The Mindset of the Modern Belly Dancer


Sometimes I get a brain freeze when it comes to writing my blog and this last week was kind of one of those weeks. It occurred to me after some thinking and pondering regarding what topic I was going to write about that the mindset of dancers could be a good start and maybe an interesting commentary. Going even further, I think the mindset is just as important as training and practicing. Can just anybody be an entertainer and performer or is this specific group part of the “chosen few”?

When I was a green bean in this dance field, I remember thinking that I had to have a specific mindset…kind of like the old Hollywood starlet’s of days gone by. Belly dancers reminded me of those untouchable stars who made silent movies becoming the embodiment and definitive details of the ethereal heroine. All I knew is that belly dancers were worlds apart from the average woman and average was never going to be apart of my life. I knew the mindset had to be the reason why. Obviously training is an intrical part of our dance but as a novice in this dance field at the time; I saw something beyond my reach that lead me like the pied piper.

Does the audience look at a dancer and just see her dancing? I’m pretty sure this isn’t the case because there is so much more to a dancer than the performance. Now I’m not saying a dancer’s performance isn’t her blue print to her style and expertise, that’s not it, what I’m saying is that there is an expected divaness that the audience and fans anticipate that completes the package or in our case the luminescence of our jeweled and jingling personas and costumes. It’s this very mindset that appeals to the audience because in many ways as I have stated before they don’t want to see an average woman up on stage performing. It’s the magic and mystical appeal of fantasy and make believe that sets us apart from the monotonous drudge of everyday life. Magic keeps us alive and just like anything that is connected to this phenomenon, it’s the appeal of the unknown that attracts audiences and keeps them wanting more.

In my book, “The Divine Unrest,” on chapter 24, I wrote about divas and the interesting fact that divas especially in our dance field don’t always understand their “on” buttons are broken because sometimes there’s no turning them off. This diva personality trait is not exactly what I am talking about when I speak about the belly dance mindset but it is in the ball park. One particular experience that I can remember that made me realize that attitude could be a pain in the butt was when I saw a well known dancer in a workshop show get mad because her music somehow got screwed up. She danced like a pro on stage but in the back dressing room, she was the antithesis of her poised self on stage. The reality check is, if you have been dancing for years, there is not one person who hasn’t had their music messed up. It comes with the territory so to speak so I always wondered why if a pro can make a mistake look good on stage why they had to blow a problem out of proportion. That particular incident helped me take the rose colored glasses off because I realized that the mindset of a dancer has to include a type of etiquette that sets her apart from the average person’s irritations. Sometimes a mindset can be replaced by an ego driven temper but in defense of performers, I have to say most women when focused on their dance can be a little self absorbed and rightly so. Entertaining audiences is no simple feat.

The mindset of a dancer comes in a variety of shapes and sizes and with the idealized feminine image, there can be an excess of uncensored emotions that seep out unexpectedly. There can be a problem with self importance especially when dance is the constant companion of a dancer and the element of attention is commonplace. I love getting attention for a dance well done but when the lights go out and the theater finally becomes deserted; it’s time to be myself without all the glitz and glam. This can be hard for some women who crave the audience’s sustenance to keep them going. I keep myself going with the inner knowing that I can get back on stage anytime I want.

Working with other dancers can expose hidden insecurities even those that are pushed so far back that there seems no way any aspect of the problem can be seen. I have wondered why dancers are willing to perform with hidden issues and problems because they eventually come through in their movements. This is another idiotic aspect of the mindset of a dancer, almost like a self prescribing psychologist who hasn’t finished school yet but role plays like the consummate professional. It’s insane to think dance alone is the cure but in many ways if a dancer is true to herself, she will be able to see the varied culprits or root instigators. As I have experienced, seeing the problem can be harder than finding a cure. Dancers can create any number of problems for themselves and those they work with. Competitive rivalries are an end product of hidden, unrealized issues. I’m being sarcastic when I say unrealized because it’s easy to file insecurities away without another thought.  Remembering a particular incident that started the mindset of low self esteem is easier forgotten because we live in a dance society that doesn’t require background checks and references from childhood. Women for some reason don’t want to see the good, the beautiful and the victorious fruits of their labor mature because they are too busy seeing what didn’t happen, what blunder they made so much so that their inner dialogue is queued in for self reprimands and dissatisfaction.

It can become a song and dance working with other performers especially when hidden issues come out to play. I’ve worked with many dancers and for the most part I had a good time but in certain circumstances no matter how much I acquiesced to their mindset, there seemed to be a slight contention regarding who was in charge. It can get a bit uncomfortable when women insist on their point of view being the focal point and if you have independent dancers working together, tension can escalate beyond belief. The mindset of entertainers doesn’t always allow for teamwork when it comes to creative inspiration and I have found that the longer a dancer creates her choreographies, the less inclined she is to blend ideas. It’s not so much a selfish streak as it is a defined-pro satisfied and accomplished in her inspiration. Many dancers work together but I must say I love to watch the dance that happens during a production or Hafla. How we dance with each other says a lot about our ability to allow individual creative expression… some dance well while others stumble and fall.

After years of living the belly dance life I have come to realize that in the end what I choreographed was really my life story. Connecting to music is the first step into understanding how your mindset will play a part in your performance. I have danced sadness and I have danced frustration, both emotions that have played a big part in my life. I could say that I danced from a happy place but that isn’t really where my inspiration came from. It was rooted in the drama of life because for some reason I felt more comfortable choreographing my life from a more honest perspective.

For me the training isn’t where I get back my investment in my dance, it’s understanding that while I am an interpreter of life up on stage, my job is to make life look magical and ethereal. Sometimes we are caught between two worlds and it’s the mindset of the belly dancer that combines the two worlds and makes them work. The mystical and  common place live in the mindset of  every belly dancer and  if we are successful, the payback is standing between two worlds, bringing them together every time we perform on stage.

“Open your eyes and see how many gifts there are to unwrap. Notice the presence of your presents. It’s not your life that is disappointing: it’s your mind.” ― Gregg Krech, Naikan: Gratitude, Grace, and the Japanese Art of Self-Reflection


My choreography book is up on Amazon, “Choreography for the Perplexed Belly Dancer.” and my “Divine Unrest-My Stories and Personal Views on Belly Dance,” is now available in paperback. If you are looking for a B-day present or ideas for any occasion, buy my books and share your love of belly dance. I have a new video up on www.bellydancevillage with Sakti Rinek and Barbara Sayre Harmon. Enjoy Sakti and Barbara talk about their stories and travels about Egypt and the Sinai. These are two grand ladies with a lot of wisdom and humor to share.

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