The Gilded Serpent presents...
Facets of Success in Dance
by Ireena

As a Middle Eastern dance artist, I believe we have all had a feeling of a kind of destiny we need to fulfill in this medium. I felt it, for instance, when I watched the first dancer who inspired me. The feeling of fulfillment, when I first danced at a student night, was like a cinema opening up within me of all sorts of magic and mystery! My sense of exhilaration creating a thirst for a glittering future in dance was hardly quenched when I performed my first professional dance.

When I started leaving that magic place, proceeding with the stringent baggage of expectations of what I was supposed to be as a beginning professional dancer,

I recognized the dogma of Middle Eastern Dance that was taught to me, and to others, by mentors who were influential at the time.

Upon absorbing this, I was astonished by the stark classifications of what was indicative of success in a field whose very nature should embody color, flow and individuality of movement. The contradiction confused me. Does individuality not apply to the way one defines success?

I believed, then, that one finally reached the golden path of success to become a real dancer when one had achieved several of the following:

  • become a house dancer dancing at a restaurant,
  • be hired for many private gigs,
  • refrain from dancing publicly without pay,
  • become a teacher for a large student-body,
  • win or place at dance competitions,
  • sponsor popular paid events,
  • teach on the workshop circuit,
  • become a successful vendor,
  • distribute a series of videos widely,
  • and/or become known as a talented musician/dancer.

In terms of achieving great success in the Middle Eastern dance and music world, I’m sure the order and number of these accomplishments can be debated. I believe there are actually some who have mastered all of this simultaneously!

After a certain number of experiences, filled with the highs and lows of meeting, but sometimes not attaining, all of my learned objectives (a subject to which most dancers can relate), I decided to take a little different approach. I decided to reach my goals on my own time schedule, and this meant not always striving to meet the idealized ambitions of my mentors or my peers.

At times, I’d been afraid not to follow the status quo of what I was expected to do in each step of my dance life. 

However, being a stubborn individual, I finally decided to sidestep a lot of expectations from other people, and I began to do things that I enjoyed.  I would do “A little bit of this, and a little bit of that.”

Besides participating in the workaday sector and tending my marriage, I have studied Middle Eastern Dance for years.  Within those years, I also studied classical voice and Flamenco. I danced as a professional on the restaurant circuit. I also performed at many haflas, public performances and benefits. I taught some private dance students, sponsored events and promoted them, both for free and for profit, did web design, and wrote a series of comical short stories!

I was in awe of the hard working Middle Eastern dance and music professionals whom I’d seen achieve the ultimate fame and success, seemingly systematically, and noticed those who stayed there. There are some performers who have what could be termed the “Triple Threat.” (This is a term from the popular "Fame" and "American Idol" television shows).

In regards to Middle Eastern dance and music, the so-called “Triple Threat” means, in my opinion:

  1. Dance and/or music skill,
  2. Public charisma, and
  3. A large following.

I found a detailed perspective on this mysterious charisma in Najia’s Gilded Serpent article titled "The It Factor." These individuals dance or play music amazingly; they grab and hold the audiences’ attention, and most importantly, the public’s memory. From traveling the workshop circuits to putting out videos and CDs, they are, by Middle Eastern dance terms, a “household name.”  Many speak of big name dancers with admiration. Some of these talents make their performances look absolutely effortless. This includes event sponsors, vendors, contest winners, and others.

Not all Middle Eastern dance and music artists have the skills and qualities to meet most of the Triple Threat criteria that I mentioned above! Secondly, if some do have all or a few of these skills, there are those who may not desire to expend the energy and make the sacrifices in order to ascend to this lofty place.

Perhaps it would be exhilarating to see a broader classification for what encompasses success in this business!

The Middle Eastern dance and music artists with different goals should not be criticized for not expediently grasping the usual “brass ring” in favor of their own personal and artistic preferences.

The hard reality, which we must all recognize as artists, is that if you want employers and the public to pay you money for what you love to do, especially as a full-time career, you must absolutely fit their expectations for talent, body image, sound, costume, etc. If they don’t see it in you, you may not even be given the favor of the proverbial audition. You must then learn from your loss and weigh the pros and cons of what you‘re willing and able to do to get where you want to go.

Having looked at several facets of this issue myself, I’ve concluded that it’s all the better if one can get where one wants to go, not ever losing sight of one’s magic from the start. Each dancer’s own personal magic and dream is what drives us to persevere in our art, which has many shining facets of success: from a soaring career to simply doing what we love!

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