For quite a while now, I’ve been writing this ever-growing article in my head, about what NOT to do as a bellydancer. I keep coming across things that make me go “ok, make a note of that and add it to the list.” I could probably write a book on it, but I’ve already got a list of books to write, so I thought to myself (while in the shower of course), let’s start an ongoing thread, and add things to it weekly.
Now, none of us come to the realm of bellydance Apropos Athenas – that is born fully formed and armed with the knowledge of everything we should and should not do. It takes experience to (hopefully) learn what’s kosher and what’s just not cool – either by trial and error, or through teacher/peer guidance, and mostly a bit of both. Teachers don’t set guidelines for their students just to be bitches, it’s because they’ve been there, made the mistakes, and don’t want to see others go through the trauma. So many people have told me, “if I had only known then when I know now.” Well, nothing beats experiencing it for yourself, but having some guidance to help you avoid the major bumps and faux-paus doesn’t hurt either. I was very lucky to have extremely experienced teachers who shared their trials and tribulations AND did not hesitate to point out where or when I had erred and how to avoid it again. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of inexperienced teachers out there passing on bad habits, not correcting or guiding students, and dancers who just start out way too early out of the nest, despite what their teachers say. So hopefully this growing collection will help out everyone.
Because as I’ve said many times in the past, just because we’re doing a fusion art form, it doesn’t mean we can get away with murder. It doesn’t mean we can do anything we want anytime and ignore all of the rules. (It generally helps to KNOW the rules before you deviate from them or break them). If you want to be respected as a fusion artist both in the bellydance community, AND in the larger arts community, you have to behave and act with class and savvy – and it’s even MORE important because you are doing something different.
So here goes:
Technically, these will be in no particular order, so as I number them, it’s arbitrary. And if you have an issue or question about etiquette in your community, don’t hesitate to msg or email me about it, maybe we can address it here.
#1 – Understand the Pond & Respect It, Credit It.
There are essentially four ponds in our existence. There is your local bellydance community, there is the larger bellydance community in your country and abroad, there is the GBD community (which overlaps both), and then the general community. The first three are never as large as you may think it is, especially the local. If you take your teacher’s/another dancer’s choreography and perform it at a local show without permission or credit, people are going to know. It make take a little while, but sooner or later, everyone will know. And YOU will be the pariah, not the person you copied without credit, no matter how many excuses you can come up with. Step a little further outside of your community, and I guarantee, it doesn’t take long for word to spread in the GBD community (which is technically somewhat small and very connected) – and especially if gets posted on youtube, can be talked about on tribe or myspace, or anywhere else. So if you take a choreography from a workshop instructor, and don’t credit who created it in your youtube, you’re not doing yourself a service either. Other people will know. There’s no harm in truth in advertising, but there is a lot of harm in not giving credit. If you’re a copier, and not a creator, then it doesn’t help you grow as an artist/dancer, it doesn’t expand your capabilities, and it doesn’t help your client base, because eventually they will find out, especially if they see the original – which definitely can happen in the local community.
If you have a question about whether something can be used or not, ASK the dancer/teacher if it’s OK, or how they wish to be credited. If you’re NOT on good terms with them anymore, then DON’T use it. Communication is vital – it’s really not cool to do it first, then apologize later. The damage is done by then.
So: be true to yourself, be true to your teachers, and respect the flow of both the local and larger communities. It can only help you in the long run.
Addition: It’s pretty common knowledge that the Muses are sluts. They whisper in ears very far apart at the same time, and have for centuries upon centuries. But I think it’s the people who aren’t crediting work when they KNOWINGLY are taking it that are causing the Muse coincidences trust issues.
I think all artists who don’t live in closets will have the issue of the common muse – you either select another idea, or work hard to make your own twist on the concept so that it IS uniquely you (and yes, even I have a list of ideas and concepts that had to go either way). Actually, in all things, I stress that dancers work on finding their own voice – I promise it will show. There’s far too much “direct inspiration” out there – even if you deeply admire someone’s work, where’s the joy in working to dance exactly like them? What do YOU have to say with the dance – both visually and mentally.