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2006 photo is author posing with Michel of Syria

Gilded Serpent presents...
Belly Dance:Time for Personal Assessment or
How old are your Shoes?

by Tasha Banat

 As I approach 60 years of age, I was asked to provide a personal assessment of my life’s achievements for a class I am taking.  Aside from the obvious – 2 beautiful children and 2 fabulous grandchildren, 1 condo and 1 co-op; a car that is paid for and 2 cats who adopted me, my single most personal achievement has centered around belly dance, the anchor and personal reward for my cultural, political, educational, religious, and emotional ride through life so far.

So after all the 40 + years I am ready to say that everything I ever wanted out of the dance, I have received tenfold.  Every dream I had so far came true and every time I was told that I would never succeed, I did.

Having said that, my personal assessment of myself is that I was never the best dancer anywhere or at anytime. I was not the most attractive by any stretch of the imagination.  I never had the best figure, nor was I the most popular or the most in demand. I was certainly not the thinnest and I never dressed in the most expensive costumes. As a matter of fact, I never had much going for me; not the support of my family and not even thick hair or a tiny waist.

My costumes were often considered too modest much of the time and just barely accepted in many nightclub venues.  My dancing was probably too regional and not considered sensuous at all by the great belly dance masters who observed me when I performed.  I was never one for glamour and my cabaret clothing probably would have been called “sporty” by the great designers of the world.  Back in my time, no one who worked regularly in an Arabic nightclub wore dresses instead of a cabaret belly dance costume except me.

Even being an American Arab was a deterrent and not a plus.  Arab girls did not belly dance in night clubs anywhere in the United States in the 1960s and 1970s except in very rare occasions,

and if they did, it ceased on a professional level when they married and had children.  It was never considered a proper or classy way to make a living and because of that stigma, I often took day jobs just to justify to my political and cultural connections when asked how I made my living. 

Fortunately, I was raised to contribute to the country who gave me everything and as a matter of civic pride. I was also groomed to contribute to my culture, my religion and my heritage.  I was encouraged to speak my mind (within reason) and to be a good mother to my children.  My ex husband, while not being a terrific spouse, was a great dad and together we raised 2 wonderful children who are successful today in their field of expertise.

The reason I am sharing this personal assessment with the dance public is to let you know that you can achieve every goal you set out for yourself if you ask yourself a few simple questions and allow yourself to be honest with your answers.

What do you personally want from the dance?  In order to answer this honestly, you must make a personal assessment of your goals and include your achievements.

These were my goals and they come from my personal assessment that was realistic and truthful. 

My personal Goals and Achievements were as follows:

  1. I wanted a job that allowed me to work at night and to be home for my children in the daytime.  Achieved and successful:  They grew up with good values and are as normal as any hard working American grownup.
  2.  I wanted enough money to be able to put food on the table and a roof over my head.  Achieved successfully enough not to go hungry. I even could afford some college for them and myself with the help of good investments that my father, an accountant and stock broker convinced me to make.
  3. I wanted to travel, not just as a tourist, but as a person who actually knew the fabric of the community that I chose to live in before retirement. Achieved; again thanks to parents who encourages world travel.
  4. I wanted to take vacations in exotic places.  Achieved thanks to my ex husband who took care of our children every time I left the country.
  5. I wanted to have fun at work. Achieved and successful beyond my wildest dreams. Even now at my regular day job as an International Travel Agent Consultant, I am thankful to Belly Dance for the money to study Travel and Tourism and Political Science.
  6. I wanted to be around people of my heritage so I would not forget where I came from. Achieved on a personal level and for the most part successful.  One consequence of that achievement is that now that I live in an “Arab nightclub” starved city.  I may have just assessed that because I miss the live music and interaction with my own people on a social level so much, that I may actually have a new goal for myself. 
  7. I wanted to be a good employee and to do so in the nightclub I had to consider Belly dancing the way that I considered any job I accepted, and not necessarily a profession. 

Now comes the personal financial assessment, the one we might now all like to hear from others, but is the bottom line.  I just want all of you to trust the fact that I am a “paid my dues” professional Belly Dancer and Instructor and the formula that I have used throughout my career was and is as follows.

When I break down the time per hour that I actually spent dancing or waiting to dance in a night club, as opposed to the hours I spent at my regular jobs, neither of which included paid time for getting ready and physically going to work, this became the constant result of my final personal assessment.

Dollar for Dollar, considering that I received cash most of the time as a dancer, belly dancing Always paid me more, even in the leanest times, without exception. 

Furthermore, it did not matter whether it was for a weekly guarantee, a salary, or for tips.  Dollar for Dollar, I made a lot more money Belly Dancing than I ever did, even during my highest paying day jobs.  Of course Belly Dancing in nightclubs did not offer health benefit in America which is the only reason I work at a day job.

One of the ingredients that I believe made my life as a Belly Dancer so successful was as follow: I always respected the cold hard fact that my co workers, musicians, and my employers (those nightclub owners who most dancers never say nice things about) worked just as hard as I did had the same needs and goals. 

There have been rough times in the business of belly dance and the level of acceptance was never as good as I would have liked, but I am thrilled to say that nightclub owners, musicians, other dancers, and, co-workers were rarely the source of my discontent.

Since we do not have performance reviews the way we might on a regular job, we only have a few ways to assess our need to improve. 

Number One:   The audience
The audience was and still is the most important measure of success and the only advice I can give to you to help you with your personal assessment is “if you want Belly Dance as a sustainable profession, you must please your audience with your performance each and every time you are out there.”   Years in the business says that I achieved this successfully.  Yet, I still always take every performance seriously and with pleasing my audience as my number one goal.

Number Two:   Other Performers
I accept that my co-workers provide as good a show as I do or they will not last long in this or any other profession.  So, if you want to succeed, you must assess your own ability to please your audience before commenting on anyone else in the business or you just might find yourself out of a job.

Number Three:  The Club Owner
I always trusted my bosses to support me when there were difficult moments and in turn, I never deliberately let them down.  I rarely called in sick and I always worked with their interests in mind as well as my own.  Therefore, you must recognize that if there is no one in the house during your performance, especially weeknights, and your boss is having hard times due to no fault of his own, you may have to cut back on some of your personal demands.  Be fair and honest with what you think you deserve and what is practical.  Do not allow your artistry to get in the way of logic or you will be out of a job.

Number Four:  The Musicians
Another important ingredient to me were the musicians on the stage who performed great songs for me.  With very little exception, they made my shows successful.

Over the years, I learned to trust them implicitly.  It did not matter if they were great, good, or even just passable, they were in the same place I was and had the same capacity to be hired and fired as me and they always worked harder and longer each and every night. 

Eventually this became the easiest part of my job because I learned to accept and appreciate that they too are artists in their own right so I never tried to tell them how to do their job.  In return for that, I always got the respect I wanted, the wages (dollar for dollar) that I needed to put food on the table and the opportunity to live and work in so many great places with the finest dancers, club owners and musicians that anyone could ever want to be associated with.

One of the best rewards is that I still am asked by the children of some of the club owners to perform in many venues.  I still am working with the relatives of many of the musicians I worked with when these offspring who themselves are now artists were not even born yet.  And I still get asked quite often “Are you the same dancer I saw in “such and such a city” a trillion years ago?”   It means I am still here and still remembered and best of all, still wanted. 

Here is another little piece of advice for those of you who have taken the time to make a personal assessment of what you want for your life in comparison to what you have already achieved.  Do not hang up your hip band yet.

We have an Arab saying (somewhat modified) “that when one becomes like an old shoe, it may be time to throw it out.”  My reply (not modified).  “There is no shoe is so old it cannot find another foot.”  So even though I have accomplished everything I that I have set out to do in Belly Dance I am not an old shoe.

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Check the "Letters to the Editor" for other possible viewpoints!

Ready for more?
1-25-07 One Banat: An Exploration of Some Belly Dance Costuming Origins by Tasha Banat
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8-18-05 Re-defining Belly Dance and Middle Eastern Dance by Tasha Banat
The fact is that “Middle Eastern Dance” is not an acceptable definition for Belly Dance and let me explain why.

5-13-03 A Search for the Soul in All Things. Or On Turning 61 and ¼ by Rhea
By continuing to dynamically entertain and stay ahead of the pack, they embolden all women, even of a lesser dynamism, to remain in the fray as long as they desire, instead of being cast to the sidelines as the official baby sitter for grandchildren

6-19-06 "It IS About the Food!"by Margo Abdo O'Dell
The matriarchs were teaching me about a cultural art from my Lebanese heritage.

2-9-06 Rhythm and Reason Series, Article 9, Can't We All Get Along? Dancers and Musicians by Mary Ellen Donald
First, you don’t have to be afraid of working with live music.

7-11-07 "Veiled Visions" How Belly Dance Music was First Brought to the United States by Ray Rashid, intro by Amina
One time he told me about a blind accordion player who sat and made lots of jokes while they rehearsed, that musician turned out to be Ammar el Sharie.

6-30-07 Chapter 5: Listen to the Music by Amina Goodyear
Yousef wanted us to look exotic, like we were from the Middle East, so he made us stay downstairs, look available and wear sexy, skimpy pantaloon outfits or diaphanous caftans when we were not dancing.



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