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Ask Yasmina #11:Inappropriate Audience Members, Competitive Teachers, Fickle Students

by Yasmina Ramzy
posted January 4, 2009

Question #1: How does one say "no" to inappropriate behaviour by audience members in a night club and not risk losing the regular gig in said night club?

Answer: Twenty minute special event Bellydance performance; $300. Regular weekly Night Club gig; $150. Self respect; PRICELESS. Disrespecting a Bellydancer; punishable by severe admonishment and dance artist quitting. Trying to please and appease those who already disrespect you leads to a miserable dead end. My advice is to say "NO" and give the inappropriately behaved person a good wack across the face. If your employer does not demand an apology from the rude audience member, then quit working in such an establishment that d oes not respect Bellydancers. That is what Samia Gamal would do. I used to perform for years in a beautiful Arab night club where the owner once threw a musician down the stairs for raising his voice at me. Needless to say, that musician later became a great friend who respected me. Demand nothing less. There are so many ways to make money without losing your dignity. If you can make money performing Bellydance while being a proponent of beautiful and appreciated art, perfect. If not, make money other ways and keep dancing where ever you are respected.

Student pulled by 2 teachersQuestion #2: I am a student of Bellydance for only one year. I am loving it and loving learning many styles from the different teachers in my city. However, some of them get bent out of shape when I mention another teacher’s name. Some even go so far as to tell me to stay away from other teachers for a variety of negative issues from bad dance technique to personal sex life. Isn’t Bellydance supposed to be about women supporting each other?

Answer: One would hope so. Unfortunately, as in all aspects of life, there are always a few with low self esteem or insecurity who find it necessary to belittle others in order to make themselves feel better. I think it is probably more polite not to talk about other teachers you are taking classes from when in the hospitality of one teacher. I also believe that any kind of teacher, especially a teacher of Bellydance has a responsibility to be an example of dignified human behaviour. If you have a choice of teachers in your area, then you may be better off choosing to stay away from such petty behaviour and not let your experience of Bellydance be soiled with negativity. Why do we learn any subject? Because we want to grow and improve our quality of life. There are so many ways to better oneself and certainly Bellydance is my favourite. Remember, becoming a more fulfilled and happier person is far more valuable than the perfect hip drop. As an aside, I never let my judgement of anyone be dictated by someone else’s opinion. I will wait to make my own judgement. If I had listened to every person and situation I was told to stay away from, I would have missed out on enjoying many wonderful people and great experiences.

Question #3: Please explain how to handle students who adore you the teacher in the beginning and then turn on you a year or two down the road.

Student bubble will burstAnswer: I often wonder if this phenomena happens when teaching other performing arts as well. My theory as to why it happens in Bellydance is because of the powerful transformation that happens to students in so many layers of their life when they embark upon the Bellydance journey. A whole book could be written on this subject, but I will try to keep it short. Beyond the strengthening of appropriate muscles and the power to perform magic with them, the learning of Arab music and culture, and the dancing to inspiring choreography, a Bellydance student starts to awaken and discover latent issues about their sensuality and sexuality. When asked by their teacher to repeat a movement which was formerly known as taboo and then be congratulated when it is perfected rewires how a person views themselves and their relationship with the world around them. Ones relationship with their sexuality is integral to the very core of how one feels about themselves and their experience of life.

 I also believe Bellydancers tap into an ancient archetype which is very empowering. Because of these factors, many students experience a sense of liberation which in return allows them a fearlessness about realizing dreams they would have formerly deemed impossible. Some students experience this liberation but their self esteem has not caught up with the process. When this happens, they tend not to own the experience and instead, project it onto you, the teacher, thus placing the teacher in an unrealistic saviour role. Then one day, usually after their second performance when the bliss of ignorance is destroyed, you the teacher become the horrible deliverer of reality. As a teacher, the more you can lead a student to the understanding that their world, the good and the bad, is created by themselves and they are the only one who controls it – not a Bellydance teacher – then they can hopefully take responsibility and enjoy owning their Bellydance experience, the good and the bad.

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   |       |    13 Comments

  1. No Gravatar
    Red Ree

    Jan 5, 2010 - 04:01:30

    Answer to #1 above is correct but not very realistic. I sure can’t get $300 for a show, so what does that mean? Switch to concert harping? It’s like saying “demand only the freshest of caviar!” in a 7-11. Sure, you can… but I’d say that every dancer has to learn to push back.

    Soft-core boundary violations are harder than obvious ones sometimes. If someone does grab you and push you, you can call the cops and have them arrested for assault. But a leer? Protected free speech, my friends!

    I personally would not assault anyone in a club directly except in an emergency. That’s a last resort. But what is your first resort? Well… what about passive aggressive tactics like accidentally wacking them with your zill or even your veil? I’ve cleared a floor with a veil. No one was hurt and the clueless person sat down on her own. If you have to hurt someone, make it look like an accident.

    Having a club owner who actually sticks up for some standards is a blessing. I’d spell that out in any terms up front if they don’t – no touching of dancers, staff is charged with preventing patrons from pestering dancers for dates, etc.

    And having one’s troupe, one’s friends, or one’s teacher around adds social weight. I think most harassment really starts from a perception that the target is alone and doesn’t have any friends to stick up for her. Best way to prove her wrong is to have a few friends.

    I was going to say, take some martial arts lessons too – but I haven’t found them useful because they’re too extreme. I mean, it’s over-reacting to punish someone for leering a little too long by breaking their jaw. And when I dance, I’m usually in a headspace that’s not as aggressive as if I were doing hip-hop or some very martial style. Having to suddenly react from a more “tarab” mindset to deal with an insult is very, very upsetting. Much more so than going into a place already expecting a violent scene.

  2. No Gravatar
    ZeeBelly

    Jan 5, 2010 - 05:01:52

    I don’t think yasmina was really talking about someone who leers at you too long, I think this was more about innapropriate physical actions by audience members. I do get paid $300 for private shows, and at that price I would hope the audience is staring at me if I’m being hired to entertain – what isn’t appropriate is someone coming up to me and trying to shove their hand down my skirt along with $5 (which has happened). I grabbed his hand and forcefully smacked/shoved it away, and he (and everyone else) got the message that I was not some “sharmuta” who would do anything for a buck.  Usually you can sense when an audience member is going to be disruptive, I try to avoid them all together or if they are already up out of their seat and in your dance space I grab them by the arm and sit them back down before they can do any harm.

    my self respect is worth more then putting up with any disrespect I might encounter at a show for any amount of money.

  3. No Gravatar
    Pauline Costianes

    Jan 11, 2010 - 04:01:52

    With regards to question #2, I think it depends on how it is handled.
    If you know of someone who has bad technique, enough to get a student injured in the long run; or of someone who has had a long
    history of mistreating students, then I think a gentle mention of
    what is correct and what is not correct in a teacher (such as listed
    on our website http://www.troupetaamulat.org under Tips for Looking
    For a Teacher) might be worth it for the student’s sake.

  4. No Gravatar
    LynetteSerpent

    Jan 22, 2010 - 12:01:55

    testing the comment box.
    Readers please send me a note if you are having problems leaving comments. Adding your comments below an article is valuable to the community. Thanks

  5. No Gravatar
    Beth Syrnyk

    Jan 27, 2010 - 11:01:15

    In regard to Question #1  – I completely agree with Yasmina, you are an artist and have spent money and many hours training to become a dancer.  You deserve respect and a proper wage for your efforts.  If you cannot get a good wage and respect don’t do it!  Would you work for a lecherous man for half the minimum wage just to have any  job?

  6. No Gravatar
    Amazar

    Jan 27, 2010 - 02:01:57

    I actually have worked in a dance move to avoid being touched by audience members; pivot & spin. Only one time did someone who should have known better catch me off guard; a Persian woman shoved a $5 in my cleavage & I patted her hand & looked “playfully” shocked & waved “no-no” with my finger.

  7. No Gravatar
    Linda

    Feb 4, 2010 - 08:02:08

    I know every area is different but unless it’s a non-profit show or something you are doing for a friend, I think you shouldn’t even put on marscara for less than $100 US for a very very short private party. $300 is not off the mark for a nice long show or set of short/medium shows. Restaurants can be different depending on how long/often you’re there. She’s right, belly dance is not your only option for making money.  I think we forget that sometimes. If you really love the dance but can’t seem to get jobs for reasonable rates, you are either not ready for the gigs or the area you live in is not ready to support a professional dancer. Either way, you should stick to community-based pro bono work.

  8. No Gravatar
    Anthe

    Mar 11, 2010 - 11:03:19

    Comment on Question 3: I believe your response was well written, however I don’t feel that you truly touched on the REASON why students become obsessed with instructors, which will be beneficial for teachers to understand so that they can better handle the situation. I believe that students become obsessed because when preparing them for their first few performances, an instructor will spend MUCH more time than is the norm for say a more veteran student. In the process of spending a lot of time with the student, an intimate relationship is formed.  For the instructor this is business, however, the student comes to look at the instructor as this ALL KNOWING individual who gives much positive reinforcement and attention. When the performance is finished, to the instructor that much attentino is no longer needed to be given to the student. But the student doesn’t understand this and begins to resent the instructor for not giving all their time to them like before.

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