Shades of GreyAdd to favorites
Sometimes in our specific entertainment misunderstandings can happen not only out of ignorance but wrong impressions. I call this problem, shades of grey. For the general populace there seems to be this impression that belly dance is a fun and goofy kind of entertainment that anyone can take up and do.
Most professional dancers like myself have witnessed men say to their wives, “Hey honey, you should take up belly dancing so you can dance sexy too.”
This is common and based on a variety of cultures that are ignorant beyond their immediate surroundings and priorities. Basically if someone isn’t interested in learning something beyond the immediate they will keep their ignorant beliefs out of indolence. What this means for us is a lifetime of varied problems that can multiply into irritating phone calls, requests and situations that could be avoided if people did their homework. But for most of us we find ourselves educating the masses out of necessity because our dance some how through the years still retained it’s reputation as a “hoochy coochy” dance. First impressions can lead people into a multitude of directions based on their own frame of mind. This we obviously do not have control over.
Recently on our new bellydancevillage forum, Cleopatra’s Court, bellydancevillage member, Najla brought up a really good question, “What do I say to someone who wants me to teach for free?”
My dander goes up when this type of thing happens. How on earth could anyone call someone up and ask them to take time out of their busy schedules, pay for gas and text besides haul everything needed for class…for free? Maybe our reputation needs to be revamped but I doubt it has to do with the lack of professional dancers educating people; it seems more the lacksadaisy way in which our dance is approached by people. Do people educate themselves today like they did ten to twenty years ago? I think our dance evolution can answer this question by the problems that follow it’s growth and cultural esthetics. From my experience there seems to be a trend of indifference to learning about something that is unfamiliar or outside people’s comfort levels. It took my parents years to get comfortable with my dancing because in their minds it was an exotic dance form inappropriate to watch but then again this assumption was based on zero information just uninformed opinions. Without my guidance their opinions would have stayed the same way even to this day.
Do we unintentionally help stir the pot of indifference by dancing for birthday parties or bachelor and office parties? Do we unintentionally give out the wrong impression by the very fact that we dance for a living or dance for professional aspirations? I stopped doing birthday parties when I turned 43 because I ended up dancing for a young man who turned 18. His friends wanted me to do a lap dance for him. I asked them why they would ask a belly dancer to do that and their response both shocked and exasperated me; they said what’s the difference? I abruptly ended my show and thanked them for an enlightening evening because little did they know they taught me a good lesson. I let the restaurant owner know that very night I was no longer willing to perform for birthday parties, bachelor parties or office parties. It hit me then and there that if I was dancing for a culture that didn’t know the difference between me and a stripper then I didn’t need to dance for them. I was paid to perform at the restaurant as a dancer not a stripper so I ended the party gigs that night.
I decided after that to do more stage performing because for some reason the stage seems to dissolve the very problems that restaurant dancing creates or perpetuates. There seems to be a higher esteemed esthetics to stage performing and I found that nothing can beat the lights, curtain and ambiance of entertaining to an enthusiastic crowd who is educated in our art form. Bottom line, people who pay to come see belly dancers perform on stage understand and appreciate our efforts before we ever get on stage.
But why are there shades of grey in our dance field? Remember this dance attracts insincere people who become a vortex that pulls into it people who don’t understand the true heart and mind of who a dancer is. They attract people to them who help to perpetuate the confusion of dance esthetics by diluting an art form and turning it into a fast food market. All dancers who are true to their art form no matter what it is have an insatiable appetite where they constantly hunger for knowledge. We strive to achieve goals and aspirations through out our careers as dancers and performers living in the state of proficient grace bound by an old school dictum of practice, train, learn and grow. The shades of grey can sometimes become a refuge from a black and white audience and disingenuous peers.
There is no cut and dry answer that explains why after so many years we are still plagued with cultural taboos and misconstrued beliefs regarding an ancient art form that we bring to life every time we perform. It’s within the nature of our humankind to follow fads that create myths and untruths. Add in self created ignorance and this can be the start of problems. But if these myths and untruths were mirrored back to us, could this change people’s perception including our own?
If Najla said to the woman who wanted her to teach for free, “Do you work for free at your office? Would you like it if your boss said, I want you to travel and do this work for me but I can’t pay you so you’ll have to pay for all your expenses out of your own pocket?” What would be her response…?
Okay, we all know what her response would be but the question is why would she assume Najla would do the very thing she wouldn’t be willing to do? I think as belly dancers we have to acknowledge our dance as a business and not just for fun and relaxation or recreation. Once we put this dance form into a place of business then people will understand that it costs money to learn, pay for costumes, travel and teach. I think we have to give our dance form the integrity that it deserves by word, action and education. Any reason for dancing is valid but men and women have to understand that within our dance form there are many professional dancers, those whom make their living with dance. To some, dance is a calling as intense and prevailing as the elements that cease to slumber constantly flooding the senses with desire. For those working their way up to master their own creativity, understanding this calling and reverence needs to be apart of approaching the fundamentals of our dance. It’s not about achieving a goal in less then a month, it’s about allowing creativity to nurture and blossom within it’s own time.
Shades of grey happens when common sense is thrown out the window but in saying this sometimes this is necessary in order to grow in a dance field that requires us to tear up the rough drafts of life within each performance. Every dancer has to come to a point in his or her dance and figure out their individual goals. But these goals have to respect the customs, dictums and dictates of an ancient art form that has roots as old as the bible. It seems that once we understand the history of what we are dancing, we become freer to interpret our own creativity within it’s learned knowledge. A true dancer knows they can spend most of their lives learning their dance form and yet know they will never learn it all. There is a comfort in knowing this because life really is a full time endeavor where sleep can get in the way.
So is it what we have allowed to languish in our dance that has effected our image? Is it short cuts to learning? Is it perhaps older dancers impeding progress with younger dancers by not passing the torch of accomplishment? Is it generations who have forgotten their history? Did we stop educating ourselves therefore dancing in an insensible ignorance or is it all the above? The answer lies within each of us and only we can answer this for ourselves. Some might answer that none of the above equates to them. Individual paths are walked in a multitude of distinctive ways that displays each dancer’s sense of worth, humanity, enlightenment and philosophy. Choices are made not only according to lessons learned but the integrity of the dancer’s view of his or her dance. This perhaps is what the audience sees thus making opinions based on visual interpretations of life showcased in dance. It can be a carnival of symbols and tutorial appearances. What they see is how they view life not necessarily how they see our dance. But the confusion of dance and life can merge together not only justifying their beliefs but tainting our dance with opinions that have nothing to do with us.
I have a simple philosophy: Fill what’s empty. Empty what’s full. Scratch where it itches. ~Alice Roosevelt Longworth
So I am sitting back looking at the shades of grey and in a way I realize that if our dance was black or white we wouldn’t be as interesting. It’s the avant garde attitudes of our dance that captures an audience’s attention along with our talent. Maybe what I’m saying is the shades of grey actually keep us on our toes guessing what our fate in dance will be. I would rather see shades of grey then limited black and white choices. As a Erma Bombeck quote says quite well, “When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left, and could say, “I used everything you gave me.”
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