I was browsing through Shimmies, Sequins & Slippers the other day, hoping a new blog post would magically appear as I was scrolling. *ahem Roxanne, ahem!* Although I wasn’t surprised with a new blog post, I was intrigued by reading some old ones that are very good that I had forgotten about.
One of the posts that caught my eye was the unintentionally mean post. (I would recommend reading it here, before reading my post). In short, it was about a dancer that performed at a festival and was absolutely terrible. Roxanne just chats about whether all dancers should be allowed to perform in public – and she didn’t mean it in a mean way! (Go read it!)
I’ve been thinking about it for a while, and even asked my Facebook friends what they think of the latest phrase to be thrown around: “Anybody can bellydance!”
I’m going to be absolutely frank with you: No, not everybody can belly dance. It’s like telling a child that they can be anything they want to be if they work hard enough. Yes, part of that is true and it’s a wonderful thing to believe. But especially with art, a lot of it needs to be natural talent as well as hard work. Singing works as a brilliant example, just look at the Idols contestants every year. There are always complete opposite degrees of talent that audition for that show – the completely tone deaf that make the “Wooden Mic” reel, the people that can hold a tune, and then those with exceptional voices. I don’t know much about singing, so when I watch Idols auditions and I see those that can hold a tune get voted off, I often wonder why. The reason for this is that they can hold a tune. They can sing, yes, but there is nothing exceptional about them. They may be able to sing along to songs with no problem and maybe even make it into a church choir. But it’s a huge leap from there to being a professional. And in a competitive industry (like dance) you need to be better than good at your craft. You need to be exceptional.
Another example comes from my past – when I was younger I was obsessed with crime novels and investigation shows. I started out by reading Famous Five books, moved onto the Point Crime series, then started getting into Jeffery Deaver when I was 13. I watched shows like Bones and CSI. I even bought a “Forensics for Dummies” book. I was completely convinced that I was going to study forensic science when I left school. I was passionate and interested in it and willing to work hard at it. I ended up getting 40% for science at school, and got a tutor in who helped me get it to 60%. At the end of grade 11, I realized that I didn’t have that natural knack that some people have for science. My brain just wasn’t geared towards thinking that way, and no matter how much I trained it, I would never be as good at it as my tutor was – it was second nature for him. A completely natural way of thinking.
The reason that the “Anybody can bellydance” phrase came around was to show people how it was different from modern dance and ballet. It’s different in that it is a dance form that has no restrictions for learning. You can be any age, shape, colour or nationality to take a belly dance class. Ballet has always been a dance form reserved for the young, and although now we are seeing adult dance classes advertised, it’s still a new thing. Another big difference is that you can start belly dancing at the age of 25 and still go pro, where you can’t do that with ballet.
The unfortunate truth of it is that some people believe that they can be a pro, because anybody can do it! has been floating around in their heads. And then you end up with a lot of mediocre dancers flooding the market and taking gigs away from seasoned pros. As well as dancers who take to the stage because they believe they are ready – after all, anybody can do it, right?
As dance teachers we need to have the guts to tell our students they’re not ready to advance to the next class or to perform on stage. There are lots of opportunities for students to perform, and if there aren’t then we should create more. Inviting family and friends to come and watch a student recital or small hafla is a great way to get dance exposure if you’re still new to dance and especially if you’re not ready (technically, artistically or mentally) to go pro.
In the end, it’s about being honest with yourself. Being honest about what you want from the classes – are you doing it for me-time, for the social aspect, for fitness, to be a pro dancer or some other reason? It’s also about being honest about your abilities as a dancer and learner. If you’re honest with yourself about your wants and abilities, there should be no problem. I know it’s difficult to admit your weaknesses, but you need to be honest with yourself to get an idea of where you are going and where you want to go.
Passion is a beautiful thing, but we have to be honest and realize that audiences don’t want to see somebody go onto stage and be passionate, but have no technique. Audiences (and other dancers!) want to see something impressive and different. I sometimes feel that a technically great dancer with little passion can go further than one with passion but no technique.
I think that as a dance community we need to have a definition of what makes a pro. Because – like we learned in school – every right comes with a responsibility. What are the responsibilities of a pro dancer? What are the rights of a pro dancer? As well as deciding what makes a dancer ready for the stage. The difficulty in doing something like this is that belly dancers don’t have a syllabus, so we don’t have a way to ‘measure’ our dancers and how to tell if one is ready for the stage. As Roxanne said in her blog, taking to the stage is an honour and a privilege and if we let everybody onto the stage, I think it loses it’s magic a little bit. Don’t you think? It suddenly becomes attainable and nobody wants to work hard for it.
I believe that anybody can enjoy belly dance, anybody can take classes and anybody can improve dramatically. I believe in student recitals (We used to do it every second term, where all the students would come together, we’d perform for each other and try out new choreographies on each other, and just DANCE together) I also believe in haflas geared towards students and giving students a chance to perform on a stage. I also believe in there being separate shows, bigger events like a showcase for when we bring in an international dancer – those showcases are reserved (in my opinion) for the professionals. I don’t even believe that I am ready for a big show like that (Although I’d love to be given the chance!).
I think the important thing here is to realize your potential, realize what you are capable of. And while it may hurt to be honest with yourself about your abilities, it NEEDS to be done. Some people are meant for the stage. Some people aren’t.
As a side note: I don’t even know if I’m a “real” performer or if I should just stick to smaller things. I love to perform and have a good time on stage, but when I watch the real pros I feel like I’m missing something. Maybe I’m being too hard on myself, but maybe I’m just being honest. 😉