Gilded Serpent presents...

Bully for You!

The Science of Dance

Remote control robot dancer

by Najia Marlyz
posted January 30, 2012

Scientifically speaking, there is no science to the development and unfolding of an art form. If this one single philosophy could be your shield against the small line of despoiling bullies who emerge with incredible regularity from the depths of some apparent human need, Belly dance or Middle Eastern Dance or Raqs Sharqi would be free to continue being what it once was and should have remained: the different dance form, the rogue dance form, “the back door to show business”, our entertainment, inspiration, source of joy, and tool for personal growth.

Instead, after four and a half decades of participating in the dance art called Belly dance and a variety of other evidently self-embarrassed names, I have observed a cycle in which, periodically, emerging dancers who have obtained slightly more prominence in the craft begin to make recycled attempts to regulate it through instructional devices in order to control it to their own personal ends.

You have probably already met a few of them. Through attempts to control other dancers and students, they become dance bullies and playground braggarts. Their ends, their goals, are always well meant. The objectives always differ just a little bit here and there: elevation of the art of Belly dance, public acceptance, technique superiority, equalization and acceptance of Belly dance by proponents of other dance forms. It makes a convincing a laundry list of desirable values that seem to offer them a greater sense of personal stature. Who are these dancers? Why are they here? Do they elevate the art of this dance form?

Aggression & Misdirected Intent

In the past, along with other seasoned dancers, I have noticed a tendency to excuse some aggressive dancers (who have gained reputations by their tireless clawing for position as “top dogs”) for their youthful energy and their mis-perception of Belly dance, seen through the rosy filters of cultural imperialism of the Western mind into Middle Eastern reality. The first evidence I noticed of imperialistic tendencies inside Belly dance appeared in some of the pages of early Belly dance-oriented periodicals such as Habibi Magazine and Bellydancer Magazine. I recall one such article long ago that I think appeared in an early issue of one of those two titles in which a self-described “army brat” wrote about her soldier-husband’s upcoming deployment to Morocco, and that because she would be living there with him for several years, her intention was to “teach the Moroccans how the dance really should be done” (apparently through her superior grasp of dance technique she had learned in America). We dancers, who were involved in teaching dance at the time, snickered and guffawed over her attitude and promptly forgot about her along with her great plan to teach Middle Eastern Dance to the Middle Easterners. In fact, I do not know what became of her career because we never heard from her again.

Well, then… If we dancers thought we had gotten off that easily, we were wrong! Over the past five decades, there has been a long succession of dancers who have dreamed up various dubious schemes. Some are quite clever, some devious, and some are both clever and devious–to get their own piece of the Belly dance pie. Hopefully, it would be a bigger and juicer piece than anybody else’s. It seemed, and still it seems, an odd choice of grappling wars to me; why not wrestle for a piece of Wall Street or something of tangible value instead of an ethnic dance that exists, for the most part, on the periphery of public interest? The resulting fracas is like a couple of children beating each other over a colorful plastic toy in an ever-widening sea of plastic toys.

The most obvious losing enterprise in this sweepstakes of wresting the remote control for our dance away from others is the process of trade-marking, and copyrighting. Though absolutely legal and valid, the minuscule amount of protection that these legal devices provide is unrealistic (and mostly futile) when weighed alongside the financial and litigation havoc that the dancer/choreographer who attempts to gain control over other dancers creates with this all-too-blatant ploy. At my end of the game, I can tell you that grandma was right: life is too short to be spent in court raising Cain (just kidding) and your own blood pressure. Contrary to your hopes, your patented and protected scheme will not be of any more useful protection or sustenance in your old age than Social Security, and you will take a place in the Belly Dance History Hall of Shame as one of its minor bullies.

Something From Nothing?

To succeed in show business, (an unrelenting and unforgiving bestial dragon even after feeding) you (as a performer or instructor) had better remain at least one or two innovative steps ahead of the pack instead of placing your hopes in tightening your grasp on whatever it is that you think you have created by yourself and your own inventiveness in the here and now. Truly, nobody creates art (or anything else) out of nothingness; each time something is created, it comes from the seeds of ideas and trends that landed in your memory from words and images of the past. The minor invention of one dancer passes onward to another and may become mixed, fused, and transformed into something that has a larger impact on a greater number of people. Then, Voila! Here comes a dominatrix who excels, not in dance, particularly, but in organization and marketing skills. She creates and innovates, not dance, but instead perhaps, technique, or merchandise (or a new way of merchandising) for which the true innovators have no money, time, nor mind to spare because they are busy thinking about movements and composition, music and staging, gigs and costumes.

Beware  of Controlling Schemes

“So what does all this have to do with me?” you might be right to ask. As a new dancer or new instructor of dance, I think that you already know the answer: you (and nobody else) must insure that your own dance spirit remains free in the face of those who seek to make you feel inferior to them through the public belittling of (for instance) your performance fees, your personal comportment during a professional gig, your choice of movements during the dance, your costume choices, or your technique for making meaningful dance movements. Though you must ask for the guidance of other dancers and teachers in order to learn in the first place, you must be the one to determine the validity of each piece of information offered as it relates to you, your body, your circumstances and your goals. Also, you must analyze what it is, exactly, that an instructor is offering you in exchange for the money you are paying for group lessons, workshops, festivals, seminars, private lessons, choreographed dances, CDs, DVDs, costumes, etc. What does the instructor gain from the transaction beyond the currency? (Dance instruction does not generate “big bucks” even for the most famous of Belly dance teachers; so, you can pretty well suppose that instructors are not just teaching for the money alone!) If your answer is in part that she or he gains control over where, how, when, and if you dance, and whether or not you are qualified to dance at all, that instructor is attempting to at least contain your ultimate achievements through dance as well as invalidating the decision of the person who seeks to hire a dancer. Something may be amiss here, but you have the power to stop being bullied by not accepting it as a given, much like boot-camp or a series of hurdles in your roadway to stardom.

Gs Award of Self Promotion, Click to see full sizeA Lengthy Career Through Your Own Resources

Your viability in show business depends heavily on your audition, your last performance, your personal charisma, your belief in yourself, your own hard work in practice and rehearsal, your own ambition for yourself, and flat-out serendipity rather than a piece of signed paperwork to hang on your wall as if you were an academic, not in a trophy or title, not in permission to teach, nor to dance in your teacher’s trademarked or copyright format.

If you are an instructor in search of longevity of your career by training and influencing others in the art of dance, let it emerge as the inspiration you offer to them rather than a fancy paper certificate that says they have achieved elevated dance stature among all dancers by meeting your rules—no matter how right, true, correct, and proper you believe they are, in all things related to Belly dance. Remember too, as you look back into dance history, those dancers, who feel they need to make boastful claims of being the “first” having done this or that, arrived at that insignificant juncture by the prompting and inspiration of all those who have tread stages before them, whether they studied with them or not, no matter how clever and new-age they may seem to be right now. Perhaps they have thought of a new way to put the Lego bricks of dance together, but that does not make their dance the essence of your dance or the ultimate height your dance may attain. Their empires were built upon the well-picked bones of ideas and shimmering happenstances of those who danced before them, and certainly, well before you were toddling about your mother’s living room, dancing with the "Teletubbies" or the Australian "Wiggles" on television.

Crimes, Fibs, & Misdemeanors

It reveals insecurity for a dancer to claim that she or he was “born with Belly dance in my blood” just because some great-grandparent came from a Middle Eastern country or that somehow, the osmosis of your being close to someone who is famous makes you famous. It is egregiously arrogant to issue certificates (other than recognition for special participation or personal appreciation) that are akin to scholarly achievement unless you teach dance for a scholarly institution such as a university or the Julliard School! How many ways do you wish to set yourself up to be hoodwinked and pay for the privilege? Or perpetrate the same upon the careers of others? What does your piece of paper with the fancy border mean to audiences? Why does your certificate need to be renewed every few years or yearly? Could it be that the certificate issuer needs your cash periodically? What does the certificate give you beyond the obvious self-assured confidence? Do you need some proof of performance scholarship that your actual performance may not warrant? How pathetic is that?

Undercutting & Intimidation

In regards to the issue of dancers undercutting one another in grappling for the few gigs available locally (in your area): If a dancer from out of your area dances for one thousand dollars per gig, and you dance for two thousand, but you can’t get enough or the best of all the possible gigs because that other dancer is willing to travel and seems to be deliberately “undercutting” your price, does that mean you are a better dancer than she, and that she is being unfair to you, your aspirations, and your just desserts? Does it mean that it is customary and desirable to bully her into submission to your expectations wherever possible whether your assessment of the value of a dancer to the person hiring her is reasonable or not?

I am convinced that the outcome of most of these outlandish price schedules cooked up by dancers are mostly irrelevant to the needs of potential employers, who simply hire a singer or magician or clown instead. Anyway, the competition to secure gigs for oneself by dictating how others should comport themselves all evens out in the wash; you will receive what your dance is worth, no matter how vocal you are on the Internet, and the result is irrelevant to what another dancer is able to earn by her dancing. One cannot control the playing field in the performing arts by becoming yet another bully on the dance playground, although many have tried and will, no doubt, keep trying. Trash-talk and attempts to intimidate other dancers by local or imaginary specifications does not elevate the dance overall, no matter how noble one’s aspirations. If anything, the dance bullies on the Internet and the “international” workshop circuit may, for a time, appear to have the upper-hand, but they only win when dance students choose to let them win by default.

Deflating the Puff-pigeon Syndrome

Many times, when I read glowing, ecstatic reports about some dance event that I have attended that was mediocre at best, all claims of excellence that originate from that source (and from that time forward) diminish for me. A prudent dancer must temper her own claims about herself with humility because, someday, she along with all the bullies and all the exquisite dancers (about whom nobody ever heard) will all be the white bones upon which new dancers will perform and make their career marks. We can only wish them a safe journey by enjoying the creations we make for ourselves, here and now, on our individual dance journeys.

In Conclusion

If you aspire to be an artist through your dance, treat your dance as a free-spirited art that is built upon the foundations of many past artists, but if you want to be an academic, go teach your scientific rules of technique through physiology in a university! Dancers will not be appreciated and remembered in time for attempting to make this pony into a race horse by legislation and other personal controls. You and I can only hope and dream that ripples in time will extend outward from our inspired and inspirational dancing rather than any regulations imposed upon us all by the dreams of others

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  1. Molly Shaker Badr

    Feb 8, 2012 - 07:02:41

    In reponse to the article: I don’t think there is anything wrong with dancers offering certifications in their style. Anyone who likes their style should be free to take those certifications and try to measure up to their standards. I have come to the conclusion that there are different styles and techniques of dance for different people. For example, I love Egyptian style but I know many people who only like tribal or only like Turkish, or American Cab. Many people do not enjoy the same dance style that I like, but that does not make their technique any less valuable. On another point that the author made: we also need to realize that we can’t go to the Middle East and expect them to enjoy our “Americanized” style of dance. Some may like it and some may not, but for the most part, they enjoy the internalized style of dancers like Dina and Aziza of Cairo. We can’t push our standards and values on other people. Each dancer should do their best to get the best training in the style that they like, and hone their technique as well as they can. We don’t need to worry about what everyone else is doing.

  2. Dear Najia,
    Here! Here! Or is that Hear! Hear! <chortling> 
    Here! Here! to being one’s own dancer, finding the expression of essence of ourselves in the dance.

    And Hear! Hear! just what you say. 🙂
    Stop the bullies on the playground of the dance as we need to model behaviors to our youngsters (both in dance and on the playground) that instill integrity, kindness, and beauty. OFF with the angry, controlling, abusing “Bad Girls.” Leave the theatre on stage, and the inane, mean-spirited melodramas out of our lives.
    I well remember the days long ago when you mentored me to stand up to one such bully I encountered in my early days as a young professional dancer. I’ve always been grateful for your counsel. Again, as always, thank you! 
    Teresa Jean Rich, DC
    aka Tera Vashtillyia

  3. Tatseena

    Feb 19, 2012 - 01:02:46

    I agree, there are many who try to control their students styles and tout there certifications are producing the best. And, this idea that you need a certification of or on your art form is a bit off the whole point in Belly Dance, and some what controlling in my opinion, not to mention bating you to spend more money in  programs that don’t guarantee you will be a good performer even with many paper certificates to back you. The self expression of this dance form is where the variety and beauty springs forth. All the technique in the world or over drilled choreo does not make you a strong performer, or make up for the creative freedom of just dancing your own style for the fun of it!
    We don’t need more ego bullies in our beautiful dance!
    Hugs to Najia, Blessings to All

  4. Tatseena

    Feb 20, 2012 - 11:02:11

    HI please delete first comment due to spelling errors,thanks

    I agree there are many who try to control their students styles and tout their certifications are producing the best. And, this idea that you need a certification of or on your art form is a bit off the whole point in Belly Dance, and some what controlling in my opinion, not to mention bating you to spend more money in programs that don’t guarantee you will be a good performer even with many paper certificates to back you. The self-expression of this dance form is where the variety and beauty springs forth. All the technique in the world or over drilled choreo does not make you a strong performer, or make up for the creative freedom of just dancing your own style for the fun of it!
    We don’t need more ego bullies in our beautiful dance!
    Hugs to Najia, Blessings to All

  5. SaraBeth

    Feb 20, 2012 - 08:02:28

    Well said.  I personally don’t need the validation of a certification program, and while understand that other people do, I can’t help but feel that some certification programs seem to be a cash cow for the creator. 
    I think this may be an opposite side to the same coin.  In the dance community where I live, Arizona, there seems to be a phenomenon starting with a few of the professional dancers who are directors of student troupes and are saying that the troupe can’t perform at functions unless they, the pro dancer, or one of her co-directors or an approved associate accompanies the troupe; should any of those supervisors become unavailable the troupe has to cancel themselves out of the show, nor can individual dancers accept invitations to perform their own solos, and in the case of one director her dancers must obtain her written permission to perform tribal fusion belly dance outside of the troupe. 
    It’s a little bit sad and a lot bit scary.   

  6. Zaia Hadiyyah

    Mar 28, 2012 - 04:03:11

    I enjoyed reading the various opinions of the author as well as the subsequent comments.  What a dilemma we have- Power, wealth, fame.  What a burden to carry around.
    Although I agree that most of the certifications I have come across here in the USA are not worth the paper it is written on.  I have also found that many very beautiful and gifted dancers are the worst instructors. Not every person that dances has the gift or ability to teach. Isn’t it funny that the real Middle Eastern stars do need to have certification programs?
    Having said that, I do believe in certification of progression in whatever style that is.  You cannot possibly get certified in a style of any kind over a weekend or a week. It takes time to adjust to an instructor’s style and then even longer to see your own progression within that style at various levels.
    I also believe that when one embarks on the road of belly dance, one needs to honor and respect that although the art form has no historical documented facts of its origin – it most certainly cover s many regions of the world that existed long before the USA was discovered and that some of the art of the dance as we know it, has connections to folklore and culture and may also be deep rooted in religion. Respect is a vital element of success in all aspects of culture.
    In all the years that I have danced as a student and professionally, I researched my teachers well. There is a major difference between attending a weekend workshop and training.  I have also found that too many dancers study for a while and then jump on the band wagon of money and in the process loose the actual art form replacing it with ultra ego and sub-standard training aids.  I have heard some of the most recognized  ‘big names’ wallow in their own self importance and then heard them run other professionals  down in public.  In my humble opinion, that smacks of self-esteem and lack of confidence issues.  Who are they really – off stage and out of the costume?

  7. Sarita

    Apr 20, 2012 - 05:04:50

    Hahaha…Well said ;0)

  8. Tara

    Oct 21, 2012 - 04:10:31

    Great Article…you said it all!

    Thank you!

    Tara 🙂 

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