Ballet in Belly Dance
Recently, I moved to a new city and had to find a new belly dance teacher. I'm getting older and for some time now, have felt uncomfortable performing in a cabaret costume with bare belly and exposed upper arms/back fat overflow. Sure, I can add a tummy cover and sleeves, but when you're the only covered-up one in the troupe, that means you still stand out, just in a different way! So I sought out a group of older dancers (where I could blend in with the crowd!) and discovered the teacher was passionate about belly dance as it used to be, in the Golden Age, before it was adulterated by ballet and other Western influences.
Which got me thinking about how much of what I know as "belly dance" is "contaminated" with Western dance.
The first record of ballet being taught to belly dancers was in Badia Masabni's famous night club. She hired ballet masters to train her dancers and create choreography. It must be remembered, though, that her shows included Latin and music hall dances as well as raqs sharki, and the dancers had to be trained in all those styles. Tahia Carioca, or instance, got her name because she was so good at the Carioca!
You can see the influence of ballet training on the posture and graceful arms of dancers like Samia Gamal, but apart from a low arabesque, there's no sign of ballet technique being used in belly dance at that time.
The Reda troupe also used Russian ballet masters, but again it was intended more to improve posture and discipline than to change the dance. Apparently, Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire were greater influences on the Reda style than any ballet master. I feel belly dance definitely has a greater affinity with jazz ballet than classical ballet. I remember when I switched from ballet to jazz, having to get used to "earthing" myself, working into the floor rather than trying to escape it. However, having spent a few weeks studying with my new teacher and getting used to her style, I look back and see the ballet influence quite noticeably in the Reda-style dances that I've been taught: the arms extending in all directions, the travelling steps (especially the galops), the spins and arabesque turns, the pointed feet and the steps done on high relevé. Is that because it's really there, or because so many of our Australian belly dance teachers started out in ballet, and that sub-consciously influences their teaching? Further research needed, I think!