Monday, June 17, 2013

Sometimes, I think we're doing it wrong or "Competition vs. Creation & Collaboration"

Tempest & Celeste at MQ Studiowerks with Nathaniel and Jon S (and Heather!)
In the last few weeks, I have heard my partner Nathaniel give several interviews and speak on multiple convention panels about his recent/new projects and relative involvement/notoriety with "Steampunk Music."* When asked about his opinion of other bands, past projects, and other happenings, he essentially said, "It's not a competition - if we're all creating with common goals and the overall movement in mind, that's advancing the culture, the diversity within us, and challenging ourselves to grow."

And I thought, gee, that's a really nice idea.

And then I thought, how could that apply to the bellydance community? 

And the larger part of my brain, still recovering from being on the road for several weeks and digesting a lot of festival-ness (the good, the bad, the pretty, and the ugly), immediately scoffed at and rolled its proverbial eyes.

I've been involved with bellydance 15 years now.  I've seen a lot, experienced a lot personally - the really awesome and best of the best, and some really horrible stuff that my psyche still probably bears faint scars from. I've watched it grow from the early days of the internet and limited contact/availability of information, supplies, and so few events, so the massive amount of EVERYTHING that's prevalent today.  There's more of everything!  That's awesome!  Yet, at the same time, there's more of everything - which means the bad as well. That's not so awesome!  And sometimes trying to fight against the bad and the wrong feels like you've got a teaspoon to bail out the Titanic.

And then I go and teach a workshop or a private lesson or my weekly classes, and everything seems right with the world - my hope/faith is renewed, inspiration flows, and things are shiny again.  My students inspire me, and I am reminded that THIS is the largest part of the reason why I do this, why I love it.

So I come back around to that idea of creating and collaborating vs. viewing it as a competition and I wonder.  Well, obviously when we're all dancing in a show or in class, it's not a competition - the only person you are competing with is yourself and challenging yourself to grow. 

But from a business perspective, competition is a necessary part of it right? - there's only so many places to dance, only so many classes and workshops an area can support, only so many teachers to be hired for an event. And especially right now, the market is quite flooded across the board - SO many events happening, it's an embarrassment of riches. But the market can only support so much, especially in a fragile economy...and how many things can you do in a weekend? It boggles the mind! And with a flood comes sinking - really awesome folks who had many weekly classes happening are down to one or none...there are less "workshop weekends" because there are more and more festivals everywhere (new ones arriving and others failing), some happening within a short drive of each other, all fighting for the same market. It's really hard to think about collaboration and creativity when you're fighting to make a living. 

BUT, there are ways to go about it, and I have some suggestions, in particular order:
-Class Schedules: When possible, try scheduling weekly classes on different nights than other folks in town, even if it's a different style.  I've heard of places where there's 2-3 teachers in a town, and they are all teaching at different places, but on the same night.  The argument of "well, she's Cabaret and I'm Tribal" (or whatever) is bunk. You've got the same market, and oftentimes, students will want to try other styles.  Better they have the option of different nights than to give up one class to take another because it's the same damn night.

-Event Schedules: When planning an event - ask around to find out what else may be going on with other troupes/studios/etc, within at LEAST 1 hour radius, and start your planning at least 6 months out (or more!).  If there's something of the same scale already happening (even if it's a different style), see about selecting a different date, or at least letting the other producer know what you're considering and why.  If you both agree you have different markets, then maybe you can actually help each other cross-promote.  Maybe y'all can work together to create an area calendar - it's really easy to create a mutual calendar via gmail/google that local teachers and producers can access, add their events and double-check dates.

-Stand Behind Your Own Work: You know what works better than starting rumors about your supposed competition? NOT spreading rumors. If you're an awesome teacher/performer/producer, then your work will speak for itself.  If you have to badmouth others to make yourself seem awesome, then your work is probably not that good and needs some fixing.  If you doubt yourself, then perhaps you should do some soul-searching and find out why you're insecure. But putting negativity energy out there will only come back to bite you, sooner or later.

-Be Yourself, Create Yourself: Be proud of what you create, credit those that have helped/inspire you, and don't rely on copying/borrowing from other people.  If you want to be in this for the long haul, then you need to be your own creatrix vs being a "cheaper substitute for X." If you feel you haven't found your own voice yet, then you may want to think twice about teaching/performing/producing.

-Switch Gears: Particularly with women, we often feel driven to critique/criticize others, because society trains us/puts us in the position to believe we are in competition with other women.  Why? So someone has a nicer costume or looks prettier or has a lot of talent- what does that matter to you? Nothing. It doesn't make you better or less, because at the end of the day, you will still be you and she will still be her. So rather than searching for what's wrong with someone (unless well, you're the teacher and you've been asked to critique, you get I mean that other thing entirely, right?), focus on what works and what you do like.  Ask yourself why you don't like something and see how valid the reason is...but don't dwell in the negative, it'll only suck you down. Otherwise, if what's on stage is really not your cup of tea, this is a great time at a show to shop or take a bathroom break!

So there's a few thoughts that I hope you'll find helpful.  Collaborating means working together for a common good, even if you're not directly working with someone on a project. Maybe if we all starting shifting how we approach ourselves and others in the community, it will create a ripple that will balance everything back out.  Yeah, lofty goal, but it has to start somewhere. Why not here?

*This is still a very big debate within and outside of Steampunk - what IS Steampunk music, is there such a thing?  Check out this great panel discussion from Clockwork Alchemy a few weeks back...


  1. Must be synchronicity because this article is exactly what I needed to read right now. Not a fan of competition but feel the constant force of it in the BD community. Refreshing to read it in words!

  2. Not constantly measuring yourself against other dancers gives you the opportunity to become truly your own dancer, both stylistically and in terms of what goals you set for yourself--or choose not to set, as the case may be. It's a very liberating feeling.

  3. I was having a chat with a friend about a month ago about some of the toxic behaviors that I've witnessed backstage at belly dance shows. My friend was very involved in theater for a long time so he was explaining how the backstage mood is... oh so different! What was the most striking was him saying that everyone's mindset was that they needed to collaborate together to give a good show for the audience. A play requires more than one actor to make it work, right?

    So it got me thinking of how wonderful it would be if we did the same thing in belly dance... if, for a show, we'd all understand that we all should do well to give the audience the best belly dance show experience. I did witness this a few times, which was awesome! That would be when I participated in the gala shows at Tribal Revolution.

    I always say that, if instead of fighting each other, we'd invest that energy to bettering Dance, it would be so wonderful!

  4. Yup, yup, yup!!! I have long wondered why we can't take the high road together!

  5. Your timing is impeccable. I was just very put off by something else I read from someone else and needed this right now. Some people see "competition" as determining who's "best" at something but really it ends up singling out people who don't make the grade when the graders are often a bit biased to begin with. Collaboration is far more beneficial to everyone involved because instead of apples competing against oranges we all support one another regardless of and often -because- of our differences. It ends up bringing more value to and strengthening the community as a whole.