What do people and families really think about belly dance? This is an open discussion that extends and co-exists with the life of the dancer. When I started out belly dancing, the hardest part was acknowledging to myself that it was a life time plunge of commitment and sacrifice.
Communication is a continual balancing act, juggling the conflicting needs for intimacy and independence. To survive in the world, we have to act in concert with others, but to survive as ourselves, rather than simply as cogs in a wheel, we have to act alone.
A belly dance friend once told me that she loved traveling so much that she decided to postpone marriage until after she had done all she wanted to do with her dancing. It was an interesting perspective and one that appealed to me but at the time I had my daughter and realized that traveling like I used to wasn’t in the cards for me anymore. As much of a gypsy that I was, I realized living in my gypsy wagon was fine for my eccentric tastes but not for raising a child. My belly dance path changed directions the day my daughter, Savanah was born. My balancing act changed from a single dancer to a mother in a heart beat.
My dance friend to this day has not married and I can see in her eyes the sadness and disappointment of prospects that seemed within reach yet fell through her grasp as time went by. Becoming an entertainer down the line can accumulate an exorbitant amount that once tallied up can be costly. The cost itself can be that of an unfulfilled family life and or partnership. The stage can transfix any woman and change her view of life. There is nothing like being the focus of attention by the multitudes of cheering fans but after the applause and lights fade away, we are after all left alone in the dressing room packing for the next gig. To many, belly dance fulfills the desires and the need to dance thus sharing their creative expression continuously without fail. That in itself is the enticement of belly dance. To selflessly perform and share creative masterpieces from one stage to the next can take up a life time. But as the body’s time clock ticks away, the exhaustion of traveling from one airport to the next can overwhelm the mind. Dressing rooms can become as claustrophobic as hotel rooms and room service can’t compare to that of a home cooked meal. Even the entertainer needs a break from entertaining and traveling
I did do light traveling to a variety of nightclubs and restaurants and Savanah was right beside me. It seemed the natural thing to do because I wanted her with me. The nightclubs and restaurants I worked at had blankets for her and I brought pillows. My fans and friends knew her well and they helped watch her while I was performing. It seemed normal to me but as I think back, it was as eccentric a thing to do just as much as living in my gypsy wagon. The few times I left her with babysitters, I had unfortunate situations occur. One babysitter put Savanah to bed with a can of sprite spilt all over her. She never cleaned her up and put her to bed in her sticky clothes. The next morning I was shocked to find Savanah’s hair stuck to the side of her face. Her bed plus the chair where she accidentally spilt her drink was never cleaned by the babysitter. I found out the babysitter was making out with her boyfriend instead of taking care of Savanah. Another babysitter took her to a college football game (without my permission) and left her by herself for almost an hour sitting on the grass. Savanah had swollen eyes when I came home from crying from the fear of being left alone. I found out that the babysitter yelled at her for crying. I was ready to jump on the babysitter and beat the crap out of her when I found out. So after those two experiences I took Savanah with me and told everybody I was a working mom and that my daughter being with me was apart of hiring me. I was lucky because most restaurants and nightclubs hired me and made accommodations for Savanah. So she became apart of a world that was full of musicians, dancers, wait staff and fans. Some might disagree with raising Savanah this way but having her there seemed to be the right thing to do. The peace of mind knowing she was with me and safe was priceless.
As Savanah got older she realized that telling her teachers and friends that I was a belly dancer occasionally backfired. The kids would tell her I was a stripper and parents especially the mom’s would give me dirty looks. I even had a mother try to knock me over in a school hallway. Little did she know as dancers our center of balance becomes strong and steady. Fortunately all I took home from that experience was a bruise on my arm from being knocked into the wall. On another occasion a little girl threatened to cut Savanah’s hair. It was not surprising that the little girl happened to be the daughter of the mother who tried to knock me down . So I had to tell Savanah to keep mum on what I did for a living for awhile. I prepared a lecture and demonstration for her school hoping to educate the mothers and teachers. To my chagrin nobody showed up in the gym and the principal asked me to leave since there was no interest. Savanah and I did go through some tough times together and to be honest, I never dreamed that choosing a belly dancing career would bring such strong reactions from people. But most of the people who reacted aggressively were Americans. Their ignorance was astounding and what I found even more perplexing was the fact that they wanted to stay that way.
As an American, I found that educating certain people wasn’t always easy because they seemed to be closed off to anything slightly different then what they were used to. But it’s not always the audience or classmates and their mothers that can be a problem. In the beginning of my quest to be a bellydancer, I had opposition from my ex-husband, family and friends. Everyone had a perception of what belly dance was without researching or finding out any facts. My ex-husband didn’t want to hear or learn anything about belly dancing and he did what he could to keep me from workshops, and classes. I was tenacious which eventually paid off when I went to Egypt with Sakti Rinek. It was the beginning of my dance career and the end of my marriage. One thing I have never done is look back. Looking forward is so much more interesting. As one door closes, another opens.
My family thought it was a silly hobby at first and I think because of the cultural differences, it was hard for them to understand. It was a in your face seduction and explicit sexuality. They couldn’t see beyond their own attitudes and opinions that were based on false assumptions. It was a stigma of something that at first wasn’t talked about. After my family finally saw me perform at a nightclub in Dallas, it became respectable. They saw tables full of families that enjoyed my show who reacted respectful and appreciative towards me. It was the environment and the Arabic people that taught my family belly dancing was not only acceptable but a performing art. But this was years later and I realized getting to that point was at times an uphill battle.
Sometimes learning how to get along with your fellow dancers can be as easy as a walk in the park or unintentionally falling into frozen waters. It’s not always as effortless as it seems from the audience’s perspective. We may be all smiles while performing but in the back of our minds we know we are dancing on thin ice. I was getting burned out trying to out dance, out dress or out smart other dancers and I was exhausted from competing for gigs. Fortunately I was getting work but I finally had to get a babysitter I could trust to take care of Savanah because I just couldn’t tote her around anymore. It became apparent that the feeling of sisterhood changed little by little because I was making a living with my dancing. It’s different when you have another job to compensate your income with but when belly dance is your sole source for your livelihood it changes everything. If it’s a career choice then it automatically becomes a job, though one you love still one that pays the bills. Auditioning for the same restaurant or nightclub can put a strain on any dance relationship no matter how well you know each other. If a dancer loses a gig to another dance friend, a wedge can start to appear. It’s a silent fracture or shattering of a creative friendship that never feels the same even if the friendship remains. I have seen good friends slowly break away from each other, their creative artistry being the cause. Creativity when compared or critiqued can create in it’s place a contention that disrupts and changes the synergy of friendships. Since our dance form is based on self expression and the creative process, we tend to take things personally especially with each other. But the reality of our business is it’s show business. We place ourselves in positions that requires us to audition and compete for the same gig with each other.
The balancing act is understanding that our dance world is effected by the individual tastes of consumers and club owners. There has to be some form of logic to what can be looked at as an ethereal and shallow business. The ego unfortunately plays a role in taking a rational mind and pushing it to unrealistic and irrational conclusions.
Ultimately the women who have lasted in this business understood something very important. They understood they are one of a kind. These veterans are empowered by this one thought and validation because in the large scope of things they know they are unique. The balancing act is really about coming to terms with our business and becoming comfortable with who we are as dancers and women. It’s about looking in the mirror and liking what we see.
“There is a vitality, a life-force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and be lost.” Martha Graham
The obvious assumption that every man or partner would automatically love the very fact that his wife is a belly dancer is a given…to a point. In the beginning the glitz and glam of it all can be like a Hollywood Red Carpet affair. But when the bright lights fade away and the sound of drums disappear in the distance, reality sets in, and life as usual resumes. The husband versus belly dance seems to bear its fruit sometime after the 20th performance. Read more