
Miller is dedicated to correctly representing Eastern musical traditions and is a firm believer in following a
strict spiritual path which renders his performance skills totally authentic in form and spirit. In 1978 Miller
was appointed by the Iranian National Television and master Safvat to return to America and set up a center similar
to the Center in Iran established by Safvat at the television in Tehran in 1970. Miller chose Utah as a geographic
center between various Eastern studies centers in America (including Hawaii). He then founded the Society for
Preservation and Propagation of Eastern Arts known as Eastern Arts, which has been one of the only nationally
active organizations which preserves and promotes authentic Eastern music and dance styles through concerts,
workshops, publications, DVDs, DCs and other methods.
THE DARK SIDE OF DANCE
Dedication to authenticity struggles with the power of
consumerism, commercialism and lack of respect for tradition by way of the belly dance craze fad of the 1970's
and earlier. It has been said by an American belly dance researcher, "The danse orientale, which has captured
the imagination of so many people in the Western world and has motivated thousands of women to participate in
dance classes, was born in the 1920's" and it should be added that this was in a handful of low class cabarets
of the Near East, usually performed by women of questionable reputation to increase their
number of ‘clients.’ Thus, it was performed as a type of vaudeville routine by women mostly seeking self
validation through sexual sensationalism rather than a serious traditional dance form. Another noted researcher
states, "This commercialism produced unqualified professionals to teach and merchants who sold a lot of junk." With
the questionable and unsavory reputation of belly dance, Greek dance expert Ted Petrides has noted that the Greeks are
quick to assert that it is not Greek but from the Turks, passing off the blame. Petrides also notes that belly dance was
“performed before engaged or newly married couples to instruct them in the attitudes and movements appropriate
to the art and act of love.” He adds that "prostitution was also instituted as an adjunct to the dancing.”
Viviane Lievre in Dances du Maghreb d’une rive a l’autre describes belly dancers using terms such as “synonomous
with prostitutes,” “pagan rites,” “sacred prostitution,” phallic cult,” and more. Belly dance expert Serena Wilson
writes that “These are dancers who, standing in one place, perform highly sexual movements for the purpose of
instructing the uninitiated in sexual matters.” La Meri agrees writing that “the famous (or should one say infamous?)
‘danse du ventre’ is a pantomme of sexual possession.” Middle East dance expert of past eras Armen Ohanian
agrees writing “it became the horrible danse du ventre, the ‘hootchie-koochie.’ To me a nauseating revelation
of unsuspected depths of human bestiality, to others it was - amusing. I heard lean Europeans chuckling. I saw
lascivious smiles upon even the lips of Asiatics, and I fled.” It goes without saying that Islam, the main religion
of the Middle East does in no way allow such activities and manner of dressing. In Reveal and Conceal Andrea Rugh
quotes Sheikh Mawdoudi noting that “a truly devout woman will not display parts of her body in order to attract men.”
All this demonstrates that belly dance does not represent the Middle East nor its people and thus should be shunned by
any sensitive and respectful member of any society.
Various myths surround the American belly dance craze, including
its origins, some indicating childbirth rites. Such undulating movements have been recorded as used in pagan rites,
such as those initiating fertility ritual, however the motive, attitude, costuming and surrounding aspects have been
brutally distorted by commercialism and the greed of many unscrupulous performers. At the 1893 Columbian Exposition
in Chicago, "Middle Eastern" dance was witnessed as a Syrian woman who became associated with the name Little Egypt
introduced unseemingly exagerated erotic movements. The performances had been perceived as indecent and were
soon limited to a simple promenade of costumes. Such "muscle dancing", as it came to be called, was seen in the Cairo
Theatre at the midwinter Exhibition in San Francisco and several Little Egypts appeared at Coney Island side shows and
on tour in the Midwest. Everyone who wanted to appear sexy and enticing or who might choose to jump out of a cake to
dance for stag parties or other such activities adopted the name Little Egypt. Unfortunately, strippers found the
"Dance of the Seven Veils" routine an exotic and convenient shtick. All of this with no regard for the native Egyptian
woman at all. It is doubtful that the native dancers from the various Middle Eastern countries who have brought their
dances to America ever intended for us to see them in this light.
Since that time, Middle Eastern dance has taken a wrong turn in America
with the continuation of the myth that it must be represented by blatant and degrading exhibitionism. This fakery has
nothing to do with real Middle Eastern dance if one is to consider the Asiatic origins of the style which was
distributed among Arab countries during the period of Turkish domination. It has only been in the last few years
that authentic Eastern dance in the form of classical and folk traditions of India, China, Persia, Central Asia etc.,
have become more widely appreciated in America. Fortunately, due to the efforts of modern dance researchers,
anthropologists, ethnomusicologists and ethnochoreologists, we are able to distinguish what is tradition, alive and
growing in its natural state, eschewing the unfortunate non-traditional conglomerates of ethnic elements tossed into
raw sexual fantasy. At the same time, innovations in the field of modern dance which are based on ethnic inspiration
are genuine assets to the world of creative dance, thereby enriching Western arts with Eastern influence, rather than
forcing Westernization on the noble traditions of the East.