Thursday, December 17, 2009

pride, prejudice and on being "the best"

Behold, the Miss Universe tiara (2002-2007). This tiara was created by the international pearl culturer / jewelry house, the Japanese Mikimoto. 500 almost 30 carat diamonds and 120 pearls were used for this USD 250,000 masterpiece. The shape itself reminisces of phoenix rising, the symbol of status, power, and beauty.

A true work of art that befits a woman who has gone through a hard selection and conquered odds to be considered as the most intelligent, the most poise, the sexiest, and of course, the most beautiful.

Indeed, I daren't say that not all of the women chosen for Miss Universe competition are beautiful. But then again, what is beauty? Isn't it on the eye of the beholder? Who is the most beautiful woman in the world right now? Is it Megan Fox? By what, and whose standards?

Even before I danced in "The Dance Within" with Lilith, many people have come to me and said, "You are the best bellydancer!"

I was flattered, of course. My ego was boosted and my head went through the roof. I became ten feet tall and believed I could stomp on other dancers, oriental or tribal.

But lately, it has really become something that gives me the itch. It is really, truly uncomfortable.

I mean, honestly, yes, I do have an ego as big as Jupiter, but one day, when I was browsing the net, I found a youtube video of an oriental dancer who claimed to be the best oriental dancer in her country (and the fact that she once came home as the SECOND RUNNER-UP in the local bellydance competition didn't seem to stop her from using that gimmick: "the best"). I got intrigued, saw the video, and shook my head.

It was bad enough to see her facial expression giving away the fact that she was trying so hard to remember the choreography, but it didn't stop there. Some of her techniques were just way off and I know one oriental dancer also in the same country who dances 100 times better (in my opinion).

She was the one who uploaded the video to youtube and in every youtube video of her and her troupe (that she uploaded herself), she always put "The best bellydancer in X country". Heck, she even put that as her tagline right under the logo of her studio. At least that's what I saw in her website. I've never been to her studio because she's not in Jakarta. She's not even in Indonesia.

So, based on what standards are we considered as the best?

Basically, I think for oriental and tribal, the standards are: techniques, vocabulary of movements, range of movements, knowledge of the dance, costume, make-up, dancing experience, teaching experience, certificates (not necessarily in that order).

Then, in this MTV-oriented world where attention deficiency is everywhere, a dancer needs to keep his or her audience's attention. Props (veil, zills, sword, pot, tray, candle, shamadan) come to mind, so does gymnastic abilities. You know, the sharp-pop-exaggerate-your-maia-lock-fold-your-body kind of thing.

And now, based on whose standards?

Definitely not our OWN standards. We don't live in this world by ourselves. Just one, single, lonely dancer.

Students judge us, spectators judge us, our fellow dancers judge us, our teachers judge us, the youtube judges us.

It just doesn't feel right when you make up a biography of yourself and you dub yourself as the best. How do you know? Who told you that? It is true that you have to sell yourself, your troupe, and the studio that you have, but come on... What if people think of you as a joke?

Whenever someone came up to me and said, "You're the best bellydancer!" I always asked them, "Have you ever seen other bellydancers?" I gave them the names of several troupes and institutions. Some still said I was the best while others succumbed into saying, "The best male bellydancer!" and right away I shot another question, "Have you ever seen other male bellydancers?" and I gave them other names.

Usually they would just smile and say, "Take the compliment, will you?" and I would thank them.

But I still feel some discomfort deep down in my heart. "What if other people think of me as a joke?"

That question nags and nags and nags. My troupe and I always put our best in every performance. Many said we're the best. But we just shrugged it off with a thank you. Possibly because we're trying to keep a low profile and because we're not sure that we are the best.

The Velvet Raqs dancing to "Eternal Triangle" by Paul Danna (OST "Kama Sutra")
during "The Dance Within" recital, Saturday, November 21st, 2009, in RRI Auditorium, Jakarta.
Photo by Stef Manfrotto (2009).

We obviously didn't believe it when people say that we were the best when we were just starting out. I mean, obviously our costumes weren't even proper enough to be called "the best". "Good enough"? Yes. "Just good?" Maybe. We don't mind. "Very good"? Why, thank you. But "the best"?

By what standards and whose?


orangefleur said...

aarrrrrh come on ucha. yang penting kalo ada yang bilang 'the best', itu datengnya dari orang lain dan bukan lo sendiri yang ngaku2. and it's good that you don't think you deserve to be labelled 'the best', karena kalau iya, lo ga bakal berkembang.

but on the other hand, if other people give you compliments, you have every damn right to take it. no need to ask 'by what standards?' karena biasanya ya orang kalo muji pasti based on apa yang udah pernah dia liat/alami sebelumnya - and everyone's different. there will never be a universal standard. and if you shoot them with 'have you seen dancer A or troupe X or this and that?', that's unfair because not everyone is in the bellydance circle, not everyone is in the know! and you're dancing for what, ga cuma untuk kalangan yg bellydance-savvy tapi buat kalangan yang lebih luas kan? so maybe when they say you're the best, ya memang maksudnya the best dari yang mereka tau (which is probably not much), ga mungkin lah the best dari yg ada di seluruh dunia! siapa juga yang bisa tau semuanya? so take those damn compliments and make it as something to spur you to do even better (better than best? why the hell not. ga ada yg ~sempurna~ di dunia ini)

and having said that, walaupun memang pasti ada aja orang yang muji cuma basa-basi, tapi ada juga yang tulus. like meeee (walaupun gue ga pernah bilang lo 'the best' ya) -- when i give compliments i really mean it, and it annoys me when the receiving end malah sok2 'ah enggak ah, not me...' chillout a bit, take some credit for all your hard work!


the boy who shimmies said...

do you think so? Because my boyfriend thinks so too (Kamu susah banget sih nerima pujian???).

Iya iya. My new year's resolution: just accept complements with a sincere "thank you".

So thank you, Orangina (atau Orangila? HAHAHAHA).

Anonymous said...

Well, by the standards of one who has always loved dance, been surrounded by it (Mom was a Javanese and Balinese dancer and -whooptidoo- the gay son got the genes), and watched The Dance Within, I say that you were definitely one of the best dancers of the evening.

The first group performance just blew me away. Your technique and presentation was rivaled only by one other girl in the same group. It was a moment of chills and goosebumps (and I claim to be unable to feel envy but I believe for the briefest moment, I glowed green). As for your solo, I believe there could've been more choreography and a smidgen more personality in it and I wasn't crazy about the song choice, but the ending truly ROCKED!

Overall, amazing control. And of course, the way you made it look so damn effortless.

So there. The compliment from a boy who writes to a boy who shimmies. :)

p.s. As if you need it. Was the thunderous applause not enough? *grin*

the boy who shimmies said...

Bahahaha, Ms. T. Riology (OMG, that's just so cheesy. EPIC FAIL!!!), thank you for the compliment.

When I first listened to the song, I was like... oh man, this IS the perfect song to dance to with my sword and introduce Balkan fever to the audience. But it's not everyone's cup of tea, I guess.

AND YEEEAAHH!! I wish I could be bouncier in the choreography and be cheeky (afterall, I was wearing a Can-Can-ish sort of skirt), but I saw a video of me dancing too bouncy and I didn't really like it.

I'll tell you a little secret: I felt Lilith slipping after I went down and did the turns on the floor. *sigh*

THANK YOU FOR COMING!! *and for the compliment*

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