Gilded Serpent presents...

Building a Dance Community

by Mary
posted May 30, 2010

As a baby belly, I was lucky enough to enter the dance world in the large, vibrant and varied dance community of South Florida and in my naiveté I thought this vibrancy was normal for all communities around the country. Then my husband and I moved to Middle Georgia. When I discovered the dancers in this area, I found that there was a community, but not what I was used to, and most of the events here revolved around involvement with a particular instructor or school. I got involved with one group, but still missed the “busy-ness” and number of events and social options my old community had to offer. And so, with others in the area, we went about building and expanding the Middle Georgia belly dance “scene.”

Building a dance community will not happen overnight and it cannot be accomplished effectively by a sole individual, especially if there are several established instructors/schools already in the area.

Looking back over the past three and a half years and seeing the growth that has happened here locally, my hope is that sharing the gathered information and experience will help others create stronger dance communities in their own towns as well.

Getting Started

The first step to putting together the dance community is to identify your local key players. The easiest way to do this is to contact all local instructors or performers in the area and try to set up a meeting. It’s best if everyone meets at one time, but individual meetings may also be necessary due to schedules and when you are still learning about the community (if you are not already familiar with everyone).

Approach everyone with a spirit of cooperation – this is not high school and for a community to come together, individual ‘issues’ need to be put aside and eventually resolved.

FatimahIn Middle Georgia everyone was excited at the idea of having an active local community where dancers cooperated with each other to hold events and parties where everyone felt welcome. Being in the middle of the South, there are many misconceptions we work to dispel about this dance form and as a group we are much more effective as the community can provide a consistent and unified message rather than appearing as a group of factions that cannot agree with each other.

We decided that our goals to improve the community were to:

  • plan two workshops annually with dance instructors we felt would have something to offer everyone in the community
  • hold local socialization events like swap meets or casual haflas to expose students to the social side of dance
  • organize student shows and/or support each others’ student shows to encourage new dancers who wish to grow into performers or just conquer stage fright
  • encourage a code of professional standards for performing/teaching dancers
  • provide a central location for the general public to find quality dancers in the area and participate in local events and festivals that will help us promote understanding and culturally enhance the local area.

Picking a Structure

There does not need to be an official “committee” to build a community, a general consensus is enough if several of the key players are already putting on haflas, etc, and all members are willing to support each other’s events. We did not have an official committee for a long time, just open communication between individuals and it worked relatively well at the time.

We have recently created Southern Raq (www.southernraq.com) for our area, because the dancers here feel the community has grown enough to now merit a more “official” central group with representatives from all areas of the community. Another reason is that the community as a whole benefits from the workshops we host here about twice a year and a committee is a good way to share the responsibility for planning events.

To avoid creating a clique though, officers rotate annually, so new members can volunteer to join, meetings are open to all who wish to attend and everyone who wishes to submit input or suggestions can feel welcome to do so, because a committee is not effective if it doesn’t serve the community.

When building your community you may also find that an e-mail list, Facebook group or community calendar webpage can work well for sharing information with everyone. If the information is not publicly searchable and/or easy to find (like with a website), it is recommended that any dancer who has a website adds links to the location or clearly identify the e-mail address where interested individuals can request information about community events.

Keeping it Together

After dealing with the challenges of getting everyone together, deciding what kind of community you want to build and how you plan on doing so, you must remember that everyone on the committee is human and with that comes complications.

A community does not operate in a vacuum and there is no room for cattiness or drama if the community is to be effective and truly benefit the area as a whole.

  • If there are pre-existing conflicts between individuals, it may be beneficial for a neutral party to talk to both sides and try to mediate, particularly if these individuals are key players in the area. You don’t have to become best friends with everyone, but the dancing is more important than the drama.
  • If conflicts arise while everyone is trying to come together to work on building the community, deal with the issue early. It may just be a small misunderstanding or mis-perception of intentions and if it is not addressed early, it can grow, fester and destroy what everyone is working to create.
  • If conflicts arise after the initial period, once again, deal with them immediately. The best advice I can give based on the experience we’ve had locally is to go directly to the individual or a neutral party if you need a mediator and talk it over like adults. Gossiping to your friends, your students and anyone who may listen is not only in poor taste, it reflects badly on you and will create rifts in the community.

So, why bother?

There are a lot of challenges and obstacles to overcome in working to build a community, but being a part of a dance community can be one of the most rewarding aspects of being in belly dance. Many dancers may come into this dance older, or perhaps not wish to ever dance professionally but prefer to keep it as a hobby, and dancing can be a major part of their social life and a great source of joy. The Middle Georgia community grew more quickly when we were actively working to build the community as a whole than when we were operating as individuals because students can have more fun, instructors and performers get the opportunity to remember one of the reasons they fell in love with the dance to begin with and everyone can feel a sense of pride in knowing they are a part of something that not only benefits the dancers, but adds variety as a whole and enhances the community in which they live.

Captions for photos:
  • Sword photo dancers: Top row L to R: Bela Zaphyre, Mary, Mahira, Bottom Row (L to R): Debra, Trish. Photo by MiaVonni Photography
  • Veil Dancer: Fatimah dances at the 2010 Macon Cherry Blossom Festival. Photo by Penny Kojak (aka Karabela)
  • Class performance: I don’t know all the dancers there… The group is Perry Bellydance and the instructor Trish is in the center (blue, feather in hair) and Bela Zaphyre is at the far right
  • Fourth of July parade (L to R): Bela Zaphyre, Debra, Aaminah, Trish, Mary

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   |       |    2 Comments

  1. No Gravatar
    Anna Maria Sophia Cancelli

    Jul 1, 2010 - 04:07:30

    Thank you for writing this article. My dance pals and I have been working on creating a belly dance network along the southern North Carolina coast, and this article is timely and came in very handy. I have shared it with others who have thoroughly enjoyed it. Much appreciated.

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