Thursday, November 12, 2015

What Lies Beneath

Now that another successful Waking Persephone has come and gone, and I'm back from being on tour, I'm starting work on a series of posts to help foster positive growth and stability within the dance community.  This first post highlights things I said in the community roundtable, and recent workshops. 

One of the many thoughts that ran through my head as I watched the chaos build, ebb, and spread online in mid-September is that these things were simply more rocks hitting an already cracked and compromised windshield, more bricks building on a crumbling wall, more weight on a thin sheet of ice.

To put it simply: the "bellydance community"* is not as strong as we'd like to think it is. A strong community knows how to properly and responsibly react to and handle problems.  It knows how to provide adequate support, help foster resolution, and clearly communicate. It repeatedly sets up and holds to positive examples of professionalism while addressing personal needs. And if it doesn't know how to do these things, it learns how to do them in order to become stronger.

I believe it is very important to stand up against objectification and fight sexual misconduct. But in order to best address those and similar issues, we need to make sure we're already taking care of ourselves and each other solidly. There is a significant level of harm that is done by dancers to each other through slander, theft of intellectual property, undercutting, and other shoddy business practices.  These very rampant issues cause much harm to our community - personally and professionally.  But they are rarely dealt with head-on and more often ignored for the sake of the cult of personality or "being nice."

So what can we do?

It all comes down to communication.

Communication is the cornerstone of community. Good communication fosters growth, stability, and solidarity.  Poor communication drives wedges, feeds negativity, and brews distrust.

It is very easy to get carried away with things we read online, misconstrue them, and feed into controversy.  But more often than not, all of that can be avoided entirely with a few easy steps.  Words can build and words can break, so it's up to us to use them effectively. So here are three points that can help us all build a better community:

READ. Practice comprehensive reading.  Before you share an item or reply to something, read it. Then read it again.  Then read it at least one more time to make sure you understand it. Then read what you wrote. And re-read it before you hit enter.

ASK.  If you don't understand or unsure about something, ask. And by ask, I mean, politely, concisely ask for clarification. "Could you please explain or expand upon what you meant by ...?" Then read (or listen to) the answer and review. Ask can also mean questioning yourself and your own thoughts: exercising critical thinking.  Why do you believe something to be true? Do you automatically agree with someone because they're your friend or your teacher, or disagree with someone because you don't know them or heard something about them? Why is that?

BE DIRECT & OPEN. This is probably the hardest part, but it definitely solves the most amount of problems. Women especially can have a hard time communicating with each other when they are afraid they may disappoint someone or make them angry.  Or read much deeper into something beyond what was meant by it. Have a problem with a person? Respectfully address THAT person - not your buddy, not their friend, not everyone but them and vaguebook it.  Instead, by being clear and upfront about concerns and issues, you can meet most issues head-on before they fester into serious problems.  FYI - being direct does not mean having license to be an asshole. I have seen some folks be very abusive under the heading of "I'm just telling it like it is." Remember to address people respectfully (even if you disagree with them), and consider how to address the problem and works towards finding a solution.

Hinging on that note of respect, here's the other vital part about understanding community and making it strong: what do we ourselves bring to it? If communication is the cornerstone, we are the earth underneath it and the stones built on top of it.  How stable are we? How much do we honor our own integrity?

It is very hard to treat others with respect if we don't do it to ourselves.  How often are you self-negative about your own body and abilities? If you are very critical of yourself, it stands to reason you will be critical of others.  Likewise, if you fail to have compassion for yourself, it's very hard to have it for anyone else.  Everything we build starts with us, as individuals.  How we treat ourselves often dictates how we treat others.  And probably the hardest piece of advice on this whole page is "be kind to yourself."

By addressing ourselves and each other with positive intent and constructive thinking, together we can build a better community for all of us. Which means that what lays beneath the icing is some gloriously fantastic cake.

(Yes I'm ending this on a food metaphor when I started out with a construction one.  Because cake.)

*(I put that in quotes because there are many different groups and communities - regionally, stylistically, by troupes/groups/associations. You could say that the controversy mainly impacted the Tribal community, or that the Oriental community is more grounded - but neither statement would be entirely correct either.  First of all, over 60% of dancers participate or work in multiple styles, so they're usually involved in multiple communities.  Secondly, one merely needs to look at old bellydance magazines or recent forums to see there has been and is just as much drama in the Oriental/Cabaret scene, for decades. And also, the advice here can work for EVERY kind of community...)


  1. From my perspective I have seen a glass house built around the bd community way back when I was a kid. Its a microcosm of our culture and the things we don't want to admit. So what about sexual objectification and the orientalist images that are the foundation of how we understand this dance on a subconscious, collective level? From a cultural perspective there has been much hypersexualization of the image of women in the Middle East. And this has served the detriment of our understanding and connection with other women. Those images were advertisments for colonialism. They were meant to objectify. Think ads in Cosmo and how much they say about who women are. Not much. They serve to make women objects that are easily dismissed and disvalidated. Anyway, I think if the bd community is going to get strong, some of these issues have to be addressed. Why be selective about calling out objectification? From a bigger perspectve, we all have alot to learn.

  2. Education and communication. That is what will bring a community forward. Im so glad to know that despite some dancers Ive encountered and stories Ive heard, that someone in our community is advocating for these values. These are my goals in my local community. Thank you for being a voice of reason from a place of love.