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Milonga

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    Argentine tango party in San Francisco. All photos by Marcy Mendelson.

Salsa Night

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    Salsa Night at Little Baobab. All photos by Marcy Mendelson

The Rehearsal

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    Diamano Coura West African Dance Company rehearses in Oakland, California for the 2006 performance. All photos by Marcy Mendelson

The Rehearsal II

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    Dress rehearsal for the Diamano Coura West African Dance Company in Oakland, California. All photos by Marcy Mendelson

Carnaval Costumes

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    Costume Designer Jair Oliveira at work in his studio. Photos by Marcy Mendelson

La Feria Andalucia

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    Barcelona, Spain... Couples dance Sevillanas at La Feria. Photographs by Marcy Mendelson.

Romani Dance

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    Romani women dance Flamenco Puro in the streets of Italy. Photographs/ Copyright, Rana Halprin

Sambistas

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    Maisa Duke and her Energia do Samba dance troupe kick it up at a San Francisco nightclub. Photographs by Marcy Mendelson

Sambistas Part II

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    Maisa, Vanessa, Ingrid and Serena of Energia do Samba dance in San Francisco at Mangarosa Restaurant. Photographs by Marcy Mendelson

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Comments

Natalia

I look back now and think maybe I was a little harsh in the way I responded. But I know for a fact that most people I know *love* dance, either to watch, perform, or both. But the thing is that most are drawn to social dances because they are more accessible and open to everyone's participation.

I admire the dedication and commitment of ballet dancers, I do enjoy watching someone achieve that perfection of movement... but I can't imagine myself in the action. I feel like a completely outside spectator.

On the other hand, watching a tango or salsa performance, I know that I can't do what the performers are doing, but I could see myself watching them from the edge of a dancefloor, or dancing at a totally social/amateur level. It sparks my imagination, and there is a place for me in that fantasy.

I know a lot of what keeps our bellydance classes so packed is that everyone is welcome. Most people will never be pros, but everyone can get up at a student showcase and be a glamorous star in front of their friends and family for a few minutes. And even the audience gets to clap, cheer, zaghareet, and participate in the performance.

I think part of the current appeal of ballroom dance on television is that even though the performers are dancing at a much higher level than most people would ever aspire to, everyone knows that their parents or grandparents all knew how to dance. It's something that "real people" can do, and that's appealing. And when Jerry Springer went on Dancing with the stars saying he just wanted to stay on the show long enough to learn to waltz for his daughter's wedding? That's real.

It's just not enough to watch passively anymore, and I think that's a good thing.

tonya

This is really interesting, and I'm definitely going to have to read the Teachout article, which I somehow missed... I agree with Natalia's response. What is most disturbing is that Teachout seems to be equating ballet with dance generally (though I shouldn't say that yet since I haven't read the article). I find there is sometimes a bit of 'warring' going on between dancers of different styles -- some think theirs is artistically or athletically superior, others claim theirs is more popular, more lucrative, less 'boring' etc. etc. etc. -- it's all so frustrating to me both as a student and because I am a great lover of many kinds of dance, most especially ballet and ballroom & Latin. And Everyone has something sarcastic and snide to say about the TV shows. Fred Astaire, obviously a very 'poppy' dancer in his day, is largely credited with setting the stage for the resurgence of popularity in dance generally, ballet specifically, and perhaps most significantly, paving the way for the great male ballet dancers of the 20th Century. So Teachout should first recognize that ballet is not the only kind of dance, and second, realize that the increasing popularity of other kinds of dance can definitely have an impact his own -- ballet does not exist in a cultural vacuum! Okay, I'll have to read that article... Thanks for giving me food for thought!

(And thanks for adding me to your blogroll - I just noticed!)

Marcy

Natalia,

I don't think you should regret one word of what you typed. It is a strong statement and I believe more statements like this should be encouraged to engage in intelligent dialog.

Ultimately it IS about market share, and the struggle over a changing world view. Times have changed and this doesn't mean we must throw away certain art forms, however their prominence in our western collective unconscious is fading. Some critics need to be more progressive and open to this.

And Tonya, I still think Gene Kelly was the bees knees!

Gracia Michelle

I don't think the point of the article was to condescend other types of dance, it seems to just have been a bad choice of words where ever he meant to say "CLASSICAL BALLET" rather than "dance"!

Had he written it like that, nobody would have taken offence over it and it would just have been an article about classical ballet declining in popularity.
Which, by the way, I *do* think is regrettable, as classical arts (just as correct spelling, world history, and many other things!) are definitely valuable and need to be taught to be preserved.

And by the way Natalia, I'm an "adult beginner" in ballet (as well as in hiphop, jazzdance, modern dance, and believe it or not- bellydance! ;) ), who will never be a ballerina, and I can tell you that contrary to what you seem to think, "everybody is welcome" also goes for classical ballet! It's definitely not something "real people" can only "watch passively", and I would absolutely recommend you to take some classes! :)

tonya

Okay, now that I have actually read the article (!) I can say that, although I agree with the other things that you say, Gracia Michelle, I do think Teachout is kind of condescending to other forms of dance because I feel like that first paragraph is so belittling to ballroom dance in a way that doesn't need to be. I agree that he should have (and easily could have) just talked all about classical ballet and called it that, but then with his framing device of 'silly Emmitt Smith and that crap on TV' (which happens to be my crap!) and then going on to talk about the decline of dance, it's as if he's saying the decline of 'real' dance -- ie: ballet.

With my comment I just meant to criticize Teachout though, not ballet! I love ballet, and I love ballroom and Latin -- my main problem is that I don't understand why there sometimes is condescension and warring between the two.

As a ballroom student, I feel like some of my teachers harp on me for being "too ballet" -- in a way that seems as if they have issues with ballet itself more than what I'm doing wrong (which I often don't understand since I'm a beginner), but then I've also heard some ballet dancers (no one who's a Winger contributor though!) really quite nastily condescend to ballroom and other kinds of social dance, and that really angers me as well. (Speaking of the Winger -- I posted on the message board a link to this post, because I enjoy good discussion. -- Michelle, you removed your post, right -- I couldn't figure out if I was on drugs or what! -- I mean, I think you should put it back up, because I think discussion is good!)

Anyway, I just meant with my comment to criticize Teachout (and I guess subconsciously I was responding to the condescending ballet dancer I know), and not ballet! I take adult ballet classes too and I have a great appreciation for the athleticism and skill and beauty of ballet -- I just don't think all else should be relegated to the sidelines, that's all!

Natalia

I do want to repeat that I have nothing against ballet, I *love* to watch a great performance. And as much as I might be welcome in an adult ballet class, I lost my interest in actually dancing ballet around age 8, and it's never come back. Sorry.

That said, I know there is cool envelope-pushing ballet going on in New York, San Francisco, etc. (I saw some *amazing performances when I lived in SF) But regional companies are still trotting out Sleeping Beauty, Giselle, Swan Lake, etc. Not that there's anything *wrong* with them, but such heavy reliance on the classic mainstays tends to confirm people's perception of ballet as stagnant.

I think local symphonies are more open to new compositions, and groups like the Kronos Quartet sell out all over the place. The opera world has been *hugely* transformed in the past few decades - singers now actually act instead of just standing around and singing, sets and costumes are spectacular and modern. But outside of the big cities, ballet seems to have resisted those modernizing forces. I think that perceived out-datedness just adds to audiences' inability to relate.

Natalia

I just wanted to add one note - my issues with ballet are with ballet as an industry, not with ballet as an art form. If that makes sense?

Gracia Michelle

Yes, that makes sense. :)

I see your point better now, and having re-read the article ( ;) ) I guess as Tonya said: the writer IS being condescending to other forms of dance.
(As a side-note: It's interesting that this is branded "Eurocentric thinking" though, as obviously ballroom dancing is firmly rooted in European aristocratic tradition!)

My main point was that ballet isn't some elitist world that has nothing to offer "real people".
But I guess that though ballet is not JUST for closed-minded snobs, apparently it doesn't mean there aren't ANY of those in the ballet audience.

tonya

Well, it's funny because I'm the ballroom dancer, and I didn't call anything "Eurocentric"! -- and I think the Latin component of ballroom is not European in origin (although perhaps it becomes anglicized by the way it's danced in ballroom competitions, as compared to the original 'street' forms of the dances?... -- I actually don't know much about that, and would like to know more, which is part of why I started taking Samba classes --of the non-ballroom form -- at Alvin Ailey.)

But, I think the larger issue regarding ballet goes back to the Lewis Segal criticism (and maybe Carlos Acosta too -- although I'm not as familiar with his position so don't want to impart any words to him), which is that some of the story ballets are kind of "Orientalist" etc. and don't speak to contemporary, multi-cultural audiences.

This debate has so many facets!

Anyway, I also wanted to add that one of the reasons I love ABT so much is that there are so many dancers from different parts of the world there, and I think they bring their own artistry and culture to the company.

Gracia Michelle

Tonya honey, this TOPIC is called "Euro-centric Thinking - A Response"!
(check on top of this page! ;) )


Anyway, I guess it depends on where you start "history":
I'd say ballroom dancing is a European tradition, because originally in Europe (when the new world was just being colonized I guess!), aristocratic people were brought up with formal dances, to dance at social gatherings with people of their own class. (Unlike now, it was not something for the common people, hehe! :p )
But one could also say ballroom dancing as we know it started in Cuba/Latin America, and then in America the earlier European ballroom dances were added to form the American ballroom competition style!
Or... We could say it started in the US, as both forms were changed radically to create the American ballroom tradition! ;)


As for the street forms of Latin dance: I heard they changed quite a lot indeed! Part of my family is from Latin America, and from what they tell me the whole merengue/salsa scene there is fantastic! But I haven't been there since I was a little girl (a toddler!) so I don't know... Might be worth a trip though...! ;)

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