Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Criticism within Belly Dance

Dancing is something people do because it makes them happy, they enjoy to dance, they want to get fit or perhaps they are drunk. Not every one of these people will be the best dancers in the world but maybe that's not the point as long as they get enjoyment from it.

Of course, once you start putting yourself out there for professional performances it becomes a whole new ball game and you have to open yourself up to praise and criticism, especially if you are getting paid.  Over the past few years with my involvement within the belly dance community I have noticed that sometimes fellow dancers are the least supportive and most critical of other dancers. Before I try to look into it and understand it I have to clarify that criticism is essential for a dancer’s performance/choreography to develop and evolve but it must be constructive and there often lies my issues with the things I hear.  Personally if I have ever received or heard criticism I will consider the source, do I respect their opinion are they trying to help me improve or is their motivation coming from another place.  This is valuable for every dancer/performer to remember. 

Every time you create choreography & perform it you are putting yourself out there, it’s a part of you out there to be commented on positively on negatively. Dancing is subjective, you only need to look on YouTube and a choreography or dancer who you think is amazing, people have gone out of there way to dislike or write nasty comments.  Everyone has their own style, taste and ideas of what is good and wouldn’t it be boring if we all liked the same things.  Within Belly Dance I have my favourite styles to watch but I recognise passion and dedication in a dancer whatever style.

Interestingly enough the times in which I have heard the harshest critics not necessarily of me, have been from peers when I was a student (note I am still a student of belly dance, I am forever learning).  I still find today that the handful of those who critsise me or don’t support me are a few of the ones in which I studied with in the past. I often find it ironic that students should have such opinions on other students when they are still learning themselves but it does happen and perhaps if I am honest I was more judgemental in the past when I was taking classes .Often those dancers/ dance students who criticise a lot aren’t training anymore to improve themselves or not achieving what they want or getting where they want to be.  When I have met accomplished, professional and spectacular belly dancers I have generally always found them to be humble, complimentary and supportive.  Perhaps then it could be fair to say that those comfortable in their own skin, within their own talent and creativity are less judgemental/critical of others.


Support is another thing that is imperative that we are of each other in this community.  We already have to deal with some people outside of belly dance thinking we are strippers or not taking the dance form seriously and other such nonsense why would we then be so hard on each other too?

Saying this, in the past year I have meet so many wonderful and supportive dancers and have been to some great organised events where there has been nothing but support for each style and performer, notibly Hafla on the Hill organised by Dunya Dance and the showcase at the Cockpit Theatre organised by Darkstar and Sorcha,so I know that in many ways the community is strong and loyal to one another and its a few rather than a majority who are overly critical and harsh.


For my part as a teacher I try and promote an environment in my classes that is supportive, ego free and encouraging for all.  Through my experiences as a student I have learnt that it is down to the teacher to try and control the environment in this manner otherwise growth and improvement of the students will be stunted as they feel discouraged by their peers.

Meanwhile, I try and do my best to learn constantly from dancers I admire and improve my technique and choreography.  I work hard to correct myself and listen to those who can offer me constructive feedback positive or negative.  I try to support each and every one of my students and fellow dancers in their endeavours; I open my mind to different styles, techniques, choreography. I think carefully before I give a critic on another performance or performer, is what I am saying constructive or important or are my personal preferences best left that way, personal! I can learn something from nearly all performers I see and from different workshops I attend.  I continually strive to be a better dancer and to put all my passion into that. I continue to grow thick skin because when all is said and done, not everyone will like the way I dance, my choreography or maybe even me but as long as I continue to strive to be the best I can be, what other think or feel can begin to not hold such importance.


Friday, 20 April 2012

When Belly Dance becomes so much more

For the past two years I have had the pleasure to teach belly dance to a wide variety of women from different ages groups, backgrounds, cultures who are all shapes and sizes, with varying personalities. Some are so painfully shy when they begin they cannot look at themselves in the mirror whilst others come claiming to have two left feet, some have problems at home or health issues but during that one hour of class none of the above is important.

Why they choose belly dancing will be a personal answer to each and every one of them but some of the positives that come from dancing are often the same for most of them.

Of course we all know the benefits of exercise and while some of us consider going to the gym or running miles to be torture (me included), dancing offers a more creative form of exercise.  Belly Dancing is particularly good because it is low impact.  The movements come naturally to the female form and can be enjoyed by women of all ages and because a woman is on her feet, moving during the dance, it is considered a weight-bearing exercise. Weight-bearing exercise can prevent osteoporosis and strengthen bones.  Dance also keeps the brain and body working, helps you understand more about good posture and improves strength and flexibility along with providing a creative outlet for many who may sit at a desk or do a job that doesn’t allow creativity but I think we all know this.  What I wasn’t to know before I started to belly dance is what this dance form would offer in terms of inner peace and I am not some spiritualist!

Belly Dance movements are artistic and feminine, creating a feeling of sensual expression and freedom.  Dancers feel a heightened elegance and poise and their new found confidence doesn’t leave when they leave class.  The body awareness that comes from belly dancing often triggers and emotional response, women with low self image begin to like their bodies, become comfortable with their hips, bellies, curves or lack of curves.  Whilst in class the stress of the day or outside pressure is forgotten and they are surrounded by women who come together in a supportive environment.  It is social too making new friends with people who share your interests, performing together, learning about a different culture and finding confidence within yourself which can be transferred to other aspects of your life.

I know all of this because without being too sentimental belly dance really changed my life and I wasn’t a shy and retiring wall flower before but it has improved my confidence and body image no end.

Today one of my students wrote saying that my classes are not  just belly dance classes but so much more, saying ‘you appear to be helping us out in a special way you may not have realised’ to which I can only respond that teaching them dancing weekly has changed my life in just the same and special way.

Monday, 2 April 2012

Drilling is the key

Sabihah Stars attended the brilliant Sadie's workshop this Sunday. I have admired Sadie from afar 'youtube' and watched her rise to mainstream fame since America's got talent. I loved Sadie & Kaya choreography and admired their technique. They helped bring belly dancing to a wide audience in America and rocked their killer curves.  Of course, in the harsh world of 'YouTube' some notibly from the Middle East claimed it was not proper Belly Dance and dismissed them in my opinion carelessly because whilst their belly dance is choreographed which is not authentic to many Middle Eastern dancers their master of technique is undeniable. 

As Sadie's workshop started it was clear from the offset drilling was going to be the aim of the game, and we drilled for well over an hour.  Every part of my body feeling the burn from arm postures to burning thighs. My body trying to knock old habits.  I have never been a drill fan. I bore easily.  I also find I shy away from too much in class at the fear of drilling the passion from my students but after Sadie's workshops I am converted. It is the only way I will be able to layer in the way I want, to improve my technique and become a better dancer.  I also admired Sadie teaching style. She taught us how she does things, that it may not be the right way or wrong way but simply her way. How refreshing from some dance classes where you are told this is the only way, the right way!

After lunch we moved onto the diva within although to be fair I feel my diva is pretty much out there but some valuable tips of making simple moves look impressive, beautiful poses for those Kodak moments and a connection to your soul.

I left inspired, motivated and reminded of all the reasons why I fell in love with this dance form.  I shall no longer be shying way from the drills and my diva will certainly not be staying within.