One of my new writings…it goes for any style or area within bellydance, but just as appropriate for our developing style:
When I think back to all of the teachers I’ve studied with – for regular classes as well for workshops, the ones I’ve returned to again and again all have something in common, despite being different in style, age, gender, experience, or location. I found that I was drawn to them not only because I felt the teaching was strong and improved my understanding of the dance as a whole as well as what it meant for me, on my body – but I truly enjoyed who they were/are as people, and that enriched the experience all the more.
I like to think that I offer the same opportunity to my students – they are not only exposed to the history of bellydance, its styles, movements, and diversity, but get to see who I am as a human being. Which includes all of my little quirks – I can be serious, and I can be a (lot) tad silly. I can be very eloquent and deep, and I can call my ankle an elbow if it’s been one of those days. I talk with my hands…a lot. You pretty much get the picture.
Recently on my journeys, a friend told me the story of someone in her community and that person’s experience upon meeting a famous bellydancer. This person had been actually upset and disappointed that the famous dancer was friendly and interacted with everyone, not just a select few community elite. That surely, such a great dancer would have been far more reserved and selective about the company she keeps. This story left me speechless. Why would someone *expect* that sort of behavior from anyone?
Shortly afterward, I saw another somewhat prominent teacher/dancer bash the quality and aptitude of the students attending her workshop at a foreign event, in a public forum, probably assuming that none of those students would read the forum if it’s in another land? Again, I was struck speechless. I have taught easily well over a hundred workshops all over the US and in Europe, and never would have I dismissed an entire group of students as not being proficient enough dancers, especially when you know they’re coming from different levels of experience and backgrounds. (In retrospect, I would more likely believe that the issue lay in the teacher and her material, rather than the ability of the students.)
And then there’s those dancers who offer a lot of lip service to the student’s face (and backside), and then switch their tune once their listening ears have left the building – especially if they find out the student has other heroes as well (thou shalt not have any other god before she!). It hurts me to see a student beaming with the praise she was given by a favorite dancer, when as soon as she was out of ear shot, eyes were rolled and/or comments contradicting the faux compliment are made. Is it better to leave the student believing what she’s been told, and basking in the nuclear glow of her idol, or break her heart with the truth?
As I mentioned, these were all recently observed experiences, and they’ve culminated into this piece exploring the state of “Divatude.” What does it mean to be a Diva? What are a Diva’s obligations to herself and her public? What does it mean to idolize a Diva? And most of all, what IS a Diva?
The Online Etymology Dictionary defines “diva” as “distinguished woman singer,” 1883, from It. diva “goddess, fine lady,” from L. diva “goddess,” fem. of divus “divine (one).”
The American Heritage Dictionary defines diva as
1. An operatic prima donna.
2. A very successful singer of nonoperatic music: a jazz diva.
[Italian, from Latin dīva, goddess, feminine of dīvus, god; see dyeu- in Indo-European roots.]
A little outdated nowadays since the term is applied to many performers outside of the opera or song realm, but it’s interesting to note the divine roots of the word, as well as the fact that you don’t see “a temperamental, high-strung bitch” among the definitions. But that’s really the most common image the term tends to bring to mind. Definitely not a good thing to a word that had such glorious roots.
As someone who has been trained as a visual arts since the age of 3, and have been exposed to all aspects of the performing arts since then, I do understand the truth behind “artists can be temperamental” – anyone who makes their living directly from their bodies in such a subjective manner (for in sports, it’s either win or lose, the same is not true with the arts), the experience can more or less make you batty. But being shallow, petty, self-centered, and self-absorbed are uncommon traits among artists, nor are they qualities to be celebrated or imitated. No matter how great the artist is.
What makes someone act like the negative Diva? Is it concern about reputation or perception? A(n overdeveloped) sense of entitlement? Some bizarre belief that by stepping on the little people, you make yourself seem greater? Just someone with a bad personality to begin with? Or maybe just a very shy person who doesn’t know how to deal with the public? And most importantly, can such behavior be fixed? Honestly, I don’t know – I’m sure every person is different, but I can think of some ways to deal with and perhaps prevent such negativity.
The truth is, our dance community is relatively small – VERY small. The internet has brought together dancers from far ends of the globe and made them next door neighbors. And while there’s plenty of room to celebrate great dance, there’s not a lot of room for monstrous egos – it damages not only the artist, but all levels of the community, from the event sponsor to the student.
From the ground up:
For the students: draw your inspiration from as many dancers as your eyes will let you take in. Very early on my dance journey, I was told, “you can learn something from every dancer – that means both the good and not-so-good ones” and that’s true both dancers as they’re performing and who they are in the classroom and backstage. The best teacher will not only help you grow as a dancer, but their spirit and integrity should inspire you as well. Just like your parents, your dance idols aren’t perfect. They make mistakes, they don’t live in a perfect glass bubble, and they put their flared pants on the same way you do, one sore leg at a time. They’re just at a different part in their journey than you. That doesn’t make them a better person than you, it just makes them different. Remember that, and know it’s wonderful to be the student, no matter where you’re at. The best teachers keep on learning well after they’re established.
For the sponsors: how much is stress and hassle worth? If that one name diva costs you twice the cost of two good dance instructors, and four times the mental drama, does that really balance out in the end? Communities grow through exposure, and prosperity can come just as much as from diversity, as the standard. Eventually, a negative diva will wear herself out, though not before she wears out a string of sponsors and disenchants students from compromising behavior. The economy is tough, but a good sponsor can get the best of both worlds and educate their community in the process.
For the dancer/teacher/performer – professional behavior doesn’t equate to being a bitch. It means being reliable, considerate, comprehensive in thought, and gracious under stress and respectful of your students, colleagues, and sponsors. In the end, you’ll get more respect in the community and career longevity through cultivating these traits, in addition to the skillful practice of your art – than being a negative diva. If you treat yourself and others honorable at all points in your dance journey, it shall be returned to you. That is what makes a true Diva – a distinguished lady with a dash of divineness.