The Dark Dancing Goddess
Although Raqs Gothique is still the topic of heated debate on forums across the Internet, Ariellah Aflalo is most certainly one of the genres defining icons. Although a clear-cut definition of gothic bellydance is still discussed, the style is distinctly dark, rooted in the Middle Eastern and Tribal Fusion technique.
Ive never come up with a concrete definition, but I know its something in me, and its something that comes out in my dance. Ariellah reveals. It came out naturally in my music, my aesthetic, my own style from the goth clubs, from being part of the gothic subculture for most of my life. Gothic bellydance has a much darker aesthetic (in costume and music choices), is slower and fluid, and theres more (for me) in the feeling of gothic music.
I was lucky to have an opportunity to chat with Ariellah for a little bit after her New York City workshop; Zan Asha of Chovexani
hosted the workshop the afternoon before the big gala, Night of 1000 Goddesses
The workshop was packed with black-clad dancing ladies, happily chatting, drilling The Spooky Maya, and practicing a short choreography. How does three hours manage to fly so quickly? If only Ms. Aflalo were local, Id happily study with her. She is a very good instructor, clearly breaking down moves and inspiring new combinations along with ample yoga stretches to warm up and cool down. Ariellah also provided us with handouts encouraging us to do homework.
After the studio cleared, we managed to park ourselves in the hallway at the 440 Studios for an interview.
and Ariellah are two big names in this scene, their styles are diverse. Ariellah never studied traditional cabaret, but has been dancing for most of her life. She began with ballet, and, coming from a large Moroccan family, shes always been interested in learning the dance. Ariellah studied with folkloric teacher, Janine Ryle, and Rachel Brice. She first joined Janines troupe, Danse Maghreb
, and was encouraged to learn from other sources and was led to Rachel in early 2002, and became a founding member of The Indigo
Ariellah was a featured performer on the Gothic Bellydance DVD
, the first performance video of its kind, which was released earlier this year. Upon seeing this DVD, it brings a lot of issues to mind. The DVD received a lot of criticism as well as a lot of praise, I remarked. and there is a point where people needed to distinguish what gothic bellydance is, and that its not about just putting on a black costume and doing your thing.
Well, the DVD was produced by someone not as familiar with the gothic subculture, so while some (performances) may not be the best representation, the quality of the video is awesome and there is a lot of experimentation. In my opinion, theres nothing wrong with the dancing, but some of it isnt quite gothic. Ariellah replied.
So while some folks may mistake Rachel Brice as a gothic bellydancer, Ariellah comments, Yes, her movements are slower, but her music choices are not gothic, and the costuming isnt there. I guess I havent thought about a definition because I know what is in me, this gothicness or whatever you want to call it and it comes out in my bellydance. Theres no way it doesnt.
I have to whole-heartedly agree there; personality comes out in a big way in any dancer and its inspiring and fascinating to watch how people channel this spirit in their movement. Just watching the dancefloor at any goth club and strangely enough, a lot of the style resembles Middle Eastern dance in the flowy arms and purposeful steps.
Some traditional dancers may spout disparaging remarks regarding bellydance styles, considering the big to-do that was made as ATS and tribal fusion grew in popularity, but as Ariellah points out, Theres such a draw to this movement, towards fusion, and I believe its okay to stray from Middle Eastern dance. Thats how it gets creative. Its what Rachel did, its what Fat Chance Bellydance
did, and they made it their own. They helped the dance evolve. I think its beautiful and I support that.
What drew you to tribal over cabaret? I asked.
I guess because that was what was there (in San Francisco); although I saw cabaret performers and they were beautiful, it just wasnt for me. I started with my folkloric teacher, and the style was very earthy. Then I met Rachel and she really pushed me and shes got some cabaret under her belt, and I picked it up from her. I believe in grounding my style in tribal, and the traditionalists can see some of the old style in my dancing.
I think we kind of have an East Coast/West Coast thing. I had to add. Tribal hasnt taken off as quickly here in New York; were home to cabaret and lots of classic Egyptian, while in San Francisco, its very tribal-heavy.
Thats true, but see, this is just why when you first asked how Id define this, I see whats on the online forums and I tend to refrain from commenting (about the style issue). Personally, Id rather spend my energies supporting each others art than waste energy cutting others down. The dance is all evolving.
Ariellah doesnt currently study with anyone, but she does drill five days a week, roughly an hour a day and she teaches twice a week. Sometimes on the weekends, if its before a performance or workshop, it could be three hours. I haven't taken class with anyone in a while just due to time and my job, unfortunately. If I could, Id love to study with Suhaila Salimpour
and think about getting certified. And training with Rachel would be incredible, but shes so busy touring, shes not regularly teaching.
I began teaching because I was asked for it, it wasnt something I sought out. I may not have some new fancy technique to teach people, but I want to put it out there that anyone can be a strong dancer with drilling and practice; I like helping people learn to move in a healthy way, in order to protect their lower back from injury and strengthen their technique.
Anyone can dance; it just takes a level of dedication. And then adding your own personality and creativity to it.
It was so wonderful to meet this dedicated Capricorn who clearly loves and is in love with dance. Her long term goal is to perform more often and to start up her own troupe. She finds long term touring tough because she values her stability, but we were lucky to have her on the East Coast for the weekend. Ariellah, like the dance, is evolving.
|Photos courtesy of Ariellah, Mistress McCutchan and Zan Asha