|Stereo Vision Gina Simon-Photography|
"Beauty/Beast" at Raven's Night
Nearly every organized (and disorganized) religion has some sort of celebration this time of year. There's a lot of talk about the reason for the season, about being PC, not offending anyone, offending everybody, celebrating love, fighting commercialism, who started what tradition and why, and so forth. And of course, everyone thinks they're right.
And well, the same is true for the bellydance world. We each (whether we like to admit or not) have our own dance religion. What we believe, how we practice it, what we think others should believe and practice. And we span the range from fundamentalists and dogmatic practitioners to eclectic reformers and agnostic polytheists. And if you've spent any fair amount of time in the bellydance community, you have probably heard some, if not ALL of the following:
-"Egyptian style is the only REAL bellydance" (or Turkish or Lebanese...)
-"Tribal isn't bellydance." (or Gothic or Fusion...)
-"ATS is the ONLY way to do Tribal right."
-"Tribal style is for REAL women and REAL sisterhood...Cabaret is for sluts and strippers."
-"You can't do both X and Y, you just can't. It's either one or the other."
-"Bellydancing is for women ONLY."
-"X's Style is the only way to have proper technique, if you don't do it her way, your dance is crap."
and so on, and so forth, etc, etc.
Why? Why do people believe/say these things?
I've come to the conclusion that when we come to this dance, we fall in love with it. And we invest so much of ourselves - our time, our money, our bodies - that it becomes important to believe that you're doing it right, that your investment is worthy. And let's face it, most people starting out don't even know the complexity they're about to run into. Tribal? Oriental? Canes, Swords, Veils, and Fire? Oh my! How do I know I'm doing it right?
Some people react to the smorgasbord with glee : "I'm going to try it all! Weeee!" but a lot of people cling tighter to what they know and are familiar with - which is a very common human condition: whatever is strange/unfamiliar is possibly sinister/wrong. Which is a great survival technique, but not a terribly good social/communal one. There is also an explicable fear of BEING WRONG: "If Betty does Tribal, does that make me wrong for doing American Cabaret, or her wrong for doing Tribal? It does look more authentic, but it's really NOT, so there.." And then there are instructors who further feed into these fears - whether because they're pushing their own religion, or they're afraid of losing students, or they just hate Betty's guts.
And here's where we come to the amazing thing about religion: It's about your personal relationship between you and whatever your chosen deity/path is. It has NOTHING to do what what anyone else does. If it works for you, that's awesome. And it's invigorating to share common beliefs and goals with others. But it doesn't make what anyone else is doing automatically wrong.
Egyptian is the only way for you? That's awesome! Travel over there, study everything you can - there's a LOT to discover (like different eras, regions, history, and like the overlaps between Lebanese and Turkish). American Tribal Style floats your boat, fills your soul, and makes you stupid happy? Fantastic! Study where it comes from, and see what other variations are now out there and why - it's not blasphemy. Bellydancing helps your connect with your inner goddess and makes you feel empowered and beautiful? Rock on! Just remember, "over there" - EVERYONE does it - children, grandparents, women AND men. And just because some wrote some pretty myths and published them doesn't make it fact. Dancing TWO styles? Well, a lot of professional dancers learn and perform multiple styles of dance - generally through more than a single 6 week class.
I could go on and on, but what I'm saying here is: do what works for you, do it to the best of your ability, WHILE respecting that other people feel the same way about what they do and how they dance. Learning about and accepting that other forms are valid does NOT invalidate what you believe and practice. In fact, you may learn something new that expands or builds upon what works for you. It doesn't make you weak or inferior - rather it's just another one of those things that makes you stronger and a better human being as well.
As teachers, we need to remember that what we share is OUR own experience, our own path. As students, we have to remember this as well - that we are not only getting that person's experience, but are also filtering it through our own experiences. As performers, we also share our experience with the audience when we dance, and again, they filter it through their eyes and hearts.
So the next time you may feel threatened by what someone else is doing, or fearful that you may be doing it wrong, relax - take a moment and think about the way. Ask yourself what is at the root of that emotion, and what does it mean if you are indeed wrong? Will the world end? Nope. Can you learn more and expand as a dancer? Yes indeed. So, go forth and be awesome!