Gilded Serpent presents...

Creating a Healthy Belly Dance Community

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by Princess Farhana
posted January 17, 2013

A vibrant dance community affords benefits to all of its members. In a healthy dance community, each and every person is relevant. For learning purposes or gathering a certain show cast, there is a large pool of talent from which to choose.  Those with specialties and unique areas of expertise can share their knowledge, enriching the individual skill sets of everyone.

Creativity becomes contagious, because it is encouraged to thrive.

Less experienced dancers have the opportunity to learn the ropes from competent professionals, while practiced dancers can keep current with latest developments and newest trends.  Community members of all ages and ranges of experience can interact freely and respectfully with each other, gaining insight, while every individual can also pull in new members, who could also potentially enrich the existing group.

In an ideal dance community, every member would be considered important enough to have a say, and every individual can make a contribution to the whole.

With dancers from all over the world interacting online, there is even more to learn. Individual groups from far-flung areas are no longer isolated and self-sufficient; the various communities can experience each other’s triumphs and tragedies with the click of a mouse. Still, nothing replaces face-to-face interaction, so keeping a live, local dance community running smoothly is paramount for it to be a nurturing environment for its members.

If we were to use the modern urban model for a city, a dance community would be composed of the city itself, which is comprised of everyone involved in that particular dance community.  The citizens of that city include everyone–from nationally known established dancers to regional professional and semi-professional dancers, as well as students. The city council might be composed of the leaders, indicating that they were the most high-powered community members. The city council might pass certain ordinances that would include establishment of fair pricing or a specific going-rate for gigs, or creating safe spaces for the community’s less experienced members to hone their craft.

Painting by DawnAlso, there would be the city’s various neighborhoods (dance schools, troupes, as well as individual dancers who are not attached to either) and the surrounding suburbs, made up of people adjacent to the dance scene, such as: musicians, costume makers, club owners, theater managers, photographers, booking agents, dance supply vendors, dancers’ families, fans and the like.

If there were a problem in a certain neighborhood, such as an incident of price undercutting, theft of a costume, a gig, or some other sort of bad (illegal) behavior, the rest of the community would find out, undoubtedly, and act accordingly, somehow rebuking the offender(s), sometimes by driving them out of the community.

Although these problems do exist in a strong dance community (…and there are many of them) these sorts of things are less likely to happen because of the community’s sense of ethics.

In my Los Angeles dance community, there seems to be less discord and fewer problems between the dancers, undoubtedly because there are so many world class, name-dancers living here. Professional behavior and courtesy are the norm, and instilled in inexperienced dancers from day one.  In LA, as with anywhere else, there are always more performers than gigs, and there is an occasional kerfuffle over real (or imagined) trespasses, but it just seems to be handled a bit more…professionally.

You may be wondering what you have to offer your community, or how you can help to foster a great dance community atmosphere where you live.

There are many ways to go about it, but the most significant, simply, is to get involved!

Volunteer

Offering your services to your own dance community–whatever they may be–will always be helpful. This can be anything from assisting backstage to donating a few hours of your time at local dance festival. Consider offering to teach pro-bono classes, even if it is just a one-off as a form of outreach, maybe at a women’s shelter or for a group of underprivileged children. Perform gratis at a local hospital, rest home, or at a benefit for a charity organization in which you believe.

Share Your Knowledge

Imparting information is a huge way to ensure your community’s sustainability and continuing legacy. Raise your “children” (students) well; prepare them for their life as dancers as best you can. Mentor a student or students; take the time to make sure everyone in your classes understands and respects, not just technique, but also local dance history, and as much universal history as you know about your particular dance form.
If you teach, verse your students thoroughly in professional etiquette, be it onstage, backstage, or within the community itself.

If You Don’t Have Anything Good To Say, Don’t Say It At All

Sharing ideas or constructive criticism is one thing. Sharing gossip or spreading rumors is a whole other animal!

Slandering or defaming other dancers, whether in “real life” or on the Internet, tears down a community; put yourself in the other person’s place and think about how you would feel if this were happening to you.

Though it may be tempting to pass on a juicy tidbit, post a catty comment on a social media site, or stir up the pot with a little hearsay, please think twice about doing it!

Give Back To Your Community

Give generously of whatever you have to offer–even if it’s just a compliment! What you give back can be anything:  providing advice, shoulder to cry on, collating programs for a show, or tidying up a dressing room (without being asked) at the end of the night.  Maybe you’d consider waiving all or part of your performance fee to help out a friend who is bringing in a guest artist.

Giving back might also be donating used props or costume pieces to a dance studio or a “newbie” performer, or extending a free service, such as graphic design or sewing to someone within your community who needs it.

It can be offering a scholarship at your dance school, or making sure you show up to support events–even if it’s just a student show!

It may be going a little out of your way to drive a dancer whom you don’t already know to her home from a gig; that favor could wind up as a friendship or an artistic collaboration.  It can be offering words of support to a nervous new dancer, and being an enthusiastic audience member.

Do what you can; whatever you give to your community will always come back to you in some way–often when you need it most!

LA teachers at Love for Laura event

A few of the LA artists from our community at the Lover for Laura benefit.
Zahra, Fahtiem, Princess Farhana, Jillina, Issam

 

This article is an excerpt from Princess Farhana’s upcoming book, “The BellyDance Handbook” that will be published in March 2013.

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