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Maki of Japan

A Virtue Out of Fashion?

by Beata and Horacio Cifuentes
posted May 24, 2010

Beata and MimiThe subject of loyalty has been going through our minds recently due to two very different events that have occurred. One was an invitation to teach and perform in Japan, the other was a 5-page interview in a dance magazine with two of our former students.

As a dance teacher one is used to the fact that students come and go, often without warning or with some less than sincere excuse for why they cannot continue with their lessons.  Countless times throughout the years we have tried to convince ourselves that we are not emotionally affected by a pupil who discontinues her or his lessons, often times leaving without so much as a thank you or a goodbye.

It is necessary, and surely most teachers out there will agree, to grow a callus. Yet, under this emotional epidermis lies a heart, which hurts again and again. It is easier to accept this knowing that most pupils have no ill intend as they exit your life; that perhaps they are less emotionally attached to the teacher than the other way around (we nurse some sad memories of children and teenie classes).

Some do not stop to think that it is a matter of basic manners to express your gratitude to an individual who has made an effort to provide well-being and knowledge. They just go and move on to their aerobics classes, horseback riding sessions, judo drills, or other, while the teacher is left behind wondering if any aspect of their lesson caused the pupil to go.

All of the above, painful as may be for the teacher, is mostly unintentional. What really goes below the belt is when former students suddenly suffer from what we like to address as “professional amnesia”.

We have always been fascinated by the Japanese culture, their finesse, attention to detail, and strive for perfection, and -among many other virtues- respect for authority and loyalty to those who have served in their process of growing as individuals in life.

Maki, our sponsor in Japan, is a very talented young woman who was inspired to become an oriental dancer after she saw one of our first shows in Tokyo in 2001. “It is their style, and none other, what I will pursue” said Maki after she saw our show. With that thought in mind, Maki phoned Berlin and asked if we would accept her as our student. She moved from Tokyo to Berlin for six months and signed up at our dance academy for every dance class, including, ballet, yoga, and even children’s classes. She was there to truly learn, never missed a lesson, and was as concentrated as she could be. At the end of her stay she asked: “What should I do next?”

Under our advice, Maki moved on to spend a few months in Cairo where we met and introduced her to various dance teachers and tailors. Maki was now on her way to getting the real Baladi feeling, exploring the Arabic culture and developing a new wardrobe and a repertoire. Back in Tokyo, Maki continued with her dance studies. A year later, she returned to Berlin for more intense studies at our academy. A lovely friendship developed between Maki and us. Sometimes she would phone from Tokyo just to chat.

She was not prepared to begin her first steps as a teacher unless we consented. She not only valued our opinion but cared about her dignity as a dancer and teacher.

Maki is now a well-respected teacher with many classes per week and a healthy student body. She directs her own dance group and has become an inspiration to many Japanese women who love and respect her. She is asked to travel all over Japan to give workshops and to perform. She even has gotten a show on television where she is teaching bellydance.

Our performances in Tokyo last fall were a tremendous experience for us. After two very enjoyable shows, we sat at a restaurant with 65 of Maki’s pupils who had participated in the performances and had tears in our eyes as Maki stood, glass in hand, toasted us and told everyone that thanks to us she was the dancer she was, and that she had been dreaming of presenting us in Tokyo for many years. It was a very touching moment.

Class in Japan
click photo for enlargement. Names for faces would be appreciated!

During the very same fall season we experienced the other end of the spectrum: two dancers who co-direct a belly dance school near Berlin, former students of our academy, were interviewed about their studio and dance life. Both had been our students for many years and also had been members of our Oriental Fantasy ensemble and as such, experienced the way we conducted rehearsals, including the entire logistics of a performance backstage. One had also been a member of our staff as a teacher for quite some time and thusly was introduced to the system of how we run our dance studio and  also was coached during regular meetings.

They have made a life from that what they learned from us. This is indeed a good feeling to know that one’s work serves to provide a life for others. It was, however,  sad to read this five-page interview and to realize that they forgot to mention our name. On the other hand, Maki in Japan even insisted that we were mentioned in the booklet of her television appearances.

In Berlin there exists quite a few cases of “professional amnesia” with dancers and dance teachers who not only forget where they learned how to dance and teach, but also even prevent their students from attending our events.

At the end of the day, one has to look in the mirror and see the truth, just as at the end of one’s life, each human being has to make amends with him/herself, and remember what kind of a person he or she has been. Here the subject loyalty is a fundamental one.

We may now take the opportunity to say that  Horacio was inspired by Magana Baptiste, from San Francisco, California, to become an oriental dancer. And even though his start with her was a long time ago, he still phones her, thanks her for the inspiration and visits her at any given opportunity. Just the same, Beata always remembers that it was Bert Balladine who presented her to the American bellydance community and provided her with support and professional advice during her earlier years as a dancer.

There is something fundamentally right about being loyal. It has to do with a warm heart and with the essence of being a human being.

Horacio performs with a class of kids


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  1. Martha Duran

    May 24, 2010 - 03:05:26

    This is wonderful to read!!! I dont think that there is a single teacher in this world who hasnt had this experience, its good to know how between teachers we share the same experiences and its not always in our hands to mold a student with awful manners , grattitude is something that is tought by your own parents , religion or even inspired by humanity itself that surround us in our youth. Basic manners and etiquette should be a big subject on elementary school.
    Thank you Beata and Horacio!
    And great thanks to all the teachers that have tought me workshops seminars classes your time and teachings last lifetimes!

  2. Jeanette Cool

    May 25, 2010 - 09:05:00

    Are we speaking of loyalty here or rather respecting those who molded our creative path in any art form. There are teachers who make it very clear that you are NOT to study with other teachers. This is not a creative path — it is important for students to experience the pedagogy of other instructors as well as continue with their core teacher(s) of choice. Why are there seminars, workshops and opportunities to study with source instructors from the MIddle East, for instance?

    To demand “loyalty” seems to lack vision. However, to pay homage to those instructors who have shaped your success is a natural response and is absolutely required.

  3. Anon

    May 26, 2010 - 07:05:44

    I notice that Beata and Horacio do not credit Magana Baptiste or Dr. Mo Geddawi on their website.  And I believe that Beata was the principal dancer for some time in Dr. Mo’s troupe?  Yet I have never seen anything written about her that mentions him.  It seems that Horacio and Beata value loyalty, as long as it’s loyalty to themselves.  Very distasteful and unprofessional.

  4. Barbara Grant

    May 28, 2010 - 12:05:30

    While I understand the comment made above, by “Anon,” I do not believe that comments critical of a particular article/review/essay should remain anonymous. Instead, they should be attributed to a particular individual. If not, it seems as though a commentator is doing a “hit and run” with respect to an article’s authors; the authors, of course, having taken some time and effort to contribute an article.
    For the record, I do not know the authors, and have never taken classes from them, and I have no knowledge with which to assess the correctness (or not) of “Anon”‘s comments. It seems to me that based only on the standards of fair play that any comment (particularly one that objects to an article’s authors, premises, or conclusions) should be attributed to a defined individual.

  5. Nara Imtithal

    Jun 18, 2010 - 09:06:06

    I think it is very important to respect and honor those you have learned from and those you had the privilege to perform with, but “teachers” are not above reproach either. I have had teachers who were controlling and possessive, claiming ownership of everything the student brings to dance. Teachers who were jealous of prior relationships, suspicious of connections to to other dancers, and critical of prior learning. Teachers need to be careful of respect, and allow their students to grow. Each dancer is an individual with a rich history and unique creativity. Unhealthy people make unhealthy teachers.

  6. Jessica

    Dec 30, 2011 - 10:12:21

    This article is a very personal and warm one, which I very much enjoyed reading.  However it is one thing to reflect upon a positive experience and compare it to one that was lacking, and another to say that all experiences should be positive.  Expectations between human beings have always been very complex…and now that we have the ability to easily travel between countries and live in such diversity, there are even more options available to us.  I personally think that it is best to be grateful to students who show their loyalty in concrete ways, and to let the other situations go.  Also to focus more on one’s own actions that on what someone else is doing.

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