Image By: Deviant Artist, Irish Compass.
I’ve been doing a lot of reading lately; forums, books, emails, newsletters, blogs, websites… really anything that will allow me to see it. I’ve come across a lovely Facebook Group (used as a forum) called “Bellydancers Promoting Professional Ethics” and there’s a few issues that members have raised that I’ve been battling with over the recent years. All-in-all, it’s a great place for discussion, true, civil discussion. I recommend checking it out when you get a chance.
One member posted a interesting question about what other dancers views are on what I call Duplicate Dancers:
I know we all can say we are influenced or inspired by one or more dancers. In fact I'd say it's more silly to try to say we aren't, and I don't mean that in a bad way. Ideas stem from other ideas, either within or out of this dance community, and it's how it grows, changes and progresses. I'm sure there's been posts on here in the past of people cookie cutter-ing some dancers routine...same song, same dance, no credit. My question is this just happened to me, but locally. Same song, my dance, no credit given, and profit was made. How would you choose to handle it within your own community on a local front? I have my thoughts, but I'm interested to hear from my fellow dancers. – Lindsay Luna Rouge Brewster
Zoe Jakes responded with this delightful and honest comment.
Welcome to the club. Your handling of the issue gracefully and with loving kindness reflects the artist that you are. Finding the middle ground is always difficult, being true to your integrity but also allowing for others to learn perhaps awkwardly and insensitively. The issue i think with bellydance is that we learn to dance, but we dont learn quite as quickly to be artists. There is a way of learning from someone u admire and taking something of that while making it your own that we bellydancers learn as we go, sometimes a little slower than our techinque. But the dancers that really want to be artists emerge eventually and make it their own. At one time in my baby years as a dancer i maybe copied my teacher a little too much for her comfort...that was definitely part of my journey. We copy what we love when we begin to dance, and become our own dancers through sweat and tears. I feel joy and respect for those who have become their own dancers, and a little bit of sadness for those stuck in the journey. – Zoe Jakes
I have to say that I have mixed feelings about the Duplicate Dancer.
I believe there is merit in attempting to emulate, be influenced by, or even pay hommage to a dancer that you admire. I think that allowing yourself to be motivated by a song that someone else has used, or a costuming direction that a group dons, or even a combination that you’ve learned in a workshop is a good thing. I think influences push you in new directions that you might not have otherwise found. The keyword here is influence. Are you ‘influenced’ or are you ‘regurgitating’?
- Are you thinking about the imagery that you learned in someone’s workshop, or are you using the combination directly?
- If you use the same song; are you finding yourself with similar motivation and theme as someone else has used, or are you taking the 32 counts of one routine, and replicating them in the same 32 counts of your song?
- Are you inspired by and use an element of a dancers piece (such as a super-arm-swing spin, or slapping/pushing your knee or jaw to one side) while putting your own flair on them, or have you practised the move with so much dedication that you’re executing the movement exactly as she already has done and using the same transitions into/out of the movement?
- Can you view the reply of the performances and see similarities or duplicates?
I do not believe that it’s to anyone’s benefit, including your own, to call something ‘influence’ when it is indeed a case of copycat sans citing. I do not believe that it benefits anyone publicly in the long run; not the originator, not the event promoter, not the duplicator, not the dance as a whole. I also think that it insults the audience, should they have seen the original work before or after seeing the duplicate work.
Now the flipside:
I also believe that there is merit in duplicating, regurgitating and reproducing works. I believe that there’s an aspect of creating new works that involve replication and duplication of previous works. I do not believe that it’s moral, ethical, or in good taste to do so without citing, or giving credit where credit is due.
I found as a beginner dancer, not having my own voice or image, my own style or ambitions, that duplicating what I’ve seen to be a helpful exercise. I danced combinations from class to music at home. I watched LameTube videos and tried to emulate what I saw. I looked at interesting costuming items and tried my best with what I had to at least be near the quality (often I was not…). If I performed, and when I did start performing regularly, I didn’t perform my own choreographies. I performed choreographies by others – albeit with a group, most times including the choreographer. You’ve likely done the same.
The benefit was that it gave me ideas. It gave me an area to begin walking down my own creative avenues. I began to see similarities, I began to see connections, and I quickly began to take snippets away and combine them with other snippets for ‘remixes.’ Then over time of playing and exploring, and taking classes in playing and exploring, I finally got to the point that I no longer needed to duplicate or replication in part or in whole – I could take inspirations from the pieces by others that I enjoyed. Then over more time I began to gain the ability to take inspirations from non-dancers and non-dance-related things. There was an entire conversation with my good friend Kara at Dark Harvest this year about where we can get inspirations. It was spawned and accompanied by this item at Audra’s studio:
So, I have to agree with Zoe here; for a beginner to intermediate dancer, these home or in-studio exercises can be extremely helpful. Why else do we all go to workshops or intensives with ‘Big Name’ dancers? Why do we continually attend workshops that offer choreography, instead of creativity? Because there is something to be learned in following.
Hopefully, if you’re “in your own” as a dancer you will continue to find your way to bigger and better things – things that inspire you to inspire yourself. If you’re still “stuck on your journey” then I hope the path becomes clearer for you and you can begin to see your own light in your own right.
If you’re still with me, might I suggest reading and/watching these because they’re interesting and relevant:
- “Everything is a Remix: Part 1” and ”Part 2” and ”Part 3” and ”Part 4“
- Kirby Ferguson @ Ted Talks and the Blog about it
- “Steal Like An Artist” by Austin Kleon and Austin Kleon on Cultivating Creativity in a Digital World
- “Who Owns Music and Why You Should Care”