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Don’t Come Whining to Me!

An Open Letter to Aspiring Young Belly Dancer

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by Naajidah and Ashiya
of Lincoln, Nebraska
posted September 6, 2014

We’ve been the house dancers in a Greek restaurant for a number of years and have also done more than our share of family parties, corporate parties, etc.  We’ve truly been blessed and have enjoyed every opportunity to dance.  During that time, we have gotten numerous calls from local up and coming dancers wanting to know about how to get professional gigs or even asking about auditioning for an opportunity to dance.  We’ve been to a lot of performances, haflas, and workshop shows over the years and have seen a lot of promising up and coming ladies who have asked for input on how to get the gigs.  So, you won’t like it but here’s our two cents.

A Restaurant is a FAMILY Situation. 

It’s not a nightclub, it’s not a hafla, and it’s not a workshop.  Recently, a workshop was held here and we happened to catch some of the video posted on Youtube.  I won’t name names, as it has nothing to do with the dancer, but with a trend I see happening. 

The young lady has bought into that idea that it’s possible to combine burlesque and bellydance.   WRONG – at least not if you want to be hired for a family gig.

Screenshot collage from Athenian video
Screenshot collage from the promo video of the
Parthenon Greek Restaurant in Lincoln NE

If you come out dancing to Hidey Ho, your choreography consists of very little dancing but a great deal of shaking and grinding, and your costume is an actual lingerie bra with some coins, a cheap skirt and no belt; well I have news for you – that doesn’t fly in a family restaurant. It doesn’t matter if all of your friends were screaming from the audience and telling you how great you are, unless you’re looking for gig that involves a pole, it doesn’t fly.  We can’t think of a single restaurant owner that we know that is going to hire you – no matter how pretty you are – if that is your idea of belly dancing.  AND – when the general public sees that type of dancing represented as belly dancing, we can promise you that short of bachelor parties, you’re not going to get hired for many private functions either.  Don’t come whining to me when you discover that the local gigs have all but dried up for you and every other dancer in town.  You brought it on yourself.

A restaurant is a FAMILY situation (did we already mention that?)  It’s also an ethnic one. 

If you audition for a Greek restaurant – do NOT come to an audition with anything other than Greek music.

Don’t bring your dubstep, don’t bring your jazz, or your Gobsmack.  Heck, don’t even bring your Lebanese (assuming here that you know not to bring your Turkish!). The same goes for dancing at a Lebanese restaurants (its not the time for anything but Lebanese music). Restaurant customers have expectations.  They come to an ethnic restaurant expecting to see something representative of the culture.  Again, if you perform in public to modern American music and the general public sees what you doing, they will decide that if that’s what belly dancing is, they don’t want to hire it.  You have ruined it for yourself and all of the other up and coming dancers in your area because you couldn’t be bothered to learn about the culture (such as: costuming, music and dance style) of the dance you claim to love.

Not only is a restaurant a family situation, It’s also a business.  A Greek, Turkish, Lebanese restaurant can all do a very good business without ever hiring a single dancer.  In fact, given the way the dance community is dragging the good name of bellydance down into the gutter, they are realistically better off NOT hiring dancers.  Parents don’t want their little girls seeing you bending over and doing HUGE hip circles to the back while they are eating or over-shaking your chest, doing back bends with your hips in someone’s face while they eat.  They don’t want to see you doing a dance consisting of nothing but chest pops to “Chicky” and they certainly don’t want to spend $50.00 a person for dinner and have some group of dancers come out in pants, choli’s and tattoos all over their face dancing to “I Don’t Give A Damn”.  Don’t come complaining to me when you call other restaurants and they are ADAMANT that they will never again have a dancer in their establishment.  Again – you brought it on yourselves!

 Every year we see more and more opportunities to perform disappear.

Frankly we blame this on the dance community at large.  When you as teachers don’t hold your students to a high performance standard, when you as dancers go to shows and see dancers performing the way we described and cheering them on, screaming, yelling, and zaghareeting your approval, you only encourage it.  When up and coming dancers see things like that in shows, videos, and haflas, they think “oh, it must be okay to do that” and the downward spiral continues.  When the downward spiral continues, the jobs dry up even more. 

At the risk of generalizing, it seems that the new batch of dancers coming up in the last several years are only interested in having people look at them.  They don’t care about the culture, they hate the music, and can’t be bothered to learn anything above basic moves, pops/locks and shaking their “assets” above and below the waist. 

Yes, there are a lot of dancers who do care, who do study and work at it, but it’s the lazy one’s I’m talking to at this point.

Because ladies, you are dragging the genre down.  If you want to stand around in jeans, a coin scarf and roll up your cami into your bra to display your stomach and shake your chest to “Chicky”, fine.  Just please don’t call it bellydance. Because at that point it most certainly is not. 

It makes no difference how pretty you are.

If you use your looks simply to turn this artform into something salacious, preening and posing as if you are doing a photo shoot for a girlie magazine, you’re not exactly family entertainment and you are most definitely not dancing. 

While I’m on the subject, ladies, if you host your hafla or workshop show at a nightclub that has wet t-shirt contests, bull riding and pole dancing contests – what are you thinking?  If you’re thinking you’ll make a great name for yourself – well you will make a name for yourself, but it’s not a polite one.  Once you make that kind of name for yourself, you can’t get any respect and you can’t find any decent gigs that pay anything.

Those of you hosting workshops

When you have events and allow burlesque to be taught and performed in your show along with the bellydance, we don’t care how tame it is, the general public sees that. Heck they are seeing it and they have a very poor idea of what bellydance really is.  They are NOT hiring – not any more.  Until the majority of teachers, performers, and event hosts are willing to put their feet down and insist on standards of behavior and dance they won’t hire.  The sad part is it takes a lot longer (if ever) to re-establish our artform as legitimate after the few have spoiled it.  I am hopeful bellydance will survive, but it will be in spite of what the classless dancers are doing.  Tacky comes and goes and hopefully the few tasteful dancers left will be able to outlast this.  If it doesn’t?  Well, betcha know what I’d say about that!

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Ready for more?

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   |       |    12 Comments

  1. No Gravatar
    Tahira of Los Angeles

    Sep 7, 2014 - 03:09:36

    The first thing I need to say is that the authors have good points. There is a need for professionalism and for being sure that the choices of music, costumes, etc are appropriate for the venue and audience which it is being presented to. Belly dance as an art does deal with many misperceptions and misinformation. That having been said, where is the onus to correct this? And whose responsibility is it to do so while continuing to expand the knowledge, growth and current expansion of the art?

    Untrained dancers who are taking the bulls by the horns and offering their services when they are unready to is an old story which every market deals with. Many respected professional level dancers today were “that girl” at one time. Those who stuck around learned from their mistakes. A few who didn’t learn from their mistakes stuck around as well.

    The key, in my opinion, is to keep learning. Teachers need to be clear about history, style, appropriateness, etc. They need to understand how their choices and the choices of their students will potentially effect the entire industry, especially in a small market such as Lincoln and Omaha, which, from what I have been told, already suffers from massive image issues, to the point where one Cabaret teacher in Omaha switched to predominately Tribal Fusion because the local populace was more accepting of that style. This leads to another set of issues, because students who have never seen Cabaret in it’s natural habitat – in this case a restaurant – won’t understand that what they are doing is not considered to be appropriate. This is obviously an issue for many other smaller markets as well.

    The next question I have is what are the remedies for this? Are the area teachers brining in dancers and presenting workshops which are friendly and accessible to all the dancers in the area? Do they have a list of resources on their website? There are several dancers and teachers who have reams of information available for free. Are they welcoming and open to having conversations and exchange opinions and knowledge with the up coming students, even if they are not their own? Or are they holding the information close to their chests in order to protect their territory? are they being inclusive or exclusionary?

    And finally, does the above style of writing actually encourage anyone to change? The tone is very angry and harsh, almost consisting of a rant. While the desire is understandable, is the effect what the authors is trying to achieve? Looking at their previous articles, many have the same tone and address the same issues. So I would say that things haven’t changed and that this style has not been successful. Perhaps a different approach would be more beneficial in the long run?

    Best.

  2. No Gravatar
    Gforce

    Sep 7, 2014 - 04:09:26

    I’m not trying to rain on anyone’s parade and haflas/showcases are great and have their place, but I agree with the authors that there seems to be a huge disconnect between what dancers know is ok in those venues as opposed to what is ok in restaurant/pro gigs, etc. Skewed expectations tend to set everyone up for disappointment and problems (and I’m not saying restaurant owners/other people hiring dancers are never at fault. That’s another discussion entirely). As someone who searches for and auditions dancers for a venue, I relate to much of what is written. Dancing for fellow dance students or other dancers and for a paying GP are not one and the same. The tone of the article will be off-putting t some but frankly, much of what’s in the article needs to be said.

  3. No Gravatar
    Sierra

    Sep 7, 2014 - 11:09:04

    Excellent, on point and about time to tell it like it is.

  4. No Gravatar
    lee braak

    Sep 8, 2014 - 07:09:39

    I have ALWAYS preached and preached and preached…….
    There are 3 componets to BD
    moves
    music
    costuming
    At least 2 of the 3 must be BD dance appropriate or it is NOT belly dance, it is something else. Please go get your own box!

  5. No Gravatar
    Shanti

    Sep 9, 2014 - 07:09:27

    Teaching this etiquette is my forte but I don’t reach that many people. I also teach zagat/zills which I hate to hear it done poorly. Its gotten to the misunderstood point that I don’t even use the term ‘bellydance’ or ‘Middle Eastern’ for what I do. I’m a Mediterranean dance specialist most often in the roll of Romani Gypsy which also prompts the need for educational discussion. ~ Big shout out to troupe JOWEH – Directed by TerriAnne Guitierrez. They can be very avantgarde yet at a recent restaurant venue they did lovely, classic bellydance in perfect costumes. They just performed at The Las Vegas Bellydance convention too. Be it all and know your audience!

  6. No Gravatar
    Jalilah

    Sep 9, 2014 - 08:09:16

    I definitely can relate to the author. Sometimes I feel like we can’t win for losing! We say something when we see something inappropriate and we get labelled as being catty. We don’t say anything and and nothing ever changes. I’ve been dancing for 30 years now and the same stories keep repeating over and over!
    The only thing I would point out is music choices change from place to place. In the 80s and 90s when I was performing in Europe I was never expected to dance only WTO Greek music. Greeks were fine with me using Arabic music, just not Turkish.

  7. No Gravatar
    Erica Datura

    Sep 9, 2014 - 12:09:08

    The tone of this article puts me off a bit. It does have some good points but I think those points have been made better in other articles like Laura Ross’s article a few years ago about knowing your venue. I’m not sure if “pants, chili’s and tattoos” means ATS or just bad beginner costuming. If it’s ATS, than we must be seeing VERY different troupes most ATS troupes I have seen are just as concerned with professionalism as dancers who do traditional cabaret. And even in the least professional of performances I’ve never seen someone dance in a rolled up camisol outside youtube and I doubt those people read gilded serpent.

  8. No Gravatar
    Chealsey

    Sep 11, 2014 - 06:09:23

    As for fusion dancing. I myself are a dancer and I do primarily family shows. I have been fusion dancing for a long time but I feel being covered in the important areas is more important than just in family venues. I think for the sake of dancing and its reputation you should always be covered. But I call myslef a hip hop bellydance fusion artist. Or pop n lock bellydance fusion artist. I do still have six years of bellydance under my belt and I fuse it. But I agree there is a place for everything. I dont think that fusing the dances is dragging the bellydance under. I think as long as the distinction is recognized and emphasized it wont ruin the general publics idea of the dance. I think its really important though that you correctly name what it is you really do instead of mask it under a different name. If you are a stripper or a pole dancer you need to add that somewhere in your description lol.

  9. No Gravatar
    Barbara Grant

    Sep 13, 2014 - 06:09:28

    Please check out my 2006 article for GS here: http://www.gildedserpent.com/art36/BarbGcontroversy.htm
    I addressed many of the same points about sleazedance. This has been going on for some time.

  10. No Gravatar
    Annie S.

    Oct 6, 2014 - 06:10:32

    Greetings! Have been dancing (on & off) since a Greek-American friend who was on the waitstaff of our college-hangout-diner on Long Island, NY, took me to a family-type, friendly, all Greek-speaking club. ALL that you say is true! I took class in NYC and CT, and my teachers ALWAYS advised us to be a lady and to never, never stay at any guys-only gig. I may work out in yoga gear, part of the time in high heels, partly barefoot, to Klezmer, drums or country/rock music ballads (excellent, steady beat!), but in real life, we do all represent “la danse de ventre” and its long, lovely history. Even when at a regular club or party, it’s important to “break loose” in a ladylike way: a little champagne, a little shimmy, and leave the rest to people’s imaginations!! Zills forever!! Annie S. Connecticut

  11. No Gravatar
    Donna Carlton

    Apr 19, 2015 - 08:04:17

    “Respect your art and your fellow dancers.” Many good points. Agree with posters about the tone of the article being a rant. I would like to see an article advising teachers what points to cover with their students as they blossom into performers.

  12. No Gravatar
    Zaia Hadiyyah

    Apr 25, 2015 - 12:04:34

    My two cents worth on this discussion. Having met the authors and being familiar with their environment in Nebraska I appreciate every word of this article. However, I would like to offer that there is a major difference between authentic Middle Eastern Dance from all the different countries in that region and what is termed Belly Dance in this country. You only need to look at the authentic folkloric dancing from these countries or the few middle eastern performers employed in top hotels (the authentic local dancers, not foreigners working for experience) to see that there is hardly any resemblance to what is done here and unfortunately some of the rest of the world too. The art form that is steeped with culture, respect and ethics, danced in a family or close community environment, has become a circus act full of tricks, props and as the authors highlighted, indecent shaking of the anatomy that not nearly represent it as it should be done. Now I do understand that times change and older folks like me who trained in these regions many years ago and for many years, need to keep up but if you want to perform an art form such as Middle Eastern Dance…… DO YOUR HOMEWORK!

    I also want to state that I do not believe some of the early dancers of the 50’s to the 80’s did the art form any favors either. Because some movies were made then, depicting some Egyptian or other middle eastern country, and glamorized it with the likes of Samia Gamal, Tahia Carioca and others, it seems that the dancers here at that time felt liberty to copy cat the movies and play the seductive, male entertainment. That was not reality ladies, they were movies. The difference is that the movie movements were feminine, internalized and dignified. Some of the earlier dancers here pretty much did what the authors describe in this article.

    In closing as I get off my box, what I sometimes see these days can hardly be described or identified. It is a very sad situation for something so very beautiful.

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