Obsessive Tribe Checking Disorder and Youtubefrenia Outbreaks!

Sharon “Shay” Moore: the co-director of Seattle’s Infusion Tribal. If you have been on tribe at all, chances are you have read this woman’s work. In case you don’t recall the name, Shay is that woman on tribe who responds to posts with such insight and accuracy that you’re left in front of your computer, your hands kinda awkwardly drifting over the keys, thinking, “Well darn it, why didn’t I think of that?”

Sadly, I have never gotten to meet this wonderful dancer in person, but we are friends on tribe. I have been following her tribe posts for quite some time, and I’ll tell you, this woman has a good head on her shoulders. I recently found this article on Gilded Serpent, titled, “Does Modern Media Kill the Organic Process?:


Some of my favorite snippets:

“Our art as performers exists in a finite amount of time and is never the same twice – no matter how we might strive for consistency, we are not carved of stone or molded metal. As a moving, living, breathing conduit of our art, we are always changing so our art is always changing.”

“…In recent years, in Tribal Bellydance, the expectation to impress or entertain seems to fall squarely on the performers with the audience taking little to no responsibility for their part in the equation. Audiences expect us to deliver an emotional response to them like so much cheesy pizza, while they sit back and wait for it to fall in their laps. And if we don’t hand it to them as “promised”, they find fault with us as performers. Add to that, when we take our art from one venue to another, somehow the expectation is that it should have changed and evolved significantly in the time between, however short. If they see “the same thing”, instead of feeling a responsibility within themselves to try to see it in a new light/from a new perspective with a richer understanding with fresh eyes, they chalk it up to the performer failing them for not bringing them something ‘new and cutting edge.'”

“Basically, no wonder performers these days are so hungrily seeking the next new fad to lead the pack with. The message being sent by bellydance audiences is that if it isn’t the newest, nuttiest, oddest, strangest, sexiest, most different thing on that stage, then it won’t be worth trying to focus their narrow field of attention. But what will last? Being true to ourselves.”

Shay has written an article that, like so many of her tribe posts, threatens to make me stand up and clap in my own house. (My cats are used to these crazy outbursts… they give me that arch cat look that says, ‘Why is that lunatic jumping around again?’ before rolling back in their patch of sun.)

Youtube, tribe, blogs… good lord, I have such a love-hate relationship. I can’t think of another dance form in which the internet has played such a tremendous role. Since BDSS never holds auditions near the Midwest, I was happy when BDSS offered “The Future of Bellydance,” an online scouting site. I love that hours after the Indigo perform at Tribal Fest, chances are I can see their performance on Youtube. I like that teachers like Ansuya and Suhaila are embracing the technologic dance age by offering online classes.

But Shay is absolutely right — this internet age, with all the good it brings, also brings problems. Yes, I love being able to see what the Indigo has thought up this year for Tribal Fest — but I don’t enjoy watching the video and realizing for the next year all I will see in the tribal community is vaudeville and crinolines. (Can you imagine how the Indigo feels? Like Shay said, they must feel enormous pressure to raise the bar — and when they do, they know their great ideas will be copied and regurgitated for years after). I also get a sinking feeling when a dancer dances a beautiful piece and all the Youtube comments say is, “OOh, what’s that song?! I have to dance to it!” I also didn’t enjoy realizing early in my dance career that I was probably spending more time on tribe than I was training. Once that realization hit, I put down the mouse, backed away from the computer, and admitted that I had a problem: I was addicted to a website (Hundreds of bellydancers each year are diagnosed with Obsessive Tribe Checking Disorder… often, it is found in dancers also suffering from Youtubefrenia. Absolutely sobering statistics, no?)

Joking aside, I am grateful for the role the internet has played in my short career as a dancer — especially as an aspiring artist living in the Midwest. I mean, heck, I got into tribal because of Rachel Brice’s Tribal Fest 06 video. Living in Missouri, it is absolutely wonderful to get to see my favorite dancers without flying to Cali. And I do know that the internet will play a pivotal role in my future. I was talking to Asharah about how to do this art form full time, and her first piece of advice was, “Get as much internet exposure as you can.” Think about it: how many artists rely on blogs, frequent Youtube videos, tribe, and websites to get their name out there?

Shay said it best: “Keeping my mind and heart on my troupe sisters and what we want to say with our collective voice, is a surefire way to keep my own creative well overflowing for a long time. It ensures that what we create together will be authentic to us. Dancers could take more risks, and if it didn’t work out, live to dance another day.”

Internet is a great tool, but that’s all it is: a tool. At the end of the day, are you dancing to make people gasp or are you dancing for you? I would suggest to any dancer that finds themselves suffering from Youtubefrenia or OTCD to step back, go outside, journal, go for a walk, listen to your iPod on shuffle… figure out what you want to say and how you want to say it. Don’t try to be someone else, be you! Remember what Ben Folds said: “I do the best imitation of myself.”

6 responses to “Obsessive Tribe Checking Disorder and Youtubefrenia Outbreaks!

  1. I definitely did digress a bit from Shay’s original article — please, definitely read the original article!

  2. I ❤ youtube as a resource for studying what other dancers are doing with bellydance. What is amazing is that includes not only dancers from the U.S. but all over the world. I spend an obnoxious amount of time on youtube as a supplement for studying dance.

    What is wonderful about things like youtube and tribe is the ability to see and discuss the movements and music that make up the emerging subgenres. It's wonderful that dancers are able to come together virtually and hash out what exactly makes up tribal or gothic or whatever else you might dream up. Not only does that give the dancer a direction, but it enables audiences to understand more clearly what the performer is delivering.

    As you have mentioned, though, there does come a point when you have to back away from the computer. After 20 minutes to an hour of being online watching dance videos, I like to get up, put on some music and try out some of the moves that I saw. Being able to improv and build it into my inner catalogue of moves helps to solidfy and personalize what I've seen. What's even better is when one of these moves then pops up in class, I have multiple interpretations on hand and am able to practice with an experienced teacher.

    In terms of worrying about a style being copied and the antes being up for people like the Indigo, as long as dancers are a) clear about where they got the moves, b) what style they generally like to follow, and c)being sure to include a personal twist as much as possible, then the dance itself will be able to evolve in a much more professional way. It does get annoying when you see knock-offs. Also, if you see a video that makes you cry or laugh or moves you in anyway, drop a comment saying "Thank you that was beautiful!" We all need to hear it sometimes.

  3. I enjoyed your opinion on Shay’s article, and of course the original article as well.

    My opinion is that, especially for Tribal Dance, it isn’t about flash, or costumes, or the latest thing. It is always about connecting. It is about reaching an audience with your performance, and in fact, all the flash and so on is a briefly lived shortcut that ultimately creates distance with the audience, not connection.

    Audiences love to be embraced, made to feel like welcomed guests, invited to experience the intimacy, joy, and togetherness of the Tribal performers. I think a performance is best enjoyed when the audience thinks to themselves, “Hey, that looks like so much fun! I bet I could do that!”

    I am a drummer for a troupe, and what I learned early on is that, as a drummer, all the flashy solos in the world will only hold the audience’s attention for the briefest of moments. What really gets them is a spacious rhythm, with a warm groove and a solid beat. I know from experience that the more open I am in my playing, the more connected the drummers and dancers become during the live performance, and we are truly enjoying ourselves, and that is contagious, and the audience comes along, laughing and clapping all the way.

    I very much enjoy the blog here, and good luck on all of your dancing, feet and heart and soul!

    • Thanks, threewinds, for your perspective. It’s interesting to me to see how musicians perceive the dance. You make a great point — as artists, our main goal is to convey something to our audiences. Make them feel something, have them think about our performance long after we’ve left the stage. Flash and schtick may seem like an easy way to do that, but I agree, the things that really last are the things that seem pure and connected.

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