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PHOTO CREDIT: Above photo by John Rickman Photography, San Jose, California.

What Makes a Belly Dancer's Blood Boil?

by Shira


The room was littered with beads and sequins all over the floor, all over the furniture, down into the cushion cracks of couches and chairs, and all over the floor. Mixed in were scraps of glittery fabric.

What caused this mess? Well, isn't it obvious? A belly dancer exploded!

And what caused the explosion? No, it wasn't eating too much baklava or drinking too much Turkish coffee. It was her righteous fury over yet another torment thrown her way by the universe!



Back in the 1970's, there was a movie titled Network in which a network news anchor played by Peter Finch urged everyone to open their windows and shout, "I'm mad as hell and I won't take it any more!" Sometimes we as belly dancers feel like joining in the chant!

I receive e-mails all the time from fellow dancers who are struggling with issues that made them angry. It seems we don't have a shortage of these. Here are some of the ones I hear about...

PHOTO CREDIT: Photo by Lina Jang, New York City, New York.




Students & Teachers

A relationship exists between belly dancing students and their teachers. Just like marriages, brothers/sisters, and parents, sometimes these relationships are great, and sometimes they're as toxic as a waste dump.

Students sometimes become very frustrated with their teachers and classmates. In turn, teachers sometimes want to explode at their students. Whichever side of the relationship you're on, you'll probably relate to some of these.

The Student's Perspective

From the student's point of view:

  • Your teacher told you that you weren't good enough yet to perform in a show she was organizing. Yet she has never given you any kind of feedback to let you know what you should be working on.
  • In a workshop, one of your classmates is constantly running into you. No matter how you try to adjust your position, she's on a constant crash course with you!
  • Your troupe leader decided on a troupe costume design that looks extremely unflattering on you and absolutely refuses to change it.
  • Your teacher clearly favors one of the other students over everyone else in the class: she invites her along on gigs, arranges opportunities for her to perform, and constantly compliments her while criticizing the rest of you. It's enough to make you ask, "What am I? Chopped liver?"
  • You purchased an expensive instructional video, and when you watched it the first time you discovered that the lighting was so poor and the focus so bad that you could barely see the moves being demonstrated.

PHOTO CREDIT: Photo by Pixie Vision Productions, Glendale, California.



The Teacher's Perspective

From the teacher's point of view:

  • One of your students went to the restaurant where you work a regular gig and offered to dance there for free.
  • One of your students missed nearly all the rehearsals for an upcoming group recital, then was furious when you told her you weren't going to allow her to dance in the show.
  • No matter how hard you try to accommodate her wishes, one of your students whines about everything: she claims the troupe costumes are ugly, the choreography is too hard to learn, there aren't enough performance opportunities, and so on.
  • You've given one of your students feedback on how to improve her costume, technique, or performing style, and she refuses to listen. Then she screams at you when you tell her you won't let her perform in a show because of her ignoring your recommendations.
  • After spending thousands of dollars out of your own pocket to create an instructional video, you've learned that a belly dance club in another city purchased just one copy, then made 30 copies to distribute to its members. That hole in your pocket from the video investment suddenly feels very large!

PHOTO CREDIT: Photo by John Rickman Photography, San Jose, California.

These things can make you burn so hot that you don't even need a match to light the candles you're going to dance with!




Unethical Local Competitors

It's hard enough to find performance venues, especially those that pay good money. It's even harder when other dancers in your community threaten the few opportunities that do exist. Do any of these sound familiar?

  • Your local rival discovered which date you were planning to host your big seminar and show, so she scheduled a major event of her own a week earlier to draw away your audience.
  • A new dancer has surfaced in your community who wears too-skimpy costumes, encourages audience members to give her tips with their teeth, and does sleazy moves on stage, thereby giving belly dance a bad name in your community.
  • Your local rival went to the restaurant where you dance and told the owner she would dance for $10 per night less than what you charge, so you lost your job. Worse yet, she's not even a good dancer!
  • After two months of negotiation, you reached agreement with a local restaurant to sponsor dancing one night a week. As soon as word got out, ten other teachers in your community went to the owner to muscle in on the business that you started.
  • You put several months of labor into designing and making a unique costume, and six months after it made its debut someone else showed up at the next event wearing an exact copy.

Don't these problems just rust your zills?

PHOTO CREDIT: Photo by Pixie Vision Productions, Glendale, California.




Employers & Musicians

Club owners, event sponsors, private party hosts, and musicians can be so infuriating at times! Maybe some of these things have happened to you?

  • The owner of the nightclub you work at tried to send you home without doing your show and without paying you because he had a small number of customers that night.
  • You turned down a well-paying gig because you already had a prior commitment to dance elsewhere that same night. Then two hours before you were supposed to dance, the original employer called to cancel your appearance.
  • The mayor of your city canceled your troupe's appearance at a community festival because he believed belly dancing was something like stripping and he didn't want "that kind of thing" in his community.
  • When you showed up to dance at a private party, you discovered that the entire audience was drunk and obnoxious. The hostess had assured you at the time she hired you that alcohol was not going to be served at this event.
  • You thought you and the musicians had agreed on what music they would play for your show, but then they maliciously played something entirely different.
  • After your performance, an Arab friend in the audience told you that the singer was making up his own lyrics in Arabic. At first, you didn't know why he thought this was a problem, but then your friend told you the translation was, "Look at this whore! Who wants to take her home?"

It's enough to make you pick up your sword and lop off the head of the offender, isn't it?

PHOTO CREDIT: Photo by John Rickman Photography, San Jose, California.





And Everyone Else, Too!

As if that weren't enough, you may find yourself seething at vendors and even your own family!

  • Your husband is insisting that he doesn't want you to get a job delivering bellygrams or dancing in a restaurant.
  • When you're out of the house for class or performances, your husband refuses to feed the children and put them to bed. He expects you to do it before you leave.
  • The costume maker that you hired to clothe you for an upcoming major event flaked out and didn't finish it on time.
  • You spent many hours designing a new costume pattern to sell, and you learned through the grapevine that a large troupe bought just one copy which everyone then traced and used.

It's so tempting to beat people like this with your cane, isn't it?

PHOTO CREDIT: Photo by Kaylyn Hoskins, Solon, Iowa.




Sometimes a Good Tantrum Helps

Some of our problems are annoying, petty little things, such as the dancer next to us in the seminar who keeps running into us. Others threaten our very livelihood, such as the undercutters who steal our jobs by offering to dance for less money than what we charge. But all of them can make us angry.

When something like this happens to you, first ask yourself whether the offender was being intentionally malicious, or whether it was an innocent offense. Maybe the musician who mangled your favorite song is merely incompetent - did he mangle everyone else's music, too? Maybe the troupe who all shared your pattern didn't think about the fact that they were depriving you of legitimate income. Maybe that whiney student doesn't realize how annoying everyone else thinks she is.

If you think there's any chance that the offender simply didn't realize they were doing something obnoxious, try having a talk with them. Tactfully explain your concerns, and ask whether they realize that their actions hurt you in some way. If they truly were unaware of the harm they were doing you, they'll probably apologize and be more careful in the future.

However, if you're certain that the other person was being intentionally malicious, that's a different matter. There's not much you can do to stop someone who chooses to be unethical unless you can prove in a court of law that they've done something illegal. Your best option is usually to do your best to do damage control and distance yourself from that person.

Here are some ideas on how to cope:

  • Remember the song that says, "Dance like nobody's watching..." Put your favorite music on the sound system and dance just for the pure joy of it.
  • Withdraw from the dance scene for a few months, until you start to crave dance again.
  • Pamper yourself. Arrange a photo session with your favorite photographer to get some pictures of yourself wearing a beautiful new costume. Or go to a weeklong belly dance retreat hosted by a dancer who inspires you.
  • Sometimes a good tantrum helps. Find a "ranting partner". Ideally, this would be someone who is part of the dance scene and understands just how annoying these issues are. Vent to that person every time you feel the need, and listen in turn when she needs a ranting partner.
  • Use your fists to beat up your pillow.

If all else fails, take a cue from the movie Network. Fling open your window and shout, "I'm mad as hell and I can't take it any more!" Your neighbors may think you're a bit eccentric, but the physical release that comes from shouting will make you feel a little better.

PHOTO CREDIT: Photo by Pixie Vision, Glendale, California.




The Most Important Thing to Remember

All of the anger you feel when these things happen can spoil the joy you feel from dancing. You can start to burn out.

Most of us originally started belly dancing because we were looking for something fun to do. And we continued because we liked it, perhaps even felt passionate for it. But when we're ready to erupt in a shower of hurtling sequins or coins, it's easy to forget that it's supposed to be fun!

Whenever you feel completely consumed with anger and frustration, take a deep breath. Reflect on why you continue to dance despite the stress. Remember your favorite audience reactions, imagine yourself dressed in your best costume, reflect on the exhilaration of the creative expression, and think fond thoughts of the friends you have met through dance.

Remember, it's supposed to be fun!

PHOTO CREDIT: Photo by Pixie Vision, Glendale, California.





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