As over 300 Columbians recently experienced two weeks ago, our city felt the ground tremble as it braced to hold the titanic power of abdominal awesome that came roaring through. If you have even the slightest bit of wonder as to what I am talking about, then you weren’t there, and your children will most likely grow up despising you when they get older for missing out. However, to get you up to speed, let me paint (or photograph) a picture of the show that has infamously become Columbia’s East Coast Belly Dance Allstar Showcase of Doom, hosted by our own Natalie Brown of the Columbia Alternacirque. (Yes, I shoot a lot of belly dance. No, I do not apologize.)
Here was the lineup (of doom.):
- Delirium Tribal and Alternacirque of Columbia, SC;
- Devyani Dance Company of Birmingham, AL;
- Ananda Dance Company of Knoxville, TN;
- Mahsati Janan of Asheville, NC;
- Fierce Fusion Bellydance of Augusta, GA;
- Asharah of Alexandria, VA;
- Asim of Greenville, SC;
- Ashley Bennett of Columbia, SC;
- Awalim Dance Company of Atlanta, GA;
- Mab, Just Mab, of Washington, DC.
There are many other blogs (and far better writers) than this one to detail the mesmerizing midriffs and salacious sideshows that occurred during the show, so I’m going to give you an insight into the dedication beyond the belly:
I was lucky enough to spend a great deal of time with the onslaught of belly-mages before and after the show, and there is more than just the performance. What I am talking about is the communal nature of their craft. This is not a group of prima-donnas that are booked by agents, fly in without meeting anyone, and disappear once the job is done. This is a group of professionals who are also a tightly-knit community, leaning on each other for both support and to force the other to stand on their own. Watching this pack of performers (including over 15 female dancers, 1 male dancer, a poi spinner, a hooper, a sideshow performer, and newly adopted ukulele) during their offstage time is like watching a family gathering, but with nerdier jokes and funnier songs. It is joyous, soft, raunchy, and familiar. They aren’t here to collect a check (as a matter of fact, each performer has gone out of their way to perform free of charge to assist in the Alternacirque’s new season). This is a group who perform because they love what they do, and they want to be better than they ever could be on their own. These gatherings happen all year round, all over the country, and they are not simply to show the audience what they can do. More importantly, they are to show the other performers what they can do. Even more importantly, they are to show the other performers how they do what they do. Most importantly, they are to show the other performers how they too can do it.
This is a community built on teaching each other how to make each performer that much better. Sure there are, like in any growing art form, the single-handed messiahs that are too self-righteous to recognize the vast wealth that is their fellow performer, but they quickly fall through the cracks and become cautionary tales.
“Hey remember those girls trying to start a troop that you asked to come take your workshop, but blew it off? What happened to them?”
“Oh, yeah. Think she works at Kinkos and runs a jazzer-cize class now.”
Those that are truly part of the art form pull from the resources that are their sisters and brothers to make themselves a force that can create what many have already referred to as the show to judge all other shows in this city this year.
“This is my life,” Natalie tells me. “Last month someone else hosted, and we practiced, partied, and performed there …Next month, we’re all meeting in Atlanta for Tribal-con, and we’ll do it agin. Then the next month, we’re all meeting in Knoxville for Awalim’s workshop..” She goes on to say “You should come along …. maybe we’ll teach you how to play a frame drum.”
I’m paraphrasing, but her words made me think about the nature of my own craft. How much of a family can I say there is in the photography community? Sure, there are the occasional workshops that I’ve taken from someone somewhere who had something in a magazine once, and I read countless photo-technique blogs every morning, and I have like-minded photographers who I am happy to call friends, but can I honestly say that I consider my fellow photographers to be a stalwart family bent on making me into the best Optimus-Prime of a photographer that I could possibly be? Is it too late for my beloved field to shed some of it’s individualism in the hopes of making the craft itself a profession where each of us is a teacher, a sibling, and a student?
Damn you Natalie Brown. Damn you Ananda, Asim, Awalim, Mab, Devyani, Asharah and all of you performers for your admirable comradery. Damn you for your dedication to your craft as well as your fellow craftsmen. Damn you for sparking in me this painstaking, exciting, and vulnerable urge to strengthen my abilities not only for me, but so they can be given to my brothers-in-lens.
And yes, I may just go to Knoxville and learn to play a frame drum.
..anyways, here’s pics of the show. See all of them here.