What exactly is “Fusion”?

The subject of “what is Fusion” has come up several times for me recently. It’s been a topic of discussion with other Fusion dancers, and a topic of debate with dancers of other styles of belly dance. I don’t think that there is a single answer, but I would like to address some of the comments that I’ve heard and usages that I’ve seen. I think that it’s important to come to an understanding of what it is and is not to continue to elevate our dance form.

Transnational Fusion (sometimes Tribal Fusion Belly Dance) is my favorite dance style. The fluidity and freedom of movement that it offers me drive my creativity and desire to grow and develop as an artist. Fusion demands a great deal from me in terms of training and ongoing practice, but it repays that work in full with continuing inspiration to learn one more thing. My dance has evolved a great deal over the years. I have moved from incorporating yoga and modern-inspired moves into a sword piece to creating dance to accompany storytelling and lectures in exploration and celebration of the history of belly dance. And it is Fusion that has enabled my journey.

Dictionary.com defines “fusion” as: “that which is fused; the result of fusing”. And while it does not define my dance, it also offers: “popular music that is a blend of two styles, especially a combining of jazz with either rock, classical music, or such ethnic elements as Brazilian or Japanese music”. What is interesting about the second option is that the elements being fused are clearly definable. I would offer that in the bodies of skilled practitioners, Fusion dance is a blend of two (or more) styles of dance, with a dancer that is fully cognizant of what is being fused. In an ideal situation, those skilled practitioners are equally proficient in everything that they fuse. More likely, they are highly skilled in one form, but have studied the other forms that they are blending. Regardless, they have a clear understanding of the elements in play.

Fusion is not a catch all-term for “I don’t know what I’m doing, so I’m just going to call it ‘fusion’.”  There are many problems with this approach. If a dancer does not know what the term is for the art they are performing, they are likely also not sufficiently skilled in any of the forms that they are blending. I think that this is fine for presentation at a student hafla, for example, but hopefully even the student dancer is aware of their lack of knowledge. Fusion is also not a label of convenience for dance with sloppy movement. A lack of drilling and technique should not morph “raqs sharqi” into “fusion”. Each style, performed well, requires a great degree of practice and resulting expertise.

Today, dancers can take classes in Fusion instead of the “pure” dance forms that they then blend on their own. These classes vary a great deal, but do have some underlying threads. Most Fusion classes incorporate a muscular approach to belly dance isolations. Most will call out moves borrowed from other belly dance and other dance forms. These elements are important as they help dancers understand the rich breadth of movement in use today, as well as what is appropriate (or inappropriate) to do in front of a given audience.

Personally, I am proficient in Oriental style belly dance. I’m working on proficiency in American Tribal Style®. I have also studied Jazz, Modern, and some ethnic/folkloric Middle Eastern dance. I know which moves that I use in my own choreography are influenced by which style. (This awareness also helps me understand which moves are going to be foreign to the bodies of other dancers based on their experience.) As a teacher, I feel that it is essential to help my students understand the origin of a movement. It’s all work to learn these things. But work is essential for professional (and even semi-professional) dancers in any form.

Photo by Dave Stagner