Do Dance Levels Have Meaning Anymore?

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belly dancer leyla najma indian princess

Since the start of our video business, I have realized that with instruction available at the drop of a finger, it’s important to discuss the training that needs to go into our danceform. So do dance levels have meaning anymore to today’s dancers?

When I started out dancing it was suggested to me that I not dance publically until I had a comfortable feeling with how I moved and had the fundamentals down. Today I get emails from dancers who are beginners wanting to know how many “weeks” of practice it will take to be able to perform professionally. I can understand their enthusiasm for this need to excel at “superwoman” speed but it’s just not going to happen in this dance field or for that matter any other danceform.  Obviously to me, yes, dance levels have meaning.

The age of Shakira has taught our young aspiring dancers a fast food mentality towards belly dance. It’s been taken out of the artform category and into a nightclub exploitation. Belly dance has become about moves and how sexy they look instead of its traditional origins. Knowing our past helps us unlock the ancient traditions, combining them into a modern world. Taking any shortcuts undermines the very core of our dance making it a two dimensional sideshow instead of a multidimensional school of learning. It’s not about how fast we learn belly dance; it’s about how we learn to understand ourselves as we dance. It’s all a learning process that has no timetable to it.

Every person no matter what age, origin or gender needs to accomplish something in their lives. It’s not only our right of passage but it’s part of our human nature. If we work at something and gain insight and knowledge then we develop the capacity to teach others in a way that can only come from experience. Including in our learning process, is our past, the need to understand where our dance came from so that we pass it on and keep it alive. Middle Eastern dancing is about a multitude of cultures that have a connection to history.  An anonymous quote states that history must be written of, by and for the survivors. I would say we are more then survivors but for every new generation of dancers it’s vital for them to respect and understand what they are performing. This understanding adds credibility to students who want to rise to a professional level.

But in today’s culture can credibility be enough? The reason why I’m asking is because the competitiveness in our business is fickle only allowing its selective constituents leeway instead of allowing the diehards to pave the way. I am speaking of many women who have been dancing for as long as I can remember who are not given their due. This is perhaps because of life choices but is it more then just a choice that creates a star that fizzles out or bursts to life? It’s almost like the gilded cage of selectivity glides past many for a select few, chosen by connections rather then achievement? This is a question more then it is my opinion. I have done well with my dancing, worked my way up through the ranks but I often wonder if I didn’t have the tenacity to keep on trekking, what would have happened to my dance persona. Would she be alive and well today?

Levels mean many things to many people or nothing at all. Dancers need to respect women who have been dancing in this business for years even if they don’t like their dancing. Who is any woman to judge another especially one who has less years under her belt? What does this say about the woman and what does it say about our future? Is etiquette out the window all together? One time on YouTube a gal wrote in and stated she didn’t like my dancing because I was too fast with my hips. That was fine because I kept the comments up knowing I would get good and the possibility of negative feedback.  Dancing is a personal preference that’s beauty is in the eye of the beholder. But a battle of words ensued because my loyal friends and fans wrote in and let this dancer know they didn’t agree with her. To settle the squabble that was out of my hands, I asked this dancer to send a video of herself performing so that I could see how she prefers to dance but she denied my request. After a few more weeks of the squabbling with dancers, she finally wrote me to apologize and said she had been dancing two years and that she didn’t have a performance video available because she hadn’t performed in a show yet. She said I was different then her teacher, she wouldn’t state who she was because she said she didn’t want her to know what happened. I accepted her apology and deleted all comments.

There are dancers who have an, opinion or judgment on every dancer they see. I know because I have been around a few who did this. The criteria of a good dancer is different to everybody but it seems with time even if you have a peer group, the comments persist. Let’s face it at a certain point you would think this would stop but it doesn’t. I mean I even had a dance acquaintance state years ago that most of the shows she had seen in my hometown were awful. Oh, yeah, I was in most of them with other dancers so I often wondered what her motive was in telling me. I wrote about it in one of my articles for Chronicles and I think she read it because she made it a point to tell me when she saw me next that she would never do such a thing. I don’t know if it was my eyes or the light but I did see her nose turn into  Pinocchio’s nose. The more she talked the more I saw branches sprout out. What I think happens, is some women talk so much that they forget what they say and they have to backtrack which is hard if you can’t remember what you said. As women we need to get to a point where we allow creativity for each person to be what it needs to be. Of course there are dancers that aren’t my preference but I know they put in as much effort in their dancing as me. It’s not about live and let live, it’s about finally allowing your community to do what it needs to do and accept the differences. The differences actually make our dance world more beautiful and enjoyable because inspiration needs her playground to fulfill desires and aspirations.

Do dance levels mean anything anymore? They need to, they should and it’s important even though our danceform is more easily accessible then it was ten years ago, for teachers to make this clear. Accomplishment means understanding every step and movement that it took to get to the next lesson. Every time success is achieved it makes the goal more important then the short cuts. Achieving success is apart of each level. Each level has it’s own rewards and if you miss out on a level then you won’t know what the reward is. For some it’s a walking shimmy with layering or for another it’s veil work. Anything is possible if the intention is to creatively work towards your dance personas aspirations. The amazing thing about this dance is that any woman can learn it for any reason and come out a winner. In a world that tries to define us, it’s great to be apart of a danceform that counters this doctrine making us indefinable, inspired and free. Yet in order to get to this freedom we have to learn the ropes so to speak. There’s a saying that goes,  “If belly dance was any easier it would be called football.” Enough said.

In ending my thoughts for this post, I realized that our dance levels give us a reference point besides accomplishment. Confucius stated that, “Everything has beauty but not everyone sees it.” Maybe we just need to open our eyes and realize that as women we are most beautiful when we perform our danceform by experience, fortitude and knowledge…our way.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving everyone! Here’s one of my favorite photos of students that reminded me of how thankful I am to have had the honor to teach such beautiful and talented women!

belly dance levels

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About Leyla Najma
Lifelong professional Belly Dancer dedicated to providing "Belly Dance Instruction That Is Easy To Understand And Learn That Connects The Dots"


2 Responses to “Do Dance Levels Have Meaning Anymore?”
  1. Mendi Jenkins says:

    Very nice article… I am very, very new to bellydance and am LOVING every minute of it… And I am NOT a “dancer”. I take ATS lessons in Muscatine, Iowa. My teacher, Melanie Moore, is a beautiful dancer (in my opinion) and I strive to be as graceful and elegant as her and many of the other ladies she has taught… Their troupe is Tribe Unda. Anyway, I enoyed reading this and appreciate you taking time for all of us to learn from you.

    • Leyla Najma says:

      Hello Mendi,
      First and foremost thank you for taking time out of your day to read my post. I really appreciate it!
      And here’s two big shouts to you and your teacher Melanie Moore!! It’s always nice to hear about amazing teachers especially from their students. I have always loved ATS and have taken a few classes at workshops. I love watching troupes perform especially with the fusion styles of today. I will look for your teachers troupe Tribe Unda and if you have photos share them with us!

      I think the definition of dancer is what is really in our hearts. We are all born dancers, we just learn how to express it differently through danceforms. Congratulations on finding a great teacher and artform. May your dance journey be blessed full of joys and bliss!

      Happy Thanksgiving,