It is so nearly spring here in Vermont that the weather changes every day. We are tired of winter–so very tired.
Apparently, dancers are tired, too–tired of the toxic environments, bullying, and negativity many belly dancers must navigate.
In a recent Facebook post, Yasmina Ramzy, yasminaramzy.com, wrote on Facebook of her dismay over these challenges. The post struck a chord, with almost 200 replies from folks who had such experiences, as well as many suggestions for change. The following quote is just a taste of the original.
RAQS SHARQI IS SO BEAUTIFUL, EMPOWERING, HEALING, INSPIRING, SOUL-ENRICHING AND FULL OF JOY.
And yet ….
often when I arrive in a new city to teach a workshop, the host picks me up at the airport and at some point we share a meal and then the host breaks down crying while she asks what to do about feeling bullied by the BD community Or….
the out-of-town students in Pro Course who book a private and within 10 minutes they are in tears asking me how to cope with being bullied by other Bellydancers . Or….
the 2am phonecalls, I receive from across North America from past students in tears who can not cope with troupe members or students being nasty to her or to each other-Yasmina Ramzy
She listed many more such experiences and and asked what folks thought would help. I have a lot of thoughts about this, so I posted a response–which garnered a hundred likes, loves, etc, and 25 comments of its own. Wow! I saw that people are interested in this topic, so I decided to share it with you. Here it is. (I have edited it a little bit ; )
I have also heard the stories and been thinking about this.
I notice several elements in play.
1. We in the west have made this dance over in our own likeness
-as a primarily performance art rather than a social dance
-as a venue for stylization, choreography, and competitive perfectionism, rather than a playful dance of joy
-as a taking rather than a giving
2. We have all been damaged by internalized sexism and patriarchy. In some folks this results in victimizing, shaming, and blaming (do unto others), and in others, in ongoing vulnerability to victimization.
-this is part of our dual addiction to perfectionism and self loathing, both of which, I think, are connected to the unresolved chronic stress of being women in this society. It is even worse for minorities of any kind, who get double doses of daily meanness.
3. Everyone is angry. Turf wars in a saturated market place, scarcity mentality, Internet anonymity’s decimation of decent manners, and the legitimate rage felt by those who have gotten the short end of the minority stick all conspire into a time of unprecedented bullying from every angle.
How do we heal our troubled dance world?
The fact is, we can only change ourselves. But we are leaders. Leaders go first. They show the way. So where we go, others will follow. That being said… one person can have a BIG impact.
A. Bring the dance back to its roots.
Value improvisation, with all its impermanence and messiness. Value live improvised music of the culture. Value social dance, playfulness, and joy. Dance is supposed to be fun!
B. Prioritize dancer agency.
This is a core strength of our dance. Empower student confidence. Engage students in the creative process. We do not need little dance automatons who are only concerned with following orders and how they look. We want our dancers to have something to say. Dance is communication, self-expression. Teach dancers to find their own true dance.
C. Focus on how the dance *feels.*
Patriarchy wants us to focus on our looks, our sexual attractiveness. It wants us to always be seeking approval. It undermines our felt reality. It’s time to take back our pleasure in movement.
Oriental dance is about expressing our feeling from the music, emotional, yes, but also the deliciousness of the physical action of dance. This dance feels good to the body.
When we improvise, we let the body respond to the music as it wishes. As such, the dance becomes a healing, stress releasing, and deeply spiritual practice. We have enough problems in life. Dance is for joy.
D. PLEASE DO NOT FEED THE TROLLS.
We get what we pay attention to. Its time to let the haters go.
-Someone is a jerk? Unfollow them. Don’t go to their classes or events.
-Don’t bitch in class about anything–dance class is joy time. I don’t care how hard it is to to get respect, make a living, etc. Don’t put that on your students (or your classmates). You don’t want their pity. You want their enthusiasm.
-Find compassionate, generous dance folks and back them–especially teachers of the culture.
-Check your privilege. Most belly dancers are white women. For folk of other colors, sexual orientation, abilities, low socioeconomic status, etc, life is so much harder than we can ever imagine. Remember this.
-Take steps to be fair and kind, to provide safe spaces for your students. It’s okay to fire bitchy, troublesome students. Make your classroom a bubble of joy.
We may only be able to change ourselves, but we can build a nurturing creative oasis, and welcome others inside. The ripples spread, ever outward…
We heal the world, one undulation at a time.
We bring joy. That’s our job Let’s do it.
PS If this resonates with you, you might enjoy the book Midnight at the Crossroads: has belly dance sold its soul? http://aliathabit.com/bellydancesoul.com
PS Want something to do?
(if any links don’t work properly, please copy and paste)
Ziltastic: Fast, fun, finger cymbal Improvisation and
Embodiment: musicality for Oriental Dance
are now open at https://alia.teachable.com
Build skills and have fun with well-designed e-courses!
Tonight, April 11: Ranya Renee has been curating a wonderful series of free livestream interviews on colorism in the dance world. Her guest tonight is Aaliyah Jenny, a marvelous performer and stellar human being. Join Ranya’s FB group to get access: https://facebook.com/groups/gingercity
More info: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10161733456885327&set=a.10151026251745327&type=3&theater/
New England Live!
Sunday, April 14: Lebanese male dancer Victor “Sharif” Ziter performs at the Cairo Cabaret in Chicopee MA. If you want to see a man dance, this is it. https://www.facebook.com/events/1259294750904527/
Saturday, May 18th: Boston area folks–Soumaya MaRose’s 7th “Thé à l’Oriental” with Tamalyn Dallal and Amar Gamal Garcia, and features a traditional Moroccan Iftar fest. Soumaya is a brilliant Moroccan Oriental dancer, and she does things right. This is a do-not-miss if you are in the area.
Saturday-Sunday, June 8-9: Cassandra Shore in midcoast Maine. Cassandra is exceptional. I can only remember one time she was in New England–and that was decades ago. Not to be missed! It’s hosted by Kay Hardy Campbell, so you know it will be good. https://www.facebook.com/events/1060567260783532/
Sunday, July 14: I’ll be teaching improv and group composition in Northampton MA (and performing that night at Cairo Cab). Space is limited and registration is now open:
June 5-12: Tamalyn Dallal Weeklong in New Orleans is ALWAYS a treat. https://www.facebook.com/events/208356106754704/