The Inaccuracy in Isolations


It’s a term I hear constantly in the instructional annals of American belly dance or Raqs Sharqi.

Looking up the word ‘Isolation’, I find alternate, similar meaning words in the Thesaurus; namely, confinement, desolation, remoteness, segregation, and solitude, Lesser descriptive words include aloneness, aloofness, concealment, detachment, exile, hiding, privacy, privateness, quarantine, reclusiveness, retreat, sequestration, and withdrawal. And even lesser ones include beleaguerment, monkhood, reclusion, and seclusiveness.

I am extremely concerned. This is not how I would describe belly dance.

Where is the proof of isolations in belly dance? During my 40 plus years of study and observation of Classic Egyptian Style native belly dancers, including watching my own native born teacher, Jodette, I don’t ever recall any part of any dancer’s body performing ‘Isolations’ in dance. Yet, dance studios across the globe promulgate ‘Isolations’ as a critical, if not the most important part of their curriculum and online Internet instructional video demonstrations.

There are no ‘Isolations’ in Raqs Sharqi.

When I first realized that what I had known was true all along but was unable to articulate it during my performance years, I was awed in revelation. I knew I had hit upon something unexampled and heretofore unexplained. And, yet there it was, as plain as day, in every Egyptian Dance Great, including my own dance teacher, Jodette.

For over a decade and a half via Internet, trade magazine articles, and social media sites as well as vocally in classes, workshops and seminars, I’ve expressed my intense dislike to the proverbial Isolation methodology of teaching. It does not work. What Egyptian has ever sprung from his/her chair in a moment of abandoned joy and in celebration of life only to stop even for the slightest of moments to remember to isolate a movement? In short, it makes no sense. At least, not if you are an Egyptian.

We see and analyze the world through our own cultural experience, and when we think we have broken the world down to the minutest of points, we will still explain, describe, and perform those points via our experience. What does that all mean? Try answering this question: How can you describe the flavor of vanilla ice cream when you’ve never tasted vanilla ice cream?

Learning the art of Raqs Sharqi is not classified. Its secret to looking authentic is simple — so simple that, like any language, it takes a life time to master. Why? Because the muscle memory used in one culture will always hold sway over the parody of another culture. It is in those muscle memories that one culture will predominate over another culture’s expression in the execution of that expression. And for this reason, the use of ‘Isolations’ as a means to teach a dance that is beyond our realm of initial understanding is used.

We, in the West, have been largely influential in taking Raqs Sharqi to the far reaches of the planet. And, because of this, the Western influence of teaching ‘Isolations’ has followed it. Not surprisingly, the teachings of this dance has come full circle in Egypt, and native Egyptian dance teachers are now using these Western terms.

And this has been the detriment to the dance.