Tapping the Information Superhighway
by James Janner
Weren’t people dancing before computers, and weren’t dancer’s communicating with each other before computers?
Of course they were. So why bother? Because there are evolving new tools that let you communicate easily with Oriental dancers around the world. They also provide a new way to get answers to your questions and get late-breaking dance information.
This article is not an introductory “how-to” on the on-line services, but a description of what they offer dancers and where to find it once you’re on-line. If you’re interested in the introductory “how-to” information, the current crop of books do a fairly good job.
There are two ways dancers can receive benefits from the on-line services:
 Join in (or just read) the public discussions on danse Orientale topics. Dancers post typed messages for all to read and respond to.
 Read from library-type sources a rapidly growing collection of dance articles (as well as copies of past public discussions).
Any magazine article that attempts to identify on-line resources is out-of-date the day it is written, because resources appear and disappear frequently. So consider the following just a taste of what’s available. I encourage you to write me about additional resources for dancers, so I can share them with the danse Orientale community.
The most active place for public discussions among dancers is a Middle Eastern “listserv” on the Internet. A couple hundred dancers from around the world, with more each week, exchange information about workshops, techniques, good and bad vendors, teachers and musicians. Recent discussions included veil technique, English translations of Arab songs, copyright issues, plus an assortment of items for sale. Imagine a dancer’s newsletter, written by the subscribers, with new pages daily.
What’s a listserv? A way of using e-mail to send, automatically, the same message to all the people on a mailing list. In effect, it allows a group of people (the ones who choose to subscribe) to share a discussion. Once you subscribe, you will receive a copy of every message sent to “email@example.com”, and every message you send to the same address will be copied to all subscribers.
To subscribe, send a message to firstname.lastname@example.org with the following in the body of the message: subscribe med-dance. The address for mail to this list is email@example.com. The list is archived (all past messages are stored) at ftp.std.com /ftp/nonprofits/dance/med-dance. For assistance with the archives, address firstname.lastname@example.org.
Another Internet resource is newsgroups, which are public discussions via posted messages, just like a listserv, but you don’t need to subscribe. On the other hand, they are not as focused. For example, the only newsgroup where I’ve seen the occasional public message is rec.arts.dance. There are occasionally announcements about concerts of Arabic music found in soc.culture.arabic and soc.culture.lebanon.
Some information on the Internet incorporates sound, pictures and the occasional video clip. This subset of the Internet is called the World Wide Web, which consists of pages of information, like a reference book—no provision for public discussions. The first Web pages on danse Orientale were produced by a Swedish group, As-Sayf. It contains a description of the troupe and its members, with photographs and samples of some of the music they work with. One feature of Web pages is their provision for letting you jump to other related pages with a mouse-click. Several dancers have told me they are preparing their own Web pages in the next several weeks. The URL for As-Sayf is http://www.pi.se/as-sayf/englishindex.html (a URL is like a telephone number for a Web page). Another Web site of several pages of interest to dancers is a very complete “book” on stretching and flexibility, the URL is http://www.cs.huji.ac.il/papers/rma/stretching_toc.html.
Michelle Forner, who recently relocated to Washington, D.C. from Los Angeles, CA, discovered the Internet through her consulting position at the Library of Congress. It helps her keep in touch with dancing colleagues in LA: they give her quick feedback on the events and happenings “back home” through e-mail. It also allows her to keep an eye on developments in the Oriental dance community.
“As a dance ethnologist with a special interest in the contemporary Middle Eastern dance subculture, subscribing to listservs gives me constant contact with what dancers and aficionados on the ‘net are concerned about. The questions, comments, and “threads” of discussions are also informative to me as a dancer/teacher. I can get a review of a seminar overnight—and not just one, but a number of opinions. And it feels good when I can answer a question that someone has posed to the group. The Internet doesn’t replace other forms of communication—it just enhances them.”
Prodigy is one of the largest commercial on-line services, and is one of the easiest ways to have access to Web pages on the Internet. Prodigy has its own public discussion areas, and the place to find the occasional danse Orientale chatter is on the Arts “bulletin board” in the Dance section. Look for subject headers “Belly Dance” and “Ethnic.”
Another of the big commercial services is America On-Line (AOL). Shoshannah, a subscriber (email@example.com), tells me there’s a belly dance message board. It is located by going to “keyword: exchange” and then to the subheadings “hobbies and interests” and then “arts and entertainment.” The board is called “Belly dancing & Middle Eastern Drumming” (or try “Bellydancing and Mid-Eastern Music”). This message board has been up and running since December, 1994.
There are many other on-line services, such as Delphi and Compuserve, with varying qualities of dance information and discussion.
James Janner, a danse Orientale aficionado since the age of nine, is the developer of “Feiruz’s Dance Disk,” the world’s first (1991) multimedia dance tutorial. He can be reached on the Internet (since 1983) at JJanner@MCIMail.com.