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OMG it’s 2017

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I haven’t written a blog post in such a long time! Partly from feeling uninspired, personal life got busy and maintaining a dance studio, as well as my photography full time does mean that there is little time for the things I used to do for enjoyment only. Now, most of my activities are twofold – for work as well as play.

Part of re-evaluating my dance goals for 2017 was to re-evaluate this blog. I started it in 2008/9 as a way to document my progress as a new dancer and put thoughts out onto the internet. It was a great source of learning not only about belly dancing, but also about myself. God, that sounds cheesy. But I learned a lot about how I think about things, how I evaluate topics and come to my own conclusions. It’s been a great learning curve.
I did briefly consider taking the blog down, but I get thousands of views a month (sorry for never posting loyal readers!) and I know it’s frustrating when a blog you’ve been following suddenly disappears, never to be referenced again! So I think, instead of totally tanking the blog, I’ll try revive it with new blog posts! At least one a month will be a good starting point. Oh look – I’m already late for January! (what’s new?!) I do think that some of my posts also contain some of my out dated ideas, so I might like to revisit some of that.

I thought I’d like to make this first blog post about what I’ve been up to dance-wise in the last… 2-3 years. Has it really been that long?

To start, our dance studio (Maya Belly Dance Troupe) flourished and then flailed badly. In 2011, we had a huge 3-night show – and it was a great success. It was held in a forest, surrounded by trees and dirt and it was wonderful. In 2015, we started out the year with over 20 regular students. (For our small studio, that’s quite a feat!) We put on another 3-night show at the same lovely venue and this was less successful. We lost money, attendance wasn’t great, and worst of all, I was tired. I loved the performing, but the organising, spending what seemed like endless amounts of money, managing people and students – it was all a bit much. When we put on our show in 2011, we were 3 teachers and could manage the stress a bit better. In 2015, there were only 2 of us. The tide has changed much since 2011.

The overall quality of the 2015 show was amazing, and I do look back on it fondly! But the aftermath of the show was tough. A lot of students left the studio – for various reasons, both good and bad – and that left us with essentially 6 regular students. We had gone from teaching  4 classes a week – all fully attended! – down to 2, barely having enough students for one class. We lost our best dancer directly after the show. It was a tough blow. The other teacher and I had to find inspiration from essentially nothing, and carry on teaching the students that were there.

I am forever grateful to the few dancers who did stick it out – they are the heart and soul of our studio now, and their commitment to the studio and their passion for dance is not unnoticed.

I am also comforted in the knowledge that we are not alone in our studio flourishing and then flailing. I have heard from dance friends all over the world that their studios went through a similar thing recently, and it’s been a difficult hole to get out of. I know that trends come and go, and when Shakira was at her most popular (Hips Don’t Lie got me into class 10 years ago!) the studios were full, busy and thriving. The trend has shifted a few times in the last 10 years, from  belly dance to burlesque to pole dancing, so I know it’s not just us.

The fact that our studio has been going for 10 years is a huge achievement all on its own. In our area alone, we’ve had 4 or 5 different studios start up and then stop in those 10 years.

Despite knowing that we are not totally at fault for students leaving us, I have found it difficult not to take their leave personally. On the rare occasion that you hear why a student has left your studio, you can’t help but wonder “could I have done this differently?” And most of the time, the answer is no. Especially in the last year, I have had to remind myself that I can’t make everybody happy, and as long as I try and have their best interests at heart, I can’t fault myself.

SO… 2017 is the year of the student for me. I am trying very hard to listen to my students wishes and take their ideas and thoughts into consideration. We are having weekly goal setting meetings with our advanced students at the moment and we have put some effort into putting on a small 10 year dance celebration in July, which will not only celebrate the past 10 years, but also the future of the studio – our students!

That just about sums up 2015! It was a hard year, and I think we barely made it through, to be completely honest. In the spirit of keeping things jovial, I will say that 2016 seemed to be the rise of the amazing students – we had a bunch of great beginners at the start of the year, that have since become even better intermediate students. Our advanced class is working incredibly hard this year and we have some of the most dedicated students we’ve ever had, with amazing visions for their future dance.

I’m excited to see what 2017 brings. J

If I have any advice for studios that are struggling: Hold onto your dedicated students, work hard with them and don’t ever forget that they were there week after week. Go and give them a hug, or a chocolate. They deserve it! 😉

 

As part of my 2017 blogging goals, I’d also like to revisit some old blog posts. Any in particular you’d like to see me tackle again?

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Anybody can be a belly dancer!

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. 😉