M'chelle (of Kansas City, MO) posted this piece today, and in the spirit of "Dancing is for everyone, performing is not", I wanted to share this with you. The title link will take you directly to her blog, her name link will take you to her website. The bullet list at the end is especially critical for both teachers and students.
On one hand, this is awesome - more competition, in theory, should raise the general quality level of performers. The more commonplace bellydance becomes, potentially the more understanding there will be that we are not strippers. The more the public sees bellydancers, especially at venues like Cultural Fairs and Outdoor Child-Friendly Festivals, I feel, potentially, the less we we be associated with sexually explicit nonsense.
However, all that theory and conjecture is just theory and conjecture, and is totally dependant on the very individuals who are undertaking these performances. Baby beginner dancers (and I have been guilty of this myself) have an unerring tendency to get so excited about the prospect of performing or teaching, they rarely take the time to consider whether or not they should be performing or teaching, or for that matter what is in fact a fair price for any performance or class. On top of that, most people hiring bellydancers have no idea what the difference between a quality performance and amatuerish jiggling really is. The idea of mentorship between teacher and student is sadly lacking, at least in my dance community. There is very little interference when it comes to advising young dancers not to perform or teach.
Once again, I'm guilty of this myself - I've had students come up to me, thrilled because so and so heard they were bellydancing and asked them to come and teach a workshop at a wine bar or private lessons out a garage or living room - and invariably these lessons are free or so cheap as to be painful. The idea of appropriateness also seems to be completely lacking. Yes, you can bellydancer is burlesque inspired costuming - but doing so to sexysexy music at a street fair is not the best idea when so many of us are trying to elevate this dance form from the level of cheap entertainment to high art to be regarded with the same amount of respect garnered (to my perception) as ballet dancers and aerialists.
I am, of this moment, making a vow to be honest with my students when they ask about the possibilities of performing and teaching, and to be truthful when informed about already accepted gigs and classes. And I think it would be really excellent if other bellydancer teachers would vow to do that same.
I don't fee like I'm ready to be a mentor yet - there's still so much that I'm trying to figure out, not only about the business of bellydance, but about my place in it - and I have a really excellent mentor helping me to do that.
If you are a beginning dancer, hoping to be a professional one day, take the following, put it in your practice journal, and anytime some friend or neighbor or coworker asks you to come perform at a party or teach a little class, re-read it, and answer yourself honestly.
- If I take this job, will I be representing this art form at a level and in a manner that shows respect not only to my teachers, but to every other dancer that has come before me?
- Am I willing to charge the going rate for this job, so as not to be taking money out of the mouths of other dancers in my area?
- Will taking this dance job elevate the dance form?
- Do I have the appropriate costuming/music/style/skill level for this performance?
- Have I talked to my teacher about whether or not this is a good idea for me at this point in my dance-life?